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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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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

Check these other CIM related Goodies:

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Photo by Coastal Trail Runs

In a mix of 1/2 marathoners, marathoners, and 50kers I found myself trailing the lead pack by a surprising eye shot as we traced along the Brooks Creek Trail.  Typically I’m not a fast starter but I was enjoying feeling good on the initial North Peak climb while holding a great pace.  I knew quite a bit about the 50kers  leading the race:  Dan Rhodes is a good friend from the coast that’s a fast marathoner and successfully training for a fast 1st time 50 miler at this year’s AR50.  John Burton whom I don’t know personally but I did know he was last year’s CTR winner and course record holder.  I knew he was well capable of a sub 5 run here.  And most notably Leigh Schmitt whom I’ve met in previous Pacifica events and at the 2011 Vermont 100.  Leigh is an amazingly fast and consistent runner – and one of the nicest guys.  I mean at Vermont he extended an open invitation to swing by his Bay Area home.

With me in tow this group of runners drove me beyond my splits and the coastal views of Linda Mar State Beach on a sunny and warming “winter” day made it seem all too easy.  The out-and-back allowed for a quick time check and I was within minutes of the leaders.  This was also a great time to support other runners and good friends:  Margaret (CRC Club Member), Mariano and Nancy Warren (friends from the waay back High Sierra 3 Step), Rick Hernandez, and Janeth Silva.  I saw at least 3 runners with hats or shirts from last year’s Half Moon Bay International Marathon.  That felt really good being an organizer for the event and they were wearing it with pride.

I knew my ~ splits from last year’s PCTR run (although the course is run in a different order):

  • 1st North Peak to AS — last year 1:15  (this year 1:00)
  • 1st Hazelnut Loop — last year 0:58  (this year 0:50)
  • 2nd Hazelnut Loop — last year 1:00  (this year, run after 2n NP summit 1:00)
  • 2nd North Peak to AS — last year 1:30  (this year 1:06)
  • Short Hazelnut Loop — last year 0:46  (this year 0:41)

Amazing to me this was my first run beyond 20 miles during this year’s training, yet I felt fresh and was continuing to put time on last year’s splits.  I enjoyed the competitive feel of both chasing and being chased.

In the end I finished in 4:51:35 for 5th overall.  I received a neat 3rd place age group medal that my boys quickly confiscated.  Max immediately turned it upside down and told everyone the winged shoe looked like underpants.  Here are the overall results.

Coastal Trail Runs put on a superb event with great organization, a gold standard for course marking, and wonderfully friendly volunteers.  I’d highly recommend thier events for first-time and long-time trail runners alike.

A few new things I’ve been tweaking:

  1. Training more conservatively to start out the year.  I’ve run more 30k distances when in year’s past I’d run 50ks from the start.  The motivation for doing this is to avoid injury, like the stress fracture sustained last year that started with a January 50k in Pacifica.  However, in bartering with my inner self I allow myself to race the 30ks treating them more like a tempo workout.  Over just 2 30 races this has really increased my speed over distance in the longer runs.  I very pleased with this given my Western States goal is 21 hours.
  2. Fueling more.  During this race I was taking GU’s Roctane every 30 minutes as opposed to 40 (which last year I had determined through trial and error was my consumption limit).  What I also noticed is with a sustained increase in pace my body can handle a higher intake of calories.  Often times I found myself taking GU before my alarm went off.
  3. Running minimally.  Not the footware type but equipment-wise.  Even in scuba diving my mantra is less is better.  When underwater and you have 1 extra thing to track or get snagged on kelp, that’s one too many.  I feel like that in running also.  Over time it becomes physically cumbersome for me to carry things.  That’s in part due to my smaller frame and weaker arm and core strength.  It really just fatigues me then cascades into a mental fatigue.  At Montara Mountain I ran most of the race with no shirt which I’ve REALLY wanted to do for a long time – purely for the cooling effect.  But I’ve rarely done it due to a deep rooted, high school-like self consciousness.  It felt good to run free… and chaff in new places.
  4. Mentally, I simply believed in my endurance and ability to push beyond the hurt.  Last year’s Grand Slam taught me acutely what I can and can’t do.  My body often lies, telling me I can’t go on.  The hurt is too much.  Blah.  It lies.
  5. I’ve been taking a supplement from Wicked Fast Sports Nutrition.   I met the owner during the Vermont 100 and later exchanged a few emails with him regarding his products.  He send me a sample pack so I’m finally getting around to giving it a go.  Simply due to the name and number of pills you take I probably won’t have tried them on my own.  However, I am learning that micro nutrients are a critical part of long-term sustainable training.  I feel they’re working – especially the pre-race Energ-Ease.  I’m a difficult to convince, critical thinker but so far it’s helping.

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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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This weekend is the VT100, step 2 in the 4 step Grand Slam running project.  There’s no real race coverage that I know of but some information may pop up on Twitter with hashtag #vt100.  I may post something during the run to Twitter coverage dependent; maybe while I stop to vomit.

Twitter #vt100 Feed.

Goal?  It would be nice to do sub 24 (over 24 and you get a plaque, blehhh, under a buckle).  But, I’ll see what transpires.  I’ll be running with good friend Eric and if we can synchronize our peaks and valleys it can go very well.  Most of all, I’m looking to enjoy my tour of Vermont.

Vermont bound via United … by way of Boston.

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