Sean O’Brien 100k 2-4-17


Dude, where’s my shoe?

When asked about destinations for high quality trail running, I’ll be the first to admit that Southern California didn’t crack my top 10. What I love about this crazy sport though, is that a single race can impact perception so greatly. Keira Henniger and her team organize an incredible set of races at Malibu Creek State Park. Only a skip-and-jump away from my college Alma Mater Pepperdine, the Sean O’Brien (SOB) marathon, 50k, 50 mile and 100k events lead runners through the beautiful yet challenging Santa Monica mountain range. Large, long climbs with a backdrop of the Pacific is such a terrible way to spend a Saturday…

Thomas and I decided on an early season 100k to check off our 2018 Western States qualifier, but also as a measure of training effectiveness over the past few months. Since I wasn’t too prepared and La Cuesta Ranch 50k was more of a battle with the elements and terrain than gauge of fitness, I had absolutely no goal time for this race. Thomas was planning to run by heartrate, and I decided to tag along for the adventure, as it would be fun to run with someone and we’re at similar fitness levels.

We left SLO around noonish, and made a stop at the Oxnard REI to check out some hiking pants for Thomas, but more so to putz around for an hour checking out awesome outdoor gear. Living in San Luis Obispo and primarily shopping online, I forgot how cool it is to meander through a huge store actually seeing products in person.

We made our way into Woodland Hills and the race check-in location around 3:30. The SLO Trail Runners internal clocks must’ve been dialed in, because we hopped out of Thomas’ VW Vanagon at the exact same time Ethan, Brent and Tim (Brent’s cousin) were arriving. After catching up about the weather, as it was supposedly ridiculously wet and muddy throughout the course, we made our way inside to pick up our race gear.

Keira runs a tight ship. She set up three different check-in lines depending on the race distance. Altra and Cambelback had also set up booths in our small room, and I was able to play with the new King MT’s, which is Altra’s version of a trail cleat. Sure wish these were on the market before La Cuesta Ranch, as I could’ve used some deeper lugs and at least a centimeter of padding.

Chris Pavolochik, a local up-and-coming trail runner from Santa Maria, seemingly arose from a nap while stumbling into me waiting for the bathroom. We caught up for a few minutes on training and his race plan. He looked fit, and I expected him to do well on the 100k course. After a few minutes of BS’ing with some fellow runners, Thomas and I headed out to Malibu Creek State Park to find our camping spot, have an early dinner and to try and catch some early z’s for our 3:45am wakeup call.

The VW Vanagon is the perfect size vehicle for traveling and dirtbagging in comfort. The main cabin folds out to fit a Full mattress, and the popup section on top of the vehicle does the same. With a propane powered stove and refrigerator, along with an outdoor shower, van living never looked so good. After a short hike and quick dinner, we tried to hit the sack.

1989 VW Vanagon Westfalia Camper Auction in Huntington Beach, CA
Not the Reiss Wagen, but same idea…

Between Pablo and Alejandra, I’m granted about 1 foot of space on our California King, so sleeping in the Reiss Wagen was absolute heaven. Thomas better watch out, or he’ll find me catching a nap in that van from time-to-time…

With a start time of 5:00am and a short drive from the campground to the race start, we got moving at 3:45. The pre-race ritual of leaded coffee, two poop sessions and a quick lube job worked smoothly and I was ready for a playdate with the mountains.

On the starting line, I met Heeva Asefvaziri, a former SLO ultrarunner and current resident of Ojai. Only seeing pictures and hearing stories, I was excited to spend some miles with him. Next to Thomas and I was Coree Woltering, a speedster from the Midwest rocking a speedo, who would be contending for the WS Golden Ticket. Bob Shebest and Jesse Haynes also made their way to the front, and after a few last minute race instructions by Keira, we were off.

The first couple miles were choppy, as we hit some single track and it was pitch black. Not wanting to cart around my headlamp for the entire day, my plan was to bring a cheap one and ditch it at an aid station once the sun came out. The golden rule in ultras is to not try anything new on race day, and using a new headlamp definitely falls into this category. This chincy ass “light” was a train wreck! It bounced up-and-down on nearly every step, emitted less lumens than an iPhone, and the adjustment component was apparently broken so after a few strides, the light would snap straight down. I ended up holding the lamp in my hand and then storing it in my pack anyway, so not making this mistake again. After a chilly early morning nuts deep creek crossing, we started our first large ascent of the day.

