Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dark Sky 50 Race Report

Have you ever heard how loud a Turkey can be when you startle it?!

Greenery was a blur as I let my legs fly out in front of me down the rocky and steep descent. Mud would splash with each touchdown and my eyes would quickly dart to the next safe place to let my foot land as I flew down the mountainside nearly airborne in the misty mountain morning. I was 20 miles into the inaugural Dark Sky 50 held at Pickett State Park in the Big South Fork, TN. “Gobble! Gobble!” Flap! Flap! Flap! Making my way around a blind corner I startled a turkey and it took flight to avoid collision in a mess of guttural sounds and feathers flying. As my eyes moved to where my foot was about to land I noticed a tiny chick directly in the path of my front foot in mid-air stride. I somehow pulled that foot up defying gravity and did a jump step with the opposing foot and managed to miss the baby chick.

I drove down the night before the race after working a pretty crazy shift at the Urgent Care Center. Rain was patchy on the drive down and occasional rays of the setting sun would highlight the water vapor rising from the rolling lush green hills in southeastern Kentucky. The forecast for race day looked comfortable with a high in the 70’s and plenty of sunny blue skies after inches of rain fell the previous day.

The name “Dark Sky 50” comes from the recognition of the races location as a certified “Dark Sky” area meaning it’s so remote that it’s ideal for stargazing. There are only 37 certified Dark Sky locations in the world. Being so remote, this meant I had to break one of my pre-race rules of not confusing camping and racing… I always try to sleep in a hotel prior to a race, but this location was just too perfect as the campground was within minutes of the start, and there were no hotels nearby. There are cabins onsite for rental but I planned on packing up right after the race to get home to my 8 week old son. The skies were still clearing when I arrived so I wasn’t gifted the view of the stars that evening but… maybe next year.

I started training seriously again 12 weeks ago after taking off for nearly a year to regroup after a solid 10 years of pretty frequent racing. I still ran often during this time but didn’t put much focus on high mileage with the exception of running the Grindstone 100 in October just to get my Hardrock qualifier. The time off provided a lot of much needed clarity and the passion is back. When I started training again what really pushed and motivated me was the prospect of a road marathon PR as it’s a great indicator of aerobic strength. There is a marathon next weekend I was shooting for but 13 weeks just wasn’t enough time to get into sub 2:40 shape. So, a month ago I decided to race Dark Sky 50 in lieu of the road marathon as it was more in my wheelhouse and it would give me more time to get into marathon shape. While training for Dark Sky, I didn’t do any trail runs over 15 miles. All of my 20 mile runs were faster road runs. I didn’t do anything over 3 hours. Training resembled marathon training. I ran a long run each week of 20-22 miles and did mile repeats each week and tempo/threshold runs on the road of 7-16 miles. This was an interesting way to train for a surprisingly technical and long trail 50 miler, (er...52 mi.) but I knew I needed aerobic power more than anything. I had plenty of trail experience in the bank and needed to grow the aerobic engine back to where it was.

I’m going to get on my soapbox for a moment… When I take on a new client as a running coach they often say one thing they want to do is build their aerobic engine, burning more fat as fuel (to increase their lactate threshold.) Many runners want this and then get misled into believing philosophy over science and some buy into this keto adaptation fad. Speedwork and higher intensity workouts create the physiological stimulus to spur mitochondrial growth and development, it’s not about fat intake. This allows you to operate closer to maximum intensity for longer periods of time, and this is what forces your body to burn more fat as fuel, raising your lactate threshold.  Sure, you can eat mostly fat and survive, but you’re probably not going to meet your potential. Alas, I’ll spare the novel on that for now and get back to the race…

The course circumnavigated the wild and scenic Sheltowee Trace and John Muir Trail, (not to be confused with the JMT in California.) This provided many good views as we danced along cliff lines and outcroppings high above the Cumberland River. We crossed under several impressive natural arches formed in Sandstone and darted around and under some magnificent overhanging rock shelters.

Aid stations were about every 4-8 miles and were well stocked with tons of standard ultra fare and plenty of Huma gels. I raced this race solo with no crew and although gels were available at Aid Stations, I stuck to my stinger products and my own nutrition for the most part just because that way I knew what calories were available and I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. I did try out a few Huma Gels along the way and they were pretty tasty and went down well.

