Getting My Ass Back into Shape… 12/3/16

In the ultrarunning world, a significant amount of athletes take some downtime around the holidays. With the change in weather, unless you live in San Luis Obispo, and usually coming off a heavy calendar from Spring through Fall, having a month or more to fully recover is a necessity for most runners. Musculoskeletally, the body does an amazing job at recovering from significant efforts, and adapting to increased loads. This is why I couldn’t walk for a week after my first 50 miler, but flash forward three years later, and I was hiking in SLO with no soreness two days after the Grand Slam.

Adrenal fatigue is an interesting term now being commonly used by the ultrarunning community. Albeit a term with no medical consensus supporting the claim, the theory behind adrenal fatigue is that when the body encounters a significant amount of prolonged stress without adequate recovery ( i.e. 10 ultra’s in a season with no downtime, coupled with raising young children and working a full-time job requiring significant travel), although musculoskeletally the body seems ok, internally it could be a shit show. The symptoms of adrenal fatigue can range from lethargy, irritability, anxiety and loss of sex drive… ouch!

Relatively speaking, there has been an explosion in the sport with books like Born to Run, leading to a significant amount of new runners and new races. Increased coverage from companies like Irunfar, Ultralive and Twitter allow fans to track their favorite runners from start to finish. Myriad of filmographers capturing the sport mid-race (Check out this insane Youtube clip following Zach Miller and Hayden Hawks from the 2016 TNF 50, has provided a glimpse into the amount of effort exerted by the athletes competing in these events. Sponsors have also increased their marketing dollars, with companies like Patagonia, Altra, North Face, Salomon, Nike and Hoka all having elite trail teams, and most having ambassador programs.

A sport once ruled by middleagers, countless “young guns” are now rewriting the records books daily, entering the ultrarunning scene fresh out of college with blazing track and road backgrounds. The acronym FOMO (fear of missing out), which I recently learned was an actual term people use… I am not even remotely in the range of cool anymore… has led to many runners over racing. With the popularity of the sport and social media usage at an all time high and many runners wanting to experience as many races in as many destinations as they can, too many ultrarunners, in my opinion, are on the verge of experiencing “adrenal fatigue.”

Considering these factors, after finishing Wasatch in early September, I decided to take some much needed downtime.

Being an experiment of one, each athlete has a different definition of downtime. Some prefer to completely turn it off for 2-3 weeks, with zero running. Others prefer to remove all running from their calendar, but still get out for a few miles when they feel the need. Some runners turn to hiking or cross-training to get their “fix,” but make a concerted effort to stay off their feet as it relates to running.

Starting with the remainder of September and leading into early October, I only hiked and performed my gym workout three times each week. Over this 4-6 week period, outside of pacing Thomas at Cuyamaca for 18 ass kicking miles, I likely totaled only 20-40 miles of actual running in these several weeks. Loading up on sleep and making a slight modification to my diet (adding small amounts of meat back in after 4 years as a vegetarian and/or vegan) were two additional changes made during this offseason.

Feeling well rested and healthy, I was excited to begin training again in October.

We started out with VERY unstructured running for the first few weeks of the month. Running 4-5 days and not breaking 40 miles in any given week. Continuing to hit the gym 3x week throughout October helped to tackle any muscle imbalances accrued over the Grand Slam. Also, injecting strides into most runs (6-8, 15-20 second pickups focusing on form and turnover) helped to get comfortable moving at a quicker pace. With a plan to work on improving fitness through increased quality work, strides are the logical first step.

Wearing a heart rate (HR) monitor is something I used primarily for recovery runs leading up to Western States, but I’ve started wearing one religiously since returning to training. A HR strap provides objective data, and is a great tool for measuring an increase in fitness. As an example, one of my first recovery/easy runs in October had the following stats:

  • 7 miles
  • 167ft vert
  • 8:33min/mile pace
  • Average HR 141  

A similar recovery/easy run in late November had the following stats:

  • 6 miles
  • 100ft vert
  • 8:16  min/mile pace
  • Average HR 132

The data above confirms an increase in fitness, as I was able to cover relatively the same distance, on the same terrain, moving 17 seconds/mile faster, at 9 beats/min slower. Without this HR data however, it would be impossible to objectively confirm an increase in fitness, as this data shows I was able to cover the same distance at a quicker pace, with less effort. Gains in fitness require an increasing amount of time and consistency, so unfortunately my stats above show that the Olympics won’t be calling anytime soon.

Along with strides, we’ve also slowly added track workouts and tempo runs into the weekly schedule. These have helped to increase my “comfort level” with quicker paces. As an example, if your bread-and-butter run (pace that you feel could be maintained all day) is at 9:00 min/mile, increasing fitness through quality work like tempos, track sessions and strides could, over time, lower your pace to 8:30 min/mile, or even lower. This increase in fitness can be gained from increasing volume, but only to an extent. If you’re a runner that does all of your running at one pace (i.e. 9:00 min/mile), whether or not you run 50 miles per week or 100, your body adapts to feeling “comfortable” traveling at 9:00 min/mile. Increasing both volume and quality, and remaining injury free, is the key to increasing fitness over any distance.

Aside from quality work, one of the major changes I’ve made in training over the past year has been to run either very slow, or relatively speaking, very fast. Primarily because my ass feels kicked after quality workouts, but also through trial-and-error after reading various articles by elite runners and coaches that follow this practice religiously, my body feels stronger and more prepared for quality workouts when I don’t beat it up on my recovery/easy days. Some call it the “black hole,” but running at a moderate intensity for nearly all of your weekly miles is what too many runners and ultrarunners do. Running all miles at this level of intensity (relative difficulty in carrying on a conversation) is too slow to adequately impact fitness, but also too fast to properly allow the body to recover between runs. Symptoms from this type of training are constant fatigue, lack of improvement and higher injury risk… No thanks!

Getting back in shape is not easy! Whether it’s returning from an injury, which every damn runner in SLO seems to be working through these days, or from taking some much needed downtime, increasing fitness requires consistency and time. In a fast-paced world that seemingly encourages immediate gratification, building a long-term strategy with merely incremental gains is not sexy. Lowering my average HR by 9 points on a recovery run, over a two month period isn’t likely to garner 100 “likes” on Facebook, but running back-to-back ultras over two weekends sure the hell is.

What is the smarter strategy for meeting your goals?

If your goal is to improve race results, increasing fitness is a no brainer. If your goal is to stack ultra finishes regardless of results, then the latter decision seems like the logical approach.

Ultrarunning is so appealing to me because of the variety of races, and especially the variety of people tackling these distances. The goals that we have in this sport vary from person-to-person. Even within our relatively small ultrarunning community, we have such a wide variety of runners chasing various targets (getting back in shape, tackling their first ultra, moving up in distance from 50k/50 mile to 100k/100 mile, increasing year-over-year results, stacking as many races as possible onto the calendar, podium finishes, racing into Western States, etc.). No goals are more or less important than the other, and why I love this sport, is that we encourage each other to chase these lofty goals, no matter how crazy or ridiculous they seem to be.


What I’ve learned from getting back in shape:

  • It’s a slow process that rewards consistency and time
  • It’s not sexy or social media worthy
  • It’s helpful for me to run either very slow or “very fast”
  • Everyone builds fitness at a different pace, so just because your running partner has an average HR of 10-15 beats/minute lower, doesn’t automatically mean that there is a giant discrepancy in fitness level
  • Trusting the process and thinking long-term works in this crazy ass sport!


Thanks for reading and all comments are appreciated… I’ve got thick skin! Upcoming posts on the Montana de Oro 25k and the Annual Big Sur Backpacking Trip coming soon…

Polaroid CUBE
Why, hello Mr. Pacific!


Confessions From the Grand Slam 10-31-16


It looks so easy on paper…


Looking back seven weeks after the Grand Slam, I decided to have a Q&A with myself on some of the frequent questions received about this event

Why Tackle the Grand Slam?

When asked why he decided to climb Mount Everest, the famous mountaineer George Mallory’s three word answer is now an iconic statement in the sport… “Because it’s there.” I’ve asked several of the slammers this question, and I’ve received a multitude of answers:

  • To see what I’m made of
  • With odds of current race lotteries being so low, this may be my first, and last opportunity
  • To finish something that only 280 others have ever completed
  • To show my kids that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it

These are all outstanding answers to a question that I’ve received multiple times. In order to give this challenge justice, I felt compelled to come up with a sufficiently poignant answer. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Thinking over it for several weeks now, I chose to tackle this event solely because it would be hard. Life is too damn easy in so many ways these days. Jared Campbell, my ultrarunning man crush, summed it up perfectly in a recent podcast, “We live in an air conditioned society.” Living in San Luis Obispo, we actually don’t need air conditioning, but this is exactly the point. Today’s society is so focused on taking away the pain though medication or intoxication (Americans make up 5% of the worlds population, but ingest 50% of the worlds pharmaceuticals), that we rarely experience the true bliss that comes from battling through intense uncomfortableness.

What Did You Learn Throughout the Grand Slam?

Hopefully my “enlightened” answer to the first question didn’t stop you from reading this far, as I actually have an answer to this question. The famous Texan ultrarunner Paul Terranova said it best when asked about his thoughts on completing the Grand Slam in 2012, “The Grand Slam was a crucible of learning.” Here are a few of the specifics that I took from this crucible of learning:


Completely underestimating the amount of sacrifice necessary to complete this journey was a definite miss on my part. You will be forced to sacrifice in nearly all areas of your life to complete this event, and I should have thought through the potential impact of these races before throwing my name in the hat.

Work, Relationships, Time, Money, Fitness, Sleep, Sanity…to name a few


Having a solid support system in place is integral in preparing for the Grand Slam. Fortunately, I have a partner and best friend that understands and fully supports me chasing these sometimes outrageous dreams. Alejandra couldn’t have been more supportive throughout these 11 weeks… and the additional 5 months leading up to Western States. Not kicking me out of the bedroom for sleeping in an altitude tent. Being ok with me waking up at 4:15am for several months, and passing out at 8ish. Not busting my chops for traveling with work at least 2-3 weeks out of each month, and then adding in weekend travel for these races. Without her support, I wouldn’t have been able to tackle this adventure.

Working with a coach for the first time in my ultrarunning career caused some serious anxiety. Without formal training or years of consistent running to lean on, I was nervous about my results, and more importantly somewhat terrified of how the workouts would be. Thomas kicked my tail for 5+ months, but was empathetic and flexible all along the way. Already having a ton of respect for his running ability, I’m honored he was willing to work with a newbie like me, and happy to have met a great friend.

My dad, Kris, Aaron, mom, Dave, Dizzle, Nick, Eric, Canice, Luke and Joanie all sacrificed from their own lives to support me throughout this summer. I’m not comfortable asking others for help, but I’m so thankful that you offered selflessly to ride this wave with me.

Also, having a nutrition partner in Physiophyx has been a giant support in preparation and recovery for these events. Tony, Terry and Michael have been awesome to work with, and I couldn’t be happier to see this company grow and continue to support my crazy endeavors.


If you’re not much of a planner, you’ll get a “free” graduate level course in logistics training plotting out the Grand Slam. Travel, housing, car rentals, race recon, recovery, drop bag prep, training, acclimation, pre/during/post race nutrition…


The consensus from many slammers is that you get stronger over the course of the Grand Slam. Granted, I did a lot of hiking and gym work in the 11 weeks between events, but I definitely did not become a stronger runner throughout the Grand Slam. Seven weeks out from Wasatch, I’m realizing how unfit I became throughout the course of these 11 weeks. Aside from a few, relatively fast downhill racing miles, I didn’t perform one quality workout in nearly three months. With a heart rate nearly 15-20 beats/minute faster than it should be at the same running pace from June, I’ve got some work to do.

What Would I Do Differently

Whether it’s the Grand Slam or preparing for the Angeles Crest 100 in 2017, I will definitely be taking a rest day each week, and will be incorporating at least 1 gym workout as well. Listening to ultrarunners that have been competing at a high level for decades, consistently training injury free, is a commonality that tends to breed success. My focus on quality workouts (tempo runs, intervals, fartleks, progression runs, etc.) will also increase, as fitness is king… whether on the track, or in a 100 miler.

Recommendations for Future Slammers

Respect each race in it’s own right. Just as in an ultra, worry about the immediate steps in front of you to the next aid station, and not about the miles to go before the finish. Just because a race looks “easy” on paper, means absolutely zilch when racing the Grand Slam. The Vermont 100 nearly knocked me out of the slam, and it’s by far the easiest of the four races. When you’ve never raced a back-to-back 100 in 19 days, you never know what your body is going to do… or say to you.

Remember to thank those that helped you get here! Yes, there is a lot of personal sacrifice that goes into preparing for 100 milers, but there is also a lot of sacrifice from those that support you in these crazy endeavors. Don’t forget to remind your support system how much they mean to you.

Enjoy the journey! For many, hell for nearly everyone that finishes it, the Grand Slam will be the first and last time you’re privileged to tackle these four races in one season.

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat!


