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Twenty-One seconds separated 3rd place from 5th place at the Ohlone 50k — 21 short seconds. Within a span of 18,660 seconds, the final podium spot was decided within the proverbial blink of an eye. Even more fascinating was, in the span of that time, a collective 19 Western States finishes crossed the finish line — that’s 90% of a States finish for every “Ohlone” second. Amazing company and an all encompassing joy to share the race with 2 talented runners: Kevin Sawchuk and Ian Torrance.

The story always runs deeper, 50km deeper in the very least.

Minutes prior to the 8:00AM start I’m dropped off by my lovely wife Jen. I dart to Stan Jenson and get my bib, sort my things, then scan for friendly faces. I see Janeth and run over to talk. I’ve been coaching Janeth through her WS journey. To say the least it has been a tough one for her. As if training for 100 miles wasn’t difficult enough she’s been thrown the book this season. It has been a pleasure to track her journey and learn what being tough really is. I thought I was strong, but there’s a new level that I didn’t comprehend until I met Janeth.

Following some truly emotional words, Janeth shoo’d me off telling me you need to get in front, the race is starting in 2 minutes. Off we were and my thoughts were consumed with Janeth’s toughness and hoping she’d have a positive break through today.

I intended to run comfortably at the start. I had been nursing a right calf/Achilles injury post Miwok and was tentative on steep Ohlone uphills, yet, I found myself in 10-15th place (it’s easy to count running on Mission Peak – you can see forever). My hill gear had me gaining on many people until I settled into a common pace with Kevin Sawchuk and Ian Torrance. We all ran comfortably to the summit catching runners here and there.

Kevin and I gapped Ian while cruising to Sunol AS (mile 9.11) running 6:30 min/mile. At this point the race hadn’t started – there’s too many hills on this course to even start thinking about speed. Kevin then veered off to the bathroom and I was left alone to climb a 3,000 ft monster with Kevin, the hill climbing animal, chasing me – I ran with him during Ohlone 2012 and he smoked me on this exact section.

I started to push some here, using this as a motivating opportunity to PR this hill. I would catch glimpses of Kevin’s bright red shirt below but we were matched in pace pretty evenly to my surprise. At this point I didn’t know exactly what place I was in but felt it was good. And, I felt GREAT energy-wise. The crippling hills weren’t that bad on me this season.

After passing the last bunch of early start runners, I dropped into Backpack Area AS (mile 12.48). I got to it with Coke, Salt, GU, and some ice and water over my head. Then bolted out to the cheers of GO! You’re 4th.

Wait, WHAT!?! I’m 4th?

My mind still doesn’t comprehend phrases like that in races. I’m use to people not knowing, losing count by the time I come in. It seemed Chinese to me – I didn’t understand.

Until 1 mile down the trail I saw 2 runners. At that moment I REALLY understood 4th and REALLY, REALLY understood 3rd and 2nd. I could not believe they were on the ridge just above me and I was gaining on them – a weird euphoric state swept over me. I ran every hill they didn’t. From their silhouettes I knew #2 was John Burton and couldn’t identify #3. I also knew that John was supremely trained for this race and brings a history of pulling back on this particular uphill to then BLAST the remainder of the race.

My mark gravitated to the #3 runner whom I could tell was faltering. 5 minutes back, 4 minutes back, 3… I would time him.

I also looked back and saw Kevin running strong.

And now, yes right now, would be the time that my right calf would begin hurting. Not the dull pain that I was accustomed to but a few sharp stabs. Enough that I stopped, I stopped chasing, I stopped being chased, standing in the dusty trail on one leg assessing myself.

My coach voice came over me saying, “You’re doing damage – STOP!”

My competitor voice came over me saying, “You’re in 4th and 3rd is right there! How often does THIS happen? It’s a strain, GET IT.”

Kevin caught me. I said, “Hey Sawchuk, Great Job!”

He humorously retorted, “That’s Dr. Sawchuk to you! States is the Goal. Keep your eye on the prize!” to which he later admitted was a mental tactic he was using to get me to slow down 🙂 See, these lead guys play the mind games with you!