My two week pre-race taper provided plenty of energy come race morning. Although the week leading up to the race was stressful outside of running, it all worked out on race morning. In the opening miles I was surprised to find myself leading from the first step. There were some solid runners there! The first 15 miles was spent chatting with Tommy Doias about the Pacific Crest Trail and various other running and life ongoings and it was nice to pass the miles with such an easy flow of conversation. Tommy and I chatted about directing races as he has experience with some 100 mile events, directing them and winning them too! (The marathon I direct, The Backside Trail Marathon, was two weeks and I’m just now decompressing from it!) He also told me about he and his daughter doing her first half marathon together. I thought about how awesome it would be to do a race with Denali someday! Fingers crossed… I think she’s going to be a runner. She told me last week after I asked her if she wanted to learn a musical instrument, ”Daddy, you know I’m not patient enough to learn a musical instrument! I’m going to run like you, (because I’m faster than you), and play ice hockey like Mommy.” She’s a nut.

Directly behind us was the highly respected Greg Armstrong. Greg is a beast at the 100 mile distance and routinely clocks 100 mile splits in the 15 hour range and also owns the course record at the Vol State 500k race across tennessee. Greg has too many 100 mile and 24 hour wins to list! His feat at Vol State is the stuff of legend.

I was really impressed that this was the inaugural event of the Dark Sky 50. The course was marked flawlessly and the aid stations were spot on. Beth and crew at Nashville Running deserve some accolades for putting together a top notch event.

You never know what to expect going into a new course. I thought on an easy mountain course I could’ve knocked out a 7:00 50 mile split. (This was based on the posted elevation and course descriptions compared to other 50’s I’ve done with similar posted elevations. My LBL 50 PR was a 6:25 with several other times close to that. Dark Sky was posted at 5k’ climbing compared to 4k’ at LBL. Winning times from the technical and rocky Iron Mtn 50 with 9k’ climbing where it’s usually 90 degrees are just under 7:30)  Ha! This course was HARD! And Long.  Much harder than anticipated. It’s not that the climbs were huge. The course just held a lot of blowdowns and creek crossings and really rocky/muddy double-track along with small little hitches to constantly eat the flow of speed and continuity. The storms from the previous day compounded this. It’s a great course and I recommend it highly… It’s just not a fast course, even by mountain standards. Perhaps less mud/standing water would make a huge difference.

My 8:56 was a far cry from what I thought I’d finish in, but I was still running the climbs and felt good at the end. At the Aid Station with 6.2 miles to go I heard I was opening up a lead on Tommy in second place and I knew I was pretty locked in for the win barring catastrophe. I chilled and rolled in, just trying to break 9:00 on the clock. Luckily there were plenty of fire roads in the closing 6 miles to finally get to run unobstructed. It was a great ending to a gorgeous day in the mountains! The finishers award was some sweet hardware I’d been dreaming about all day and I was stoked to be the proud owner of such a gorgeous piece of art!

The Dark Sky 50; The Race I Almost Killed A Turkey Chick.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Louisville Lovin' The Hills 2016 50k. 10 years of Ultrarunning.

In 2006 after moving back to Louisville from the White Mountains in NH I began to trail run. After living in the White Mountains and hiking the Appalachian Trail in its entirety, trail running on Kentucky's run-able trails enticed me more than hiking here in the Midwest as trail running gave me something to focus on. Its a dance with the terrain where one is constantly engaged, navigating roots, rocks, ridgelines and obstacles. Upon moving back to Kentucky I missed all day hikes in the Whites but my time was also more crunched. I could cover 24 miles and climb 6000'  at Jefferson Memorial Forest in 4 hours and still tend to a busy day of work and classes.

The first fall Kara and I were in Kentucky I signed up for the Kentucky Ultra Series. This was a series of races that included a marathon at Otter Creek in December, a 50k at Jefferson Memorial Forest in February, and a 50 mile run in March at Land Between the Lakes. Trail Running was exploding and it was the era of Krupicka and dirtbag running and the whole scene had me on fire to spend as much time on trails as possible honing the craft. Whenever I could I put my nose in a book or got online and studied nutrition, form, heart rate, injury prevention, etc. I wanted to truly meet my potential.

Louisville Lovin' the Hills 50K is a badass race. I can't think of any other 50k courses that boast over 6000' of climbing. It's my dream course; raw, powerful, brutal, steep climbs and descents, technical.
I remember the earliest years out there. On the Siltstone out and back seeing guys like Eric Grossman and Russ Goodman charging back still looking strong after all those miles. I'll never forget those images of the early years and the feeling of "wanting to be them" one day.

Not only is Louisville Lovin' the Hills my hometown race but it was my first Ultra. It's become a family. Todd and Cynthia heady have made the race an annual homecoming of sorts and I love them both. They are both genuinely awesome people who put on a great run. Hanging out after the race and catching up with everyone as we dine on a smorgasbord of  delicious eats is what it's all about.

In the 10 years since that first experience there have been a lot of highs and not many lows. It's kept me fueled. It's become a system, a ritual, a science. January is high mileage and high intensity on trails to prep for LLTH. One week of easy recovery miles post LLTH and then it's time to maintain mileage and intensity the rest of February for LBL 50 Mile in March which is a great race in it's own right full of strong community, tough competition and great people.

