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Posts Tagged ‘Ultrarunning’

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No Hands Bridge Trail Sign

I turned around early during a wondrous, 1 week removed, post Western States run in Purisima Open Space with a wonderful group of friends from the Coastside Running Club. The Craig Britan (Soda Gulch) single track beckoned me but I promised my supportive wife that’d I’d be on-time. After all, she had sacrificed plenty in sleep deprivation, hotel snafus, oppressive heat, and chasing me 100.2 miles in the wilderness while crewing the Western States 100 last weekend – I couldn’t be late.

Waving goodbye to the group, I retreated to the car for a much anticipated snack of fresh blueberries. Driving home, munching on Nature’s popcorn, I was rolling them around in my mouth then “POP” I’d smash them, then another. Every berry felt unique and erupted with its berry-full, signature blend of sweet/sour mix of juices, no single berry the same. I was captivated in thinking our manufactured world, the one in which I run trails to escape from, is NOT, in any way, like these delicious blueberries. I can buy a Snicker’s bar in Squaw Valley, CA and one from Brownsville, VT (2,862 miles apart) and they’d taste identical as I satisfied my hunger from a vending machine in a building of 90 degree angles, perpendicular planes, and level floors at a comfortable 71 degrees Fahrenheit.

This expands beyond any race report, but I believe the physical perfections that we surround ourselves with manifest, mentally, as barriers – obstacles in our minds that are sources of fear when pushed into, and beyond. We have a fear of discomfort, incorrectly projecting that it’s a progression to pain. Over time, over a life-time, barriers accumulate creating a confining cage of mental captivity. Running 100 miles OBLITERATES these barriers, leaving you physically depleted at the finish line, yet with a mind so lucid and cleansed of all of life’s “trash” there are NO barriers in running, but more importantly, in life. In fact they are replaced with profound strength, rooted at the cellular level.

So, in short, running 100 miles is like eating blueberries.

My 2013 Western States was born from the 10 of hearts, drawn from the loony runners present at the Auburn WS lottery, placing me at the 2013 start line for a 4th consecutive year. I cheered like crazy while Jen, jokingly, called me a turd. I quickly booked hotels and contacted my A+ crew to let them know another year is a GO. A huge part of the WS experience for me is sharing the event and in sticking with that theme I recruited Sean and Kristin as pacer and crew for the 2013 ride.

An interesting addition to 2013’s race is that I’m a RRCA certified running coach, proudly training two wonderful athletes that are also running Western States: Mike Weston and Janeth Siva. Both are good friends and wonderful, experienced, runners. It was a unique experience to both coach and train with them towards a common goal – we motivated each other to no end. They are amazing people and it’s truly my privilege to help them.

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Achilles Pain BIG TIME – Photo Franz Dill

Following my 5th place performance at Ohlone 50k I was whisked through a potentially WS race ending scare of season ending injury when my Achilles swelled, turned colors, and bunched up requiring an MRI to debunk a partial tear concern. I was FREAKING out because 5 weeks before the Big Dance I could not walk – while shuffling to the Doctor’s office I was being passed by ailing old ladies (and yes, I told them “Good Job”). Dr. Khan successfully guided me through recovery which entailed 3 weeks of NO RUNNING. With healing progressing very well I managed 2 runs before Western States: a 23 miler on the Tahoe Rim Trail one week prior and a 12 miler from Alpine Meadows (Five Lakes Trail) to the WS Start along the PCT and WS trails 3 days prior (a HIGHLY recommended run).

Pre-race we shared a wonderful home in Alpine Meadows a short jog from the Five Lakes Trailhead, complete with a swimming pond that the kids loved; a great place to cool the legs after a trail run. Staying with Ron and his family was a wonderful vacation, perfectly removed from the tensions of Squaw. The boys loved spending time with Ron’s daughter, Claire, while Ron and I spoke race day logistics while also enjoyed some hiking and light running. Unfortunately Ron was dealing with a persistent ITB injury that simply did not want to let up.

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Timothy Olsen and Franz Talking Finishing WS with your Kids – Photo Kristin Steadman

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Hal, Max, and Franz – Photo Kristin Steadman

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Visiting Dennis at Rosie’s – Photo Kristin Steadman

Simon and Franz - Photo Kristin Steadman

Simon and Franz – Photo Kristin Steadman

Friday was crazy day. Everyone converged on both the Alpine Meadows’ house and Squaw. Crew and Pacers: Hao, Cortney, Sean, Kristin, and Raju all showed up with TONS of great energy. We made Sean run the Montrail uphill challenge to burn of some Western States anticipation and, separately, had Kristin and John hike/run to the top of Squaw. We capped the day with a mandatory trip to see Dennis at Rosie’s in Tahoe City – a 32 year bar-tending staple that’s a fountain of good luck. We also drew some luck from Simon Mtuy, Hal Koerner, and Timmy Olson in the village.