Wasatch 100 9/9-9/10

Rough way to start a Friday…

I’m writing this blog post a couple miles off the Little Falls trail in Arroyo Grande, CA. The initial plan was to make it up to the Condor Lookout 7 miles outside Pozo, but unfortunately we had a late start after work. With several miles to go and the sunset 30 minutes behind us, I decided to set up camp right off the trail.

Polaroid CUBE
Good morning Arroyo Grande.

Alejandra and I arrived in Salt Lake City late at night on Wednesday. After a decent night of sleep, we had all day Thursday to relax in Utah. We spent the morning with Alejandra’s family in Ogden, a smaller city approximately 40 minutes north of Salt Lake. We learned  from her family, considering they were on the border, that you are either from North Ogden or South Ogden. Not sure why there was such a distinction between parts of the city, but considering they have their own festivals and names on welcome signs, I’m envisioning an epic fight between the husband and a few of his wives when starting the village a hundred or so years ago.

Since Alejandra doesn’t see her Utahian family much, I left her with her cousin for the day and headed out to Park City to catch up with Thomas and Luke, and to meet my blind date pacer. The drive out to Park City from Salt Lake takes you past the Big Mountain and Lambs Canyon aid stations, so it was good to have some bearings when later trying to give directions to Alejandra. Considering my sense of direction though, she’s much safer just following the crew caravan.

Heading into the Park City Running Company to meet the rest of the crew, I was surprised when no one was in the store except for one of the workers. Only knowing him by name, I asked the gal behind the counter “Is Kenneth here?” She looked at me a little awkward. Knowing I can have that affect on women, I asked her a different way, “Kenneth is going to be pacing me tomorrow and I’m supposed to meet him here?”

 Still the same look…

 Ummm… “Kenneth, the owner of the Park City Running Company.”

 “Do you mean Canice?”

Now, I was confused. Thomas had told me a couple times that Kenneth would be the pacer. When we exchanged contact info, he sent me a phone number for Canice. I assumed this was Kenneth’s wife, so I guess she was now my pacer. Pretty sure the Grand Slam had extended my mushy brain syndrome well past each race, so it took me way longer than it should to realize that “Kenneth’ was “Canice.” Looking back, I blame it on Thomas’ German accent

 After talking running for awhile with the guys and a quick lunch, I headed out to the prerace Wasatch meeting. Knowing that I had to drive out to Ogden afterwards, I was really hoping the RD would keep things short. Knowing that Western States, Vermont and Leadville were all an hour or longer, I expected to hit the road from SLC around 5-5:15ish. If you’re looking for a detailed prerace meeting, please don’t come to the Wasatch, because they wrapped things up in less than 30 minutes.

 How all prerace meetings should be…

“We have a lot of runners with great resumes racing tomorrow. Past winners, people finishing for their 20th time… etc. We don’t really care and they won’t be talking today. The course is marked pretty well, so if you get lost it’s your fault. See you tomorrow.” Couldn’t tell from the glare, but I thought Luis Escobar was running this damn thing!

Not the whole group, but we all made it!

After Alejandra’s birthday dinner with the soon-to-be fam (yes, she came out to Utah to crew for me on her birthday), we made our way back to SLC for some early shuteye.

With the race start at 5:00am, I was able to “sleep in” again till 3:00ish. Thankfully, Wasatch arranged for several buses to cart runners from downtown SLC to the starting location 40 minutes north of town. Making my way onto the bus, I walked towards the rear and ran into some slam brothers… Sean, Chris and Josam. We chatted about recovery and the lack of training in between races, and that it will be really, really nice to be done with this event in hopefully 26-30ish hours. With a short hike to the starting location and after a quick stop bathroom break, the final leg of the Grand Slam was off!

The first two miles of Wasatch are ran on asphalt, as runners make their way to the single track for a monstrous climb. From reading several race reports and learning about a change in course, I decided to go out relatively quickly to secure a spot closer to the front-ish of the pack, and get in front of the conga line. Settling somewhere into 40-60th as we hit the trail, I look up to see Tommy Barlow right in front of me. Tommy, a fellow Grand Slammer and similarly new to endurance runner like me, was on his home turf after nailing a great Leadville. We chatted for a couple miles, working our way up the 4,500ft+ climb. Weirdly, both Tommy and I felt relatively recovered and decently strong, considering we had 300 recent racing miles on our legs. We both talked about feeling better heading into Wasatch then at any other time throughout the slam. Again, I think the mushy head syndrome of ultras was clouding our judgement, but feeling good is much better than feeling like a bag of soggy poo at mile 4.

Yeah, I’d rather be in the office…

Working our way up the first massive climb of the day, I started to realize that every damn person in this race was using hiking poles but me. Declining the offer from Kenneth/Canice on Thursday to use a pair, living by the mantra of not trying anything new on race day, I started to rethink this declination. This first climb was big, really F’ing big! Realizing we’d have another 23-24k of climbing after this ascent, I was seriously rethinking this don’t try anything new on race day crap…

The first aid station came a few miles after summiting climb #1, and I ran into Tommy again before quickly refilling water bottles. Being his home course and knowing he’s a solid climber, I expected we’d be battling it out all day.

The next several miles were uneventful, minus a short detour after getting lost. Assuming it’s going to happen multiple times throughout a race, it doesn’t bother me much to lose a few cumulative minutes to the trail marking gods these days.

Making our way into Sessions aid station, I ran into Jeralyn, the worker at Park City that helped correct me on Canice’s name the day before. Learning that she was one of only a couple women to nearly finish 3 loops of Barkley, and one of a very few to have finished the WURL (check Jared Campbell’s blog), again I was humbled to spend time on the trails with these studs.

The first crew/aid station is Big Mountain at mile 31. After now having multiple ultras under my belt and crewing/pacing at a few, I realize how difficult it is for friends and family to spend an entire day waiting around to see their runner for only 1-2 minutes. Alejandra, Luke and Thomas were awesome though, fighting the crowds to say hi/bye as I tried my best to waste as little time as possible moving through.

Can’t get these damn gu’s out of my pocket!

The 8 mile stretch from Big Mountain to Alexander Ridge aid station was my favorite part of the day. After a solid climb, the next several miles were gentle and runnable, with incredible views running along the ridge before dropping down into the AS at mile 40ish. I ran into Ford Smith on this section of trail. Ford is one of the “Young Guns” of ultrarunning, making a name for himself with a very impressive late 2014-15 stretch of events. We talked and ran together for 6ish miles into the AR AS. At 20 years old, this runner has an incredibly bright future ahead of him. Can’t wait to see what he does after college.

Heading out of Alexander Ridge, I had my first low point of the day. Albeit a decent climb out of the valley we’d descended into, this moderate climb towards Lambs Canyon absolutely destroyed me. Being the hottest part of the day, I chalked it up to the temp, but I was forced to hike a significant portion of this section that was entirely runnable. Upon flattening out and starting our descent into Lambs, thankfully I stopped feeling sorry for myself and opened up on the few miles into the AS at 45.

Planning to pick up Thomas at Lambs and knowing that he’s as anal as I am when it comes to race logistics, I was surprised not to see him anywhere around the aid station. After filling up my bottles, emptying trash and having a shot of coke, I planned to head out sans pacer. Fortunately, Thomas and Alejandra decided to come down to the aid station early as the runner updates weren’t posting too timely. As I was running out of the aid station, Thomas came running in nearly plowing into me. We were both excited to see each other, and moved quickly out towards Big Water Basin.

Not knowing where I was at this time in the race, really not wanting to know with 55 miles left to run and feeling relatively good, we decided to move and try to make some decent time out to Brighton at mile 67. Passing the 50 mile mark in 10:55ish and feeling strong considering the last 11 weeks of racing, the second low point of the day hit really hard, really fast.

Climbing or hiking over technical terrain is usually my only strength in ultrarunning, so when that goes, all hell tends to break loose. Well, this happened shortly after the 50 mile mark, and glad Thomas was patient as a saint as we worked to not piss away too much time before descending into Brighton. Thankfully, my quads were still intact and running downhill wasn’t too painful. With 28k of climbing expected in this race, I thought it would be a serious quad blaster, beating the tar out of the legs similar to Western States. With most descents less than a few miles however, the quads had plenty of time to “relax” between pounding sessions.

We rolled into the Brighton aid station at mile 67 somewhere around 8:20pm (15:20 of racing), and after a quick shirt change, we were off to climb up towards Ants Knoll with Canice now taking charge. With all the talk about logistics and triple checking my drop bag to include everything needed, my fucking headlamp dies in the first 10 minutes of the hike out from Brighton. Canice was a professional and had an additional head lamp replaced within seconds, but this section was another ass kicker as I slowed down dramatically. We made our way up with another runner who was running Wasatch for his first time, and was taking pointers from Canice on his intimate knowledge of the course.

Canice’s knowledge of the course was almost creepy, as he literally knew every single turn and climb from 67-91. After a long low stretch, I finally felt semi-normal for a few miles and we made some descent time to the Pot Hollow AS at mile 84. Unfortunately, my high points didn’t last long, and I retreated back to the ultra shuffle for much of these 24 miles. After what felt like an eternity, and by most accounts it was when looking at the splits, we finally made it to Thomas at mile 91 (Top of the Wall). With 9 miles to go, our plan was to start “hammering,” as supposedly the terrain was incredible runnable and the grade was perfect for opening up.

We must have a different definition of “runnable” than Utahians…

Thomas and I were literally laughing, as we had 2-3 miles of the absolute worst descent of the race, tearing through overgrown brush, dry prickly shrubs, perfectly placed rocks for rolling ankles and the steepest grade of the day. Finally, we dropped into some runnable cow pasture and were able to make up some time into the last aid station. With a pre-race goal of under 27 hours, I was ecstatic to be close to 24 hours, but considering the pace of the first 50 miles in under 11hrs, a 13hr+ last 50 miles was pretty atrocious. I can blame it on the cumulative effects of the Grand Slam, but simply I sucked pretty bad from 50-91.

The last few miles felt like dancing on clouds, as it was a wide open gravel road that we could actually run on. Well, dancing on clouds is a pretty shitty metaphor, as I literally felt like death was approaching, trying not to pass out, puke or piss myself. We dropped onto asphalt again, only the third time outside of the start and short trip into Brighton, and finished with about a mile of slight incline. Rounding the last turn, I crossed the finish line in 24:20, good enough for 20th, and the fastest Slammer of the class of 2016. A perfect finish to the Grand Slam, there was one old timer that stood up to greet me, then just as quickly sat back down. No accolades… no fireworks… shit there weren’t even any lights… just how I like it!

Asked by a few to write why I decided to compete in the Grand Slam this year, unfortunately I don’t have a great story like so many of my fellow Slammers. Shit, I didn’t even know what the Grand Slam was until Erik Dube told me about it after getting into Western States. Looking back however on these four races over 11 weeks, I’ve learned so much about myself. Resiliency…Determination…Stubbornness…Recovery…Strength, or lack thereof… and the most important, humility. I’ve been so humbled and so honored to share the trails with such an amazing group of 19 in the Grand Slam class of 2016. We all, as every finisher does in any ultra, had to battle demons, juggle variables and incessantly troubleshoot to get to each finish line.

Why I thought this would be easy baffles me…

What I learned:

I’ve been asked a few times what I’ve learned in finishing the Grand Slam, and simply it’s that I don’t know jack shit about ultrarunning. Yes I’ve finished a handful of ultras over three years and I’ve been a student of this sport since literally stumbling into it three years ago, but this sport is all about consistent improvement, and it takes time to improve. The reason why we have such a respect for those that have competed in this sport for years, possibly more respect than any veteran in any sport, is that these studs have lived through ALL the ups… ALL the downs… ALL the issues, and came out the other end still standing, still running.

Guys like Dan Brenden, although not able to complete the Grand Slam in 2016, has completed the GS 8 times! Gals like Ann Trason and Pam Reed beating the top guys in this sport for years! Even the “regular” ultrarunner juggling a job, family commitments and training, inspire me everyday to get off my ass everyday to get better.

Can’t wait for 2017, and looking forward to getting back to the grind… after a good long rest!

18 of our class of 19! Our 19th finisher ended up in the hospital… but she finished!

Leadville 100 and Number 3 of the Grand Slam 8-20-16

Can I borrow some oxygen???

Heading into the start of the Grand Slam this summer, all of my eggs were tossed into the Western States bucket. All of the lead up and all of the preparation was built around maximizing performance on race day. With the training being so difficult to juggle around work and life, there thankfully wasn’t much free time to worry about the other three races, let alone anything else.

Post Western States, the 20 days before Vermont were a complete blur. With a body that was battered and unfortunately with little time to recover, Vermont was an exercise in pain management. Relatively speaking, the five full weeks between Vermont and Leadville felt like an eternity.

The plan after Vermont was to heal up and work on getting stronger. Not being able to walk without a limp for a couple weeks wasn’t the best scenario for “training,” but at least it forced me to not run and spend my time hiking and in the gym.

The first gym workout post Vermont was absolutely atrocious!