With all the recent rain in California, Keira was forced to make some last minute modifications to the course. Essentially, the race would be two separate out-and-backs starting at the Corral Canyon aid station 6.5 miles into the race, and then a return trip back to the start/finish. This change would shorten the course by 1.5 miles and also lower the climbing by approximately 1,000ft. If only she could’ve dried the course out too.

The first 1,800ft climb was steep but fortunately on jeep road, so we had the opportunity to separate after the earlier singletrack miles. Not wearing a HR monitor but feeling like my effort level was higher than it should be 3 miles into a 62 mile race, I slowed down and met up with Thomas. Heeva decided to take off, and we wouldn’t see him again until he surprised us by dropping down to the 50k and running past us an hour-ish later.

We ran into Dominck Layfield, another recent So Cal transplant and excellent runner originally from UT via England. Dom had set the course record on the Spine Race in his home country only a couple weeks prior to SOB, and he add already inked his WS ticket, so this would only be a training run for him. He still beat both of us…

After running with Dom for awhile, Chris caught up to Thomas and I. He was excited and seemed to be pacing himself well. He asked if it was ok to run with us, and not having any inkling of his abilities outside of recent race results, we told him to tag along unless we were holding him back. Chris proceeded to run the next 25-30 miles with us, and ended up finishing around 11 hours for a solid 27th place.

As the minutes and miles clicked by, Thomas and I stuck to his HR as a barometer of effort, while I kept track of the mileage. Since a HR strap burns through a watch battery quicker than a hooker in stilettos, the only way to simultaneously use the HR and GPS options on a longer ultra is to tweak the settings to pull coordinates by the minute instead of the second. This greatly impacts the accuracy of the watch, but having two guys share duties made it work.

Not having any idea of where we were within the race, we set a goal of not being passed by any runners after mile 10. Assuming we paced ourselves properly, and considering the ridiculous amount of runners that passed us on that first climb, I felt confident we’d hit this goal.

Heading out on the first out-and-back, we made our way down a long descent to the Pacific Coast Highway, running right near Pepperdine. Watching the front runners make their way back up the climb, we tried to keep track of the total to better estimate where we stood. Chris Wehan and Ryan Kaiser were the early front runners, and they would hold on to ink their WS tickets several hours later. Bob Shebest was in an early fifth, but he’s known to pace himself well in the early miles. I stopped counting as we hit the last couple miles before the aid station, as the terrain became absolutely battered. The recent storms had destroyed this area of “trail,” and we were forced to power hike on a section that should’ve been runnable.

There’s Malibu in the background.

Making our way into the aid station at the bottom of PCH somewhere around mile 23-24 and after a quick fill up, we flipped around and started the 2,300ft. climb back up and through the trough. The first mile of climbing out of this aid station was our slowest of the day, as we were forced to hike/wade/slip through thick, blanketing slop. After literally stopping a couple times to clean off our shoes with rocks or whatever was in scraping distance, we continued onward back to the Corral Canyon aid station for our second out-and-back.

During the section of trail, we ran past runners competing in both the 50k and 50 mile races. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue even on singletrack, as the slower runners tend to move off to the side. Unfortunately on this 1-2 mile portion of trail, there would be no way to step off the course as it was the muddiest portion of god awful I’ve ever run on. After being trampled on by hundred of runners, I couldn’t keep my shoes from sucking off on nearly every stride. Thomas had already pulled away, and I hit a section of downhill where I flipped the “Fuck it” switch and just opened up. VERY unfortunately for the runners dragging their asses up this hill, as I was tired of losing my shoes/sanity, but there weren’t many places to go.


I ran right into a group of runners, as they were literally motionless standing in the middle of the trail. Possibly their first 50k and not comfortable in these types of conditions, either way it was a shit show. After some quick apologies and a confirmation that no one was injured, I finally made it out of the mud pits and back into runnable terrain.