The reality was I was in the middle of no where. Even if I did get back to an aid station there’s little they could do but hike out with me. Ohlone is a barren course. I pressed forward very slowly, unfortunately favoring my left leg. I monitored my gait as best I could but at times it was painful. Kevin took off, yet the bearded man #3 (now #4) continued to fall back – even with me running at 75% capacity.

And then, the sharp pain subsided. I could run “okay”. Transitions from uphill to downhill or vice versa were painful.

Then, I passed the bearded man. Endorphins were flowing. Kevin was no longer extending his lead. We reached Rose Peak (3,600 ft, mile 20) and I was told the leader was 19 minutes ahead. Another DAMN moment! The leader usually finishes in 4:40 or so. Were we going that fast!?!

I re-tooled myself for the long downhills – it hurt but wasn’t unbearable. I was managing while I pulled Kevin in closer and closer. He skipped the unmanned water station, forcing my card. I had to too. I caught him on the uphill – cramping slightly, wishing I had more water, yet moving with confidence in the eye of a trail companion turned competitor.

I was now in 3rd.

I fell in love with 3rd. The more I opened a gap, the more love stitched with reality. I was prepared to fight for 3rd every step of the trail to Livermore.

I flew into Schlieper Rock AS (mile 25.65) with intent. The race began now. My right calf injury was masked from reality, yet my cramping grew. I drank lots of water, GU, and salt which only kept the cramping from worsening. I tore down the technical decline as fast as I could with memory of Miwok (including the cramping) in my mind. I gained speed only to cramp and need to slow down. This was the eb and flow of my life at this moment.

21 seconds isn’t that long.

The single track was covered with overhanging thistle, poison oak, and it was dusty. I remember not feeling the thistle as I grazed it being more focused on my cramping. I was adrift in a running trance when, WHAT THE HELL?! I was jolted by a snake across the trail. Instincts react, I jump and jumping made me cramp, mid-air. With my feet locked into a pointed position I couldn’t land feet first – I came crashing down on my butt.

A plume of dust hoovered around me as a screamed in pain. Both my calves were excruciatingly tight – I could see the stranded contours of my muscles with my feet locked in Relevé; I sat upright with legs sprawled on the trail. I screamed in pain and tried to straighten my feet. Nothing.

First thought: Shit, I cannot move.
Second thought: I’m going to lose 3rd.
Third thought: Shit, there’s a snake next to me.

21 seconds go by.

I panic then the cramps jump to my quads. I scream again. It was oddly promising that Kevin hadn’t come down the trail yet. It gave me hope. Hope to prop myself up and then my body grudgingly released the cramps. I completely lost track of the snake – I had no idea where it was nor did I care. I got up and did a hobbling run fighting for 3rd.

60 seconds went by.

At the bottom was a group of 15 scouts huddled in the shade cheering me on. I dipped my hat in the stream as I crossed hitting the final climb. 1 minute later I heard them cheering another runner. I assumed it was Kevin but peering down I saw Ian and he was moving well.

Every hard fought section of trail was coupled with a look back. Where are they? 3 miles to go. I get a glimpse of Ian across the ridgeline and I’ve extended my lead, but I’m still cramping. Finally I hit the long downhill to the finish. Because of cramping I’m forced to stop for water.

2 miles to go.

As fast as I can go… I go. 7:00 – 6:30 min/mile. We reach a slight uphill that sends my legs into a cramping mess and I look back and see a figure – Kevin!

1 mile to go.

I welcome the transition back to downhill, the last downhill, leading to the finish line. There are friends of runners and hikers spattered about the trail. Footsteps get closer and finally Kevin passes. I say, “Good to see you Dr. Sawchuk.” But then I heard more footsteps. Ian was there too.

1/4 mile to go.

Ian passing caught me by surprise. I ran after him. The cramps said NO. Everything I had in me was ready to run strong to the finish except my legs. I heard Jen cheering.  My leg seized momentarily. Thoughts of having to crawl across the finish line flashed through my head. Luckily they released.