One of the many mistakes I made in the lead up to WS was cutting out full workouts and focusing primarily on VERY basic exercises. Although my fitness level climbed due to the increased workload, my body wasn’t fully prepared to take on all the miles, and not surprisingly broke down after Western States. With less than three years of ultrarunning experience, my body didn’t have the luxury of the accumulation of miles that many runners have entering this sport. Strength training has definitely helped in allowing my body to absorb the increased training over the years, but letting it slide while training for WS was a major mistake that I’m paying for now.

Listening to podcasts and reading race recaps from fellow Slammers, my plan for the first couple weeks post Vermont was to do nothing but weighted hiking and get my ass back in the gym. Timing worked out perfectly week one, as Thomas and Dylan were hiking their way around the Tahoe Rim Trail and wanted some company.

Carly and I made our way up the Friday after Vermont to spend three days hiking the TRT with Thomas and Dylan. For 12 days, Thomas’ wife Valerie, their son Luke and Valerie’s dad were an amazing support crew, driving supplies back-and-forth nearly every other day to remote locations around the lake, while Thomas and Dylan made their 180ish mile adventure around Lake Tahoe. A thru hike providing  breathtaking views, both literally and physically, with passes over 10,000ft, the TRT isn’t a beginners hiking trip.

Carly and I met Team Reiss at their house near the lake, and Valerie drove us to Barker Pass to meet the guys early on Friday afternoon. Albeit dirty and smelly as all hell, Thomas and Dylan looked pretty solid for having already completed 90ish miles. Fortunately I haven’t had the pleasure of looking at a mirror 90 miles into a race, but I would bet the barn that I look like hammered poo 100 out of 100 times.

We had a great time hiking with Thomas and Dylan on Friday and Saturday, and ended up 8-9 miles farther than we initially expected on Saturday evening. Carly and I hiked back to Tahoe City on Sunday morning to meet up with the support crew, and although I was forced to hobble my way through the 33ish miles, my body felt ok and it gave me some confidence that I’d be able to heal up enough to tackle Leadville.

The four remaining weeks heading into Leadville were filled with a significant amount of weighted hiking, two gym workouts each week, daily core exercises, and only around 100 miles of slow running. I was even able to spend some miles on the trails with Nick, as he and his wife traveled down to SLO for a wedding. With the body feeling healthier and stronger than at anytime after WS or Vermont, although nowhere near 100%, I felt confident in being able to battle the mountains.

My dad and good buddy Aaron met up in Denver on the Thursday night before the race. They flew out to help crew, and this would be Aaron’s first ultra experience. I did my best to talk him out of it, but Aaron’s pretty damn stubborn and insisted that he was coming. After a short night of sleep due to a very extended flight delay, we woke up early and made our way out to Leadville.

The old mining town of Leadville houses roughly 2,000 tough and gritty residents. A  booming mining town once populated by thousands digging for silver and gold, Leadville’s local mine closed in the 70’s and crippled the town overnight. A former miner turned politician, Ken Chlouber, decided on an unorthodox idea to save his town. Creating a 100 mile footrace to showcase the ruggedness and beauty of the area, Chlouber’s race sparked an interest in Leadville from not only athletes but tourists as well. Flash forward 35+ years, and the Leadville 100 has stood the test of time, as one of the oldest and most iconic 100 miles races in the US, and regarded by many as the savior of the town.

We rolled into Leadville at 9:30am on Friday morning, with plenty of time (30 minutes) to check in for the following days race. For an event the allows 800-900 starters, the check in process was the most efficient I’d ever witnessed. Likely because 99% of runners didn’t wait till the last minute to pick up their packets, I’ll just tee it up to incredibly efficient race management.

After a quick lunch at the oldest saloon in Leadville, built in 1887 with what looked like an original bar and signature noose hanging in the entry way to the dining room, we spent the remainder of the day meandering around town. Assuming Leadville would have a Virginia City feel with wooden walkways and a Wild West cache, I shouldn’t assume. This town is old, rugged and definitely proud of itself, as nearly every store sold their own version of a Leadville souvenir.  

I promise my dad wasn’t high!

Deciding to walk to the pre-race meeting at the local high school, we didn’t realize it was a damn mile outside town. Sucking wind on our leisurely stroll to the high school gym wasn’t entirely comforting, as this would be hopefully the slowest we’d be moving all day Saturday. The pre-race meeting was relatively short, compared to the post-crew briefing that the Grand Slammers had to wait through so we could snap our pre-Leadville photo. Several hours later and after a surprisingly delicious pizza dinner, we called it an early night.

From 30, down to 19 on Sunday morning…

3:00am alarm…

Up early and feeling pretty tired from the lack of recent sleep, I followed my pre-race ritual of leaded coffee and two trips to el bano. The Delaware Hotel where we stayed for the weekend (thanks Phil for hooking us up with the reservation), was perfectly situated less than two blocks from the race start, so we could take our time enjoying the brisk morning.

An interestingly Leadville hotel, the Delaware was really, really old. Full of trinkets and with the feel of an old brothel, you weren’t sneaking up on anyone at this joint, as every step sounded like it would be the last for the baseboards.

Heading over to the starting line at 3:50am, for the first time in 20 ultras, the temp was cool enough (36 degrees) to warrant a jacket and gloves. Trying to weasel into the middle of the pack, I settled in with Sean Bowman, a fellow slammer that had completed Leadville once before. After reciprocal “good lucks,” we were off.

Our gameplan for Leadville was to start out VERY conservatively. I wasn’t too worried about early pacing considering how battered I was from WS and Vermont, but I made an extra effort to let hundreds of runners take off, settling somewhere in the mid-pack for the first 13 miles to the May Queen aid station. After several miles of downhill paved and/or hard packed road, we made our way onto the singletrack trail that runs around Turquoise Lake.

Butts to nuts for the remaining 7ish miles to the aid station, we were running slow… really friggin slow… and I loved it! With zero race experience at altitude, as Western States doesn’t count with only the first 20-30 miles being around 7-8k, I really had no idea how my body would respond. Forcing myself into the mid-pack early would guarantee that I would have time to figure out if all those hours in the Hypoxico tent would payoff. Fortunately, it did.

Feeling great coming into the May Queen aid station at mile 13, after making a quick offering to the porcelain gods, I switched out my headlamp for hat and sunglasses and headed out towards the first big climb of the day.

The Leadville 100 is an out-and-back race, with essentially three large climbs, or six in total. The first and last significant climb of the day comes between miles 13 and 24, and is called Powerline. Primarily because there’s a big ass power line that runs parallel to this jeep road, it’s significantly steeper on the return.

Making our way up and over Powerline, my plan was to slowly work up the ranks throughout the day. Making a concerted effort to relax over the early miles, I slowly made my way up to Tommy Barlow, an awesome Slammer with little experience like myself, who would later complete an outstanding sub 24hr finish. Tommy’s backyard is the Wasatch mountain range, so we’re expecting big things from him on September 9th.

After a few more miles I ran into Tyler Tomasillo, a Luna athlete, race director and always high quality beer mile performer. We chatted about his upcoming race, the Hideaway 100k in Colorado, and it sounds like an absolute blast. For anyone looking for a rugged and beautiful CO race in the fall, sign up for Tyler’s Hideaway event.

Cruising into the 24 mile aid station with likely a couple hundred runners still in front, I quickly spotted Aaron and my pops, but unfortunately didn’t get to interact much other than a thumbs up and, “See ya at Twin Lakes.” With several flat miles heading out towards the second significant climb of the day, I started to settle in and find a comfortable pace in the cool mountain temp. Nutrition and hydration seemed to be going well, as I was certainly not to going to make a similar hydration mistake as Western States, getting in 500-1,000ml per hour.

Cruising into Twin Lakes, I felt great ready to greet Aaron and my pops, but unfortunately they were nowhere to be found. In hindsight, the crowds were large and loud, and I ran right past them. After a brief frigid river crossing, I ran into Jennifer Benna, F3. We spent the entire climb up to Hope Pass together, and chatted briefly in between our frequent deep breathing. She’s an incredible climber and would later finish in 3rd.

Hitting what I thought was the top of Hope Pass was the “Hopeless” aid station. These awesome volunteers spent the entire day taking care of runners, hiking up all the supplies up 3,000ft using llamas… yes, llamas! Trying to move quickly over Hope Pass, as I wanted to spend the least amount of time as possible over 12,000ft, I crested the pass just as Max King was running up the opposite direction. Crossing paths at 8:41 into the race, mile 45 for me and 55 for Max, I expected him to either set the course record or blow up in epic proportion. Unfortunately for Max, it was the latter.

Hope Pass

Making my way into and out of Winfield, the halfway point of the race, was the most difficult climb of the day. The second Hope Pass ascent is a giant kick in the stomach, as it’s much steeper than the other side. After an epic slogfest up and over Hope, we started the descent back towards Twin Lakes. Feeling a bit lightheaded and with what felt like an elevated heart rate, the trip down to Twin Lakes was really slow and I got passed by multiple runners for the first time in the race.

Coming back through Twin Lakes, Aaron and my dad were set up and ready for a quick pit stop. After changing socks and shoes, I took a huge swig of water and headed out. Starting the 5th of 6 climbs out of Twin Lakes, I continued to feel lightheaded and my heart rate was through the roof.

Not sure what the hell to do, I ate more calories and drank more water. A mile later my body was in even worse shape. I was forced to walk even the flats as I couldn’t get my heart rate in check. Racking my already mushy brain for reasons as to why I’d be dizzy and winded this late into the race, the only time I had heard these same symptoms was listening to Erik Dube’s 2015 WS story on hyponatremia. Thinking back through the earlier 65 miles, I had drank a ton of fluids, in weather than was cooler than any race I’d ever ran. Confirming that my fingers were ridiculously swollen, I decided to stop drinking entirely, take more frequent S-caps and continue eating 100 calories per hour until things got better or worse. Fortunately, it wasn’t the latter.

After pissing 5 times in the 10 miles after deciding to halt hydration, my body finally came back around. My sausage fingers had shrunk, the dizziness was gone and most importantly my heart rate was back to “normal.” Hitting approximately mile 75, I was finally able to move quicker than a shuffle, and started to open up the stride.

Pulling into May Queen at Mile 76ish, I caught up with Aaron and my pops briefly, and headed out towards Twin Lakes. Feeling exponentially better, I was able to run again and made sure to keep an eye on hydration, only taking in fluids when I was thirsty. With the sunset already past and the moderate temperature dropping, I didn’t expect to need much in the way of hydration of the last quarter of the race.

The second Poweline climb was an asskicker, as it was very steep and very long. Finally cresting this beast of a climb, a makeshift aid station was set up on the top. The theme looked to be sci-fi, as the greeter was dressed in a giant alien suit, and some girls were running around with weird lights wrapped around blankets. The top of this climb was also exposed and the winds were howling, so it was the coldest portion of the course. After declining a hit from one of many pipes, yes weed is legal in CO, I put all my warm gear on and started the descent into Twin Lakes.

Thankfully the body felt great, so I was able to move rather efficiently into the last aid station. With some late race chafing occurring, I stopped briefly and had Aaron pass me a wet wipe and lube so I could clean up and lube up the butthole before the final stretch.

The last 13 miles took us back around Turquoise Lake, and then on a gradual climb back into town. With legs that felt relatively fresh likely from the slow miles trying to reel in the hyponatremia, I was able to run well over the last couple hours and thankfully pick off 10-15 runners. With a long, gradual climb to finish the race, runners crest the final hill, and the finish line shows up in the distance. Approximately .5 miles to the finish, runners can really smell the barn, as they can hear the cheering and the announcer from afar. Finishing in 22:43 in 30th place, I felt surprisingly great with no pain.

After a quick cleanup and few hour nap, we had breakfast and hit the awards ceremony to pick up the buckle and finisher sweatshirt. With flights later that day, we made quick time back to the airport so my dad and Aaron could head home, and I could head out to Baltimore for a week full of work meetings.

On to Wasatch…

 What I learned:

  • Hyponatremia is no joke and will definitely ruin your day if you don’t diagnosis and tackle it quickly!
  • Running at an elevation of 10,000ft+ for extended periods of time is tough… altitude tent or not
  • Strength training works. Just do it!
  • On paper, Leadville looks like a very fast and manageable course. The race is not on paper
  • The Leadville family is a warm and welcoming group, that does everything in its power to help runners succeed

Vermont 100 7-16-16

Vermont Elevation Chart
Up and Down…Up and Down…


Lots of pain… and big ass horses!

Damn those 20 days after Western States came quick! Isn’t it interesting that if you’re waiting for something you’re excited for, time seems to slow to a crawl? Conversely, if you feel you need more time to prepare, recover or just get the dirt out of your shoes, isn’t it weird that time seems to fly by?

Recovery and some intermittent wedding planning filled the three weeks between WS and Vermont. Coming out of states, my left hamstring and calf were acting up. Considering my pace from Foresthill to Auburn, an injury from moving too quickly would be very surprising. Likely, the 23k of descent and blown quads led to overuse of accessory muscles. With three weeks to recover and never having ran an ultra so close together, let alone a 100 miler, I was nervous that Vermont would exacerbate these issues and potentially knock me out of the Grand Slam.

After spending Wed/Thur in North Carolina for work, I took an evening flight to Burlington and arrived sometime around 12:00am. Sleeping in on Friday morning was great but a bit weird, as I can’t remember once in the past three years waking up past 9:00am.