Catching back up to Thomas a few minutes later, we ran together for awhile and then split apart again shortly thereafter. Moving ahead slightly, I decided to run with a So Cal runner named Vishal. Of all the runners we passed from mile 10 to the finish, this is the one guy we couldn’t shake. We may have exchanged leads 6-8 times throughout the race, as he would seemingly pass on a climb and we would overtake him on the downhill. Since he was keeping a solid pace, we continued to run together for several miles leading back up to Corral Canyon, and on the climb up to Bulldog. Thomas pulled back up as we started the long descent from Bulldog. We made our way into the mile 45 aid station, and after a quick shirt change by Thomas, we started the last long climb of the race.

Somewhere around the “Bulldog” section of the course.

Somewhere around mile 49, we finally decided to separate and run our own pace for the remainder of the race. I tried to make a push and catch a few runners over the last 10ish miles, as we had run a conservative race and had some left in the tank. As we were still on an out-and-back, I ran into several racers that were making their way down to the 45 aid station. Walt, Jimmy Dean Freeman, Ethan, Brent and Edder all passed by as I tried to make some headway on the runners ahead. The second place woman was the first person I passed, as she was hiking up back towards Bulldog. We chatted briefly, letting her know that she had a gap on F3, and she should be ok hiking this hill and them moving on the flats and descents.

With a quick fill up on Fluid at the last aid station (mile 53), I headed out for the final 6-7 miles. Passing another runner before heading out, Louis Secreto would eventually catch up and pass me heading down towards the final creek crossing. Since I felt strong on the climbs and there were a few hills before the finish, I was able to catch back up with only a mile or so to go. Instead of killing each other, we decided to finish together and enjoy each others company for the last few minutes. We crossed the line simultaneously, but with chip timing he beat me by three seconds.

One of the climbs heading into the first aid station, or leaving the last aid station.

Finishing in 16th place in 10:14 and running even splits (the same pace for the back half as the first half of the race), I was satisfied with the day. Thomas came in only a few minutes behind, as he spent the last couple miles pushing Sabrina, the 2nd place female, into a spot at Western States.

After catching up briefly with some racers and having a quick shower, Thomas and I made our way back to SLO… but not before crushing some In-N-Out.

Here’s a garmin link for those interested in the numbers (the watch died with around a mile or so to go)

What I Learned

  • Early pacing in an ultra nearly always pays dividends in the later miles
  • An early season race done at a fitness level under 100% is completely ok, as long as you modify expectations
  • Racing with someone at a similar fitness level is an excellent way to spend miles
  • Albeit a bit sticky, the So Cal trails are big and beautiful
  • In-N-Out still tastes amazing, even after 4 years of not eating meat

La Cuesta Ranch 50k 1-7-17


Wet… Muddy… Windy… Sloppy… Awesome!!!

If you’re not too familiar with the condition of the vast majority of trails in San Luis Obispo when wet, try to imagine the love child of molasses and Elmer’s glue. Aside from sections of Cuesta Ridge, you’re not making it too far on single track when it’s raining in SLO. Enter the second addition of Luis Escobar’s La Cuesta Ranch Trail Runs. With 10k, 25k and 50k distances, Luis built a course to fit a variety of fancies.

La Cuesta Ranch, located at the end of Loomis next to Cuesta park in northern San Luis Obispo, sits on several thousand acres of rolling hills that connect to both Poly Canyon and West Cuesta Ridge. Owned and operated by the Miossi Family for multiple generations, La Cuesta Ranch is now primarily a venue for weddings. With a beautifully rustic but functional barn, this would be an excellent location to tie the knot. Being only five minutes away from downtown SLO, but with a feel that you’re hundreds of miles away from civilization, this is also a perfect venue for a trail race!

With California being in the midst of an epic drought, the running joke here on the Central Coast is that we could solve all of our states water problems in a few weeks by just putting on more Luis Escobar events. La Cuesta Ranch Year Two wouldn’t disappoint.

The inaugural La Cuesta Ranch race was an absolute blast, sprinkled with several challenging sections due to a downpour the previous night. Several runners competing in the 25 and 50k’s literally lost their shoes while attempting to navigate a several hundred meter mud trough that they’d be forced to cross twice each loop. Fortunately, we couldn’t identify this trough in 2017. Unfortunately, the entire course became the trough in year two.