This January's routine would need to vary slightly from my normal schedule. I'd need to cut mileage a little to allow for recovery from a strong 100k I raced on January 2. I kept my mileage low in December to make sure I came out of The Pistol fresh and planned on hitting it hard in January.

My mileage in January was still much lower than normal with some weeks as much as half of normal. In the past I've run close to 100 trail miles weekly in January, but this month I was having trouble finding the time to get in 60 miles weekly due to a busy schedule and lots of snow mid-month. My body fat percentage stayed the same (4.5%-5%), but I added few pounds of muscle from doing squats and some extra weight routines at the gym to stay injury free. Regardless, I kept my diet up and ate a lot and fueled appropriately. I wasn't getting in high mileage, but the quality was spot on, with appropriate intensity on the climbs, and I got some good training in the snow.

The week before the race I found my motivation waning. I was completely exhausted and stressed from pushing to accomplish everything that my "life" requires. Running was strong and going well, but I felt I was barely treading water in regards to my other priorities. Motivation can be a bitch. I need to remind myself sometimes that all of my stress is SELF-IMPOSED and honestly for the most part I don't have to do most of what I'm stressing about.  Half of the balls I'm juggling can just be dropped. I have to remind myself Chill the F out and focus on real priorities and learn to put some things on the back burner, My real priorities are my kiddo, family, nursing and being a running coach, etc. Music is a fun hobby, not a job, and I shouldn't stress so much about practice. Occasionally I need to let go. One day off won't kill me. I don't need to be "on" 24/7. I'm working hard on some things I'm excited about but I can't do everything at once. This is a simple rule in goal setting. To reach a goal, distractions are detrimental, cut the fat and focus on the task. There is always a cost of pushing, of burning the candle at all ends. Downtime is needed. Stress is incredibly detrimental to performance as it hinders drive. When I push hard and take on too much, I tend to live inside my head and become vacant to the people around me because I'm constantly thinking about what I need to do next. That's not cool and its not healthy. Remember...it's all about maximizing our potential. Try to juggle too much and ALL the balls drop.

The days immediately before the race I found complete salvation. I didn't check my phone all day and I didn't go anywhere. I learned to LET GO; to let go of the need to control every moment and constantly be pushing, be productive, be working towards a goal. I refocused and took care of my real priorities. I spent an extra day with my daughter. Instead of spending two hours shuttling her to grandmothers, I hung out with her, and ran a little less that day. I simplified. I tried to be present in the moment at my job nursing and not worry about what else I could be doing. The result? Peace. Happiness. Rejuvenation. On Friday I took my daughter to school close by, and then came home to a quiet house. I was able to decompress finally. I stopped being forward thinking and was able to just BE. I felt vigor. I felt energized. I was in the moment and finally free of myself. Shutting it all off put the ball in my court. By mid-day Friday I was truly excited to be free of the self-imposed shit I had been surrounding myself with. By letting go of control ironically I was back in control.

Race morning I started with passion inside. It was cold and I felt free and alive in the moment, the bitter cold air stinging my exposed flesh made me feel invigorated. I wanted to destroy myself out on the course...raw, brutal, physical. I felt GOOD.

I found myself in the early miles in the company of good friends Jeremy Brown, Ben Shirrell and another gent I'm not sure I know. It was nice camaraderie and these dude are solid are trails. I think Ben Shirrell could be a fantastic trail runner some day soon. He ran with a solid game plan and paced perfectly.

I was slightly relieved and somewhat disappointed there were no other 50k guys around me in the early miles. I was pushing the climbs and helping to set pace for the 15 mile guys and I knew from the start it would be a strong day in the hills.

Around mile 7 I found myself alone out in front with no other 15 mile guys around. Time trial efforts tend to work well enough for me. I had confidence I could push myself pretty hard without the motivating force of others on my tail or out in front, but I knew it would be a struggle to beat times of years past with the great battles that have occurred on the trails. It was different than in previous years since I was in front from the start.

I thought of LLTH's of past and runs I did with Grossman once I'd finally gotten a little faster. One of the more memorable LLTH's was with Eric where it came down to the final climb on the course and only a minute separated us...for me it was pretty epic. He trailed me the whole run back on Siltstone, staying right on my heals. I played my cards right trying to grind him out over the long haul to take him out in the closing miles, but he pushed hard and passed me on the last climb. At UROC 100k several months prior I had passed him on the final climb. It was very cool to be cat and mousing with this guy I respected from the time I started running. Little did I know back then we'd share some of my fondest memories together like the Tour de Virginia running 600 miles on the Appalachian Trail in VA in 108 degree weather.