Leaving Burlington around 10:00am on Friday, thankfully I called Alejandra to check-in and tell her my tentative plan of taking a short trip across the border for some poutine. Reminding me that this wasn’t Tijuana circa de 2000, when one could drive down to San Diego and stumble across the border back-and-forth with just a California license, the Canucks likely wouldn’t let this half Mexican in without the proper documentation.

Saving three hours, I decided to head down early to check-in. The trip from Burlington to Silver Hill Farm, the start/finish of the Vermont 100, was something out of a storybook. Both sides of the highway, for over 90 miles, was completely covered in lush forest. My only experience with Vermont before this trip was Super Troopers, so I wasn’t expecting much outside of maple syrup chugging and the “Meow” game, but the state did not disappoint.

After approximately 10-15 miles of backcountry, dirt road driving void of cell reception, you arrive at Silver Hill Farm. One of approximately 40 private properties that the Vermont 100 travels through, Silver Hill Farm is the staging area for not only the 100 mile/100 kilometer foot race, but also a 25/50/100 mile endurance horse ride. Although Western States was created because of Gordy Ainsleigh’s horse going lame during the Tevis Cup 100 mile horse endurance ride, the race directors always decided to separate the foot race from the horse ride.

Not Vermont…There were horses everywhere!

Vermont Silver Hill

Not being much of an equestrian, after parking and finding a good spot to camp (right next to the rental car), I talked with several of the handlers/riders that would be joining us on the course Saturday. The horse event is very similar to the run, as we nearly follow the same course, albeit a few modifications. These racing horses weigh anywhere from 900-1200lbs, and can lose up to 45lbs throughout a 100 mile race. These stats correlate to humans, as we tend to lose up to 5% or even more throughout a long distance foot race. There are also veterinarian holds throughout an event (5 holds for the 100 mile), which are forced aid stations that require a medical check of the horse, along with some downtime to rehydrate, eat and take in electrolytes. Considering the moving time of these horses and the holds, it’s frequent to see the same horse and rider move pass you along the course several times throughout the day.

Vermont Horse
My neighbor for the weekend…

Checking into the race, Vermont was the first ultra that I’ve ever had a medical evaluation. Being a heavy sweater and knowing that I drop a ton of water weight throughout an ultra (10-15,000 calories too), I was very nervous when the pre-race packet stated that a 5% body weight loss would result in a “hold” at the aid stations, and a weight loss of 7% would be a disqualification. The packet also stated that we would be initially weighed with our race kit, so I devised a plan. Since I was running solo at Vermont (no crew or pacers) and there would be no gels provided at the aid stations, I’d be forced to carry all my own nutrition. The medical team had no idea what would be in my race kit, so I pulled everything out of my pack and emptied my water bottles. Hoping that the 20 gels, full water bottles, and soaked shirt would add a few pounds during the race,  I felt confident that weight loss issues wouldn’t be a variable I’d need to deal with on Saturday.

After the weigh in, there was an interview with an RN. She asked several questions about my ultrarunning experience, medications, allergies and any other issues that would impede my ability to navigate the course. Thankfully I passed. As I was leaving, the medical volunteer stated that Vermont decided to pull mandatory weigh-in’s on the course and they would merely check in with us to determine our relative level of consciousness, instead of using weight as a determining factor of ability to perform. She giggled as she saw me emptying everything and stripping down to weigh in as light as possible. Not her first rodeo either…

With a couple hours to spare before the mandatory race meeting and dinner, I worked on the logistics for Saturday’s race. With no crew and having to carry my own nutrition, I packed up my drop bag and determined that it would be best to leave it at the 47/69 mile aid station. Camp 10 Bear serves as the only aid station runners pass twice, and it worked out great as I could carry enough gels to make it to 47, and then also pick up my portable watch charger to juice up, along with any s-caps or meds if needed. Then, I could drop the charger off at 69, pick up my headlamp and any additional gels to make it to the finish. Not wanting to repeat the uber caffeine ride at WS, I made sure to pack in all uncaffeinated gels.

Vermont Race Kit
Race kit

The race meeting was short and sweet, as I was able to meet Amy Rusieki, the RD and also accomplished ultrarunner. Amy had raced WS in June and we caught up on the course and our experiences that day. Her husband, and course record holder for Vermont Brian, would also be running the 100 on Saturday.

That’s a power couple!

The pre-race meeting was great as I was able to catch up with Sean Bowman, another Slammer that used to live in SLO. We raced HURT and the SB Red Rock 50 mile together, and he and his wife had recently moved out to CO. Met several other Slammers on Friday too. Otto Lam, Chihpiting Phong, Phil Sanderson and Tommy Barlow. We definitely have a fun and diverse crowd tackling the Grand Slam this year, and I could feel the camaraderie begin to grow as we all suffered through WS, and would be putting our bodies through the grinder for another long day in Vermont.

Pre-race Grand Slammers

With a 4:00am start and sleeping on fairly uneven ground, I didn’t get a ton of quality sleep. Thankfully, I had banked some great z’s over the past couple days and felt relatively ready to rock on Saturday morning. After a couple cups of fully leaded coffee… damn, caffeine hits you hard if you don’t ever use it, a quick trip to the bano and last minute lubing, we were off.

After asking Amy’s recommendation on Friday, I felt confident not needing a headlamp for the first 1.5hrs of the race. My plan was to relax into a comfortable pace and poach off someone else’s light. With the course being very runnable, especially for the first 70ish miles, I used the Austin Rattler approach of forcing myself to slow down as I literally couldn’t see.

Racing with all my own nutrition, the only stopping I’d need to make at aid stations would be to fill up my water bottles. Being a relatively cool morning for Vermont in July and not being able to feel the humidity too much, I drank to thirst for the early miles and make quick use of the aid stations throughout the day.

Fortunately, my nutrition/hydration plan was dialed in. Unfortunately, my body wasn’t. Starting at approximately mile 15, I could feel my left quad, right calf, hamstring and shin start to tighten up. Trying to run as relaxed and balanced as possible, I continued to perform self checks throughout the day to determine how much the level of pain would rise. Not wanting to cause a long-term injury, I dialed back the pace dramatically and tried to run as gently as possible, using my glutes, hips and core to drive the body.

The Vermont 100 course is tricky tough, as 15,000ft of vertical doesn’t compare to Wasatch’s 28k, HURT’s 25k, Hardrock’s 40ishk, or a multitude of other races with more climbing. Vermont sneaks up on you, as there are relatively, if any, flat sections on the course. Albeit shorter climbs and descents than the abovementioned races, Vermont hits you with consistently steep up’s and down’s throughout the day. Blowing out quads is commonplace at Vermont, as runners feel great early on, and hammer the steep downhills. Like any other race, blowing your load early is an excellent way to feel like hammered poo at mile 80.

Looking at the bright side of entering Vermont with a beat up body, I was forced to slow down a lot on the downhills. Being passed by everyone and their mother on literally every descent, my confidence level for a successful race was waning, but I knew this was the only way I’d be able to survive this damn race. Not knowing how my climbing legs would hold up and considering this is my only strength in ultrarunning, I was preparing for a really… really long day out there.

Somewhere around mile 32, as we were climbing up from the aid station, I heard some heavy panting right behind me. Being passed on the downhills was second nature to me at this point during the race, but I felt relatively strong climbing, so I didn’t expect anyone to move up on me so quickly… and so damn loudly! Already being a bit mushy brained, I turned around to see 1,200 pounds right on my rear. Thankfully, the riders were absolutely awesome and their horses so well behaved, that it was effortless having them pass throughout the day. As nice as they were, no one offered to give me a ride.

Although painful, the miles clicked off and the first 47 to Camp 10 Bear were relatively uneventful. With absolutely no goal in mind other than to complete the course, I could focus on managing my hydration, electrolytes, nutrition and pace without worrying about time. Running by feel versus the clock is what we should all do, but so many times we get swept into worrying about not moving fast enough to hit some arbitrary number.

Slowing the pace dramatically helped keep my heart rate in check and the fat burning engine running strong. Since my legs didn’t have much to give, I didn’t feel at anytime during the race that my HR was spiking or I was breathing too hard to continue at that pace. Coupled with early heat management and consistent hydration, I hit 10 Bear feeling at least aerobically strong, somewhere I assumed in around 30th place. After filling up my pack with a couple handfuls of Gu’s and setting up my watch charger, I was off to tackle the back end of the course.

Pulling up to two runners early on the first climb out of 10 Bear, I met Grace, the 2nd place female. She looked strong but comfortable, and was an incredible climber. We spent the next 10 miles passing other runners and talking about running. She was shooting for a sub 24-hr finish, and by even my mushy-headed calculations, would literally be able to walk it in from where we left each other with time to spare.

Miles 57 to 69 were uneventful, although I felt the early heat management and hydration/nutrition plan was starting to pay dividends. Still unable to move well on the downhills, I was able to run relatively pain-free on the flats and uphills. Since my HR was in check because of the early pacing, I ran the majority of miles on the backend of the race. There were a few steep climbs (coming out of Camp 10 Bear at 69 and after Bill’s somewhere around 91), that required power hiking, but most of the last 50 miles was runnable.

Picking up more Gu’s, my headlamp and a refill on the ice bandana at Camp 10 Bear (69), I headed out to tackle the back third of the race. Somewhere around this time I also popped my first advil, as I knew there would be more steep and runnable descents on the last 30, and no matter how slow I worked the downhills, my shin, calf and hamstring would start to scream. Not being a proponent of painkillers during an ultra, as they can mask and even lead to serious issues, I felt confident in taking low doses over the last several hours of the race. Since I’d taken care of my body throughout the day, I felt confident I could handle low doses of pain meds, and although my pain levels were quite high, they had at least leveled out over the past few hours

Unlike every other ultra and with completion of the Grand Slam at stake, I made a concerted effort not to “race” over the last 20 miles. Not that I was moving fast, but the concern of long-term damage and the inability to fully recover before Leadville far outweighed trying to shave another 30-45 minutes off my time. Not certain if my climbing legs felt good, or if it was just the only time running didn’t hurt throughout the day, but I did enjoy the climbs on the back half of the race, at least compared to downhills or the flats.

The last 30 miles was filled with a lot of pain, a strategic use of advil, consistent climbs and descents, and a great group of volunteers manning fully stocked aid stations. After 19 hours and 29 minute on the course, I was able to finish in 15th place. After catching up with Amy at the finish line for awhile, I hobbled back to the car to change out of my atrociously smelling clothes, and take a dip in the pond.

Vermont Pond
My bathtub for the weekend…

Fortunately the weather held up for the entirety of the race. Unfortunately, it didn’t for anyone finishing after 20 hours, as a storm rolled through that absolutely destroyed the majority of runners still on the course. I was damn proud of the Slammers, as every one of the 30 starters made it to the finish line in under 30 hours.

Two down… two to go!



What I learned:

          Fairly certain that Canadians think Vermont is part of their country. Everyone on the course seemed to speak French, or I was just delirious from all the pain

          Amy and her team put on a top notch race. The aid stations were frequent and well stocked, and the volunteers were efficient and in great spirits

          Vermont is a sneaky difficult course, with consistent climbs and descents throughout the race

          Going out slow in a 100 mile race, whether by choice or situation, is a very smart move for being able to run well late in the race

          Having a crew really does take a lot of stress off logistics, and is a helpful pick-me-up throughout the course. Definitely missed my rockstar crew at Vermont.