On the Monday before the race, I met up with some fellow runners at La Cuesta Ranch to help scout a portion of trail with Luis. Alex the German joined us on his trip back from dirtbagging in the Sierras. Kerry, who would be racing her first ultra at the ranch, joined us too. Gabe, fresh off his first 50 mile finish at Cherry Canyon and hungry for another ultra, came out as well. On a beautiful afternoon, we spent a couple hours chatting, running and hiking around the Miossi property. The trails were dry and fast.

With a change in the course this year, Luis peeled back one mile from each loop, totaling 14ish miles for the 25k and 28ish miles for the 50k. Deciding to build a loop into the course this year that cancelled two out-and-backs, Luis brought runners up Stagecoach Rd. and then down/up the Rollercoaster Trail. This modification added nearly 400ft per lap, offering over 6,500ft. of climbing for the “50k.”

On the night before the race, the Running Warehouse was kind enough to host a fun Q&A with Luis Escobar and Arnulfo Quimare. Arnulfo is a tarahumara runner living in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, that was one of the key characters in Chris McDougal’s hit, “Born to Run.” A legendary runner, Arnulfo beat Scott Jurek, while he was in his prime, on a 50  mile race in the Copper Canyons… in sandals! Fueled by several pints of local ale, a local trail runner Edder, assisted with the Q&A. We had a great time asking Arnulfo questions, and catching up with friends. One of the more poignant questions with the impending storm, was if Arnulfo would be ok running through mud in his huaraches/sandals. He didn’t seem to mind, so neither did we.

Pre-race Q&A with the King of the Copper Canyons, Arnulfo Quimare

With weather reports showing the storm of the century sweeping through the Central Coast, I crossed the fingers that we would get lucky and have some reprieve on race day. The ultra gods didn’t grant my wish.

Race day was sloppy… really F’ing sloppy!

Alejandra and I made the long commute of 4 miles door-to-door to the ranch. She volunteered as the timekeeper for the race, under a dry tent, with a freaking heater next to her for 5 hours.  We definitely should’ve switched jobs!

With a start time of 7:00am, we congregated around the “starting line,” which at a Luis race is wherever the hell he says “GO.” As is typical in ultras, we spend the lead up time to a race catching up with friends and likely meeting new ones. This race was no different, other than some of the elite runners that graced us with their presence. Guillermo Medina, a former powerhouse of a runner had returned to racing after taking off some time to raise his kiddos. Cassie Scallon, a recent transplant to Santa Barbara, joined us with an incredibly impressive resume. Keira Henniger, the RD for the Sean O’Brien 100k, Leona Divide 50, several other So Cal races and also an excellent runner in her own right, joined the party too. Jesse Haynes, Keira’s husband and a three time top 10 finisher at Western States, came out as well to crew. Arnulfo Quimare, the King of the Copper Canyons would also be toeing the line. For a small, local race on a day with terrible conditions, we had a solid lineup for the 50k.

After Luis’ detailed course instructions… “Follow the ribbons. If you see blue, you’re lost,” we were sent off to tackle this hellish course.

The driest point of the day…

No more than 200 meters after we started, the mud party began. Arnulfo and I ran together for the first few miles, with Cassie close behind. Climbing towards the first aid station, and trying not to lose our shoes/sandals, the effort level felt too high for how slow we were running.

Deciding to wear Icebugs, which are essentially minimalist cleats, helped dramatically to increase traction from zero to at least 3%. The clay which makes up the majority of the soil content on the ranch, is tacky as all hell, and eats at the foot with each strike. Pulling the leg up takes literally 3-5x the effort as running on nearly any other surface.

Essentially, this shit “sucked!”

Making our way towards the first aid station, Edder and Walt were literally holding the fort down, as they picked the windiest section of the race to set up a water stop. Thankfully we were moving, albeit at a snails pace, but able to keep warm, as these guys were in for a long day. With not much of a plan other than survival, the only section of “runnable” trail would be the 3.7 mile climb up Stagecoach to Shooters/Rollercoaster and possibly the couple miles of Rollercoaster back into the ranch, so I decided to push this section on both of the loops to either establish a gap or try to catch up to whomever was in front. Surprisingly, I was in the lead heading into the 2nd aid station, which was manned by SLO Trail Runners. Brent, Tera and Jody took care of the famished throughout the day, and thankfully weren’t banished to the wind tunnel that Edder and Walt had to survive.