5th place in 5:11, over 30 minutes faster than last year, 1st in my age group, AND carrying with it competitive fuel for my next race – I’m still in love with 3rd.ohlone_finish_2013

Other Wonderful Ohlone Links:

Ohlone 50km Results

John Burton’s Blog Post

Jean Pommier’s Blog Post

First Female Rookie Blog Post

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Lake-Sonoma-50-logoSaturday the 14th started out typical, well as far as race mornings go.  Jen, my beautiful one lady crew, and I set out at 5:30AM from our hotel and promptly got lost.  The 3rd year of running the Lake Sonoma 50 wasn’t a charm but Jen and her portable computing and texting device steered our groggy efforts.  Arriving with plenty of time I was able to check in with two wonderful ultrarunners that I’ve been training for Western States.  Janeth was in grand spirits as usual and utilized the massive draw of ultra talent to score pictures with Timmy Olsen and Max King.  Mike was his usual calm self and practically has running ultras down to a recipe.  Well wishes exchanged and bib numbers on, it was race time.

I positioned myself near the top 1/3 of the race prior to the “gun” sounding.  I glanced around to see Hal Korner, Jorge Marvilla, Karl Metlzer shoulder to shoulder with me.  In the distance, off to the side, I saw my wonderful Jen mouthing, “You’re too far up!”  To which I responded, “I know” but embarrassingly some shirtless runner guy thought I was wafting sweet  nothings his way and waved back.  Begin Awkward Sequence!  Jorge yelled with uncontainable excitement then John Medinger launched us into the streets.  I used the 2.5 mile stretch of road to withdraw myself from the gunslinger pace promptly.

My race strategy was straight forward – average 10:00 min/mile across the entire race.  Not even across all miles, but for the duration of the race.  Using last year’s splits I knew where I ran too fast and where I crashed.  I adjusted my initial splits to slow down (9:30 min/mile for the first 15) then hold a steady 10:00 – 11:00 min/mile on the backend.  It was a little more complicated than that but you get the idea.  Backing off was key because my longest training run leading up to this time was 26.2 miles.  Right now my body knows a fast 26.2 miles – if I push fast for longer, the wheels can fall off.  That strategy equated to an 8:22 finishing time.  I rounded my goal up to 8:30 but that still scared me.  This would be my fastest 50 miler to date on a challenging, early season, “relentless” course.

Churning up the paved uphill road I immediately realize my Garmin isn’t tracking mileage.  DAMNIT !  It was in some weird indoor mode.  I quickly power cycled it, locking it’s infuriating microcomponents to the Sonoma sky.  I then spot Ken “All Day” Micheals and say hello then pose the off beat but required question of “How far do you have?”  He replied, wondering if it was a joke, “0.3 miles!”  Now I had to add .3 miles to everything… All Day !!!

In the distance I saw Jen Phifer – a great competitor and wonderful person; we had run close-ish splits for the 1st half of Lake Sonoma in 2012.  I was drawn to stay near her, but my logic took over and I found myself pulling back from sub 8 min/mile on the road.  Yet, I also noticed she didn’t pull away.  I’ve ran with Jen enough to feel something was different with her today and was concerned (I later found out that see was recovering from the flu and dropped out of the race).

So concerned, maybe OVERLY concerned, that once we hit the single track I saw her pulled just off the trail hunched over, kinda kneeling.  I too pulled off and asked, “Are you okay”.  She bounced up saying yes, just PEEING.  Oh so AWKWARD.  That thought didn’t even cross my mind.  I bounded over the creek crossing, darting up the other side in TOTAL embarrassment.

Only to be embarrassed again I saw the Race Director John Medinger directing traffic towards the first water only aid station.  I enthusiastically yelled out, “THANKS GREG!” … to John, not Greg.  As my wife would say about me at that moment, What a turd.  For the next 2-3 miles I BURNED it into my head in an attempt to remember 40 miles down the trail, you need to apologize to the Race Director JOHN when you finish.  I repeated that, silently, over and over again.

Just before Warm Springs Creek AS (11.6) I grouped up with a quick pack of runners that were purposeful but not too fast. Leading the pack was Meghan Arbogast, an amazing runner that has been a top-10 female Western States finisher something like 6x, many of those sub-20 hours (which is my WS goal).  I hung behind her with the sole purpose of studying how she runs.  I watched her through aid stations, up hill techniques, down hill techniques, foot strikes, running form, I just watched it all in a non-creepy, non-stalker kind of way.  She has been running, and winning, ultras since 2006 and she’s still doing it at the age of 51.  This was a wonderful learning moment.

