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Miwok100k_2013

Course change sign weighted down by Beer.

Miwok 60k

At 4:30 AM on Saturday, Ron Little, Mike Weston, Janeth, and myself lumbered into the Stinson Beach Community Center, harboring buzzed confusion, centered around a stark white poster board with handwritten well parsed paragraphs of red writing; Stan Jenson stood alongside heralding a change.

To even the most alert morning birds of the sport, it took 2-3 recitals of Stan’s speech to reach comprehension, “Due to fire dangers, today’s race has been changed.  The distance is now 60km and will start at 8:00AM.”

Hoards of runners stood pondering the implications of change.  Months of planning now had to be realigned at 4:30AM in the morning – How does that change my drop bags?  What’s my crew supposed to do? What do I tell my pacer?  What about my pace charts?  Once the early morning cobwebs of restless sleep unfurled, runners converged on alternate plans.  To name a singular ultrarunner characteristic would be to declare flexibility in the throes of adversity.  From the top (Tia the Race Director) down to the athletes, we’re a crafty bunch with a drive to move nowhere but forward.

Forward we drove, the change was accepted and we continued in celebration of the miles we could run and not remorseful of the ones we couldn’t.  For that extra 3 hours we were gifted, some chose to nap others chose to log some pre-race miles.  Ron, Mike, and I along with 20-30 other runners dynamically mapped a route ascending to Pan Toll for a glimpse of morning dawn.  As a whole, we ran in scattered groups, but Ron and I’s route was a wonderful 7.25 loop climbing the Matt Davis trail and descending on the Dipsea trail.  Mike chose the more challenging Dipsea trail hill repeats!  You may ask why we all ran pre-race.  The consensus was that Miwok was training for something bigger – like Western States.

During the sunrise miles I did say to Ron, “Let’s run some pre-race miles and treat this like a fun training run.”  At the time I was 100% okay with that.  Then we lined up 5 minutes before the race.  I saw the top guys and girls.  I saw 378 people that would funnel into a single track in 1/4 mile.  I couldn’t get stuck in that so I pressed forward (not Lake Sonoma forward).  I set the goal of this run being: run it at my 100k goal pace of 10:00 min/mile.  That seemed reasonable.

Up the Dipsea stairs we climbed holding a quick pace.  We sped into the Cardiac AS and I was the only one to stop at the water and sponges to start the cool down (it was already getting hot).  I synced up with Jeremy, a Quicksilver runner that I recognized from Montara.  He and I were talking away to almost Muir Beach cruising at 6-7 min/mile.

During the climb from Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley my right calf started hurting.  In past weeks I’ve had tenderness there but today it was a building sharp pain.  My #1 thought, what’s the main goal here?  Western States, right?  I considered dropping at the CRC aid station to minimize the injury.  The visual played through my head as I talked it over with my CRC aid station teammates and pacer; I always concluded I couldn’t stop.

My pacer was a freshmen member of the Half Moon Bay High School track and cross-country team, Khalil.  I know his parents through my wife, I organized a Run for Boston at his school, and I take an Empowered Fitness boot camp class with his Dad on Thursdays.   Starting at Miwok 2010 there has always been a draw to run with one of the HS students as a pacer.  This year, we made that happen.  Yet, if I came into the CRC AS and dropped this opportunity at creating a “moment” in life wouldn’t happen.

I toiled with this a bit, slowed down, cataloged my injury as best I could, then decided I’m not running for me – I’m running to construct a frame work for Khalil’s experience.  My calf pain faded away.

With the CRC motivational signs beaconing, I stormed down the hill into Bridge View saying hello to everyone, many of whom I haven’t seen for months.  A big hello went out to Mor and Eric at the street crossing.  My wife, Jenna, Mandy, and Denise got big hellos and hugs.  I saw Omar and Khalil helping out and Gary who was sitting out the race due to injury.  The ultrarunning staple of good luck was Hallelujah Goat keeping a stark eye out for the runner’s safety from the canopy rafters!  I told Khalil, “Are you ready?” To which he nodded with a quiet smile.  “I’ll see you at Tennessee Valley!”

CRC_Miwok2013

The Lovely Pirate Ladies of the CRC

I was repeatedly dismissed from the AS by my wonderful wife Jen who’d rather see me talk after I’ve finished.  Rushing downhill I saw Loren who recently “50 miled” at AR50 and the amazing Margaret!  Across the street and onto the long climb back to TV to catch a pacer!  This portion of the run was challenging in distance, pace, and heat.  It’s a long climb back to the ridgeline to join the Miwok trail back down to Tennessee Valley.  My stomach faltered here mainly due to the foaminess of the GU Brew sports drink – it halted my digestion and hydration.

Arriving at TV I saw Khalil all suited up and ready to run; both him and his father, Omar, had a grin of excitement.  I rummaged through my drop bag to refill on GU packs and we were off with no runners in sight to chase, until we arrived at the 450ft climb on the Coastal trail. In the distance I saw a runner.

“Hey Khalil, you see that guy up there?  He’s from Minnesota.”

“Cool.  Let’s get him.”

I groaned inside a little because my stomach was still recovering, but we ran up the long hill then paused on a steep section.  Immediately we heard footsteps behind us, turning to see the first place female Darcy Africa right on our tail.  She passed with ease and we wished her a great race.  I could tell Khalil wasn’t having it!  We pushed and finally caught Minnesota proclaiming, “I was wondering when you guys would catch me!”  At the crest of the hill we passed him and another runner.

Emerging from Pirate's Cove with Pacer Khalil.  Photo Glen Tachiyama

Emerging from Pirate’s Cove with Pacer Khalil. Photo Glen Tachiyama

During the downhill to Pirate’s Cove, it was on.  I warned Khalil about the downhill being technical and to watch his step, especially at the stairs.  I love downhill and I knew I had company in that when I heard hooting and hollering from behind as we blasted down towards the ocean.  Wrapping around the cove we caught another runner as we climbed towards Muir Beach.

Muir Beach brought some large stomach issues.  I tried pulling myself together in a 1-2 minute timeframe but it was hard.  Minnesota, Darcy, and Yellow Shirt passed us.  I walked out of the aid station calmly telling Khalil, “Just give me a minute, I don’t want to puke on you.”  I let him know I was ready to run and he set the pace, a great pace.  After 15-20 minutes of silence I reassured him that me being quiet means I’m working hard.  “You’re doing great. Keep me working.”  Sure enough we spotted Minnesota in the trail ahead giving us the look-back.  That seemed to really fuel Khalil to push faster.  At the uphill transition we caught him but were forced to walk as my stomach churned from the push.  Yellow shirt and Sonoma caught and passed us – I raced Sonoma a few weeks ago in Lake Sonoma the last 9 miles and beat him by 2 spots.

Khalil wasn’t too keen on these guys motoring up the hill ahead of us.  “Let’s get them!”  I told him I can’t right now but if we can hang with them I can pass them on the downhill to the finish.  I promise you that!  For 3.5 miles and 1,300 ft of climbing we fought hard to stick with them.  Eventually Yellow Shirt pulled away.  My legs started cramping, my right calf injury was screaming.  Within ¼ mile from the top we caught Sonoma – “Hey I remember you from Sonoma.  You beat me.”  I said yup and ran past him in some of the worst calf pain I’ve ever felt.  I whispered to Khalil, “I’m in so much pain, but I can’t stop running or he’ll catch us.”

As we crested the hill into Cardiac AS we saw Darcy on the opposing ridge.  I point her out and Khalil says, “Let’s get her!”  As we left the AS Sonoma motored in.  It’s a complete crazy downhill race at this point – everyone is ready to empty out the tanks!  We bolted and in ¼ mile found Yellow Shirt puking on the trail.  Asking if he’s okay he said, “Yes, but I’m done!”  Khalil was right, we did get him.  Now we were on the hunt for Darcy and her pacer, a beacon in a bright orange shirt.  I was ready to unload on this downhill.  Again I warned Khalil, “This is some crazy downhill coming up.  Be careful.  Watch your step, especially on the stairs.”  We hit downhill mode completely hunting Darcy.  Yet, there was a threshold I crossed that my calves did not like – too fast and I would cramp BAD.  They hinted then roared as I pushed too hard.  I told Khalil I can’t go any faster right now… but we were slowly catching up to her with 2 miles to go.  I learned I could go a little faster if I transitioned to heel striking and pointed my toes up to keep my calves elongated while running – neither recommended nor comfortable.