I thought about just last year in which Matt Hoyes led all the way into Scotts gap and I wondered if he would hold pace and get his LLTH win. He'd be running so strong all year and finally broke into an impressive 2:30's marathon PR. I finally caught him at Scotts Gap and  we shared some miles together in and I passed him. I spent the last 6 miles out in front pushing my hardest and as much as I didn't want to check my shoulder I did occasionally to see if I saw him on any approaching ridgelines. Matt is a new dad, so congrats to him!

I kept memories alive the whole run. Memories of seeing Scott Breeden come in as a youngster many years ago and now grow up in the sport and dominate.

I felt good the whole time. Nutrition was perfect and the body held up well. I ran out on Siltstone in under 60 minutes which is always my benchmark for a solid run. The return trip on Siltstone ended up being about 62 minutes which I'll take. It was a solid finish.

On the final climb up from the welcome center I had the pleasure of seeing my family which was awesome. I'd had the joy of seeing my daughter Denali all day as she helped crew with Stephanie, but at the welcome center, I heard a cow bell ringing and noticed it was my niece Skylar, and then I noticed my parents and sister and nephew! It was very nice of them to make the trip out to see the finish of the race, and to see my 10 years in a row at LLTH end in defending my win from last year with a pretty solid run!

So... The details. (The course has changed and varied in mileage quite a bit over the years...so times are all relative, but it's still fun to see.)

2007-9th place 5:52
2008-4th place 5:20
2009-5th place 5:14
2010-4th place 5:41
2011-1st Place 5:09
2012-2nd Place 4:47
2013-2nd Place 4:37
2014-3rd Place 5:48
2015-1st Place 4:41
2016-1st Place 4:53

Many thanks to Cynthia for the special and thoughtful award! I'm looking forward to next yr.

2016 has been lucky so far!



Thursday, January 14, 2016

Tunnel Hill 100 wrap up and The Pistol 110K.

The Pistol 110K

Tunnel Hill 100 Mile

Tunnel Hill 100

Tunnel Hill 100 was last November. 

In preparation for "TH" I trained with more discipline than I had in quite some time. All of my weeks in October were around 100 miles, and I trained with great specificity to the course. September held a good ramp up to steady mileage. I felt pretty good the whole time training in fall and was very confident in my ability to finally run a Sub 15 hour hundred, which was my primary goal after half a year of recovery and rest essentially following a very strong two year stint prior. 

Race morning at the gun I took off and was pretty confident that I would be "running a PR today". I felt better than I had in a long time and I was fresher than I had been in years. After racing in nearly 75 ultras, (50 of which are on Ultrasignup), I know the difference in good form and bad and I felt like I had shown up in great shape. 

Around the 30 mile mark, I was holding onto my goal pace, but the pace grew more and more challenging. I knew that in a hundred, you can't force anything. You MUST work WITH your body, not against it.  In between miles 30 and 40 I began to fall apart mentally and I knew that physically I would crash and DNF if I tried to hold onto my goal pace. I knew I had to salvage my run, run at an easier pace, focus on nutrition, and work with my body to get the most out of my day. 

I cruised happily in for the most enjoyable 100 mile finish to date, but it wasn't what I wanted. 

Unlike like last year, this year I had no regrets. I swung for the moon in training, and put in a ton of volume and trained with a new format focusing on specificity. 

In retrospect. I needed more speedwork and time at threshold. Looking at the pyramid of performace, my top end needed refinement. Yes... Even in a 100 mile run. To run at my peak, I needed more speed and power work. Clearly, I felt great the whole run at the pace I eventually settled into after mile 40, but to run a PR I needed more. When I ran my previous PR of 15:27, I had more speed under my belt. 

It was incredible running alongside a client of mine, Kristen Roe, who won the overall female 100 mile run!

The Pistol 110K

The Pistol 110K was almost two weeks ago. 

After Tunnel Hill I felt pretty great and was running well again in two weeks. I started getting in some short runs in Punta Cana, enjoying the heat in the Domican Republic and typically sweated out the previous nights while getting in 5-10 milers at tempo pace. It was a great week and I actually got in some decent speed work.

In December I decided to run the Pistol 100K instead of my previous idea of shooting for a 50K Pr. I knew I didn't want to stress too much about training. I just kept my mileage moderate and only ran long one time, (which was over 25 miles. ) I ran about 20 miles on two occasions. Other than that, I did some time at threshold each week knowing I would benefit from it since I had a strong aerobic base from Tunnel Hill. Overall I wasn't planning any sort of a peak for The Pistol. I just wanted to race and bury myself in a shorter race. (Not 100 miles.)  Spring races were more important and I didn't want to burn out.