The climb up Stagecoach to Rollercoaster was at least familiar, but still ascended nearly 1,500ft primarily in the first four miles. With the rain holding off at this point in the race but deciding to wear a jacket because it looked ready to pour at any second, I contemplated dumping the coat with Tera, but thankfully kept it on. West Cuesta Ridge can be one of the windiest areas in SLO, as it didn’t disappoint on race day, as it was absolutely howling.

Making it off Rollercoaster and back onto the ranch, we backtracked to Edder and Walt’s aid station, and then continued down a couple miles of windy jeep road. This section was perfect for opening up in 2016, as the grade was slightly downhill, and hard enough to not stick entirely to your shoes. Unfortunately, the terrain slowed this section by two minutes/mile this year, and all we could manage was to tiptoe on the small patches of grass to try and steal an ounce of traction.

Heading into my favorite portion of this course, the last two miles of each loop consist of a 530ft. climb and 700ft. descent. Increasing the “fun” of this section, there is absolutely no trail. Runners simply hike or run up the ridgeline of the property bordering Poly Canyon, and then after hitting the peak, point and shoot down the mountain.

There’s a trail here? Oh yeah, that’s a flag…

Heading up the ridge, I took a peak down the twisty descent to see how close Arnulfo and Cassie were. I couldn’t see Arnulfo, but there were a few blind spots from this viewpoint and I expected him to be close. Cassie was also close behind, no more than a couple minutes back.

Heading up the quarter mile road to the start/finish, I checked in with the sexy timekeeper, and grabbed a quick bite while Mauricio helped to fill up my bottles. With two excellent runners close behind, I didn’t want to waste any time.

Heading out for the second loop, and taking a peek to see who was close behind.

With no idea how close Arnulfo or Cassie were, I pushed a bit harder than I should have until the Stagecoach climb. Hitting the aid station, Tera offered a shot of Fireball which surprisingly didn’t sound good. I must have been pushing too hard.

The second Stagecoach to Rollercoaster climb was uneventful, yet no less difficult. Fortunately the wheels didn’t fall off, and I was able to make it into Edder and Walt’s final aid station still with a lead. The two miles of soggy clay descent wasn’t a blast, but made it to the ridge climb in one piece.

With several races overlapping in the late morning, there were now 10k and 25k runners sharing the course. Peeking back again from the ridge, there were several runners either descending or starting the climb, and unfortunately I couldn’t determine if any of them were chasing me down. Closing in on the peak, Mauricio who was playing double duty as the aid station captain and cameraman, greeted me at the top of the climb. With thankfully only a 700ft treacherous descent remaining, I was able to stay upright making it back to civilization.

See that ridge over my shoulder? Yep, we came from over there…

As is customary with most Luis Escobar finishes, a shot of Fireball signifies the completion of the course. Fortunately, this time it sounded like a great idea! Albeit a shorter course than 2016, with the terrain and additional climbing, I don’t feel like too much of a piker claiming the course record in 4:24.

Luis also does a great job providing finisher awards that beat the tar out of medals! Authentic Tarahumara bolla racing ball

What I Learned

  • Running through a 28 mile mud trough is an excellent strength building workout, if you’re legs don’t get ripped off in the process
  • Shoe choice is important, as I learned after the race that Arnulfo swapped out his huaraches for shoes after the first loop
  • Throw time goals out the window when the conditions go sour. Checking my watch for pace was useless, as my HR was pegged throughout most of the day regardless of where we were
  • Prepare to be sore for much longer than planned when playing in the mud for 4+ hours
  • Volunteers truly make our sport. Without the selfless support of so many to make these events happen, we wouldn’t be able to experience ridiculously nasty, yet really fun races
  • Don’t do a beer mile after an ultra!!!
Worst idea of the weekend!

Montana de Oro 25k 12-11-16

Hazard Peak Trail

One of my favorite places to run, Montana de Oro (“Mountain of Gold” in Spanish) is a California State Park located approximately 20 minutes Southwest of San Luis Obispo. With 8,000ish acres of coastline, rugged hills, and challenging trails, MdO has a little something for everyone. Aside from the recently introduced SLO Ultra and La Cuesta Ranch 50k, the MdO races have been the only ultra option for locals. For over 10 years, Pacific Coast Trail Runs has been staging a variety of trail races at MDO, and the newcomer Coastal Trail Runs began their own set of races in 2010.