I was now in a state where any deviation from my footstrike would trigger calve cramping or a full lockup.  Great, we still hadn’t passed her and now we’re on the Dipsea stairs.  Both runners and pacers rip down the stairs – easily counting over one hundred.  Darcy’s pacer moved aside but she didn’t.  I heard Khalil say, “Take it!” behind me yet I didn’t have that burst without cramping.  A cramp at this point would have seized my leg leaving me tumbling down a rocky forest staircase.  Just before we bottomed out, we passed hitting a quick uphill and catching another runner.  He hopped aside saying I’m cramping all over.  I hear ya!  That uphill stopped me so quick!  I could NOT run.  The calf pain was searing over the adrenaline.  With an attempted power hike we got to the top then gunned it for some runnable downhill.  In the distance I saw a Green Shirt walking.  He was going down.  We caught him but started pulling him with us.  I heard footstrikes superimposed on Khalil’s; glancing back I see green.  Oh great!

My calves were so done.  I had no clue how I was moving.  I was running scared with Green Shirt behind us and I KNEW Darcy was tough.  I just gave it everything and tried to gap them as best I could.  More stairs and ½ mile down the trail there was a road crossing.  We hustled across but when I reached the other side…

WHAM.  I went from 7 min/miles to a COMPLETE screaming stop.  I YELLED, “AHHHHHHHH, MY LEG!”  My right calf had completely seized up.  I grabbed it and vaguely heard Khalil say, “What do I do?” I shot my gaze over to the other side of the street and to my amazement didn’t see Green Shirt or Darcy.  I still have this I thought.  I need to get moving!  I propped my leg against the asphalt, stretching my calf back into running position, and it released a little.  I told Khalil I have to try to run.  We ran, slower but we ran through the final trail section with 0.1 mile to go we hit highway 1.  Double checking, I glanced back and saw a Red Shirt blazing after us in a full sprint. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!  I rolled my eyes and prayed for my calf not to seize as I sped up.

Somehow, I don’t know how, we crossed without being passed.

Khalil walked up and said, “Where’d Red Shirt come from?”  I said, “I don’t know but THAT was awesome!  Thank you!  That right there was all you Khalil.”

After cooling down a little I invited Khalil to come inside the community center.  I went to the shirt swag table and asked Khalil, “What size shirt do you wear?”  The volunteer gave me a small and I handed it directly to him.  “You were awesome!  Thank you, you earned this.”

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Last Sunday was CTR’s Montara Mountain 10k, 1/2 Marathon, Marathon, and 50k. We had a wonderful CRC turnout with upwards of 10 runners in all events except the 50k and plenty of cheering from those friends, family, and beyond out to dish out that spark to run, yet another loop!

For me, this race was one to continue the transition into letting go and running in the red – training to be in the lead pack, staying calm in the stress of RACING. What better situation than to run my local trails, pull back the distance a touch, and let’r rip!

First off the pace was wild at the start of the race. I blame Sean (training buddy and CRC member that was running the 1/2 marathon). He took off like he owned the mountain and damn straight that’s how you need to do it! His pace and “White Shirt’s” pace drew the longer distance chase group up and down the mountain at course record speed. This was a prelude to why course records fell for the 1/2 marathon, marathon, and 50k on Sunday.

“Wait!  Shit… I didn’t say hi to Tim.”, I thought while running up Brooks Creek.  For a millisecond my legs locked and attempted to turn around.  I always pay my respects to Tim when I run Pacifica; I was SO MAD at myself for forgetting.  Tim was a highschool friend that passed at the age of 33 and a park ranger at San Pedro Valley Park.  There’s a commemorative bench that I always visit before each race.  I pressed on, thinking about how he’s throughout this park.

I made up time on the downhill from North Peak and closed the gap on the 50k and marathon leader. I quick and very cautious look at my Garmin had me doing at 5:50 min/mile pace. I wasn’t too concerned because I regularly do this in training on these trails. This gap closing speed on the single track Montara Mountain trail lead to one of the most flattering compliments of the day as we doubled back on the remainder of the athletes. Those still coming up the mountain would pull to the side for the lead runners (which is so awesome). This trail is rocky in parts and passing isn’t easy. One runner squished to the side as I skipped over precarious rocks on a side bank to get by. While passing I heard, “Holy Shit!!!” That comment right there was so awesome, candid, and real. It alone made me feel like I had been inducted into an upper trail running “team”.

I pulled up on the eventual 50k winner and new course record holder (beating his own record) Leigh Schmitt. We talked about what races each of us was doing this year. He let me know that he was ~1 month removed from his HURT 100 finish and was still nursing sore feet that suffered 1/2 dollar sized blistering during the race. Of course, in the competitive front you’re always trying to gauge your competition. Most are super nice and you simply have to ask, “What are you running?” He asked me and I told him, “I’m running the Marathon so you don’t have to worry about me.” He also commented that this pace was too fast and that we’re all going to blow up. Leigh is a veteran runner and part of me was wondering if this was a tactic. A way to “plant” fatigue in other runner’s minds – primarily those of new runners. Intentional or not, none of us slowed down.

The course re-entered the park proper and I had the opportunity to say “hi” to Tim.  I pulled from the lead pack of marathoners and 50kers shooting over to his bench.  I didn’t know it at the time but I was in 1st place, letting “No Water Bottle” take the lead.  I laid a hand on the bench and said, “Thank you Tim, for looking after us today.”  And with that, I sprinted away drawing confused looks from the race spectators.

I still hadn’t sorted out whom I was competing with, but during the Valley View / Hazelnut loop I kept attempting to lock-in the race numbers of those in front of me on the switchbacks. I couldn’t quite see (despite my brand new laser vision eye sight). At this point Leigh had taken way off with 2-3 other runners. I was mixed in with “White Shirt” and “No Water Bottle”. On the Hazelnut downhill “White Shirt” comes lumbering past me – mind you I’m doing 6:30 min/mile. At the AS he peels off and finishes the 1/2 marathon (2nd place after Sean); that’s one less guy I’m racing. I head into the AS to see Janeth, whom I training for the Western States 100. She gave me a refill on hydration and quietly said, “You’re in 2nd!” By that time I had figured out that “No Water Bottle” Guy was also in the marathon and he was first AND just leaving the aid station. Strangely I then yell out, “Hey first place guy! Come here!” He actually turned around confused then bolted for THE BATHROOM. I ran past the bathroom heading up for our 2nd ascent up to North Peak.

It hit me… I was in FIRST PLACE. Holy Shit!!!!

I immediately got stressed thinking I have to hold this for 1 more North Peak and 1 more Valley View/Hazelnut loop. Crap that’s a lot of hills and running!

I also thought of Julie Moss, Hawaii Iron Woman with the famous pre-finish collapse that lost her 1st place. WHY are these thoughts in my head? All I needed to do was run. Julie Moss also said when running, “I’m good at something and now somebody’s trying to take it away from me!” Julie Moss was with me as I started up that hill.

On the Brooks Creek Trail you can look back and see if anyone is chasing you. As expected I saw “No Water Bottle” making a charge. I said to myself he has to crack. Look at the signs: He’s new, He’s not caring water (or GU) that I’ve seen, and he’s having bathroom issues. In my mind he’d charge but break himself in the process. I was tired but continued an even pace up the mountain. I needed to make him work!

A few minutes went by and DAMN he was on me. That was so much quicker than I had expected. He continued to ride behind me pushing me but I didn’t speed up too much, just ran at my pace. Then he passed and looked damn fresh, somehow! What the hell! In a newbie like goofy way he said “Ummm, hey, what distance are you running?” I told him then said, “You’re first and I’m second! Great Job!” Then I thought, “Why’d I tell him that!!!” He had no clue what place he was in. He then turned around and said, “See ya at the finish line… {stumbled on his words} … umm but maybe sooner, or something, ya never know!” as he bounced up the mountain.

Part of me was mad; this was my mountain not his. I tried to get lost in my music and transport myself to running this same trail on a not so distance foggy night where, just before we turn off the single track, I emerged out of the fog to see a cloudy blanket tucked around Pacifica.

I pushed up hill and saw a glimpse of “No Water Bottle” bounding up the hill at a rate I couldn’t match. My only chance was to get him on the downhill. As well as I was running today, my uphill isn’t what I thought in comparison to front runners.

Nearing the North Peak summit I saw the gap and it was pretty big. I re-focused on finding where 3rd place was chasing me. (Thoughts of WS quotes ran through my head, “Always run like  your 15 minutes behind someone and someone is 15 minutes behind you). Fortunately the 3rd place runner was an even bigger gap. I motored downhill trying to gain ground pulling slower 6:30 min/miles on aching legs.

I pulled into the aid station beyond ready to finish my last lap, and dang if I didn’t see “No Water Bottle” just leaving the aid station. Again, holy crap, 1st and 2nd at the last aid station with 10k to go! I scarfed chips, did Coke shots, and raced out of there HOPING he was spent. When I left the aid station I saw nothing of him on the Valley View trail. He was just gone. I was in disbelief that he gapped me that quickly. At first I was deflated, then I thought maybe he made a wrong turn and he’s right behind me!?! I powered forward, unfortunately, never seeing him again.