Western States 2016 6-25-16

Can’t we just take the gondola up to the top???
Not the race we planned for, but the ending was worth it…
Western States is the oldest and most iconic 100 mile race in the world. In 1974 Gordy Ainsleigh’s horse went lame during the Tevis Cup, a 100 mile endurance horse event held on the WS trail from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Instead of throwing in the towel like hundreds had before him, Gordy decided to finish the race on foot. Forty two years later, the Western States 100 is now  regarded as the “Super Bowl” of ultrarunning.
On paper, Western States looks relatively doable for a 100 miler. The altitude, heavy climbing and major heat of the canyons is in the first half of the race, with the last 38 miles from Foresthill to the Placer High track in Auburn being fairly runnable. In reality, this race presents a wide assortment of variables that add up to the perfect storm of carnage if not handled expertly.
Alejandra and I started the trip up to Squaw on Thursday afternoon and met up with my dad and Kris in Auburn. We also had a surprise visit from John, as he was doing a volunteer project for Google. For the week leading up to WS, Google Map’s project team that most are familiar with for their pictures of homes and roads, sent several volunteers to hike the entire 100 miles from Squaw to Auburn with a 50+ lb backpack/camera unit. Starting in August, everyone should be able to experience the Western States trail, albeit by computer.
After a Thai dinner and drive up to Squaw, we checked into our condo in the Olympic Village. Although I’m up for some under-the-stars camping before a race, since the crew would be spending an entire day following my ass around in up to 100 degree temperatures, I thought it best to pamper them as best I could before the work began.
With all Friday to spend the day in Squaw, we had plenty of time to take in the scenery, get a shakeout run in, watch Dave and Nick hammer the Vertical 6K, and cook dinner for the group. Being on the third of three floors with a balcony, we also had a great view of the Olympic Village, and specifically the Auld Dubliner Irish Pub. Great location for stumbling home, but probably not the ideal spot if you’re interested in a quiet night sans hammered folk yapping at midnight.
Post our homemade dinner and copious amounts of wine for the group, as I wanted to get our crew and pacers well fed and “hydrated” before asking a lot of them on Saturday, my dad, Kris and Alejandra went for a stroll around the village to look at the shops and get some ice cream. No more than 5 minutes after they left, as Dave, Nick, Abe and I were catching up, there was a loud banging on the door. Knowing that Alejandra had our key and that no one else knew our room number, I wasn’t sure who the hell was at the door.
Enter Pat Sweeney and Bobby with three bags full of beer… and a board game
Four hours earlier, we spotted some Dirtbag Runners saddling up to the Auld Dubliner. Surprisingly, well fairly unsurprisingly for DBR’s, the group was battling valiantly with the Dubliner several hours later. I assumed they would be passed out before us, but I shouldn’t assume.
Apparently Pat and Bobby were on beer duty for the group. They were on their way up to Luis’ room and had received a text that he was in 439. Considering Luis picked a fight with the Auld alongside the DBR’s, it wasn’t surprising that he texted the wrong room number. After catching up with the boys and working out Luis’ proper location, Pat and Bobby made their way out alongside Nick, Dave and Abe. Alejandra had passed Pat and Bobby on their way down to the village, and supposedly they told her they were on their way to 439. She was pretty nervous returning to the room, probably thinking it would be a raging party.
3:30am alarm. Race Day!
Outside of trying to poo as much as possible… ultrarunning problems… I was surprisingly not nervous in the least about the race. Thomas’ training plan was spot on and although ridiculously difficult, I felt incredibly fit and confident in being able to navigate the course well. After a last minute check-in and bib pickup, which was the first time I wasn’t able to pick up the race bib the day before a race, we made our way over to the start to begin the trip to Auburn. After a quick hug and picture with Samantha Pruitt, we were off.
All smiles before go time… just give it a few hours
The four mile, 2,500ft climb to the escarpment starts your journey from Squaw to Auburn. Aside from a steep section near the top, these first few miles are very runnable taking place on a fire road. Making our way up, I caught up with Andy Pearson. Andy and I ran HURT together in 2015, and he finished just in front of me after a VERY long day/night/day in the jungle. He’s an excellent runner and although he’d been doing some international traveling without his regular training in the San Gabe’s, he looked fit and able to handle himself. I also ran into Mark Austin, another incredible runner that I spent some time with during the first day of the Memorial Day training runs. He was targeting 18 hours and looked well prepared.
Around mile two, Andy and I were BS’ing about something, and we looked over to see Jim Walmsley running next to us. I checked my watch about 10 times to make sure we weren’t running 8 minute pace up this damn mountain. Thankfully, we were not.
Jim Walmsley had recently set the course record at the Lake Sonoma 50 mile, running 6:00hrs (7:00 min miles with over 10,000ft. of climbing). Jim hadn’t lost a race since 2015, and although this would be his first 100 mile race, many including myself were expecting to see fireworks… course record or epic blowup
Hanging with our group, Jim was definitely using some early race strategy. Not knowing that he would later set the most blistering pace that the WS course had ever seen through 93 miles (30 min under course record at Rucky Chucky), we all chatted like most ultrarunners do while running/hiking towards the peak. Somewhere around a mile from the top, Jim turned and said to the group, “ok, I’m going to set the pace now.” We never saw him again.
Dave and Nick had made their way up the escarpment to watch the lead pack and say, “Good morning.” Luis Escobar was snapping incredible photos like Luis does, and Eric Shranz from the Ultra Running Podcast was decked out in full lederhosen blowing some huge horn straight out of a Ricola commercial… RIIIIICCCCOOOOOOLLLLAAAAAA!!!
Cresting the peak, we started our 26 mile journey to the first main aid station, Robinson Flat. This section of the race is referred to as, “The High Country.” Running at approximately 8,000ft, I sure was hoping all that time in the altitude tent paid off. Thankfully it did, as the first 25 miles felt great as we climbed and descended into Duncan Canyon.
Top of the morning to you!
Moving quickly through the aid station, we started a descent that turned into the second big climb of the day to Robinson Flat. Thinking that my nutrition/hydration plan was working well, I didn’t account for the dry air at altitude sucking moisture from the body quicker than at sea level. Although I was drinking to thirst, I didn’t realize how dehydrated I was coming out of Duncan Canyon until we started the climb towards RF. My body instantly felt lethargic and I was laboring to keep pace while trying my best to power hike. An apparent blister had started to appear under my left foot, and several runners passed me during this section, as I was trying to determine why this issue popped up.
Arriving in Robinson Flat, I took a giant swig of Physiophyx and my pops filled up the ice bandana. Instantly, I knew that I was dehydrated, and started sucking down water on the way towards Dusty Corners. I finally started feeling better a few miles outside Robinson Flat.
Dave and Nick had made the trek out to the Dusty Corners aid station and we caught up briefly as I did a quick lube job and pounded some more water. The ice bandana is an absolute necessity for warm weather running, but it tends to drip into places that you really don’t want to chafe 80 miles into a race. Quick word of advice if you haven’t raced with an ice bandana… lube around the neck, all around the butt, and don’t forget the taint!
The 20 miles from Dusty Corners to Michigan Bluff felt amazing as I figured out the hydration issue and the heat management plan was working (ice bandana at every aid station, ice in the hat and dipping in water wherever found). Passing the 50 mile mark shortly after 9hrs, I felt confident in pushing towards a negative split and having legs to run from Foresthill to Auburn. My mantra in the morning hours was, “legs from Foresthill.”
Andy had moved back into the picture, and I ran with Pete Kostelnick, the recent winner of Badwater, for a majority of these miles. Unfortunately, the blister had gotten progressively worse, and it was starting to affect my stride. I planned on a quick 2 minute pop job from the foot doctor at MB, and ran right into his “clinic” before even checking into the aid station.
Well, this wasn’t a blister and it didn’t take 2 minutes…
20+ minutes later, it was determined that the skin on the pad of my left foot was macerated and a crease had formed. There wasn’t much to do other than tape it up and hope for the best. Losing 20 minutes was definitely not in the books, and I took off from MB moving much faster than I should have for the 6-7 miles leading into Foresthill.
Picking up Erik at Bath road, I told him about my early dehydration and foot issues. Everything else felt relatively ok, and we made good time through FH and onto Cal Street. A couple miles into this section and on the first significant descent, my quads began to scream.
Never having “blown out quads,” I wasn’t entirely sure what the feeling was. I had heard multiple podcasts and read race reports on people running downhills too hard and literally destroying their quads for the remainder of the race. Considering my pace wasn’t too rushed, outside of the stretch from MB to FH and I tried diligently to relax on the downhills, I had blown out my quads with 35 miles left of runnable terrain.
Erik did an amazing job calming and helping me down to the river. He should seriously rent himself out as a pacer, as he knew what to say, what not to say, and knew every damn turn on the course. After hearing me bitch for what was probably waaaay too long, we worked down to the river and decided to modify race goals to break 20hrs.
Pulling into Rucky Chucky and saying goodbye to Erik, Dave was ready to roll. We crossed the river and began the climb up to Green Gate. After giving Dave an update on my status and the revised goals, I felt terrible that we wouldn’t be able to race these last 22 miles hard. Being his first time pacing, Dave did a great job. He kept things lively, although I wasn’t in the happiest of moods. He did an awesome job moving through the aid stations and although I gave him a hard time for not knowing how far a climb was late into our time together, I was lucky to have him join me for these 16ish miles.
Nick was the third pacer, “running” with me from Highway 49 to the finish. After updating Nick on  my status, which wasn’t too pretty at this point, we headed out on the last 7ish miles to Auburn. Uphills were being hiked, most downhills were being hiked, and I was really only able to run the flat sections with a moderate shuffle… not the race plan we originally built, but I had to get my ass to Auburn and this was the only way that was working.
Seven miles and what felt like 3 hours later, (literally it was probably somewhere around 2 hours), we made our way over No Hands Bridge and up to Robie Point. Dave joined us for the last mile, which is all downhill and a fitting end to the day, as I could barely move quicker than a shuffle. In comparison, Gunhild Swanson, the oldest female finisher of WS, had to run a 7 minute mile from Robie Point to the track in order to break 30hrs. My last mile was somewhere around 10-12 minutes… going downhill!
We finally crossed the white bridge and made our way onto the track. Most people say that all the fatigue and pain go away the second you see the finish line… not today! Shit hurt all the way through, but I was proud that we battled over those last 38 miles. Crossing the tape in 20:49 and 44th place, I received a giant slice of humble pie to go with my silver buckle.
Immediately after crossing the finish line I looked for my dad, as he was holding what I was waaay too scared to carry from Squaw. After picking up the box and stumbling down to one, hell maybe both knees as it was 2:00am and we were both delirious, I asked Alejandra to marry me. She’s put up with me for 3.5 years and somehow supports these crazy adventures. Having my mom, Dave and Romo (my little brother/Chihuahua) come out was icing on the cake, as this was the first race they’ve seen me finish. Joanie also came out to volunteer at the finish line medical tent, and took some great videos of the engagement.
Rough finish, but glad she said yes! Wait, she did say yes right???
Can’t wait to start the next chapter in our lives, and on to Vermont!
One down… three to go!
What I learned:
– Hydration at higher altitude is very important. Drinking to thirst isn’t always the best idea at 8,000ft, especially if you’re a heavy sweater like me
– Patience is a virtue, and I should’ve used it when running from Michigan Bluff to Forest Hill
– Just because you’re fit, doesn’t mean you can’t get your ass handed to you on the trails
– If you’re going to propose at the finish line of an ultra, whether or not you think you’ll be ok carrying the ring, don’t be a dummy and have someone you trust hold it for you
– Three weeks is a VERY short turnaround for another 100 miler… Hello Vermont!
– I don’t say this enough, but ultrarunning really is a team sport. My dad, Kris, Alejandra, Eric, Dave and Nick were absolute rockstars from Squaw to Auburn! Nearly 21 hours is a REALLY LONG time to follow my slow ass around. I’m so grateful for all the support and encouragement, as I wasn’t in the cheeriest of moods from Foresthill to Auburn

Born to Run 2016 5-14-16

“Here we go again…”

100 runners… 400 beers…

Minus the morning alarm at 4-4:30am most days, training for the Grand Slam has been a blast. The mileage has been high, but thankfully my body hasn’t revolted too much. The quality workouts have definitely been challenging, but getting my ass kicked through the marathon training block was good preparation. Before training for WS, my weekly mileage topped out around 80 miles/wk. We’ve been averaging 100 mile weeks throughout the majority of this training block, with the big week landing right on top of Born to Run weekend.

Running 130 miles with 15-20k in vert was not going to be an easy week. In fact, it was going to be 20 miles more than I’ve ever ran leading up to a race. Looking at the training calendar on Sunday before the week and with an overnight trip to LA for work, I had to tetris the shit out of the early week to get in the workouts and a gym session. With Thomas’ help, we made it work and banked 70+ miles before BTR.

Being our third trip to ranch, my dad, Kris, Alejandra, Carly and I had hopefully worked out the camping kinks from years past. My dad and Kris rented an RV, so the gals could shit and shower in peace. We headed out to the ranch early on Friday morning to secure a good location far enough away from the debauchery, but close enough to stumble back to the campsite after each evenings festivities. After setting up our site and picking up the RV, we had several hours to relax before the afternoon activities began.

The Friday of Born to Run weekend is truly a dirtbag reunion. Throughout the year, we track and cheer on each others training, racing and adventures, and get to spend 2-5 days catching up over many shared miles and beers. This year would be more of the same, as it’s always great to see the Clemen’s brothers, Patrick, Tyler, Rob, Gregorio, Crista and Peter, and everyone’s favorite sober driver… Whiskey Jerry!

After catching up and cruising around the main camp, which serves as the starting line, finishing line, main aid station, main stage, vendor site, bonfire site, restaurant and bathroom, we had a quick bite and then made our way back to the main camp to hear Luis provide Saturday’s race details.

For those of you reading this blog that haven’t been to a Luis Escobar race, you’re truly missing out. With so much focus today  on immediate gratification, participation medals, selfies and a generation focused on comfort, it’s VERY refreshing to participate in events that are simple, tough and focused on self reliance.

There’s not much to a Luis Escobar trail briefing, but if you’re ever late to the start of BTR and need race details, here’s the elongated version:

BTR has the following races:

  • 4 day
  • 200 mile
  • 100 mile
  • 60 mile
  • 30 mile
  • 10 mile
  • Beer mile
  • 0.0 mile


  • BTR has two, approximately 10 mile loops (Pink with 800ft of vert and Yellow with 1,500ft of vert).
  • Pink, then yellow… pink, then yellow… pink, then yellow… Complete as many times as needed to finish your race
  • Follow the color of ribbon based on your loop
  • Turns will be marked with a white and red striped ribbon before, during and after the turn
  • If you see a blue ribbon and pass over/through it, you are off course
  • Don’t be a dick!