The month of December I felt GREAT. Every day I looked forward to short, fast, runs and my legs recovered well each day. The shorter volume meant I could spend more time coaching my runners and studying music, being with family, etc. 

Although my legs felt strong in December, the holidays wore me down. By race week, I was a complete mess emotionally and was vacant and hollow on race week. I was still looking forward to the race, but honestly, I was fried after the holidays. (I always am for this race.) 

This would be my 3rd Pistol in a row.

Race day skies were sunny and warmer than usual and didn't call for rain, ice, or snow. I took the lead at the gun, and ran by myself mostly until crossing the finish line in 1st place at just over 10 hours. 

I was hoping to run between 8 hours and 9 hours on the course. The week before the race the RD sent an email saying the course was 10% long, but since the course was laps I firgured I'd just focus on laps, not my Garmin. 

My absolute "A" goal was 8 hours 5 minutes which would have been the course record . I felt like 8:30 was more realistic considering my lack of specific training for the race and a lack of a peak. I thought the course would have been the same as last year though...and that's where I was very wrong in my forecasting of time goals. This year the 100 milers ran a course that was MUCH shorter than in previous years, and the 100K course was 69 miles. In the race directors emails he notified everyone of this and so I didn't care. What I didn't realize in forecasting my time goals was that it was NOT the same course as previous year in distance, even though much of it is the same.The course was WAY longer than last year. After the first lap, I knew my time goals were unrealistic, and so I paced myself for 70 miles instead of 62. I enjoyed the run and pushed hard. 

Being that it was at least 7-ish miles over the distance from last year I was no where near my time goal but I didn't care. I was running OK and focusing on laps. I hit 62 miles on my Garmin in 8:30. I could see my competition, and I knew I didn't need to push hard on the last lap, so I cruised in for the win. 

It was once again amazing to witness a good friend and client, Maddy Blue crush the course and have the run of her life, placing 3rd overall even among the guys! 

When I finished the RD and staff saw my Garmin and others came in with similar results. They decided to notify the 100 mile runners to cancel their last lap and that would take 10 miles off the distance. This was changed mid-race. I'm sure a lot of folks were happy about this. Will DID tell everyone that the course was long. What he ended up doing was officially calling the 100K a 110K, so I ended up with a PR after all. 

It was nice hanging out after the race and being with friends. I'll definitely be back at the Pistol for more post holiday fun next year. for now, I'll be focusing on Lovin' The Hills 50K in February. This year will mark my 10th in a row, and my 10th anniversary of running Ultras.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hallucination Race Report / Season Update

I spent most of the past several years racing and training my ass off. I was pushing pretty hard in training and racing as well. When my body said it needed recovery I allowed it. I had some great times during those races and came away with more wins and podiums than I would have imagined. I was really lucky and blessed. I even landed a few course records. This year, my goal has been to recover and pay the piper. A lot of top athletes manage to forget to allow recovery and then find themselves in a hole they can't climb out of. I'm only 34 and still have a decade of solid racing ahead, but only if I'm smart and allow intermittent recovery. I wasn't blessed with the best cardiovascular engine. I get my results by running smart and focusing on solid training, nutrition, pacing, and tactics. In turn, I know that I need to run at 100% when I race to get the results I want. I planned this year as a chance to lay low after Western States and take a few months to chill out and recover.

My first race back was Run Woodstock / Hallucination 100 miler this past weekend.

Since Western States in June, recovery came a little slower than expected and I only just started feeling really back to 100% last month. I got in only one run over 20 miles since June, and that was two weeks ago in the Smoky Mtns.

The course at Woodstock was in great shape and the weather was as close to perfect as can be.

Pace and HR was spot on for the first 50 miles and then my lack of mileage revealed itself. My pace began to slow and I knew I should drop to the 100K option.

My main race goal this year is to finally break the 15 hour mark in a hundred mile run at Tunnel Hill this year. I knew that if I dug too deep at Woodstock I would jeopardize training for TH100 since my training had really just started.

I am happy with my decision to drop down to the 100K and keep my goals in check. I know in the long run, it'll pay high dividends and continue to build the resume I want and help me reach my ultimate goals in Ultra.

Today is only Tuesday, and I'm not sore and I'll be able to start training for Tunnel this week and really get in some quality mileage the next two months in prep. Sometimes we need to see the forest through the trees and keep our goals in check.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Western States 100- 2015 Race Report. A tough day on a beautiful course...