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Finish Day Weather at nearby Roseville, Ya it was HOT !!!

Race day was relatively smooth until I left my bottles at the house – a Western States without bottles in record heat would be like, well, stupid. So we turned around and got them with plenty of time to spare. We saw Mike Weston at the start supremely focused on race day logistics with his crew, Connie. Ron made the call to start the race, which was wonderful to know his WS experience would continue into Escarpment.

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Western States 100 2013 Start – Photo Kristin Steadman

The start goes with some brief, yet wise Gordy words. The mass of 373 runners waves up Escarpment. I hear Kristin yell and wave a blurred hello as we march up towards the barren slope’s flood lights. I pick a comfortable cruising pace, purposeful, yet scanning for elite females (that’s an awkward sentence to write). My ‘moving’ goal in-race and throughout training has been to place within the top 10 females. In particular I thought I had a chance to pace off Meghan Arborgast so when I saw her on Escarpment I tried to lock pace, however, she charged the steep sections more aggressively than I. Once we summited she took off strong. I had the feeling many of the runners’ strategies was to go out fast in the cool temperature then dial it back in the oppressive mid-day heat.

Through the stretch of Lyon Ridge (10.5) and Duncan Canyon (23.8) I was the backend of a train of competitive female runners none of whom I recognized but could tell at least 2 of them, one turned out to be Emily Harrison, was in the hunt for at least top 10. They pushed the pace but slowed significantly on the climbs. Emily was 3rd in line while I was 4th. I watched as she was gapped on the technical downhills, even slowing me down, but quickly caught up on the flats and ups. I could tell Emily was fast, having a Rory Bosio look about her, however, she blew me away with a move that was outstanding. After making up ground on a flat the trail pitched uphill to a sharp right-hand turn, then morphed into a long gradual uphill straight away. On that quick pitch Emily BLASTED by everyone after having sat back for at least ½ hour, took the turn and was GONE. I mean GONE. We wrapped around the turn and could see at least 100 yards down the trail and NOTHING – she was GONE. That broke up our train as the lady that was 2nd in the line chased, as did I. I never saw Emily again.

Emily later went on to finish 7th place female in a blazing 20:28 in her first 100 mile race. I later discovered that Emily has a marathon PR of 2:32:55 after only running 3 marathons in this iRunFar.com article!

At this point in the race the temperature was slowly climbing, yet my heat training combined with staying constantly wet and with an ice bandanna nullified most negative effects of running in the heat. A side benefit was controlled hydration and electrolyte intake as I kept my sweat rate in check throughout the day.

The push to Robinson Flat (29.7) was big. I needed that mental boost in seeing my crew and knowing a big chunk of the course was behind me. I came running in feeling good, but a little worn. Everyone was great! Jen, Hao, Kristin, and Courtney were all smiles and pure positive energy. I was behind 20 hour pace, my goal to this point, but had still planned to dial back the pace in the rising heat. I spoke the words, “I’m going to slow down now.”

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Coming into Dusty Corners (38) – Photo Glenn Tachiyama

Ironically, I felt like I was slowing. I walked out of Robinson eating. Yet my splits told another story, I was building speed into the heat of the day. I was getting stronger as I ran to perceived effort and ample breaks at cooling streams without a pace chart. All I had was a reference to the 24 hour pace at the aid stations, of which I was well ahead of. I even lost track of what aid station was what, not really caring… simply running and enjoying the day. The elusive ghost cows greeted us on the trail outside of Robinson, only to be heard with the clanging cow bells wafting through the evergreens – declaring their encouragement masked in shyness.

The descent down to Swinging Bridge (~45) was tough in that my feet were soaked causing me to alter my running to protect some already developing hot spots. In retrospect I should have stopped and tightened my wet shoes. Two years ago I almost stepped on a rattle snake on this section so I ran, eyes LOCKED on the trail, looking for snakes. Finally I reached the bottom, the river, Swinging Bridge, and I see something I’ve never seen my 3 years of Western States races, runners in the river!