If you ever want to see Luis flip his shit, be sure to ask or email him questions about course maps, GPS accuracy, gluten-free and/or vegan aid station options or why there’s no toilet paper in the shitters…

After the trail briefing and a Patagonia-sponsored hill climb event that was won by a former professional decathlete… former decathlete really… we went back to camp to relax and prepare for the beer mile.

If it’s a Luis Escobar event, chances are high there will be a beer mile. It’s not for everyone and definitely not for the weak of stomach, but it’s a race I recommend for those that love to run… and obviously love to drink beer.

The basics of a beer mile:

  • Drink one 12 ounce beer
  • Run .25 miles
  • Drink one 12 ounce beer
  • Run .25 miles
  • Drink one 12 ounce beer
  • Run .25 miles
  • Drink one 12 ounce beer
  • Try to survive the last .25 miles without puking or passing out

With 100 runners at this years BTR Beer Mile, the competition would be fierce but not as fierce as the logistics. An out-and-back course through the main camp area, racers would be forced to dodge and weave their way through the masses, while attempting to locate and down their brewskies.

After the prerace chant:

I can drink more than I think I can

I will be drunker than I think I am.

I…Will… Not… Puke…


We were sent off to by a Chris McDougal shotgun start… yes, the same Chris McDougal that wrote “Born to Run.”

After six minutes and 20 seconds of a beer running blur and some stiff competition by several runners, I was able to defend my 2015 BTR Beer Mile crown. Now if only I can transfer this beer mile success to ultra racing.


After eating the absolute best Mexican food you’ll ever have at any ultra (thank Luis’ sister), we jammed out to the Drive-In Romeo’s and called it a relatively early night.

Ahhh, the beautiful shotgun alarm at 4:30am accompanied by Banda music blasting at 1,000 decibels… only at Born to Run.

Alejandra and Joanie would be the only racers in our group. Not ever having run past 14 miles, I was excited but really nervous to see how the day would unfold for Alejandra. Joanie was also tackling the longest distance in her racing career, and was hoping for her first 60 mile finish.

Luis rounded up the 400+ runners racing everything from 10 miles to 60 miles around 5:45am for a detailed set of race instructions (please see abovementioned BTR race details), and sent the group off on the pink loop around 6:00am. In order to get the most vertical feet possible for my 37 miles in the morning and to also dodge the early crowds, I decided to run the yellow loop continuously.

Go Time!

Heading into the first aid station only two miles into the morning, I met up with Samantha Pruitt and Katherine Nestor. They were volunteering the early shift along with Caroline Boller. After catching up for a few, I headed back onto the yellow loop. No more than a few minutes later, I ran into Melissa in the middle of her 100 miler. She was 12+ hours into the run, and had gotten lost for approximately 5-6 miles early in the race. I decided to spend the rest of the loop with her to see how she was holding up.

Melissa and I spent the next 8 miles working the hills and keeping a good pace. With approximately 1,500ft of climbing throughout these 10 miles, I was impressed with Melissa’s strength this deep into the race. Minus a brief trail mixup at the last yellow loop aid station, we made up some time on her 24hr goal. She kept up on her nutrition and hydration, didn’t bitch or complain, and we made it to Ethan with 40 to go. I wished them well and headed back out on the yellow loop.

Climbing out on the second of many yellow loops throughout the weekend, I came across a runner looking fairly haggard, in the bushes. After he didn’t answer if I asked if he was ok, I made my way off the trail to check in on him.

Rookie mistake!

Looks like his morning coffee was making its way through, and I felt like a giant ass for not hollering from a safe distance.

Several miles later, I ran into Alejandra making her way through the course. She looked great running a downhill section and was keeping a good pace. I checked in with her to make sure she was eating and had enough water and food to make it through the loop. I was impressed that she was motoring along so well and she wasn’t having any problems, so I decided to take off and wish her luck.

The third loop was uneventful until the last mile when I came across Ethan and Melissa making their way towards the ridge climb approximately 4 miles into the yellow loop. I decided to turn around and head back up with them, as I was interested to see how she was doing and selfishly wanted to do some more climbing.

We made great time, considering Melissa had nearly 80 miles on her legs, and we had found out on her last yellow loop that she was leading the women’s race. Outside of forcing her to take some gels, she did great managing the variables as being up all night and running through the hotter portion of the day was likely taking its toll.

Finishing up 80. Hey, what the hell is that???

Making our way into the last aid station on the yellow loop, we came across Alejandra and Carly checking in at the same time. They were a few miles into their last pink loop at approximately 23 miles and looking great. Knowing that Carly was along for this last loop, I was certain Alejandra would finish. It didn’t hurt that there was no way to get back to the finish without continuing on the loop…

30 miles…Check!

Finishing up the morning 37, I stopped for a quick lunch and headed up towards the finish line to watch Alejandra finish. She killed it, finishing faster than her expected time and I couldn’t have been prouder. Not entirely confident on her ability to finish considering her longest training run, she absolutely proved me wrong finishing much stronger than I did on my first ultra.

After making sure Alejandra was fed and hydrated, I decided to try and track down Melissa and Ethan as they were making their way through her last 10 miles. Catching up to the pair as they were climbing up the ridge, we hit the last 5 miles hard and were privileged to watch Melissa negative split the BTR 100 and pull out the W!

After cleaning up, we made our way towards the main camp to witness Saturday nights BTR debauchery. Prom Night was the theme of the evening, as dirtbags from across the globe, dressed to the nines, danced the night away fueled by jello shots and fireball.

After another early night, I woke up early to the sound of someone rummaging around the campsite. Joanie had finished her 60 mile race, and was still kind enough to tippy toe around to not wake anyone up.

Another successful BTR in the books. Until next year…


What I learned:

  • Alejandra is much tougher than I gave her credit for
  • Joanie is much tougher than I gave her credit for
  • Melissa is much tougher than I gave her credit for
  • Damn, I love the Mexican food at BTR!

San Luis Obispo Half Marathon Pacing Round 2 5-1-16

“Sure hope at least one person runs with me this time…”
Polaroid CUBE
Getting ready for pacing duties round 2
After my half marathon pacing debacle last year (finished in 1:28 without a soul around), I wasn’t sure if Samantha and Nicole would blacklist me from all future RACESLO opportunities. Thankfully they let me back on the team this year, and they attached me to the 1:30 half marathon group again.
I better not screw this up…
Committed to bringing home at least one runner in under 1:30 this year, I’ve got some different plans for leading this pace group:
– I’m going to take charge from the beginning and bring the 1:30 group together beforehand to talk through the pacing strategy
– The second half will be harder than the first, so we’re going to bank a few seconds on the easier early miles, knowing it’s going to be a grind on the rolling hills coming home
– Negative splits will be difficult and I’ll relay this to the group
– My strengths are definitely not in keeping a perfect pace, so I’ll let the group know we may shift up or down depending on the mile, but we’ll do our best to adjust accordingly
– We’re going to try and talk with the group throughout the race to keep them relaxed and running as efficient as possible (short strides, loosen the shoulders, don’t kill yourself on the hills, etc.)
– Again not a strength, but I’m going to work on being very positive with the group. Lots of “attaboys,” “you can do it’s,” and “looking good.” Need to work on curbing the abrasiveness that can be present in an ultra when someone needs their shit called out in the later miles
– If all else fails, I’ll literally drag someone’s ass through the finish in 1:30 to beat last year’s goose egg
– I’m going to give Luis the finger if he calls me out for being the worst pacer of all time again… well deserved in 2015 though
After an early 2:45hr run on Cerro San Luis Saturday morning, Carly and I hustled home so I could shower and head over to the vet with Alejandra. Considering he’s killed every creature smaller than a dog in the South Hills, it’s surprising Omar’s came out relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, he took one in the eye while recently fighting with some creature… my call was one of the two gophers he killed last week. After an initial trip to the vet and against my call to just buy him an eye patch, we had to bring the little guy in to make sure the antibiotics were kicking in. After a relatively uneventful appointment, I packed up the vehicle for Sunday’s post race ride home, and drove over to the SLO Marathon Expo site at the Madonna Inn for the ambassador meeting and pacer check-in.
Samantha Pruitt has done an incredible job coordinating and tweaking the logistics of the SLO Marathon/Half over the past several years. Being the 5th anniversary, Samantha and her team have really dialed in the details, starting with the layout of the Expo center. Held in Madonna’s open pasture, adjacent to the gaudy-as-hell restaurant/hotel, the Expo center is filled with a wide variety of vendors (food, recovery products, shoes, hydration, nutrition, apparel, beer, kid gymnastics, etc.).
After a quick check-in and packet pickup and with a few minutes to spare before the ambassador meeting, I made my way through the vendor tent to sample some products and see what’s hot in the world of running. Making my way through the various products, I was surprised to see so many small-to-midmarket dealers. Nuun was handing out samples of their electrolyte replacement tablets that you drop in a water bottle. Not the greatest tasting beverage, but that’s the last thing on my mind when I’m cramping uncontrollably and begging for salt. Honeystinger was also passing out samples, as they’ve created a new line of products. Their bars taste great and their new pea protein chews were really tasty as well. Don’t think chomping down on those bite sized chews would work well at mile 80, but they could be useful for shorter runs/races. The last vendor I stumbled into was Altra. Walking up to the booth, I cursed them silently for not bringing me on to their ambassador team this year. Looking to say hi and move along quickly, I recognized the guy behind the Altra table.
Zach Bitter is the American record holder for a 100 miles, recently breaking his own record in 11:50ish (7 minute miles). He’s an absolute stud in the ultra world primarily racing on asphalt and flatter courses. He’s also racing Comrades in a few weeks, and I expect him to kill it. I introduced myself and we talked briefly about his upcoming schedule. As his last hard effort before Comrades, Zach would be running the SLO Marathon on Sunday as a tempo run (He would later win the race outright in 2:36).
After a short Ambassador meeting, I met up with Nicole and the rest of the pacers for Sunday’s races. Melissa, Niki and Terry would be pacing the marathon, and Larry, Adolpho and my new partner Stepan would be pacing the half. Stepan is a great local triathlete that used to smoke me on the track during Wednesday SLDC workouts, and I was stoked to have a fit teammate to lead the 1:30ers. We talked about a plan for Sunday, banking some time in the early miles, shouting out mile/cumulative time splits and sharing words of encouragement and support throughout the run.
Couldn’t wait for some redemption on Sunday!!!
Considering the ungodly times I’ve been getting up for daily training runs, a 4:45am wakeup call was actually sleeping in on Sunday. Thankfully Alejandra’s boss lives less than a half mile from SLO High/Starting Line, so we parked at her house and I hustled over to check-in with Stepan and cheer on the marathoners.
Polaroid CUBE
Good Morning!
After watching Zach Bitter lead the marathoners off at 6:00am, Stepan and I warmed up and gathered the group circling around the 1:30 area. We told them about our plan to bank time in the early miles, and that there was likely to be headwind in addition to big climbs on the back half of the course. Before we knew it, the national anthem was being sung, supervisor Dan Carpenter was giving his obligatory welcome address, and we were sent off.
Polaroid CUBE
The Legend, Luis Escobar, snapping some pre-marathon photos.
The first few miles of the race are relatively flat, so Stepan and I focused on keeping the group reeled in. Hearing the familiar chime from multiple GPS watches as we crossed the 1 mile mark in 6:37, we realized our group was several yards short of the official course mile marking. Being a USATF certified race, courses always run longer than expected. This is due to the course meeting the minimum distance in the shortest route possible. Being nearly impossible for a racer to run the absolute shortest distance the course allows, we expected the mile markers to be a bit farther off from our GPS’. Shouting out our official 1 mile time of “6:40” as we crossed the mile marker sign, we informed the group that we would base our time off the SLO Half signs and not our watches. Miles 2-3 were uneventful as we continued to bank a few seconds each mile before hitting the Johnson climb.
Knowing that the group would slow as we hit each climb, we focused on powering up each hill to lose as little time as possible. By banking time in the early miles, we could afford to give a few seconds back on the climbs, but we kept the pace honest to not piss away too many hard earned seconds.
Heading out to Orcutt Rd., there are some rolling hills that drop off racers into Orcutt/Tank Farm. This is the largest aid station in the race, as many supporters can access this location via car, and cheer their runners on. We were doing great on time as we rolled through mile 5ish and into the climb up Orcutt from the Tank Farm intersection. Talking probably a bit too much to our runners, Stepan and I continuously reminded the group to loosen their shoulders, keep their strides tight and short, and most importantly… to relax!
Making our way out Orcutt Rd. towards the turnaround, we realized that there were 10-15 runners within our general vicinity. Not certain if it’s common in road running, but some of the racers were literally right on my shoulder. I could smell what they had for breakfast, let alone hear the incessant gasping from a few that likely went out waaay too fast.
“If you’re breathing too hard now, SLOW THE FUCK DOWN!”
Eloquence and subtlety are not my strengths, but thankfully the heavy mouth breathing subsided, so the runners got the point. Heading into the turnaround, Stepan and I had kept 10-15 runners within our group, and had banked close to 30 seconds. I couldn’t wait to pass by Luis Escobar again to give him the finger…
Expecting heavy headwinds like we faced in 2015, thankfully the weather gods were easy on us, and we barely had a breeze on the back half of the race. Stepan decided to peel back towards the back of our group to let them know our mile splits, and that they had approximately 30-40 seconds on the 1:30 pace. We continued past Orcutt/Tank Farm, and made our way out towards Orcutt/Johnson. With 40-50 seconds banked at this time, we tried to keep a steady pace on the downhill before hitting the railroad tracks.
With less than three miles to go, Stepan and I felt confident that anyone hanging on by now would likely make their 1:30 goal. Checking our watches and finding that we had close to a  minute banked, we peeled back dramatically and clocked our first 7+ minute mile of the day. We let our lead group go to catch any runners struggling to hold pace. We locked onto a few runners and continued running parallel to the railroad tracks and into downtown.
With 1.5 miles to go, Stepan and I had three runners in front of us without absolutely no one behind. We felt confident that these last three runners would break 1:30, but sure as hell wouldn’t let up on them. A runner in a blue jersey was the slowest of the three making their way towards the finish, and I decided he needed some extra “motivation.” Normally I save expletives for those I know and love, but I decided this guy wasn’t working hard enough and needed an extra push. I’ll leave the choice words off this blog post, but he got the full monte. Not sure if he ran faster due to the motivational words or if he was literally trying to get away from me, but either way it worked and he crossed the finish line sub 1:30. Stepan and I cruised through the finish in 1:29:35, with several seconds to spare and no one left behind.
Not certain if cursing at our group was the most effective tool in getting them across the finish, I was pleasantly surprised when the blue jersey runner came up to me post race to let me know he wouldn’t have finished where he did without our help. Having his parents come up and thanking me for pushing their son was icing on the cake… although I’m fairly certain they didn’t know the words I used to get their boy moving.
After a quick hipster shower (wetwipes), I cheered Alejandra on as she finished her 5th consecutive SLO half.
Things I Learned:
– Communication before and during pacing is imperative!
– Having a fit partner on the same page makes pacing really fun and much easier
– “F Bombs” happen when racing