Bullet Points for my 2015 Western States 100 Run

  • My goal was 18 hours 30 minutes
    • Objectives to reach my goal were:
      • Powerhike the big climbs, run the flats, and bomb down the descents.
      • Nutrition should be normal...eat a 100 cal. gel every 20 minutes.
      • Manage heat. This was a primary objective to reaching my goal.
        • Keep ice around my neck all day in a “Buff”.
        • Take electrolytes as needed, more than usual, (q 30 minutes)
        • stay hydrated and drink often, monitor pee color, etc

  • I failed to respect the elevation- although I started very slowly per my plan, it was still too fast. My heart rate soared up into the 150’s in the opening miles. As a result, this was the soonest my heart rate has ever dropped into the 120’s. (Bonking = Running out of glycogen.) Usually in a 100 miler this happens around mile 80, but at WSER it happened at mile 47. This was an early bonk for me and meant it would be a long night.
  • Once I realized I went out too quickly I quickly regained control and slowed my pace. I knew I had to stay steady and stay on pace. I made sure to hyper-focus on getting in flawless nutrition, eating every 20 minutes. This was a victory in managing a blow.
  • On the climb up Devil’s Thumb in the infamous canyons, I thought I might be taking in too many electrolytes so I backed off. (My vision was getting funky, I had a headache, and energy was waning.) This was a huge mistake. By the top of the climb my energy plummeted and just trying to stand upright at the aid station was nearly impossible. I didn’t allow myself to stop, I just soaked myself in ice and took several electrolyte capsules to catch back up. I walked for a bit until I felt better. I forced calories down and eventually re-entered the  land of the living. Walking was a herculean effort as I gained energy back.
  • I’ve worn the same model shoes for years with great success. This shoes I wore in the race were an updated model however. They changed the upper to be more voluminous. This created a chance for my foot to slide around. I got a giant deep blister on the bottom of my heel. I corrected this as soon as possible at mile 38 by changing into old shoes, but the damage was done. I tried to ignore the pain and just make sure to keep my footwear tight and snug and loose in the toe box. The blister didn’t get much worse but the descents were really painful. I’m glad I jumped on the situation as early as I could but my descents would have been better without a giant blister covering my heel.
  • My pacers did an awesome job. It’s amazing the experience they’ve accumulated over the year. Daniel and Maddy became my brain, forcing me to eat on schedule and manage my pace to make certain I didn’t blow up. They helped secure my sub 24 hour buckle.
  • I learned a lot from this race. I was dealt several big blows with the altitude and some physical setbacks, but I fought back. I was far from my time and placement goals but I didn’t let pride get in my way. I wanted to make sure I pushed myself 100% and I certainly left everything out on the course. That was my absolute best effort. It was nothing special on the outside, but I fought for it. The final 15 miles I had to increase my pace by several miles per hour to come in under 24 hours. This seemed impossible but I stayed glued on Maddy’s heels and we rolled in with 25 minutes to spare.

The gun went off at 5:00 a.m. Surrounded by the best athletes in the world in the most prestigious race in the world I began a journey I’d been waiting years to commence. I leaned forward and began my climb, sticking to my game plan. I let the lead pack out in front. This way my race. The fastest way to the finish line was by running an even, sustained, effort. The opening miles of an Ultramarathon are always tough. Most runners start too quickly. You must perform a  balancing act… If you start too quickly you’ll slow down drastically in the second half. If you start too slowly you risk letting the early leaders get too great a lead and you can’t reel them in. Also compounding the challenge is that in trail races, single-track trail means single file so if too many get in front of you early on then you’re stuck behind the train of runners.

The first 4 miles of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run course are an ascent up to Emigrants Pass. The altitude is just shy of 9,000’.

I vowed that success was dependent on starting slowly at Western States and so I let the pack go out in front. I was going much slower than I wanted to, but clearly I was still going out way too hard; In an ideal situation my heart rate would be in the low 140’s during the opening miles, but the lack of oxygen meant that even though I was going much slower than I wanted to, I was still going way too fast. This would eventually lead to huge performance losses in the race. Climbing the escarpment my heart rate was in the high 150’s. The lower oxygen at high altitudes creates a dangerous situation. Lower oxygen levels in the air simulate running at a faster pace. The lack of oxygen forces you to burn more glycogen. This creates a scenario in which its easy to hit the dreaded “bonk”. I basically started my WSER run at Marathon intensity...oops. Good job, Coach.

As soon as I crested the escarpment at mile 4 I checked my watch. It took an hour and 3 minutes. I was pretty happy with the fact I thought I paced myself slowly and still made it over the hardest stretch in just over an hour. This was my main strategy...make sure to take the first climb easy. On the descent people moved to the side kindly and let me pace. I wasn’t pushing too hard, but my strength is strong descents and so I wanted to take advantage.

I was in high spirits to finally be on the Western States course racing in the “most prestigious ultra in the world”. The scenery was heavenly. Full exposure on ridge-lines with some tree cover occasionally. I smiled every time I saw a camera to document my good vibes...hahaha.