My competitive side simply passes on jumping in places as I wave down, knowing there’s a sizable pool on the far side of the bridge. Among the river waders is Simon Mtuy, an elite into himself and former holder of the fastest ascent/descent up Mount Kilimanjaro – I’m star struck. I power hike up The Thumb slowly pulling away from some Salomon decked out racers that had also splashed in the stream with me. One after the next I reeled in runners on the climb in a slow motion attack. I see an elite lady (F9 Ashely Nordell) ahead in bad shape; I checked in with her then carried on.

I caught up to Galen Farris whom I had run with before. We chatted for a while, then looked back and BAM, there was Simon walking up the biggest climb on the WS course with ease using every inch of his 6’8” frame to cruise past everyone. He caught us and pressed forward, inspiring me to chase. We entered Devil’s Thumb AS (47.8) together. Now, Simon is amazing and THE nicest person on the planet. I love Simon. However, it SUCKS to enter an aid station with him. Every volunteer flocked to him draping towels around his neck, filling his bottle, and fetching popsicles while I stood there sponging myself, listening to a mental orchestra of crickets within my second tier, manzanita scrub brush..

Yet, this spurred me to push the next sections. I love Simon but MUST get to all aid stations before him! Another long downhill and we dropped into El Dorado Canyon, immediately struck by heat. Hot, humid, South Carolina like heat – it felt like walking through warm glue. Again Simon was swimming in the river and I took off. The climb to Michigan Bluff was a bit of a low point, although not too bad. My energy was low, I was walking alone, and the heat started its nasty grip that would last throughout the race (even at night). I hiked most of the uphills and ran the flats – that was, until Simon emerged below me. I waved hello while commenting on his swim then took the hell off. At the top of the hill was the “Go Guy” holding a small index card size sign that simply said, “Go”. They even skipped through their playlist to give me a personalized summiting song (I forgot what it was… something about a long day or some crap).

Michigan Bluff was sweet! Hao and Courtney were there (congratulations, they’re expecting a little boy). I weighed in, likely well over their boy’s soon-to-be birth weight, at 140 lbs (1 lbs off start weight). Simon came in shortly after and the town erupted! I loved watching his 2 boys greet him with a fresh pair of shoes. I missed Eli and Max and knew they were only 1 hour away at Foresthill (62).

I took off slowly, intent on finishing two handfuls of sandwiches and quesadillas. I was soon passed by the iRunFar founder Bryon Powell, which was damn surprising since he has a 19:24 WS finish to his name. He frolicked through the high-speed, 5 cameras, foot strike experiment as giddy as a honey covered badger. A polar opposite, I walked up to it, ran only by the eager-eye running scientists then stopped directly afterward and pronounced, “I’m going to finish eating now!”

Onward to Volcano Canyon after lunch! I ran some uphills, never seeing Bryon but I did catch another elite female looking quite tattered and walking slow. After offering some encouragement to blank acceptance I went on, running to Bath Road alone (which came up much quicker than usual, I was pushing fully expecting Simon to emerge once again). At the aid station was the wonderful Sean, eagerly awaiting an evening run. I muttered some crazy talk about the Kilimanjaro champion chasing me then we took off for Foresthill.

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ThePureRun Crew at Foresthill – Photo Kristin Steadman

Foresthill was awash with a Grand Coastside welcoming committee. I heard Kristin before I saw her (I was so glad she was a part of ThePureRun team). George Miller was at medical and I could not pass up a good high-five from him. I skirted through the aid station then went straight to ThePureRun pit crew. It was ON like I’ve never experienced before. I was eating, answering questions, throwing my shoes off, switching bottles, hugging my kids, kissing my wife, posing for pictures, being a Dad, being a Husband, being a Friend, meeting new people, wincing in pain, and eating some more all in the span of 2-3 minutes. It was AMAZING! 100% thanks to my wife and a very special thanks to Hao for stepping up to a level of competitiveness and focus on fast that’s new to both him and I. He was orchestrating a lot behind the scenes and I really noticed.

Sean and I were off to the river, the long run of 17 miles to the river. It was great seeing Sean’s enthusiasm for the event; when I invited him to pace I knew he’d love it (I’ll need to apologize to his wife now). We ran conservatively letting an occasional runner/pacer pair pass, then usually returning the favor as their energy faltered. Smooth and steady – I remembered last year pushing too hard only to crash just before ALT, I pulled back intentionally to guard from the falter. Sean and I locked on with Matt Keyes and pacer, whom drug us down the mountain at a good clip. For a time we ran with a gentleman, David Ross (scroll about 1/2 way down), that holds the world record for fastest marathon in a wetsuit at 3:25 exclaiming, “Running a marathon in a wetsuit is a helluva lot easier than this!”