Montana de Oro 36K 4-24-16

MDO Valencia
MDO from the top of Valencia Peak…

If you haven’t visited Montana de Oro (MDO) State Park in Los Osos, CA, you are missing out! With three distinct peaks (Valencia, Oats and Hazards) hugging the coastline, you’re rewarded with surprisingly expansive views with less than 1,500ft of climbing. MDO is a frequent destination for all things outdoors (surfing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, camping and of course trail running). Only 15-20 minutes southwest of San Luis Obispo, MDO has a great mix of runnable singletrack, mixed with a wide assortment of climbs, depending on your preference.

If you’re a fan of technical ascents/descents with difficult grades, the climb to Valencia Peak should suit your fancy. If you’re in the mood for a more moderate climb on soft, runnable singletrack, head up to Hazards. If you enjoy remote trails, likely not to see a soul, but still in the mood for lung crushing steep climbs, head over to Oats.
With training ramping back up after the Austin Rattler 66k, I decided along with Thomas to run the MDO 36k (22 miler) on Sunday, 4/24. This would be the backend of a 100 mile week, that included two quality workouts. Talking through the plan for this race, the idea was to treat these 22 miles entirely as a training run. With legs still feeling the recent 40+ mile race and a week of increased volume and quality, I didn’t have a problem committing to an easy day.

Pacific Coast (PC) Trails puts on one of the two yearly MDO races. Normally, runners are sent up Valencia and Hazards peaks multiple times depending on their distance. The habitual 50k course has been two ascents of both Valencia and Hazards, usually ending up with an additional few miles depending on the route. John Brooks, the RD for PC Trails, decided to switch up the course this year by building two loops around Valencia Peak (8 mile and 5 miles), and taking a different route up to Hazards (Islay-to-Barranca-to-East Boundary for 9 miles). With a single aid station serving also as the Start/Finish, it’s important to bring the runners back through this location as frequently as possible. Depending on the temperature, and thankfully it was perfect Sunday, this 9 mile loop up and around Hazards would likely be at the edge of comfort for those seeking frequent aid.
Heading over early to check in and BS with other local runners, I pulled into Spooner’s Cove (I love this name by the way, but unfortunately it doesn’t mean those that spoon) around 6:45am. With staggered race distance starts firing off at 8:00, I had plenty of time to catch up and warm up before the race.

Having an early cup of leaded coffee, which was my first since the Austin Rattler and quickly becoming a tradition on race days, the second calling of the gods came on strong after I pulled into Spooner’s. Hustling over to bathroom, I ran into a really short, tanned Asian girl in a backwards trucker hat and ninja turtle onesie. Considering I had little time before the coffee made its way out, I decided to hold it and ask, “Hey, I think I know you… Are you Niki?” Thankfully, she said yes. “Are you Jadd?” Niki is a recent transplant to SLO via NC, and an excellent runner (recent Nine Trails finisher with . Facebook has a way of making you feel you’ve met someone before you have.

MDO Spooner's Cove
Spooner’s Cove… a terrible location to stage an ultra!

The next hour was spent catching up with some local runners on recent races and injuries. Melissa and Terry were coming off of the Leona Divide 50k and came out to volunteer. Edder was 6 days removed from the Leona Divide 50 miler and was “carbo loading” with eggs, sausage and biscuits about 15 minutes before the start of the 50k (Ballsy move so close to LD). Brent was looking prepared for the 50k, and Stan came out to crew. Joanie decided to tackle the half, and Niki was there to volunteer/sweep. Ethan’s been battling a foot issue but came out to volunteer and sweep as well. The SLO Trailrunners were well represented, and I expected a great day from this group.

After a short course introduction by John, the 50k racers were off. With 10 minutes before the start of the 36k, I decided it time to warm and lube up. Confirming with John that we were taking the Badger trail up to Valencia, just to make sure we didn’t continue unnessearily down the Bluffs trail, the 36kers were sent out uneventfully to tackle the MDO trails. Not knowing who would be racing this interesting distance, I planned on finding a comfortable pace to settle into, preferably finding a pack to run with. Unfortunately, no one came along.

The first couple miles of this race lead runners along the coastline, via the Bluffs trail. With beautifully rugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific, it’s tough to keep your eyes on the trail for the start of this race. Thankfully this is a wide runnable path, or there would definitely be more rubberneckers eating it on this section of the course.
Taking a left up the Badger trail, runners begin their 1,200-1,500ft climb to the top of Valencia peak. The three mile climb to Valencia starts with a half mile of head high flowing grass, making it extremely difficult to see the trail. Tiptoeing through this section, Badger finally opens up and begins its steep ascent, with the majority of its technical, vertical feet occurring over the last 1.5 miles.

Hitting the beginning of the steeper portion of Valencia’s ascent, I began catching several of the 50k runners making their way up the climb. Wishing them all the best as I passed knowing they were in for a lot more climbing throughout the day, I applauded their patience and persistence. After moving past a few 50k runners, a large group of hikers all wearing the same gray sweatsuits started crowding the trail. Nearly certain this was the local Grizzly Academy (military style camp for youth rehabilitation), unfortunately these girls were making their way up the most technical part of this climb at the exact same time I was. Fortunately, they were all incredibly respectful and moved out the way, even cheering us on as we made our way towards the peak.

Closing in on Valencia, a runner with a sexy, blue Patagonia shirt was making his way to the top. Edder and I caught up briefly and I complimented him on his shirt choice as it’s also my favorite running/outerwear piece. Brent crested the peak as I was nearing the top, and he looked really strong and comfortable. Barring any unseen variables and knowing that he’d been putting in big recent weekends, I expected Brent to crush the remaining marathonish distance. Looking at the post-race results, he definitely did.

The descent from Valencia back to the Start/Finish/aid station is very runnable with a perfect grade for opening up. Knowing this was only a training run, I made a focused effort to relax over these several miles and not let the excitement of the race ruin the goal of the workout. Passing several other 50k runners and some half marathoners that started with a shorter version of the Valencia loop, I pulled into the first aid station and took my time refueling. Normally, I rush through aid stations as quickly as possible, attempting to use as much time as possible on the trail. After MDO, I’m really looking forward to spending more time grazing at Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch.

Heading out from the aid station, runners are taken up the Islay trail towards Barranca and East Boundary. The Islay trail offers several miles of tolerable climbing fire road, before turning up to Barranca.  The steeper Barranca trail climbs up and around the backside of Valencia dumping runners onto East Boundary.

Hitting the Islay trail, I caught up to the lead runner of the 50k. Daniel and I spent the next couple miles chatting about trailrunning and upcoming races. The 2nd and 3rd place 50k racers caught up right before the Barranca turnoff, and both runners looked really strong. Daniel decided to slow down as he had another 20 miles of racing left, and I wished him luck.

Hitting the Barranca climb, I settled into a comfortable climbing pace, working to keep my heart rate and breathing in check. Making my way up towards Hazards, I ran into a local trailrunner who I hadn’t met before (there aren’t many of them left). She was moving swiftly along the trail, so I tucked in behind her. Moving along this section, Barranca takes runners up tight, mountain hugging singletrack, with a steep drop off the left left into some very dry and seemingly sharp brush.

We were in mid-conversation, when all of the sudden the all-too-common root catches the toe, and down she went. Either this lady was a veteran trailrunner or ninja in training, because she rolled right into the bushes off the trail and popped immediately back up unscathed. Stopping to check if she was ok and offering to help her up, this tough ass runner brushed herself off and continued on her race…

Hitting East Boundary and starting the climb up the backside of Hazards peak, runners are bound to receive their daily dose of Vitamin D, as the couple mile climb is completely exposed. Thankfully the day was still young, and I really hoped this moderate temp would hold, as the 50k runners would have to make their way through this loop again in 2-3 hours.

Cresting Hazards peak, the three mile descent is some of the most runnable singletrack in all of MDO. Making my way down towards the aid station, I ran right past Loren Davis, a very talented young ultrarunner, while he and his buddy were heading up towards the peak. Pulling into the aid station with five miles to go and after an ass slap by Ethan while hammering on his cow bell, my plan was to slow way down and relax over the last several miles.

Never using a race as a training run, my instincts or rather immaturity kicked in and I started picking it up over the last 5 miles. Thankfully or not thankfully considering my plan to slow down, this loop cuts off the steep ascent to Valencia, so most of the trail was very runnable. Albeit faster than planned, the last few miles were uneventful, and I crossed the line first in 3:13. With tired legs leading into this training week, I was really happy and surprised that I felt strong throughout the run. Knowing that I pushed upwards of a minute per mile faster than I should have, I really hoped that my legs wouldn’t be too beat up to tackle the next several heaviest weeks of training.

The great part of most ultras, especially lowkey events like MDO, is having your vehicle literally a stones throw away from the Start/Finish. After getting in 30 ounces of Physiophyx and taking a wetwipe shower, I quickly changed, stretched and made my way back to the action to cheer on other runners and help out those making their way through the aid station.

The next couple hours were a blast helping runners make their way back out on the trail as quickly as possible, and watching others with ear-to-ear smiles make their way across the finish line. The best part of the afternoon was watching John literally pull the third place runner out from the bed of a pickup truck and push his ass back onto the course. I didn’t get to see this 19 year old finish his first ultra, but I’m sure he thanked John profusely afterwards.

After thanking John and his crew for putting on another great MDO event, I made my way home to clean up, greet Alejandra, and get ready for the Game of Thrones premiere.

What I Learned:

  • Using a race as a training run probably isn’t going to work for me moving forward.
  • Scrubbing down after runs where poison oak is likely to be around is a must… Nuts to ankles!
  • Watching the look on someone’s face when they finish an endurance event still gives me the chills
  • We are so damn lucky to live and play on the Central Coast!