My goal of breaking 4:00 was complete. I finished in 3:41 in 2nd place overall and 1st in my age group. That’s over 20 minutes faster than the previous course record! And, to average 8:24 min/miles over 26.2+ miles with 5,900 ft of elevation climb and descent is amazing – I’m in disbelief and grateful to be healthy and for the competition in each of us pulling one another to grander heights.

I loved giving my boys each a medal (finisher’s and 1st place) and having a wonderful hug and kiss from my awesome wife Jen at the finish line.

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CIM 2012 Start – Photo Credit: Paul Kitagaki Jr. | pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The buzz of 2012 was weather, not just among the runners but everyone. While potty-breaking for our 4 year old on our drive up to Sacramento I eased dropped on a Berkeley man’s cell phone call in an REI: “Tomorrow morning (Sunday) I’m driving up to Sacramento directly into the jaws of the biggest storm of the century.” I couldn’t help but grin cheek-to-cheek and almost stopped and told him I’ll be running into those jaws, and LIKE it.

That became my race day mantra: Into the Jaws of the Storm!

Most times the weather is exaggerated, but true to reports, once we arrived at the Expo the skies unleashed such a volume of rain that within 5 seconds of us being out of the car we were drenched. In the 5 minutes we took to shelter in the Expo center our clothes harbored so much water Jen was wringing out cup fulls of it from her pants. Crowds of runners huddled at the Expo doors gawking at the comical rain – many taking pictures and video.

We saw fellow CRCer Ron and his friend Dana at the Expo, which was GREAT. Since he was going miss the CRC group dinner because of a big pre-race dance party on the docket {::wink::wink:: Ron} it was good to wish him the best before the race.  At the time, I thought it unlikely we’d see each other race day because of all the dang people.

Off we went to the hotel to get some rest then head out for dinner. A quick change of plans called for a wonderful (and rainy) walk into Old Town Sacramento with Mor, Mandy, Margaret, and Jim from the CRC.  We meandered into Fat City Bar and Cafe and immediately dipped into some bread while discussing race strategies. Around the table most ordered pasta pre-race meals. I couldn’t help but indulge in my primordial craving for some chicken fried steak – and boy was it GOOD! The culinary choice did draw curious looks from the CRC crowd.

Race Morning!

Race Morning!

Get out of bed time finally arrived after I had been waking up every hour on the hour. I ate some bread from last night’s dinner and Cliff and Luna bars donated to my breakfast cause by Mandy and Mor (thanks!). Note to self:  pack your dang oatmeal and banana next time!

I went down to the lobby to catch the 5:00AM one-way bus to the starting line. Still no rain yet but the wind was increasing with unsettled weather; you could tell some big weather was building. The bus ride was fun.  I loved listening in on all the excited/nervous chatter, especially with the weather being so threatening. The gentleman next to me was trading text messages and I saw him get emotional after one.  I angled over managing to casually read it:

You’ve trained so hard for this, but if conditions are too bad there’s no shame in not running. We love you.

He ran.

The gentleman one row up and across the aisle seemed unfazed by the entire ordeal.  He too was texting but it was something to do with state laws (completely non-race related) while rummaging through his drop bag and eating all kinds of foods. He was a busy guy. Once his texting was done he put on some sun screen.  Really?  The UV index = 0 and there are black clouds outside. He was kind enough to offer everyone else the sunscreen. No one took it. And yes, I’m nosy and I also noticed he had a personal roll of toilet paper in there too. This guy was READY and awesome comic relief.

While driving up 80 to Folsom the rain started pouring and the wind rocked the yellow school bus.  In the darkness we saw a huge flash that lacked the trailing rumble of thunder. We concluded it was a nearby transformer that exploded. Grrreat.

We finally arrived at the start. There must have been 20-30 large school buses parked really close to each other. The doors opened and a few runners ventured out including me. Off I darted to the porto-potties in my running gear + temporary garbage bag rain coat. The garbage bag immediately whipped up into my face as I thought about the small child suffocation dangers abound.  After wrestling it down I made it to the 200+ line of porto-potties with zeros lines.  Once in I realized this was a great shelter from the wind (a little teal colored oasis that smelled funny). Leaving it the wind ripped the door from my hand and smashed it into the adjacent porto.  Dang, it was windy! I darted back to the bus to shelter in place. I found that many non-bus riders were now in the bus trying stay warm with 45 minutes until race start. In fact simply standing in the make-shift bus city was reprieve from the elements and warm — thank you diesel exhaust.

The weather got so bad that race officials reversed the one-way rule and runners were allowed to ride the bus back to the hotel.

This created an odd partition of runners waiting to ride the bus of shame and runners waiting until the last minute to leave the confines of their warm school child shelter.  Fifteen minutes to race start I gave in to the mounting peer pressure and ventured into the weather. Drop bag deposited in the Ryder truck, now off to the start to find my place in the 6,000+ garbage clad runner mob. I looked for the 3:00 pace group and didn’t see them; it was minor chaos. Anyone attempting to hold a sign up had it immediately blown down so I figured it would pop up eventually. Some quick warm-ups and a GU and I was ready. Interestingly just before the race began stuff began flying everywhere. I saw someone in the crowd throw a rain drenched sweatshirt to the side only to land on the side of another runners’ face with its arms twirling around to complete the cranial hug. Unfazed the runner simply unwrapped it and continued on with his pre-race routine. It was weird!

The race began and it starts fast! The start immediately goes downhill and the runners bolt for warmth. It’s crowded, some trip, there are clothes and trash bags flying everywhere. My biggest obstacles were 1) runners just cutting me off 2) the speed bumps in the middle of the roads and 3) manhole covers.

Runners packed together to wedge through the elements.  Rain poured, Wind ripped. It was really fun. At times it rained so hard the drops stung my lips. We passed some brave spectators and in the early miles runners were still throwing off their clothes. One spectator yelled, “Ya! Take your clothes off for me.” I figured he wasn’t talking to me so I kept mine on.

As the miles passed I settled in with the 3:05 pace group, a mob of 20-30 runners so closely packed I’m still baffled as to how no one tripped. It was also an intimidating group because when they ran up on you it was like a stampede of bison.  Wavering runners were engulfed then excreted out the back.  On 3 occasions I attempted to leave the herd but working outside of it was difficult and required a lot more energy. I would be sucked back in, typically riding its left side, until my next attempt.  While tucked away in the group the pace leader would intermittently hold up his “3:05” sign.  Once a wind gust caught it and it whipped back and almost smacked me in the face. I also really, really, really recognized the pace group leader from Western States but simply could not place his name.  I later found out it was Erik Skaden, 2 time Montrail UltraCup Champion and 8x Western States finisher with his fastest time being a 2nd place 16:36 !

By the way the even more famous Tim Tweitermyer was the 3:35 pace group leader behind us!

Around the 13.1 mile mark the headwinds eased and I was able to once and for all dash ahead and leave the herd behind with their sign flailing, monster ultrarunning legend. I hit the 1/2 mark at 1:31:30 and felt good but was slightly slowing and a feeling of building lactic acid in my legs. I GUd up, attempted to drink on the run (most went up my nose), and picked up the pace. This was the sub-3 decision point and I began to push. My energy waned a bit as the miles flipped by; I found myself checking my watch all too often.  That’s usually a sign I’m tired. My stomach grumbled and I GU’d some more which lifted me.  I saw another ultrarunner Jady Palko ahead and took a moment to say hello. He mentioned you look fresh, why aren’t you way up there? I bid him luck then motored off.

Shortly after this very familiar bright orange CRC shirt pulled up to me and said, “Franz?” It was Ron. He was by far the best closer in the bunch of runners around us. He was running smooth and effortless while most struggled the last 6.2 miles. I yelled out something like, “Ron, SMASH IT!” as he pranced ahead. Inspiring, I too kicked up the speed. I felt Ron driving toward a sub-3 and thought he could pull me. Over the miles it was just too much to run at a sub-7 pace to keep up.  The orange, pumpkinish blur that was Ron faded into the crowd ahead. I was happy to see him execute such a great race plan and honored to have worked so hard to race a fast marathon and that work to have put me within a few minutes of finishing with Ron.

Home Stretch, Pointing to Mackie and Jen.

Home Stretch, Pointing to Mackie and Jen.

About 0.3 miles from the finish I hear the lovely Jen screaming! With the rain and having Max this was the only place she could see me and it was wonderful having that blast of energy from her to help me close it out. I saw Max wrapped up and smiling. I burst out with a “HEY MACKO!!!!” and pointed to him as my inspiration. This trip, although filled with running, was a great time for him; he reveled in the Mom and Dad alone time and having the hotel bathtub all to himself!

Through a quick series of left turns I finished in 3:03:39 well under my 3:10:00 Boston Qualifying time and a huge marathon PR of 35 minutes (granted my other marathon was the Sedona marathon — much, much, harder).

At the finish I quickly found Jen and Max and gave them both hugs, kisses, and shared some chocolate milk. It was still pouring and Max was turning a bluish-gray so we had to move along rather quickly without cheering in more CRCers (I wish I could have but the weather just wasn’t working with my little family).