By mile 20 all the descents left my legs feeling fine but my left foot was not happy. It had been sliding around in my shoe and my entire heel was one large blister. I retied my shoe to help my foot stay in position but this new shoe still provided more volume than I needed. I tried to ignore it until I saw my crew and promptly requested a new pair of shoes. I usually don’t stop or sit in a hundred but this needed to be resolved. My old shoes came in a jiff and a few minutes later I scurried off.
Feet now tended to, I still had 75 miles to go. The blister was bad, but in a 100 mile run the most important variable is staying hydrated and fed and I was making sure that happened. As long as I had energy I'd be able to push through pain...been there, done that. Hundreds are tough. I began to pass people in the canyons as the heat crept in and I thought my race strategy was working perfectly.

Before I started the infamous climb up the hot Devil’s Thumb, I decided to skirt under the bridge and jump in the stream quickly. I thought it might take an extra minute but it would be worth it for the cool jolt right before climbing.I envisioned passing people wishing they'd have soaked too...

The quick dip didn’t work. My condition deteriorated rapidly as I climbed in the heat. I had a headache so I thought maybe I should quit taking salt tabs. This compounded my ill feelings. By the time I got to the summit of Devil’s Thumb I could barely stand. Everyone around looked pretty bad too but this was when I was supposed to start reeling in carnage...instead, I WAS the carnage. It was almost the halfway point.

It took every ounce of strength and willpower but I didn’t stop at the aid station. I took some ice and chugged some soda and grabbed a popsicle. I was really happy to see my friend Jon Allen pass by me. Earlier in the day we were cat and mousing and he mentioned his quad was hurting so that spurred me on a little when I saw he was feeling better. When we were chatting he mentioned former Western States winner Tim Olson had dropped out of the race he was running the night before in Italy. This put me in somewhat dark spirits as it got me thinking about overtraining and my past two years...I tried to stay positive and not doubt my fitness. I took off several months after the best two years ever and so I should be fresh going into Western...maybe it was just the heat leaving me feeling not so spritely...maybe it was the altitude. I race well in heat though...so chalk this to altitude. SHIT. Regardless, I needed to eat on schedule, take my electrolytes again on schedule and force 110% effort at all times. This was Western States!

Although I was running slowly, I was happy to be running at all considering I nearly collapsed dead at the halfway point. The knee I had sprained badly a month ago was protesting slightly but with all the downhill that's to be expected. It wasn't too bad. Coming into Bath Aid Station near mile 60 I was elated to see my crew. I knew that I had a chance to hang on and not completely die out there.

Seeing my crew picked up my spirits greatly and so I think I ran extra quick the first few miles with Maddox and Maddy, Maddox and I left Maddy with Stephanie at Forest Hill (mile 62) and I soon began to crash again. I balanced my expenditure as best as I could to maintain my strategy to walk the climbs and run the flats and downhills but I was pretty pathetic. My sprained knee from the previous month flared up and the blister, although it wasn’t worse since I changed shoes began to become more painful. Honestly though...the thing that was killing me was the energy system failure. I could handle any pain, but my main goal in this race was to be strong and powerful, but since I blew up at the halfway point I was pushing deep, everything I had, and the pace was pathetic. I tried to keep my B goal on the forefront of my mind. I could still get the coveted silver buckle for finishing in under 24 hours but I would have to balance my pace perfectly. I needed to maintain right where I was. The whole run was downhill to the American River and Maddox did an awesome job pacing me. He pushed me but allowed recovery when I would climb and get hot. It was so hot still and night was falling. At one point he asked, “Are you going slow because it hurts or because you’re being lazy?” I loved this question as the answer was neither! The pace I was running was my 100% and I was getting nauseous and burping even at that snails crawl!

By the time we hit the storied crossing of the American River it was time to see Stephanie and Maddy again. I collapsed into a chair. It is indescribable how long the last 5 miles took to get to Rucky Chucky at mile 78. Minutes turned into hours. Time had stopped and my misery was eternal, infinite, a purgatory of trying to run and suck down sports gels even though I was ready to puke and overheating on every climb.

I was basically slurring my speech and not ready to leave my spot in the chair but a few minutes had passed and my crew commanded me to get up. I chugged a red bull and stepped foot into the river.

The cold river made me instantly cry out and I gagged and dry heaved. There are volunteers standing in the river holding a large metal cable. There are glow sticks tied to boulders in the water and the waders tell you where to step. They kept telling me to put both my hands on the cable but I was very confused and I kept taking one off, to which they’d yell and I would confusedly ponder what they meant. This simple task was rocket science to me at that point. I was worried I’d lost it.