Never fast, but ALWAYS consistent she picked apart the LS50 course with surgical experience molding her specific running technique into the terrain.  She’d happily let a pack of guys bound past her on the uphill (which she’d NEVER walk) then promptly run them down effortlessly on the downhills.  At Madrone Point (18.8) I was a few yards behind her.  Last year it was the same story but I came in with Krissy Moehel.  However, Krissy promptly smoked me at the turn around while hung back smashing into the 25 mile wall.  I thought about this — and was waiting for the crash.  I expected it, envisioning a timer set to a moment invisible to me.  When would it chime?

I saw my Love, Jen, just past Madrone Point (18.8) and she was spectacular and happy!  I had been running with a gentleman in a blue shirt and snapback hat.  He was behind me when I arrived then he promptly passed me, gingerly with an unwavering effort.  Jen whispered in her Jen like way, you have to beat that guy.  Because I had been talking to him while climbing the hill I knew he was working and my conversational pace was quicker than his.  No questions asked, I agreed to beat him later re-passing him on a climb.

Then I saw Greg, I mean John.  I was HAPPY to apologize for calling him the wrong name.  I stopped and shook his hand professing like he was a priest.  He simply smiled and said, “It’s okay, Greg is a good guy.”

Photo: Gary Wang

Photo: Gary Wang

I continued my push to the 25.2 mile turn around after repenting.  It wasn’t long before I became a complete spectator in one of the most amazing races of the year funneling back to me.  Max King zipped by me first with about a 1 minute lead on Cameron Clayton (easily spotted by his stark blonde hair).  About 4-5 minutes back was Sage Canaday, the eventual winner.  Then one after the next the elites of the sport whisked by and I greeted them all by name, because I’m an ultra stalker.  No, but really: Jorge, Hal, Nick Clark, Timmy Olson, Dave Mackey, … on and on and on.  I even saw Mr. Ricky Gates that recently moved to SF and has been pegging some of the Strava routes on Montara Mountain, setting insane times to North Peak.

Brian Tinder blipped my radar from the Adidas ultra team.  Him and I ran parts of my first marathon, the Sedona Marathon, side-by-side.  As the 1/2 marathoners closed the gap he veered off and dropped his pants while smacking his stark white bum at them.  Who could forget someone that does THAT?  “Good Job, Brian!”

Finally I made it to the turn-around feeling GREAT!  And, I saw Meghan just leaving.  My confidence leaped, I was running shirtless, I saw my Jen, and it was time to run HOME.  Off I went chasing shit, feeling the race that I wished I had in 2012.

After harassing the volunteers by trying to purposely go the opposite direction they were directing me, I went bounding down the hill quickly catching up to runners I perpetually read before mine in race results.  This drove my momentum as I was riding this excitement; I’m holding my own in a runner’s tier that I’ve projected myself in but have never held for the “big” races.  As I began wrapping back around to the runners behind me I sang their praises and said hi to each and every one of them (and I mean EVERYONE).  There was some deja vu as a passed the runners that I was grouped with in earlier years, yet today I was miles ahead.  When I saw Scott Leberge with whom I have ran a few races with, he said, “Wow, you’re up there with the elites.”

It started to morph from a dream to a reality.

My absolute highlight was seeing Janeth and Mike Weston in the race.  I’ve been training them for Western States and to seen them in the race was so special.  I KNOW all the hard work they’ve brought to that day and I also know some of the challenges they faced.  I saw Janeth first, instantly freezing in my tracks, then asked how she was doing – a bit of a rough patch that I tried coaching her through.  I wish I had 1/2 that girl’s toughness – it puts most ultrarunners to shame in what she can endure.  In all ways she’s an inspiration!  We both pushed on, me a little stronger than before because of her.  Shortly after I saw Mike.  He put a smile to my face because I snuck up on him.  Maybe it was coincidence but the minute he saw me he lurched from a walk to a run.  I stopped and checked in with him.  He was looking strong and consistent, like he always is – practically a machine.

lake_sonoma50_travolta

Photo: Jennifer Dill

Energy renewed I crested a hill nearing Madrone Point (30.9) again and saw iRunFar’s Byron Powell.  Yet another little sign that I was mixing it in with the fast folks.  I LOVED it.  This excited my ultra stalker self to no end!  Emerging from a trail wiggle and some tree cover I saw my Jen AND good buddy Hao.  And yes, my reaction was to posed shirtless doing scrawny John Travolta poses – even repeating some poses once the FaceBook camera’s were ready.  Another quick crew exchange and I was off.