We did see Ron.  He did wonderfully and finished in 3:01:32 and was all smiles. Mixed in between Ron and I was Dr. Dan Rhodes but I missed him in the finish chute.

Amazing Job EVERYONE from the CRC and beyond!!!

Ron: 3:01:33
Dan Rhodes: 3:02:59
Franz: 3:03:40
Todd: 3:20:07
Mor: 3:37:03
Margaret: 4:36:22
Jim: 4:37:18
Rachael Sage: 4:00:07

Rachel Weeks: 5:28:34

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For this year’s 39th running of the Western States and my 3rd consecutive year running I wish I could capture a converging moment where tailored training, course experience, and race day drive notched together in a brake-out performance from the pulp of ultrarunnering, solidifying an effort matching the abilities I’ve built through years of hard work.  A performance comparable to dreaming the perfect oceanside scene then capturing it to canvas for all to practically smell its salty mist.  This year’s race didn’t do that, but it should have…  I wanted it to, bad.  To the point that conjuring its memories makes my eyes tear up.  To make writing this more complex I haven’t fully processed the race, emotionally.

But, here goes…

To set the stage the training races leading up to States were going wonderfully.

  • Montara Mountain 50k, PR by ~ 40 minutes
  • Lake Sonoma 50 mile, PR by ~ 38 minutes
  • Miwok 100k, not a PR but 18 minutes faster than last year on a MUCH harder (and longer) course.
  • Ohlone 50k, PR by ~ 34 minutes

Needless to say, I was feeling good about dropping my WS PR below 23:08 with a foundation of results built through training smarter and not harder.  I even became an RRCA certified coach to not only help others but to fold solid coaching knowledge into my own training, with confidence.

The only pre-race hick-up was getting sick.  Three weeks out from race day the family ill found its way into me and knocked me on my ass with throbbing sinuses, a bronchial jarring hack, and feeling like I had mononucleosis.  Sure it was a forced taper, but that’s not how I work; I can run 50 milers in back-to-back weekends feeling fresh.  At first I wasn’t worried but when my bacterial parasite hadn’t left 1.5 weeks out from race day I freaked.  I further freaked when I was feeling “better” and went out for a 4 mile test the body out run in Edgewood and quickly concluded my legs were weak and my lungs hurt, fresh was nowhere in sight.  I was further shamed when the next day my legs were stiff and sore – a 4 mile, easy pace run, bleh.  There was internal panic.  I didn’t let anyone know of the magnitude of my panic, but it was big.

Photo by: Glen Tachiyama

My only recourse was to rest and recover.  Remaining calm was key… may as well because I was running no matter what. I took my antibiotics like a good patient, managing its side-effects and their anti-ultra running diarrheal affects.

Layered a level below that was the weight of life, personal things that anchored me from releasing to the moment.  I’ll allude to them here but refrain from details; I don’t know who reads this blog thing.  But I will say, it’s a trying time and they (or it) played heavily into my Western States run.

Pre-race was typical, again with the wonderful support of my wife Jen, my two boys, and my sister Sona.  This time we stayed in Truckee and attended two mandatory events for a successful Western States run 1) The Truckee Thursdays Street Faire and 2) Visiting Dennis at Rosie’s in Tahoe City.  Dennis is the bartender and has been there 30+ years.  He may toy with being hard of hearing but if you even whisper the word “shot” he’s all over you — “Did someone say shots!”.

Fast forward to the race morning.  It was cold, but nothing hinting at what was ahead.  I toyed with keeping my beenie on but honestly was looking forward to running minimally.  Off I went up into the twilight darkness of an uphill ski slope in a simple outfit of a my CRC short sleeve shirt, some arm warmers, shorts (of course), hat, and a short tube of fabric to mask my face from dust.

Not much snow along the way in past year comparisons, but as I neared the first aid station near the peak, I heard a bunch of crazies cheering.  Those crazies turned out to be none other than Eric, Jose, and HG (Hallelujah Goat) bundled up like a gathering of Eskimos.  Rightfully so because the realization hit of how cold it was getting.  My “dust mask” quickly went over my ears completing my homeless person lost in the Sierras look that I was obviously going with today out of necessity of warmth.  I bid a grand thanks to my buddies with huge hearts pressing for the peak.

Am I at the top yet?  You knew that day when you crested a steep climb then instantly blasted with pelting hail and 45+ mph gusts of wind that smack through you then whipped around and cut to the bone.  What a wake up call with a grand realization that I was not prepared;  I was fabrically challenged.  I immediately roared, “Hallelujah Goat!!!” as hail stung my open lips, then I scampered down some rocky single track for tree cover.  It was on!

I thrive in adversity and love a challenge and today was another one of those days – as Pine to Palm memories flooded with rapid recall from my running history banks.  That worried me though, as that 100 mile race is the one and only I’ve never not finished because I emotionally just broke that day.  I forged on as the weather paused.  At about mile 10 my body just decided to slow, way way down.  Jen Phifier,  female winner of the 2011 HMBIM, passed me.   I bid her a great race (and she had one too) as I tried to hide my sudden and alarming energy collapse.

The trail became more exposed and the weather turned worse, with marrow chilling wind and rain.  Minutes accumulated to hours and I noticed myself developing a mild confusion.  My hands were tight with cold and the dexterity of my foot placement was way off.  The rocky trail no longer ran like a trail runners dream but more like a beer goggled obstacle challenge.  Yet, I never thought I was in that much trouble.  Until suddenly I really wanted to STOP.  I wanted to STOP really bad.  As with any ultrarunning challenge I began thinking through the WHATs and WHYs and WHATIFs.  It became VERY apparent that stopping in this weather would be a series mistake.

My only warmth was to run.

When I realized this I became quite scared.  This was transitioning from the comfort of a 100 mile race to a potential medical situation.  My entire being distilled down to move and eat – it’s all I could see in my mind, it’s all that I could calculate that would keep me warm.  Pushing towards Red Star Ridge (mile 16) I finally got some reprieve in the heaven sent warm chicken noodle soup!  I hunkered under the aid station canopy as the skies unleashed in the biggest downpour of the day.  I remarked, “I’m so glad I’m under here!”  I glanced at the precious volunteer holding my 2nd and 3rd cups of soup and she was shivering – dressed in a big down jacket with beanie and hood – and shivering uncontrollably.  I said, “Oh, you’re cold.  Are you okay?”  The comment seemed to float right through her.  Unfazed she replied, “I’m okay.  Don’t worry about me” as she continued to shovel soup at me and open a GU packet – my gloveless hands were frozen, I could no longer open the packets.

I wanted to quit.  But that moment locked into my brain long enough to realize the sacrifices made not only by this wonderful woman but everyone up and down this course.  We were all in the same weather and I was okay as long as I was moving.  Suck it up.

Ultrarunning friend Pierre welcomed me at Red Star too, happy as ever.  The last time I saw him he was being medi-vaced by helicopter out of Del Valle park unconscious during the Ohlone 50k.  I can’t stop.  Pierre is okay; I can be okay.  Everyone else here has obstacles in life yet today they pause to help us, the runners, with no expectations but a thank you and a smile — and, well, maybe a finish.  Number 282 out!

My mind was locked onto Robinson Flat, 13.7 miles away.  It’s the first place I’d see Jen and she’d have a jacket for me.  It was my singular mission to take advantage of my uptick in body heat to march down this trail to Jen.  The weather broke on and off and with the descent in altitude it warmed a few degrees.  I started to feel better and could move consistently.  Yet, as time wore on the cold pressed harder – again, I couldn’t feel my hands.  My finger tips were blanched white from the tips to be 3rd knuckle.  I had to run with my hand under my shirt to keep it warm.  They began to swell and engulf my wedding ring.

Robinson Flat (mile 29.7) was 1/2 mile away, you could hear the cheers (glorious sounds).  I darted passed a runner sitting in the rain, on a stump, vomiting.  He motioned to go on.  Finally circling through the aid station I saw Hao who immediately gave me his jacket.

Oh damn fucking hell was that the best thing I felt all day!  It was warm and dry and warm.  Long-time trail friend David La Duc complimented me on my homeless person lost in the Sierras look — “Nice outfit Franz!”

I filtered through the aid station to Jen and Hao, both appeared just worried sick about me.  Jen asked if I wanted gloves and, wow, they were like a warm piece of apple pie.  Once we got them on, though.  My hands were so swollen it was a multi-person ordeal just sliding them onto my hands, worrisome to say the least.  Jen mentioned the rain was suppose to stop in an hour.  I could last that long, easy.

Off I went, back into the woods a newly equipped runner.  Not a moment too soon because cresting out of Robinson I was hit with the worst rain of the day.  It poured while traversing the exposed mountain-side left barren by the 2008 fires.  If I didn’t have gloves and a jacket on, no hesitation, I would have been done, plodding back to the AS for an automotive escape.