We eventually got to the river, and alas, just missed crossing in the light. As always the river was abuzz with activity: lights, people, medical, and the river crossing. I ate a cup of macaroni and cheese (freaking YES, remember this wonderful food) then to the rope. The river felt AMAZING – THE perfect cooling temperature, but not too cold. This was the cooling needed from the day long heat of 102+ degrees. I peer back and Sean is having a blast grinning ear-to-ear really taking in the entire experience. THAT moment is why I asked him to pace me, for him to hit that rush of WS and he 100% found it in the river.

We made it to the other side, expecting ThePureRun crew but only see Hao. I asked if Jen was okay, and he deflected the situation some but did assure that everyone was alright. Little did I know there were 2 big items going on behind the scenes that sent Jen, Hao, Kristin, Courtney, and Uncle Murray on a wild adventure. One being our Auburn hotel was cancelled without us being notified (introduce get hotel in Roseville to the fun) and the other being the crew was falsely notified that I was 10 miles further up trail than I actually was (Green Gate vs. Peachstone). Rightly so, my crew DID NOT PEEP A WORD of this to me during the race, but I could tell there was A LOT of improvisational work happening behind the scenes. Thanks crew for getting me through the race while juggling crazy!

We hiked up to Green Gate while I was eating, finding Jen and Kristin ½ way up the hike. This hike is always so nice, because you get to check-in with your people and simply talk, about real stuff without the heavy burden of GO GO GO I can’t stay here. When you’re moving, you’re good. I tried doing some simple math too, pronouncing, “This next 30 miles is going to be a slog!” To which Jen and Kristin looked over and told me I only had 20 miles to go. Hot Damn then, I was ready to go!

Hao and I floated off for the horizontal canyons leading to ALT. The Coastside Running Club awaited and this time I felt good, really good. Hao guided me in pace, hydration, and eating keeping me on task and moving well. Our mantra was on par with, just keep eating and the remainder of the race will work itself out. And it did.

I ran into ALT yelling CRC! Hallelujah Goat! Checking my number was good friend Ron. I was surprised to see him after getting word he had dropped from the race at around the 20 mile mark. I hugged him, marching further while still yelling and whistling.

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HG and Eric, When they Arrive Magic Happens – Photo Margaret Branick-Abilla

My first impression of the ALT aid station was of confusion. It looked different and, although obviously Christmas themed, my mind conjured a county fair carnival. I vividly remember looking down the expanse of the aid station and thinking it was like a illuminated carnival at night. I could almost hear Laughing Sally’s cackle then a deep voiced heralder projecting, “Step Right Up, everyone’s a winner!” In fact, I even had to step on a scale while everyone tried their hand and guessing my weight. My guess was 4 lbs down from my starting weight (Bhhheeeer, loser). The doctor’s let me pass, aided with the CRC crowd proclaiming me a Rockstar. Hell, I felt fine. I ate well there, other than shying away from the Bodas children offering me GUs – yes, I made a vomitus face, nothing personal kids.

The warming moment was saying hi to everyone. I remember turning and a semi-circle of wonderful Coastal friends were there to wish me luck: Margaret, Eric, Norm, Chris, Bryan, Amanda, Gary, Mor (and I know I’m missing people). It warmed my heart to no end and gave me special “powers” to haul ass the next 15 miles. Eric told me I was in the top 50 of Western States – that was the first time I had been told my place. It was inspiring, mostly seeing how EXCITED everyone else was for me. I still couldn’t comprehend it, but also, I knew my long-term goal is WELL BEYOND just top 50. I appreciated the milestone but also expect more of myself. With a quick picture of HG and I, pacer and runner were off with food in hand.

I faultered some at Brown’s Bar and in stretches leading to Highway 49. In part it was due to transitioning to a different fueling (real food) and within that likely not taking in enough calories, but also, it was still really hot. That sneaks up on you as your mind expects cool because the sun is no longer up, you project that, but it’s not reality. Then you slow your drinking, stop using your cooling techniques employed earlier in the race, and things get challenging energy-wise. Also, my feet were beat to hell and hurt. Every step was painful due to bruising and blistering.

Note to self: Try changing into more cushioned shoes at mile 60 to avoid this. It happened throughout the Grand Slam too in 2011 so it needs to be addressed.

I am proud that I NEVER took and single capsule of pain relievers. I had Tylenol on me, right at my waist. If taken early I probably could have pushed the 22 hour barrier but I chose not to, running this race pure. I’m sure it aided my recover but also was a testament to being better trained for the later duration of this 100 mile race.