Where’s that crash, that timer that was suppose to go off?

I pushed for Wulford AS (32.8) beginning to feel some heat, although not effecting me much, still moving strong.  Thanks to Rick Gaston and friends for taking great care of us.  In and out I was off chasing some more runners running everything – just like Meghan I thought.  I had watched her so long in the beginning of the race I had her pattern, so I just mimicked it.  I didn’t think, only copied.  I passed one runner on an uphill, then another.  Converging on Warm Springs Creek (38) I saw another runner struggling on the uphills.  As I caught him and glanced over to say good job I recognized him and a delayed HOLY SHIT rang in my head.  It was Andy Jones-Wilkins (known best for being a 7x top ten Western States finisher).  My world rocked for a second, maybe more, time dilation was in full effect.

HOLY SHIT that was AJW and HOLY SHIT what does that mean for my Western States this year?  Or does it mean anything at all.  My mind was spinning.  Not only was I hanging on the back heels of the elites I was still passing people.

This was also about the time things got difficult.  I had ran out of water on the last stretch and really felt it coming into Warm Springs AS.  Jen was wonderful and lifted me by saying, “The next time I see you you’ll be done!”  At the AS there were 3 runners and I felt the other two look at me like who’s this guy? (at me).  I was first out and immediately started running like someone was chasing me – because they were.

I hit a mode and ran and ran.  I know this section of the course is hard to I tried to numb the pain and simply proceed.  It’s hard running when you feel chased because your body is constantly negotiating with you to walk a hill or take a 1 minute break but the adrenaline keeps saying, “NO, THEY’RE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!”.  I caught 1-2 more runners but ran mostly alone imagining footsteps behind me or packs of runners chatting effortlessly (pop, you’re down 4 spots when you’re passed).  Thankfully these were the voices of the boat goers lounging on the boat deck in swimsuits drinking beer beneath me.  Damn, that would be nice!

Into the quick out-and-back to the last aid station I saw Meghan.  SHIT she’s strong and SHIT I was hanging with her.  It works both ways as I left the aid station I saw everyone that was chasing me.  They felt so close.  I had a hard 4 miles to go, primarily uphill to the finish.

Up and Down around the lake I snaked mostly alone.

Then I saw a flash of someone below me with 2 miles to go.  I wanted to stop running up hills and rest my legs.  I was hoping I could break from this chasing runner so I belted out a few good paced sections.  I finally saw the 1 mile to go sign (still climbing uphill) I looked back and got a crystal clear, almost electrifying, visual of who was chasing me.

It was blue shirt was snapback hat.  The ONE FREAKING GUY in this entire damn race that MY WIFE told me to BEAT.  I was pissed.  So pissed.  I wanted to walk a fucking hill.  Now because I saw who was chasing me I couldn’t.  So with 1/2 mile to go it was an all out 100% effort to the finish – I can’t let him by!

A rocky summit followed by a street crossing (crossed fingers there was no car coming so I didn’t have to stop… crossed fingers again hoping a car WOULD come forcing him to stop).  I popped up on a flat and kicked it into gear with a quick glance to see if he was on the road behind me.  Weaving through some barriers I hit the grass with 50 yards to close on the finish line and FINALLY felt safe.  He finished 13 seconds behind me!

And it was done, an 8 hour 20 minute finish.  A full 1 hour and 2 minutes off last year’s race that into itself was phenomenal.  I was 34th in a race of MONSTER ultrarunners and it felt right.  It’s where I want to be and continue to be as more boundaries fall.

This being my third Lake Sonoma, John Medinger and his faithful crew, continue to do an amazing job in building an “old school” feeling event into an international destination race that is quickly building to lottery-like magnitude.  A 100% class A event that, with its old school feel, doesn’t cave to pampering runners and lives up to its relentless tag line.