Photo By: Glen Tachiyama

Although the rain passed my mood remained somber.  It was at this point in the race that I began tuning into my pace and realized, with neither excitement nor dismay, that I was locked on to the 24 hour pace.  I had been here before in 2010 and knew the canyons tend to draw out your pace: pre-canyon 24 hour pace easily morphs into post-canyon 25 hour pace.  The entire ‘thing’ was blah to me.  I just wasn’t my happy self today and I had to come to terms with it before the negative attitude spiraled.  I did cross paths with another runner that was in cloud 9, obviously on some trail medication.  He was very chipper and talkative, so I passed him.  But as I did I share some advice,

“Enjoy the highs when you’re high and look forward to them when you’re low.”

Fortunately for me the canyons were tame this year, allowing me to pick up some time on the 24 hour pace.  Climbs are relative, and the WS canyon climbs are no joke, but if you subtract the heat especially if you’ve run them in serious heat prior, they lose their sting.  It’s all about perspective.  Life is strewn with tests of perspective.

Onward I pressed driving my way to Michigan Bluff.  I came in there strong and fueling well – maybe a little unfocused.  My weight was near perfect.  My trail buddy Hao ran me in and fired off a series of questions.  Nope, no special requests.  I’m just rolling.  Still locked onto 24 hour pace – strangely like a gear in the 24 hour clock.  By then the wet and cold had passed and the day warmed some.  Foresthill was within mental comprehension at a mere 7.3 miles away.  There I’d meet with Jen and my pacer Bryan (it was his first time pacing & will be running his first 100 mile race in July).  I pulled in strong and the entire area really ignited me.  I knew the medical staff there from working it in 2009.  There was a huge crowd of great friends and my crew area from the CRC.  And, my 2 boys were there joking around and mocking me for eating baby food!  As always Jen was wonderful.  I raised some crew concern when I mentioned I was cold all day.  Rightly so, but I think I raised too much concern because they later told me they were worried sick about me being hypothermic.

Max hugging Dad at Mile 62

Picking up Bryan was the perfect dose of excitement for me.  I could tell he was ready to go and competitive about it too. Better yet, he was astutely aware of the 24 hour time that I was still toothed into like a gear.  Bryan’s chatter was great and his trail innocence was even better – while running into Cal 1 he didn’t eat or drink anything at the aid station.  I took note of it and just thought, “maybe he has everything he needs.”  Then going into Cal 2 I mentioned, “Hey Bryan, you can eat at the aid stations too.”  He responded with something like, “Really!?, nice I wasn’t sure.”  That right there made me smile for miles!  It was wonderful to hear and it brought me back to my early ultra days when every aspect of trail racing was brand new.  With that spark in my step Bryan and I went hunting down some runners.

The descent to the river was nice this year, perfect weather and time seemed to float away.  Darkness fell well before we hit sandy bottom which was a bummer because I knew from last year that’s where I turned on my head lamp, so I was behind.  No big deal, but you tune into those multi-sensory reminders during the run.  Sometimes they drive to the forefront of your thoughts – uncontrolled.

The river was amazing.  I was apprehensive crossing the snow melt sourced flow – but craving the wakeup.  Great friend Jose came storming in from the darkness with a huge amount of urgency in his voice.  “Let’s go quick, you can’t waste time in the aid stations!”  He glanced at Bryan as if to say, you should be talking to him like this too! I also heard “Franz! Franz! Franz!” out of the darkness.  I keep thinking who the hell is that, stopping mid-life vest snap to try and match the voice with a face.  Jose seemed alarmed by my easily distracted demeanor.  Finally the face emerged and it was Issac from my RRCA coaching class.  We shook hands then I calmly turn to Jose and said, “I’m cutting it close this year!”  He wrapped my jacket around my neck and hurried me to the cable strung across the river.  “Go, you don’t have time to waste!”

The river iced my beaten legs.  Normally I would have welcomed it, but my core temperature had recovered from the arctic rain running of 15 hours ago.  I wobbled across while trying to navigate boulders covered in waist high water using legs with 79 miles on them.  Graceful?  Nope not that.  I probably resembled a sedated cat thrown in a pool, especially once my chaffed areas were submersed — quick clumsy movements.

After a pause on the farside aid station, the uphill climb to Green Gate was all about warming up.  Stiff legged Bryan and I marched forward, each step getting closer to ALT.  I began feeling the pull of this aid station.  It was going to be filled with so many people I know and love.  My wife, everyone from the Coastside Running Club, friends Eric and Hao.  Days before the race I envisioned running into this aid station barking and yelling, “Hallelujah Goat!”  “Coastside!”.  Then, the woods bellowed with cheers.  Ultras have a knack for throwing a twist into your “dreams” because when I arrived I had a 9.8% desire to not talk to anyone.  I was happy, yes!  But, I think arriving at ALT converged with a wave of mental fatigue likely caused by my transition away from GUs about 2 hours earlier (You CAN’T blame me I had eaten 1 GU every 30 minutes for 16 hours!)

Kristin’s awesome sign. Hey, there’s a donkey in my cup!

I walked into ALT with a shell of a hello and muttered something about blood in my pee.  I didn’t intend it but that comment morphed into a outcry for sympathy that snowballed.  I weighed in fine, but during my prolonged stop I became dizzy which isn’t uncommon as the legs are acting to also circulate blood and when you stop there’s a drop in your blood pressure until your heart realizes it has to kick-in an extra couple of pumps.   My good friend Eric was really attentive to me and very positive calmly rationalizing my discolored urine as normal occurrence – just myoglobin, continue hydrating.  I saw a great poster a wonder lady and friend of my wife, Kristin had made giving reference to the “Wild Ass Running Crew” – that was awesome.  I then asked for some Ibuprofen because my legs were so stiff still from the river.  Eric, and rightly so, lectured me on its effects and potential kidney damage.  What I was REALLY intending to ask for was the Tylenol Jen had in my running bag (it’s better to use while running because it’s processed by the liver and that’s why I packed it).   Thoughts don’t always = words when your sleep deprived and physically spent.  Thankfully Jen knew exactly what I was talking about and retrieved them while Eric continue to warn me of the risks I was about to nottake.  (All the confusion was clarified between Eric and Jen after I left).

Eric and HG looking after me.

If I could take my arrival at ALT back I’d surely make everyone, individually, feel thanked.   Next year… right!?!?!

Off I plodded into the backend ALT darkness with pacer Hao.  I calmly checkout and waved farewell to all my wonderful friends. After moving for about 15 minutes I began to loosen up and started moving a bit. Hao very astutely monitored time and my pace. I knew it was close but enjoyed the time he was giving me to recover and get my legs (and mind) back. We caught up on my life and his not talking a lick of running and it was great – after being in constant immersion of running for 20+ hours it’s GREAT to take a break from that.

We cruised through Brown’s Bar.  I was eating well, which was wonderful.  I absolutely fell in love with these mini pickles wrapped in ham and cream cheese! I cleared their plate, nothing was left.  The BB wasn’t as festive this year without the Hash House Harriers, but still an oasis in the still darkness.

At this point the AS volunteers were giving out growingly stern warnings about the 24 pace pulling closer.  I remebered a blonde lady collapsing into a chair for a “quick rest”.  Immediately someone approached her and said you don’t have much time.  Don’t sit long.

Hao and I left for the long push to Highway 49.  The 24 hour runners were beginning to coagulate.  (At the end of races you’ll see no one for hours, but when you’re close to the end runners will bunch up in hour finishing groups – ESPECIALLY at the 24 hour mark).  Hao and I ran into Highway 49 cutting 24 hour time a little too close.  To my amazement I saw Eric and Denise just exhausted, but there to cheer me on.  My lovely wife Jen was there too.  My memories were foggy, but I did wish I could have spent more time thanking them.  But I couldn’t.  Time was too close.

Reaching No Hands Bridge was nice.  I told Hao is was a treat for me to show him what the last 2 miles of the course looked like in the dark, sub-24.  There’s a big screen up and Christmas lights everywhere.  You’d think the emotion of almost being there would overcome you, but you’re too tired to do anything but move forward.  Dehydration steals your tears and overwhelming fatigue robs you of emotion.

Hao and I ran, and we were just happy.

As always Robie Point was amazing with energy, bonfires, gongs, signs, and joyous people wrapped in blankets.  The simple phrase of “Welcome to Auburn” rattles your soul.  You can feel yourself morphing into a stronger person.  Each runner congratulates the next as we cruise on blistering painful concrete as if it were mile 1 again.  The stadium lights and muffled PA system yanks us closer.  The track came into view and I said something that shocked Hao (realize we’ve already gone through hell and back, 2x, so not much is shocking).

I turned to Hao and said, “I love that track.  If it wouldn’t be so awkward I’d drop my pants an put my balls on it!”