Austin Rattler 66k April 10, 2016

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Terrible place to spend the weekend
I’m starting this blog post at 9:30am on Saturday, 4/9, sitting on a small United jet, waiting on the mechanics to give the greenlight for the second leg of my short trip to Austin. Sitting on the LAX tarmac in an early aisle seat, I’ve got a mom and her really well behaved son to my right, and a guy that fits the bill for Austin native to my left… suede boots, pink socks, funky wool coat, long hair and a solid beard game. Sorry Austinities reading this post, but this is exactly how I envision you, albeit he’s missing the guitar.
So, why the hell am I on my way out to Austin on a Saturday morning for a trip lasting just a hair over 24 hours?
The Austin Rattler 66k is owned and operated by Lifetime Fitness. Yes, the same Lifetime Fitness that builds exercise equipment, and also the same Lifetime Fitness that purchased the Leadville 100 a couple years ago. The Leadville 100 is the third race within each summer’s Grand Slam series. Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch are four of the oldest 100 miles in the US, and they occur within 12 weeks of each other starting in late June, and running through early September. Runners that can actually get in, which is seemingly more difficult these days than running the events, and then subsequently finish these four races over 12 weeks, have officially finished the Grand Slam.
Not expecting much heading up to Auburn in December, I was shocked to have my name pulled for Western States. Planning on a fall 100, I also decided to put my name in the hat for Wasatch in September, as this mountain range in Utah is absolutely breathtaking. Considering my lack of luck as it relates to lotteries (no WS in 2014 or 2015, no Lake Sonoma 50 in 2015 and no Leadville 100 in 2015), I threw my best Hail Mary towards the lottery gods in 2016. Not sure if this was luck or the lottery gods laughing at me for thinking I could tackle these two difficult races, but my name was pulled for Wasatch in addition to Western States.
As I started working through the WS training plan that Thomas developed, mileage began ramping up in late February and March. On a long Saturday training run preparing for Way Too Cool, I ran into Erik Dube on the trails and we started talking about summer plans. Erik will be racing Angeles Crest 100 in the fall for the first time. With multiple 100’s behind him and his ability to tackle difficult races in heat, I think he’ll do great in September.
We were talking about WS and Wasatch as Erik has tons of experience on the trail from Squaw to Auburn (6 finishes in sub 24 hours). Jokingly Erik says, “Hey, you should race the Grand Slam.” Knowing there were four races that comprised the event, thanks little league, I had no idea what four races made up the event. “You’ve already got 2 locked up!” Ok, so WS and Wasatch are two of the four. Thinking that Angeles Crest was another, I shouted back “Well, there’s no way to get into the Slam as AC 100 sold out in less than an hour.” I probably should’ve just taken Erik’s word, considering he has damn near more 100 mile finishes than all the ultra’s I’ve ever completed, “AC isn’t one of them.”
“So, what other races make up the Grand Slam?”
Erik shared that Vermont and Leadville were the two others, and that WS and Wasatch were the two most difficult of the four to get into. Thanking him for the info, considering I’ve hounded Erik for ultra knowledge over the years, I didn’t think much of the conversation as training began to ramp up.
Following the next day’s run, I jumped online to quickly research the Grand Slam. Since Tom Green initially finished all four races in 1986 (Old Dominion, Western States, Leadville and Wasatch), there have been 280 others that have completed these four storied 100 milers in the same year (Old Dominion was replaced with Vermont several years later, and is now considered part of the Slam).
Thinking how damn difficult it is to get into Western States and Wasatch, especially in the same year, I took a quick look at the registration information for Vermont and Leadville. Unfortunately, both races were full and Vermont was the only race with a waiting list. Since you’re not on the hook for payment until your accepted and confirm waiting list registration, I threw my name onto Vermont’s waiting list not thinking too much about it. At the same time, I also emailed the race director to ask what my chances looked like to clear the list.
Looking at Leadville’s website a few days later, I learned that Lifetime Fitness has several other events within their yearly lineup of races. There is a Leadville marathon, the Silver Rush 50 miler, multiple mountain bike races, and an interesting distance of a 66k in Austin. Seemingly to increase involvement with their other races, Lifetime decided to attach a finite amount of Leadville 100 qualifying registration slots to each of the races above.
With training for Western States taking precedent over all other summer races, I started looking at the viability of entering one of these Leadville qualifiers. The Leadville marathon unfortunately didn’t fit into the calendar, and neither did the Silver Rush 50 miler. Interestingly, this 66k in Austin was only one week before the Leona Divide 50.
Ramping up for Western States, Thomas thought it would be a good idea to start with a runnable 50k early in the season, and then follow it up with a runnable 50 miler a couple months before the big dance. Leona Divide fit in perfectly with training, so we planned to ramp back up after Way Too Cool, and essentially “train through” Leona Divide. Training through a race essentially means continuing training leading up to and through a race,  and not building in a significant taper/recovery plan. The initial goal was to run LD conservatively for the first half, and then significantly increase pace until I was racing all out over the last third. Looking at the option of racing the Austin Rattler as a Leadville qualifier, but knowing that it would be 10 miles less than Leona, and with absolutely no course knowledge, I decided to check-in with Thomas and get his thoughts.
Thomas has been great to work with! He’s incredibly patient as I’ve fumbled through workouts, trying  to learn how to perform a proper track session or tempo run. With workout times that I’m sure he finds laughable, considering his past performances, he’s been incredibly supportive. Having zero experience with this amount of volume, he’s also done an awesome job making sure to follow up on how I’m responding to training.
Before bringing my thoughts to Thomas, I received a response from Vermont’s RD stating that my chances were great for clearing the wait list, and as long as I was registered for the other three, it shouldn’t be an issue to race Vermont. With this newfound information, I was even more confident to get Thomas’ thoughts.
Telling Thomas about my long shot chance at qualifying for the Grand Slam, he was quick to say that it’s something he wouldn’t race, but if I wanted to give it a shot, we could modify the training plan and it shouldn’t have a negative impact on WS training.
So it looks like I’ll be flying out to Austin on Saturday to tackle a 66k that I know very, very little about…
The Austin Rattler 66k takes place on Rocky Hill Ranch, a supposed mountain bike mecca for Texans. Located an hourish southeast of Austin, this race consists of two, 20 mile loops. There was little course information posted, and thankfully someone posted a Strava link which shows the cumulative gain of less than 2,000ft. With Way Too Cool being considered very runnable, this 50k still has nearly 4,000ft. of climbing. With an extra 10 miles and 2,000ft. less of vertical gain, the Austin Rattler seems like it should be pretty damn fast.
After landing in Austin around 2:30pm, my buddy Aaron picked me up and let me borrow his car for the trip down to Rocky Hill Ranch. A true friend, Aaron gave up a Master’s golf pub crawl to pick me up and hang out for a couple hours on Saturday. For those of you that have not participated in a golf pub crawl, everyone dresses up in their most ridiculous golf gear and makes their way through as many “holes” as possible, scoring lower shots based on volume or ABV of the drink consumed. Unfortunately, a birdie could cost you both a shot and beer. Pretty sure Aaron’s liver thanked me for passing on this round, as shooting par at this event seems a hell of a lot harder than Augusta.
Rocky Hill Ranch is about an hour southeast of Austin in a town called Smithville. For those familiar with Texas, Smithville borders Bastrop. For those not familiar with Texas, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Pulling into the ranch around 5:00pm, there were few people around, but tons of trucks and trailers parked in the field. Rocky Hill hosts a Saturday 100K mountain bike race over the same course as the run, with similar qualifying standards for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race (same course at Leadville 100).
With plenty of parking on their 2,500+ acres, I set up camp and checked in with registration. Considering the sun doesn’t set until 8:00pm in Smithville, I decided to hit the trails for a few miles to get a feel for the terrain and scope out the early miles. A small storm had made its way through Rocky Hill early on Saturday and hundreds of bikers had thrashed through the singletrack all day, but thankfully the trails were in decent shape. With the race starting at 6:00am and sunrise not scheduled till past 7:00, I was also on the fence with carrying a headlamp.
After a light dinner and a few pages of Run or Die (great running book for when you’ve had your fill of jaddgottheruns), I called it an early night and slept out under the stars.
With several hours of Z’s in a sleeping bag that actually keeps me warm (please read my first blog post on Fastpacking Gone Awry for reference), the 4:45am wakeup call still came rather quickly considering the 2hr time difference between CA and TX. The 60+ degree weather was great for getting ready, but I was nervous that this could cause issues later in the race if the temp continued up.
Drinking my first leaded coffee since Way Too Cool (cut out caffeine as I don’t need another habit that spikes the heartrate) made the early morning discharge rather pleasant… thank you wetwipes… and with a short warm and lube up, we were off.
Thomas’ plan was to run a VERY relaxed first 20 miles, and then pick up the pace from 20-30, and push all out 30-40. Originally finding out that only age group winners were offered the Leadville entry, and since  30-39 would likely be the most competitive group, we planned on staying with the lead pack assuming they went out conservatively. At the last minute, we were told that there may be additional qualifying spots allocated for certain age groups, but there was no confirmation of how many or which groups would receive the spots.
A beautiful 6:00am start in Smithville, Tx
Deciding to start without a headlamp, I would be relegated to run alongside or immediately behind someone with light. We thought this would force me to relax in the early miles, as I couldn’t see a damn thing and it was pitch black. Unfortunately, this didn’t work quite as planned. From the gun, a group of 6-8 runners shot off to the front and set a strong pace. Not checking my watch as I wanted to run by feel, it wasn’t too difficult to “feel” like we were moving way too fast, way too early in the race. Not having a damn headlamp, I was forced to stay with this group or drop back to the significantly slower chase pack. Needless to say, the first 8-10 miles of the race were much, much faster than I wanted to start.
The only dummy without a headlamp…
Thankfully the sun rose sometime after 7:00am, and when I could actually see without leaning over someone and poaching on the light, I decided it best to slow down and stick to our original plan. We were running low 7:00 minute miles, and I felt that not only was there little chance this group of 6-8 could hold this pace for 40 miles, there was no way in hell I would be able to stick to this. With a Leadville qualifier on the line, I sure wasn’t happy letting the lead pack go, but our plan was to run conservative for the first 20 and what we were doing for the first 8-10 was quite the opposite.
I settled into my own pace for the next 10-12 miles, and spent some time with a local young doctor that was tackling his first ultra. We talked about training and nutrition, and about how we sure hoped the lead pack would come back. With a couple miles before the halfway mark, I made my first surge and prepared for 20 miles of racing. Coming through the 20 mile mark in 2:32 and somewhere around 8th place, I felt much stronger than when we hammering the early miles, but knew there was a TON of work to do if I was to snatch this qualifier.
Heading out for the second 20 mile loop, miles 20-25 felt awesome as I could actually see the damn trail. Thinking back after seeing the terrain we ran on in the dark, not starting with a headlamp was a stupid move.
Miles 26-30 were uneventful, as I ran completely alone, as I did for miles 20-25. Feeling strong and pushing over these middle miles, I started having doubts if it was the right move to let the lead pack go so early. Sitting in 8th place with less than 10 miles of running left, I stuck to the plan and started to race.
There are a few sections of trail that loop and zig zag back-and-forth, so runners are able to see others that may be within a half mile. For the first time in 10+ miles, we made a turn and I saw two runners moving at a decent clip. Looking at my watch to gauge the time it would take for me to get to their spot, I realized they were only 3 minutes ahead. Feeling like our plan was starting to work, I pushed over the next couple miles and caught these two…
6th place…
Starting to regain some confidence, I continued to push and made a move on another runner around a mile later. With a huge smattering of dirt on his arm and looking pretty haggard, I asked how he was holding up as he had the cramping waddles. I offered some salt and he refused, so I stopped and forced him to take three S-Caps… I know how it feels to be a saltless mess!
5th place…
With less than 8 miles to go, I saw a blue jersey several hundred meters ahead. Knowing that Thomas would chew my ass if we didn’t stick to the plan, I continued to hammer and moved past this solid runner a few minutes later.
4th place…
A mile or so later, I spotted another blue jersey that looked to be running strong. Quick turnover and a powerful stride, it took awhile to catch up, and we shared some mutually encouraging words. Hoping he didn’t come with me, I made another push and continued forward.
3rd place…
Less than 5 miles from the finish, I see a fellow shirtless runner looking pretty rough. We were rocking the same shoes, so I tried to make small talk but he wasn’t having it, “My legs are shot!” I told him to keep moving, as there’s someone moving up  (blue jersey), and started pushing towards the finish.
2nd place…
Pulling into the last aid station, I grabbed a gel, quickly filled up my handheld while asking the volunteers how close 1st place was. With 4 miles to go, they said somewhere around 5 minutes. In ultra language, this could be 2 minutes, 5 minutes or 15 minutes. I tried to push as I knew we had one out-and-back left. Hoping to catch a glimpse of 1st, I knew if I couldn’t see him on this stretch, unless he ran into a tree, it was all but over. Unfortunately, no luck seeing 1st (another shirtless runner by the way), so I continued to push over the few miles before reaching the parking lot/field. Hoping it was enough to secure a spot to Leadville, I crossed the finish in 5:05 (2:32; 2:33 splits). Thankfully, 2nd place was good enough for a Leadville spot, and I officially inked my application for the Grand Slam.
Needed another 10 miles to catch the champ, but happy to be done!
This is going to be a long summer…

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What I Learned:
– Building a plan and sticking to it, independent of what other racers do, can be very difficult but very rewarding when your plan turns out to be the right one
– I’m really starting to trust in my training. A 90, 110 and 100 three week lead up to the Austin Rattler sans taper wasn’t the perfect scenario, but what I lost in leg peppiness, I made up for in endurance and strength
– Speed and specificity training works. Keeping a 7:00/mile pace for the first 10 miles of an ultra would have absolutely destroyed me this time last year. Albeit not the smartest way to start an ultra, all those workouts allowed  me  to recover and push through a competitive second half
– SALT WORKS!!! Had one slight twinge, a precursor to cramping, and immediately chomped down two additional tabs. Took 7 S-Caps over 40 miles, and it held the cramping at bay
– Being able to see is important. I’ll be wearing a headlamp moving forward
– I’ve got a long way to go in this sport, and not coming from a formal running background has its disadvantages. This shit ain’t easy, but I’m really starting to enjoy the mental side of things. Hopefully, the physical side catches up one of these days…