There’s NOTHING that beats a fresh tamale with sea salt sprinkled over it and a cold beer after a 50 mile run!

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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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I’m at work now, self admittedly not doing much work at all. All things pressing have been accounted for yet there are longer term projects that I could start but don’t. I’m immensely preoccupied with race preparations for my first attempt at completing a 100 mile course, all the planning, and emailing all the supportive friends and family the kindness that’s just oozing from my pores at this very moment. I’m usually very contained emotionally yet I’ve drifted off into my “race only” state of being giddy. I’m just outwardly happy now and, although uncharacteristic, it’s GREAT.

I haven’t posted about the 3 wonderful races that lead up to me feeling prepared for my 100 mile, 24+ hour excursion into the Cascade Mountain wilderness. Before I continue on I should.

First there was the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler: A test of elevation, mountainous terrain, and dryness. My time goal entering the race was to complete the race in under 12 hours. I exceeded it by finishing in 10:35:10 good for 15th place and astronomically more important I felt good – a race in which I recovered well from losing my legs from miles 30-35 coupled with a bought of dehydration.

Secondly and a mere TWO weeks following TRT50, I completed the 12 Hours at Cool Night Run: Ultimately this race was yet another long training run at NIGHT with a background goal of beating my time last year of 5 laps (45 miles) in 10:26:34. I ran very well that night, unknowingly in 2nd place in the early morning hours. Rather than run through the entire night I stopped at 5 laps (again 45 miles) in 8:30 !!! It was amazing, while still holding back under the barrier of “it’s a training run” I STILL beat the last year Franz by almost 2 hours!

Thirdly and a mere ONE week following Cool at Night, I completed the Headlands 50 Mile Race: Again my goal was to beat the Franz of last year’s time of 10:37:39, which I might add was on an easier course with at least 1,000 ft less elevation ascent/descent. I did that, oh yes, I did. That day I finished in 9:22:58 not only destroying my time last year but setting a personal record for the 50 mile distance! Previously it was my last year’s Dick Collins race of 9:57:26 that’s held on a vastly less difficult course.

What’s profound about these 3 races is that they were very close in proximity (3 50 mile runs in the span of 3 weeks) and they were all training runs. Although I did run hard, I left something out there on the trail – a mental “GO” that remained unharvested. During the challenges I faced on those trails, I purposely made the conservative choice for the sake of running another day. As the story “should” go, you’d now expect me to say I WILL NOT leave anything on the trail come August 29th – 30th while racing my first 100 mile attempt at the Cascade Crest 100. Through all avenues of mentors, observation, training, and most importantly the races above I’ve been enlightened that by convincing myself it’s just a “training run” I’m able to effectively counter-balance all the race adrenaline searing through my body screaming go, go, go. The net result is I don’t go out too fast and have plenty of energy to conquer the second half of the course.

So forward I go into Easton, WA to run my 100 mile “training run” through the gorgeous Cascade Mountains that offers as a gift to me my next step into ultrarunning, a brief glimpse into my soul at mile 80 or so.

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For those that may not have noticed, I’ve signed up to run my 3rd 50 mile race of the year – the North Face Endurance Challenge.  The course is set in the Marin Headlands and includes 2 traverses to Pantoll totaling 10,731 ft. of total elevation gain and descent.  Why’d I sign up for this?  Well, after the Dick Collins 50 mile I felt good, that I had some momentuem.  My original plan was to race the Woodside 50km, but I preferred something longer.  A few weeks ago Ron Little’s blog brought this to my attention and I immediately lit up and, well, signed up.

Photo from www.bahiker.com

Bootjack Trail - photo http://www.bahiker.com

I’m trying something a little different with this race, I’ve built a training plan and am tracking weekly mileage.  Also, I’ve signed up for PCTR’s Nov. 15th Stinson Beach 50km as a long training run for the NF50 2 weeks following – a perfect compliment because it covers some of the same trails (Dispsea, Steep Ravine, Heather Cut-off, Matt Davis, Redwood Creek).