As we rounded the track there was Jen, Eli, and Max.  In minimalist style (or a child’s fervor) they came storming at me barefoot running around on the track at 4:52AM in the morning.  That’s right a mere 8 minutes to spare from the pinnacle sub-24 hour finish.  John Medinger announced my Grand Slam accomplishments and, thankfully, reminded me to hug my wife.

The burst of adrenaline fuels about a 30 minute celebration but soon after I’m asleep in a sleeping bag on the infield grass in a deep slumber, one that rivals a bear’s hibernation.

The true celebration comes 2-3 days after the race when your body has completed its throws of exhaustion and depletion – it’s like zombie mode.  And for me I have to transition back into normal life far too early.  There’s NOTHING like it, nothing that I’ve ever experienced.

It’s a life-time packed into a day.

I wouldn’t live any other way.

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The 2nd leg of the Grand Slam was a path to experiences beyond running. Stepping outside the typical script of run, puke, recover, and finish – and yes all those things happened.  Rather, I wanted to capture lessons learned during this 100 mile race.  Also, this race was run as a team.  Friend Eric and I went sans crew and pacers to the East coast and ran together every step of the way.  A complete team effort.

Race Photos:

Overview:

In comparison Vermont is easier than my other 100 mile races (Cascade Crest and Western States), but I wouldn’t label it “easy” but “different”.  A large portion of the course is on hard packed dirt or paved roads.  Following each turn there’s a hill.  Strangely at most manned aid stations you entered on a downhill and leave on an uphill.  There’s minimal single track trail and an occasional field crossing.  The aid stations are frequent, too frequent really – including 2-3 unofficial aid stations.  Unfortunately we stopped at all of them, which tallied 32-33 aid stations total – a large drain on our finishing time.  The trail marking was superb and as promised every 0.2 miles.  We never got lost; remarkable considering our 0% familiarity of the area.  The weather was hot at the mid 80s with moderate humidity.   Crew would have helped a lot here.  In particular Camp 10 Bear was difficult to navigate in a timely manner.  Running with horses was a welcomed distraction.  The riders were over the top accommodating to the runners; they truly shared the trails/roads with us giving us complete right of way.

Sharing an ultra in its entirety can develop strong friendships:

Running an entire 100 mile event with someone adds an additional race element, something I hadn’t experienced outside of running with a pacer.  In many ways it’s like having a pacer that’s been beaten just the same – whose focus isn’t so much on you.  There’s a communal energy that forms.  I’m aware of his state, and he of mine, but most of my focus is on me.  We’re not micro-sitting each other but there’s macro-sitting in play.  Beyond functional vitals, we take turns sharing life – often when the other is going through an energy low.  I learned so much about Eric who inspires me beyond running and into life:  being a father,  a husband, and a professional.  Maybe I taught him something too.

Extreme events accentuate character, good or bad:

Taking yourself through an extreme event peels layers away exposing who you are.  If you’ve lost your identity, hours on the trail can reveal you, sometimes going a step farther and creating you.  It can build self confidence as you drive through mental and physical walls.  For some their happiness bursts out illuminating the trail.  Others have pits of anger festering that are being worked out, like a trail-bound therapy session.  Me?  I get happy while running.  Not bubbling at the seams happy, but talkative and social happy.  Stress flows away and I live more in the moment than in everyday life.  I’m constantly trying to pull some of that ultra-me into everyday life.

An ailing runner can be highly influenced:

Vermont had many first time 100 mile runners; many that hadn’t found their 100 mile running selves.  There was unnecessary carnage on the trails.  My thoughts went to them…  That state can be a chaotic maze.  Bad advice taken can end your race.  Good advice can revive it.  When you come in bad everyone has an opinion of what must be done. You hope the knowledgeable person speaks the loudest and at that time, you’re listening.

Tolerating pain:

I was lead to a discovery about myself by Eric. My high pain tolerance is both a good and bad quality. The good is obvious. Ultras deal pain.  If you can tolerate it you can finish faster.  The bad, when things aren’t working I tend to just suck it up and hurt rather than partition and resolve the issue. This is a barrier to me learning how to run a 100 mile correctly.  Ideally I strive to have issues under control AND utilize a my pain tolerance – that’s my path to incredible 100 mile performances.

Long aid station stops snowball:

Don’t stop for more than 5 minutes in an ultra. Movement, however slow, is an important component of success.  Longer than 5 minutes and your body begins to react to the stoppage by tensing muscles, halting pain relieving endorphins, and getting you lost in time.  Additionally, the longer the aid station break the longer it’ll take you to warmup your running muscles when you hit the trail again.  Be aware and timely at aid stations.  Have a plan and get in and then out!  The death march is akin to this, but rather than an aid station stop it’s a plodding pace.  Shock the system and run!  Break the slowing momentum and get moving – no matter how much it hurts to take the first running step.  If you don’t you’ll slowly resolve to walking it in.  Trust me, this will burn 2 days after the race when the pain subsides.  Run.

There’s an odd “thing” amongst some runners, when finishing 100 miles is “just” finishing:

While walking away from the finish line another Grand Slammer approached with an identical hobble.  “Hey, how’d ya do?”  I replied, “Good, 25 hours and 47 minutes”.  His face contorted in confusion, blurting out, “You mean I beat you!?!?”  I paused then said… “Well, if you beat 25 hours and 47 minutes then yes.  How did you do?”  From there the conversation turned into a blurred run down of how all the other Grand Slammers did, most in the sub-24 region and some in the 21 and 22 hour finishing times.  The scene laid out an interesting external dichotomy of my races, Western States verses Vermont.  By the numbers I was “suppose” to run a sub 22 hour Vermont.  This GSer knew that and had an off-the-cuff reaction which belittled my time and Vermont finish in one fell swoop.  Non-intentional but it happened.  And as I received my plaque instead of my sub-24 buckle it stung a bit; there was disappointment.  I didn’t have the “glow” of many of the first time 100 milers that pranced around with their plaques taking momentous family pictures one after the next.  My finish was just a finish – but I allowed it to be that way.  The onus was on me.

One week removed from the race, I now realize running a 25-26 hour Vermot could be the single best thing I did.  My resulting recovery is multitudes better (in feeling and time) than after Western States which will allow me to GAIN needed training in the 5 weeks until Leadville – not just recover.  I’m running already, injury free with fresh feeling legs.  This will allow me to hit Leadville strong and ideally carry over into the big race, Wasatch.

Wasatch is going down as a sub-30 hour finish (akin to a sub-24 Western States).

However, it’s still one race at a time.  Leadville is my 100% focus.

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The success of this year’s Western States came as somewhat of a shock.  Just looking at raw training mileage, I was able to run 680 miles total in training; that’s less than 50% of my training plan’s 1375 miles!  Yet, I was still able to achieve my goal of a sub-24 100 mile run.  I’ve realized that success in ultrarunning is built outside the accumulation of justtraining miles:

  • it is in the specificity of training runs to the race
  • it is in building your body’s diversity through alternative training
  • it is in understanding your body’s endurance needs
  • it is in reading and responding to your body’s imbalances during a run
  • it is in having a strong mind + strong motivation
  • it is in being relaxed and having fun

For the 2011 running of the Western States 100 I toed the line with my minimal training mileage, yet stress fracture mostly healed.  I was focused and determined.  Last year was my “course tour” sightseeing year.  This year was business given the reality of a possible 4-5 year spell of not being selected in future WS lotteries.  For added motivation I made a deal with my wife and kids.  If I finished sub-24 the boys would cross the finish line with me.  If my time extended over 1 day, I finished alone.  Period.  No exceptions.  To drive the emotions deep the weeks preceding race day the boys and I talk endlessly about how I needed their help at the finish line.  They were more excited than I to be there and help daddy run it in.  This proved to be a huge mental drive for me during the race.

Pre-Race:

I shared great moments with family and friends in the days preceding this year’s Western States.  We stayed in a house just outside of Squaw and enjoyed the time together, not letting the “big dance” dominate our time.  We walked to the nearby river, spent time at the Circus Circus video arcade in Reno, and had a wonderful pre-race meal prepared by good friend Hao.

I saw fellow CRC runner Eric and family during check-in;  he’s a huge inspiration to me not only in running but life.  Good friend Jose was working the swag line and made a non-subtle, enthusiastic, prod for me to silver buckle while featuring his year old trophy adorning his wife’s belt.

Despite the low-key atmosphere, I was way more stressed than last year — especially the day before the race; I slept maybe 3 hours on the bedroom floor as my mind cycled non-stop mentally running through the course.  It was exhausting.

Photo by Glen Tachiyama

The Race Begins:

We all scurried up to Escarpment with a burst of excitement.  My morphing race plan locked on to pushing this section harder than last year in order to avoid the log jams on the snow laden single tracks ahead.  I summitted just shy of 1 hour with PCTR acquaintance Patrick DeLaPace on his first WS attempt.  This year’s snow was far more challenging than last both in course coverage and its icy top layer.  While traversing the 100-200 yard, 45 degree angled snow drifts I saw 2 runners slide 40-50 feet downhill suffering some nasty abrasions.  I fell my share, but found my skinny ass had an advantage in icy snow traverses.