Maddy was brilliant on the climb up Green Gate. She forced me to eat extra chews even though It wasn’t time for food yet. She read the situation well because the climb up Green Gate to mile 80 I felt human again. Maddy and I reminisced our time together last year where the roles were reversed…”Remember when you fell there last year and started puking, laying in the dirt?” Yup..ultras are awesome. Why do we do this again?

Maddy chatted endlessly and her enthusiasm and passion for the task at hand made the time less miserable. I was grateful to have such awesome friends like Maddox, Stephanie, and her to help me in my endeavors. I managed to keep pace even though it was incredibly hard. I let Maddy in front of me and she began to pick up the pace and that’s when I stopped whining and started really digging deep.

With 15-20 miles left an Aid Station captain warned me that I was OVER 24 hour pace. I wasn’t going down without a fight. I quickly grabbed a popsicle stick covered in Vaseline from the aid station medical director and applied it straight to my thighs which were chaffed something awful. I ran out of that aid station and Maddy set a good pace.

I was picking up the pace greatly and had a good system going. Pacing a runner who is running well is a complete different beast than pacing a runner at his worst. This was me at my worst and barely hanging on. She knew when to crack the whip and when to allow recovery. Maddy and Maddox both did a great job with me at my worst…

We were finally back under 24 hour pace. I couldn’t believe the speed with which we were climbing again. I didn’t care if I blew up and collapsed. My logic was if I burned the candle and crashed I was no where in jeopardy of missing the 30 hour time cut. I had to leave my heart and soul out on the course to EARN that sub 24 hour buckle. If I crashed and required a 2 hour recovery I didn’t care. I had to try for that sub 24 buckle even though I felt deathly. So what if I wasn’t in the top 20 like my goal...so what if I was over 20 hours. There was no room for pride. I had to get that sub 24 buckle.

Coming in to the highway 49 road crossing I could switch pacers again and see my crew. Maddy asked me if I wanted Daniel (Maddox) to pick me up and start pacing again but I told Maddy that we had to stick with our system. In the past 10 miles we had drastically improved pace and position and we couldn’t break a system that was working that close to the finish. This would definitely work and get us in under 24 hours. I’m sure Maddox was more than capable as well, I just didn’t want to change what was working. Maddox would be able to pick us up at mile 98 and we could all run in together.

The last climb was hard but I poured out every ounce of energy I had left. We summited and I could NOT believe the pace improvement over the last 15 miles. Maddox and Maddy and I all ran in and Stephanie was waiting there inside the track. I was more relieved than elated to be honest. I was glad it was done and that I stuck it out and gave it everything. I’ve paced many runners on their worst days and to an extent it can be more inspiring than pacing a runner on a good day. I didn’t feel good about it though. I was proud of my run. I did the best I could. I was disappointed though. I’ve done so well in so many other races but this is the biggest ultra in the world. This is the one that matters. It left me inspired to come back. At that point and still today, I have a fire under my ass to try to come back and avenge this result. I know it might not be the best race report, but it’s honest. I’m pissed and I want revenge. If you do well at every other race and not Western...then….I don’t know. It seems like a cop out...like a farce. You have to do well at Western. I need a good run on Western soil. I need a run in which I meet my potential regardless of what that means.

I’m writing this race report from a cabin in the Smokies. I was supposed to be backpacking but I left the trail to come find a cabin with wi-fi to hopefully get this out. I’m allowing time to decompress and one thing that’s really hard is I don’t have an immediate goal. I raced monthly the last few years and most of those were really good runs. Now I have no direction...no goal. I know this sounds dumb to say out loud, but running keeps me grounded. It forces me to eat and recover and tackle all else in life so I can be strong for my races. I also know that my main goal is to be competitive well into my late 40’s and I’m only in my early 30’s. I need to give up a few months of rest to the gods of running so I don’t become overtrained. I want to be healthy overall and do this the right way...for life.

My next goal is going to be one of the hardest of my career. I want to run a sub-15 hour hundred to improve upon my 15:27 100 mile personal record. Tunnel Hill in November is the course for it. I was fatigued last year from too much racing leading up to it. This year I’ll be putting all my eggs in one basket hoping to go into Tunnel recovered. This past spring was a great season, with a 5:18 50 mile split and some other performances I’m really proud of. I allowed recovery before Western so I think I should be fresh for TH100.

Blame any typos in this report on a fine single-batch bourbon I’m cozying up to in this mountain cabin. I seem to left out various details like my right knee being twice the size of my left me upon finishing, it all sounds like more whining though and I'm done whining, Time to move on and recover.

A final note...this race sets the bar for organization and awesome volunteers. Don't let my whining fool you. Everyone needs to do this race.