I’ve been researching the NF50 trails a bit and reading the website course description.  In doing so I came across a trail description that brought an instant smile to my face.  Although the Bootjack trail isn’t run in the PCTR event, hitting it at mile 30.4 to 36 in the NF50 will be a race highlight.  Here’s the description from the NF50 website:

Pantoll Station to Old Inn Aid Station:

Lost Trail

Lost Trail - photo http://www.bahiker.com

Get ready to enjoy this ride! The Bootjack trail descends almost 1,300 feet in less than two miles along a stream through the beginning of a valley of redwoods. The single track trail is very technical. This is arguably the toughest trail descent in all of Marin. It is steep, rocky and root-filled. Be sure to keep your focus through here.

Where there’s a sweet downhill there’s always a climb and Muir Woods doesn’t disappoint.  The course turns left to the Pelvin Cut fire road then transitions to the Lost trail.  The Lost trail gains over 800 ft. in less than 1/2 mile!  The steepest part covered in about 260 steps.  Thankfully it’s under the cover of redwoods and california bay.

So this is one small section of the course that peaked my curiosity and I thought I’d share.  It’ll be a wonderful run.


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Yea, I’m new to this long distance running stuff and not the best strategic planner (don’t hire me to invade a hostile country Mr. Bush). But I’m turning a leaf here and mapping out a plan for my first 12 hour race and my first night race. Thanks, fellow CRC member George for your all wise guidance. It’s likely necessary to both keep me fresh (as much as you can be) through the night AND for next weekend’s PCTR Headlands 50 miler. Ummmm, what am I thinking?!?

So here’s my Overall Plan plan:

Finish 5 laps or 45 miles. Have fun and keep it slow. If I feel good and I get in before the cut-off then consider a 6th lap BUT save some for the Headlands 50 miler! Be wise and not ignorant – yes, this is smart Franz leaving a note for competitive Franz!

Lap 1 (7:00 – 9:00 PM) 9 miles

Pace: Start with a run flats/downhill and walk uphill plan as the trail permits. If this doesn’t work transition to a 5:1 run/walk ratio (10 minute run, 2 minute walk). I have a feeling the starting option will work best and it doesn’t require me to monitor my watch! Average pace across 9 mile loop should be 13 min/mile (2 hour lap).

Food & Hydration: Two 20 oz. water bottles per loop – refill at 5.5 mile aid station. Have 28 oz. water bottle in Start/Finish drop bag to switch if hydration is insufficient. Target calorie intake is 200 – 300 calories per hour. Start with Clif Shots (1 per 15 min or 120 calories per hour) and one GU per hour (90 calories)

Lap 2 (9:00 – 11:00 PM) 18 miles

Pace: Continue with the run flats/downhill and walk uphill plan. Average pace across 9 mile loop should be 13 min/mile (2 hour lap).

Food & Hydration: Two water bottles per loop – refill at 5.5 mile aid station. Use the same fueling as lap 1.

Lap 3 (11:00 PM – 1:00 AM) 27 miles

Pace: Continue with the run flats/downhill and walk uphill plan. Average pace across 9 mile loop should be 13 min/mile (2 hour lap).

Food & Hydration: Shift to a single serving bottle of Perpetuem (230 calories) and take 1 Ensure along (250 calories).

(15 min. buffer to 1:00 AM) LUNCH

Eat as tolerated pancackes, bacon, and some coffee.

Lap 4 (1:00 AM – 3:00 AM) 36 miles

Pace: Continue with the run flats/downhill and walk uphill plan. Average pace across 9 mile loop should be 13 min/mile (2 hour lap).

Food & Hydration: Two water bottles per loop – refill at 5.5 mile aid station. Use 5.5 mile stretch to digest. Get food at next aid station. Clif Blocks and/or GU.

Lap 5 (3:00 PM – 5:00 AM) 45 miles

Pace: Continue with the run flats/downhill and walk uphill plan. Average pace across 9 mile loop should be 13 min/mile (2 hour lap).

Food & Hydration: Single serving bottle of Perpetuem (230 calories) and take 1 Ensure along (250 calories).

Lap 6 (5:00 PM – 7:00 AM) 54 miles

Pace: Continue with the run flats/downhill and walk uphill plan. Average pace across 9 mile loop should be 13 min/mile (2 hour lap).

Food & Hydration: Single serving bottle of Perpetuem (230 calories) and take 1 Ensure along (250 calories).

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