To Duncan Canyon 23.1 Miles (9:20AM):

The snow extended well into the course with lots of ice cold flowing water.  The feet were wet, often and early.  The drop to French Meadows reservoir was clear of snow allowing for some fast paced miles.  I averaged a few 8:00 min miles but was passed frequently.  It was here last year I puked and was happy to breeze by feeling much better and easily fueling with GUs every 40 minutes.  I met a few Grand Slammer here too sporting a “GS” sticker (I missed the meeting and didn’t have one).

Arriving at Duncan Canyon was great.  There’s a lot of energy there fueled by the Quicksilver Running Club.  I was thrilled to see Clare Abrams and Pierre here!  Camera crews were everywhere.  I felt like a trail celebrity.  A quick glance at the 24 hour pink sign put me at 30 minutes ahead of pace and 2 minutes ahead of my pace chart.  Things were great.

To Last Chance 43.3 Miles (1:20PM):

Pulling out of Last Chance began the serious course re-route due to this year’s high snow packs.  Unfortunately it was primarily on fire roads which I hate and tend to lose focus while running.  Through thinking about my boys, my music, and being in a great pack that was really pushing the pace I numbed it out and continued to pick up time aid station to the next.  It was a motivating surprise to see good friend Jose on the course 2-3 times showing me his silver buckle and exclaiming, “They’re giving these things out in 75 miles!  Go get one!”  It wasn’t his words that propelled but his unbridled enthusiasm.  See him was wonderful and gave me a chance to check on friend Eric.  “He’s doing great, now concentrate on you!”

Photo by Glen Tachiyama

Patrick, a fleet footed older gentleman, and myself blasted through Mosquito Ridge, Miller’s Defeat, and Dusty Corner’s.  They would lead while I would slowly close the gap and catch them at the aid station.  This was repeated many times making for a fun game with great mental distraction.  Between Dusty and Last Chance I suffered a low energy spell requiring some walking breaks; nothing too serious.  At Last Chance I was now +35 minutes up on 24 hour pace with my speedy buddies pulling ahead.

At Last Chance I regrouped with extra salt, tums, and mangos.  My weight was 147 lbs (3 up on my starting weight but I was doused in water).  With an active recovery in place I took off for the canyons.

To Michigan Bluff 55.7 Miles (4:29PM):

Unlike last year I was fueled and ready for the canyons.  The downhills were a blast as I tore down the switchback to the swinging bridge.  Once at the bottom the ascent up Devil’s Thumb commenced.  I dropped down in the farside waterfall, fully submersing to waist deep.  A camera crew popped out in the trail ahead and began interviewing me which caught me by complete surprise.  That’ll be an embarrassing video clip if it gets out!

I charged the Thumb in great spirits catching many runners.  I chatted up some film crews along the way that camped out at the steepest section of the climb.  It was a great climb for me.  I popped out at the aid station, grabbed a Popsicle, salt tabs, and some chicken broth.  Leaving the aid station I bit into the S!Cap and promptly vomited.  Too much salt!  I heaved for 6 goes in the bushes then fast walked while eating my Popsicle.  It was tremendous!  Things starting shifting into place and I put on some tunes.   Eric and I’s training runs here were fresh on my mind — just a few weeks ago we were caught in a very cold snow/rain storm here and threatened going hypothermic but were saved by the good nature of some Michigan Bluff residents.

Momentum built and I began tearing down this section.  I was elated at the thought of seeing Jen in 2 aid stations.  It was a tear down to El Dorado canyon and up to Michigan Bluff.  I caught Patrick on the uphill and he was having a low spell.  I tried pulling him a bit but he was entrenched.  MB was a great uplift.  I saw Jen and Denise.  I was all smiles as this marked the turning point in which I’d get to shared the race with family and friends.  It was huge lift AND I was rewarded with seeing I had +51 minutes on 24 hour pace!  I was in disbelief I felt good and was on a great finishing pace!  I began to really believe.  And, I heard good news of Eric too.  He was consistently 11 minutes behind me!

To Foresthill 62 Miles (5:52PM):

I was running on elation at this point.  I really don’t like the long fire roads leading out of MB but emotionally I numbed my mind of them.  At this point I was feeling slightly dehydrated and my pee had turned a darker color.  In retrospect this wasn’t dehydration but some blood in my urine.  Other than that I was still moving well and peeing regularly.  I caught up to fellow grand slammer Yosuke and wished him well.  He too had his wife and 2 young kids at the race cheering him to the finish.

I pushed the pace through Volcano Canyon climbed the rise to Bath Road with lots of energy and a smile while passing 1 runner who complimented me on my uphill speed.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Eric’s daughter and her boyfriend cheering me on from an uphill overlook above the Bath Road AS.  That was and awesome prelude to what was ahead at Foresthill.

Up Bath Road I went, rocking out to some AC/DC while power walking / running.  I was jostled from my musical daze when Hao and Ron met me at the intersection of Foresthill Road.  We ran into the aid station under a blissful barrage cheers and familiar smiling faces.  The Coastside Running Club gang was fully present: George, Amanda, Gary, and Margaret.  It was wonderful to see EVERYONE and be in such good spirits to return their great energy.  After a quick weigh-in I shot through the aid station and to my crewing spot just down the street.  I was surprised to see that Jen made it back from Michigan Bluff and had everything set out for a quick shoe+sock change.  Good friend Jose stopped by and congratulated me on a solid 100k while I ate Jen’s baby food / malto-meal concoction that was delicious!  As a sped off with Hao pacing, Jose (a sub-24 finisher in 2010) reassured me saying this was exactly the time he left Foresthill last year and to run smart.  A quick kiss with Jen and a hurried “I’ll see you in Auburn” to Eli and Max and off to Cal Street I went.

To Rucky Chucky Near 78.1 Miles (9:42PM):

The run to the river was two things to me 1) wonderful time with friend Hao on great trails and sharing the river in daylight and 2) a slight but progressive deterioration of my legs and feet.  As I like it, nothing too eventful happened as the miles ticked down.  Darkness had really set in once at the river crossing.  I weighted in at 144.5 lbs and Hao hurried me to the boat.  I was accosted in the night by a photo setup crew briefly dividing Hao and I but we got into a departing raft to see Jen and Ron across the river.  Getting down into the raft I really feet my stiff legs.  These weren’t the energetic appendages of WS2010.

To “Highway 49” 93.5 Miles (2:15AM):

Across the river was Jen, wonderful Jen.  She had just gotten there 5 minutes before us amazingly and had the Starbuck’s double shot that I had been dreaming about for 4 hours.  Oh bless her!  I asked about Eric and Jen paused momentarily.  I quickly jumped in and said, “If it’s bad, don’t tell me now.”  We went on to talk about other things while the group of Hao, Ron, Jen, and I marched up to Green Gate.  Ron took over as pacer here and immediately began driving a solid running pace.  The only caveat for me was it was uphill and my legs had nearly 80 miles on them.  When the caffeine kicked in Ron’s pull drew me away from Jen and we were in and out of Green Gate before they arrived.  Off into the horizontal canyons we went, nothing to challenging but always so drawn out; it’s like there’s a black hole in those woods morphing time.  We finally made it to Highway 49 and I at this point the steep down hill really hurt my toes and legs.  Coming into the AS I weighed in at 144 lbs and stopped in for a quick refueling; grabbing ginger ale and soup.  The soup went down fine.  The ginger ale immediately evoked nausea.  I proceeded out of the aid station not well.  Ron had to return to the AS for water.  I intended to go ahead but instead spent my alone time vomiting, 6 to 7 upheavals in the darkness with my headlamp doused.  Ron returned and we marched onward.  I decided the vomiting was a salt issue and increased my intake while chowing down ginger candy.  Few calories = slow movement + tired / cranky demeanor.  However, I pressed on.  Brown’s Bar came and went with yet another camera crew and a man dressed as Raggedy Ann.

I made it to Highway 49 pretty much feeling like hell, but Jen and Hao were there.  AND I was almost done.  I ate what I could, Hao forced me to take a grilled cheese sandwich (thank goodness!!!), then was off.  I knew I had a 50 minute buffer on 24 but knew it still wasn’t a lock given how I felt: 7 miles is still 7 miles.

To Placer High School Track 100.2 Miles (4:08AM):

The running picked up, the Tylenol kicked in and I had some swagger back.  I was swept up in a 23 hour pack that drove one another mile after the next.  Some pulled away on the downhills but we caught many on the flats and ups.  Ron guided me to the No Hands Bridge AS that I was getting to see AT NIGHT with the Christmas lights and big screen TV.  It was then that the sub-24 reality began to sink in.   It was transitioning to a reality with only 2 miles to go.  Every runner around was in blissful pain.  There was the possibly of breaking 23 hours, if my legs were fresh.  Ron being the same type of fast finisher as myself drove for it.  I responded with what I had as we ran well during the Robie Point stretch passing a number of people.  Then we hit the last climb with 15 minutes ’till 4:00AM and I told Ron there’s a large climb out of the aid station.  Last year on really good legs I made that section in 15 minutes.  This time it’s not in the cards, let’s just enjoy this!