Coming into Highway 49 I passed a runner. When you’re pushing into a new class of runners with faster times, everyone has a kick and everyone runs strong. There was NEVER a single runner that was easy to pass. Each one of them made me work as I did to them, dragging each other up hills, through energy depletion, and foot pain using the adrenaline of competition. That headlight, that I looked back on after passing, never went away easily.

We ran into Highway 49 with the flood lights casting bright, white light across the road crossing announcing “Number 154, Franz Dill” or probably Fraaaanz (thanks stupid Franz Ferdinand band for an adult life of name mispronunciations). I saw Kristin and Jen there! I went over to say hellos then back to graze. No breakfast stuff on the grill, we were told it was too early. I wasn’t feeling the food and heard Jen yell out, “Just Eat It!” I jumped into a Weird Al mouth solo of the song, laughing, and stuffing my face with quesadillas. Someone got the reference and I broke a grin.

I said the words I had waited all day to say to Jen , “I’ll see you at the finish line.”

They reverberate in my mind, releasing another capsule of energy as I pulled away from my crew and into the trails of Cool. I passed another runner at the top of the hill who looked ragged. Yet again, it’s never easy. Him and his pacer locked onto us through the entire section to No Hand Bridge. Not only that, the pacer had the light of a Coastguard helicopter projected onto my back, casting a shadow across the trail making it impossible to see my foot landings. I got pissed and ran, zoned out, and ran. Before I was complaining about my feet KILLING ME, but now, I was silent using 152% of my brain power to dampen that pain so I could run. We ran into the aid station then bolted. To my pleasure, they stopped. Something was ailing that runner. Hao and I drove to the finish with minor fantasies of breaking 22. I had no watch and had NO clue what time it was. He drove us hard to Robie Point. We heard the cheers and night-time sub 24 enthusiasm, the bellowing night parties hitting the witching hour of 3:00AM still welcoming us to Auburn. Hao and I shared how great THIS, this wonderful singular moment in life is – representative of months, even years, of hard grueling work. The peak of Robie Point is more beautiful than the track because you’re still alone crossing the “trail finish line” a mile before crossing back into real life to cross the civilized finish line.

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The Dill Family at the Finish – Photo Kristin Steadman

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Pre-Race with the BEST Pacers EVER Hao & Sean – Photo Kristin Steadman

Hao and I hit the track, the wonderful track! I scanned for my boys who were goofing off at 3:00AM at the high school. In year’s past I crossed with them both. This year Max (5) refused because he didn’t’ want John Medinger to talk about him on the loud speaker. Eli ran up to me, eager as can be. I reached out to hold his hand yet, he pulled it away and said, “Dad, I want to go faster.” I looked down while furrowing my brow, “Okay, let’s do it!” He took off at a sprint with me following. John called the race as “Franz coming across the finish line and LOSING to his son!” I loved it!!!

Video of Finish is Here on FB.

I cannot thank the small village of people enough that helped me accomplish a new Western States and 100 mile PR – all the volunteers, the race organizers, the Coastside Running Club, but most importantly my crew and family. I could feel everyone from the Coastside pulling for me, especially all my new friends from Empowered Fitness. My wife and sons, whom I adore with all my heart, are THE ones that allow this to happen. They not only become so selfless on race day to help me, but through the months and years, they’ve excused my multi-hour runs, our lack of vacations that did NOT include a race, and my constant distractions all for that finish line, all for that buckle, all for allowing me to find and take part in something that I’m good at.

My PureRun athletes also did excellent.  Mike Weston persisted through a foot injury, an in-race ankle injury, and the record high temperatures making it to the fabled Devil’s Thumb aid station when the caught by the cut-offs. I’m so proud of him and know, with certainty, that all aspects of his training were tuned, yet his injury was the gating factor.  He’ll be back to CRUSH the thumb and beyond.

Janeth, easily the strongest person I know, clawed her way to the finish having nearly a perfect day to finish in 28:51. Tackling two bouts of record heat Janeth’s training, rock-solid will finish attitude, and excellent support earn her a coveted buckle.

Congratulations Mike and Janeth! Ya’ll ROCKED it.

Other Western States Goodies:

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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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Miwok100k_2013

Course change sign weighted down by Beer.

Miwok 60k

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRC_Miwok2013

The Lovely Pirate Ladies of the CRC

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

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

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

“Cool.  Let’s get him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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