We summited Robie Point to the all night parties of Auburn: bonfires, disco balls, Christmas lights, …  A lady yelled, “Welcome to Auburn, this one’s for you!” and struck a large bell.  Everyone along the course cheered.  What really got me is when someone would say, “You did it!”  Somehow, those 3 words made it real.

As we neared the track I invited Ron to run with me as opposed to running 5 feet ahead.  The pace was enjoyable and the finishing energy was soothing.  We pulled onto the track and I scanned for my boys.  I saw Max running circles on the infield and he too spotted me right away yelling, “Daddy!!!”  Eli and Max met me on the straightaway pulling in for a 23:08 finish.  I gave Jen an huge hug and kiss… high fives all around to Hao, Ron, Brian, Sona, George, Gary, Amanda… It was amazing.  An experience worth the investment multitudes over.

When back from Vermont, I’ll write-up a “medical wrap up” discussing my blood and urine test results.

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When I was 15 years old, in the South Carolina summer-time wet morning heat, my dad and I did something extreme. We ran 12 miles. It was difficult for both of us – summitting long drawn out black paved hills only to return, pounding down them during an out-and-back from our house in Greenbriar subdivision. The morning heat was inching to a daily high of 100F with a humidity to match, hovering at 95%. It’s what I said immediately after stopping in front of the house that amazes me in retrospect and I regret not finding this memory to fuel me during the hard times encountered 66 miles into the Pine to Palm (P2P) course.

I turned to him and asked: “Dad, can I run Forever?”

Most days I still feel like that. Early Sunday morning during the P2P 100 I didn’t and I’m still not sure why.

Friday afternoon check-in brought warnings of the rain to come race day with heavy down pours followed by vibrant rainbows cast on the Williams, OR hills – foreshadowing our day to come. The start commenced at 6:00AM Saturday when 170 runners or so completely took over the town’s main street. No rain to speak of, temperate weather wonderful for running. Surprisingly we were on 6 miles of road until the trail began.

The first climb of the day brought mean weather. Reaching the peak temperatures dropped tremendously and the wind ripped at your clothes.

11 miles to the next aid station (O’Brien Creek) is a long way. I hadn’t packed enough food, so I rationed.

Reaching Seattle Bar (mile 31) was an intermediate goal as I’d see my crew for the first time. However, the ~ 7 miles of downhill was completely wide open gradually descending dirt road. Slowing to a sub-24 pace, even with walking breaks, was almost impossible. I feared how my body would react to such a fast pace this early. My 24 hour pace coming into the AS was 1:30PM. I arrived at 1:10PM completely too fast. As a result I missed my crew. Oddly, I was down 3 lbs. which befuddled me because I was soaked with water weight. I scowled at the medical personnel. They seemed to question my mental state – mainly because I was constantly scanning for my crew and not answering their questions.

I continued crew-less on a monster climb to Stein Butte (mile 36). My stomach revolted feeling much like an expanding water balloon was implanted in my abdomen. I tried an experiment – I took 2 S!Caps within a 5 minute window bargaining that I was deficient in my sodium intake. After about an hour (all hiking straight up) the feeling subsided. There was a drawback; my calorie intake was now behind and would stay that way for the remainder of my race. The rain unleashed in a downpour. I saw a runner sitting on a log, in the wind and rain, with only a thin gray jacket on. I asked if he was okay. He was; I let him be.

The aid station was wonderful.

There was large bear scat everywhere.

The next aid station was a neat crewing spot as I ran in at mile 42, saw my crew, then ran a 2 mile loop around the lake into the same crewed aid station. That was probably my fastest 2 miles of the race. It was wonderful to finally see Jen and the boys… my sister. Even my dad and mom made it out. I had superb help in getting into dry clothes, eating, and changing out of my wet socks (heavenly).

Off I went again on a dirt road with my new and completely over-sized backpack that I grew to hate – it had one thing going for it though, its larger size kept my back warm!

I hiked up yet another hill with cars driving by shuttling Coke to the aid station. They’d stop and sing encouragement concluded with a general mileage countdown to aid. I shared the trail with a wonderful woman named Monica who was running her 109th 100 mile race. She had ran the Rio Del Lago 100 the previous weekend, in part, with another good friend Georganna. I forged ahead out of French Gulch Divide AS (mile 47) onto my favorite trail of the race. A wonderful single-track, raising up the mountain-side, as day break dwindled. I was alone and at peace (except for my hated backpack). We learned to be friends and enjoyed the night together.

And the rain came again. The wind too – and it was getting cold and dark. A pair of jack rabbits scurried away from the reaches of my headlamp. Squaw Peak (mile 52) was a mess of mud and stuff. I dropped my pack and headed 1 mile up to the lookout for my flag in the 1st of 3 flag retrievals on the course. This hill sapped me as did every hill following. It was a long steep fireroad switchbacking, finally reaching a fire lookout cabin. My light caught a small sign that said, “Even locals don’t come up here” with an empty Coors Light 12 pack box propped against it. I grabbed the flag mounted on a metal wire (to which I envisioned stumbling on my wobbly legs and impaling myself). A handoff to the aid station captain and I was off to Squaw Creek Gap (mile 60).

At this point it was completely fireroads, all uphill, and I was completely done. My energy was low, my right quad was stiffening, and my movement was nothing resembling a jack rabbit. In my mind the next aid station was a crewing spot. I realized my mistake number 1 million: carry an aid station breakdown. At this point I really had no idea where I’d see my crew. I couldn’t remember what aid stations I had left my drop bags.

I was a mess.

I was ready to sit in a chair with a warm blanket for a long time and discuss dropping with my crew 5 miles up this damn hill.

The aid station came and it wasn’t the one I’d hoped – no crew. I confirmed with the aid station volunteers while eating soggy chips that the next aid station, Dutchman Peak (mile 65), was the crew spot. I thought “Cool” they’re only 1 away! Then I was told it’s 6 miles all uphill and a 2,000 ft. climb. I deflated. I slogged up a wide dirt road in the rain and wind. At times I’d turn off my headlamp and just walked. The road was so open and packed that you really couldn’t get hurt. We plodded, on a road that was shared with AS volunteers and crew cars… pacers and such, again. Most just sped by us, a few would say “Good Job” huddled in the warmth of their Subarus and minivans. The black and white darkness was broken by the red flashing lights of an ambulance speeding down the road on an hour drive to Applegate and beyond. Word was, it was a hunter and not a runner.

I tried to surface mentally motivating thoughts to propel me forward. I thought about the CRC running club cheering me from afar – especially Eric. I thought about pictures of friend Mike Weston completing the Grand Teton 100 running with a sideways lean because his core muscles had given out. I thought about Jen and the boys giving up so much for me to be on this trail, completely supporting me. But, nothing worked. They were pushed aside, extinguished like a wet match. My own mind was blocking forward progress.

Six miles came and went. Uncharacteristically the 1:00AM cut-off was inching closer; I had 30 minutes to spare. Closing in on what seemed to be the mountain peak, there were LED head lamps and car headlights scattered everywhere; it was phenomenally disorienting. The wind was horrendous, the rain pelting darts, and I was cold.

Finally I made the aid station and was promptly escorted to the propane heat lamps. I wasn’t as cold as most of the incoming runners (except for my hands). I saw my sister Sona but not Jen. I asked where is Jen? Sona, said she was worried and went looking for you. My heart sunk because it wasn’t nice out there and that worried me. I told Sona I was going to drop… but, I was still going to summit (a 1 mile out-and-back to the mountain top). Why? I still had some semblance of fight in me.

After clothing-up and teaming-up with new friend Theresa and her runner Steve, we all hiked in horrible rain and wind to retrieve another little flag on an exposed mountain top. The time went by quickly and it was wonderful to have happy conversation pre-occupying the mind. Steve sounded great and was mentally sharp in continuing on. I was not.

We returned and Steve and I handed over our flags. On the edge of the aid station’s wind flailed canopies I saw Jen, drenched. When the lantern light illuminated her face, her eyes were red with tears and her entire being overcome by worry. I rushed to hug her, “I’m okay.” She melted in my arms, sobbing. “I’m stopping here” I said. And without much discussion it was done.

That day, I couldn’t run Forever. My body didn’t fail me nor was the weather too much. My mind was coherent and my thoughts were clear; I simply had no desire. The thought of continuing 34 miles in the conditions before me had zero appeal that night — in 99.9% of any other night they would have, I would have thrived in the challenge.

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