Wendell, the Coastal Trail Runs race director and accomplished ultrarunner, has four distances for his December event (5 mile, 7 mile, 25k and 50k). All races start from Spooner’s Cove and head south along the flat Bluffs trail for 2 miles before turning up and starting the climb to Valencia Peak. The 5 milers head back down to the finish after climbing a few hundred feet. The remaining racers continue the technical climb to Valencia’s 1,347ft peak. A rocky, steep ascent, Valencia is the most unforgiving of MdO’s three peaks (Valencia, Hazard and Oat’s). Considering the technical terrain and grade, thankfully runners only double back for approximately a quarter mile, before taking a right turn onto smooth single track that descends back into Spooner’s Cove. 

For the 7-8 milers, the adventure is complete after looping back into Spooner’s Cove. The 25/50k runners are just getting warmed up as they are rewarded with a 1,325ft. climb to the top of Hazards Peak. After a quick fill up at the Spooner’s Cove aid station, racers start the three mile climb up Hazards.

Compared to Valencia, the Hazards Peak climb is very runnable, with a more gradual incline. By itself, the climb up Hazards is a definite handful, but after getting beat up by Valencia, it somehow seems a bit more manageable. After hitting the peak, runners take a sharp left turn and start a descent towards the East Boundary trail. After picking up a rubber band to verify that you made it to the turnaround, racers make their way back up again to Hazards Peak and then down the three mile descent back into Spooner’s Cove. For the runners tackling the 25k, thankfully your day is done. For the runners battling the 50k, a second loop of all of the above commences.

The Spooner’s Cove races hold a special place in my heart as this was my first introduction to the 50k distance. I also have some unfinished business on this course, as my first experience was an epic blowup that to this day, was the worst I’ve ever felt in an ultra. Only tackling the 25k this year, I’ll have to seek 50k retribution at a later date.

Thomas and I have been training together since late October, and it’s been great as we’re at relatively similar fitness levels. He still dominates me anytime we do anything remotely fast, and his climbing has definitely improved no doubt in part to a summer packed with awesome hikes (please see blog post on the Tahoe Rim Trail). His HR is also much lower than mine when we run tempos or harder effort workouts. Thinking this through, he’s actually much fitter than me…

With mileage totals barely cracking 50/wk and no long runs over 20 miles in these first few weeks of training, we decided to race the Spooner’s Cove 25k in December. Not having raced anything shorter than a 100 miles since April, minus the annual Turkey Trot in Pinole and a 5k fun run in November, I was excited at the opportunity to run against Thomas on a course and distance that suits us both well.

Race Day Conditions… Wet and Slippery, unfortunately not just how I like it.

Thankfully we didn’t get poured on, but Mother Nature had her way in the lead up to the race, and the ground was left soggy in several patches. After checking in, saying hi to all the local runners and taping up Mark’s feet, a fellow SLO Trailrunner that blistered up from a hike the day before, we were off.

Thomas and I headed out with Greg Scott, a local runner with a sub 15k PR. If he was even remotely fit with a couple long runs under his belt, we were going to get our asses handed to us. This was Greg’s first trail race, and he did not disappoint. We ran together for the first few miles before starting the climb up Valencia. in looking back before the climb, we noticed that Dylan was also running well, likely near the lead of the 5 mile.

Greg started to pull away on the initial ascent, and I decided to push and try to stay close, not knowing if he would implode in the later miles. Thomas was close behind, as was another local runner sporting a UCLA singlet with long hair. Heading up the Valencia climb, I could definitely feel my heartrate increasing, but hoped that the long descent would give me enough rest before climbing up Hazards.

For as rocky as the climb up Valencia is, and it is damn rocky, there were a few hundred meters of the slipperiest mud in SLO County. After falling several times in the first few strides and using every curse word in my vocabulary, I was forced to waddle my way back up to the rocky single track. Thomas and UCLA closed the small gap after the slip-and-slide incident, so I decided to push again to the ascent. Cresting Valencia with another small gap on Thomas and UCLA, I decided to open up on the descent back to Spooner’s Cove. Knowing that Thomas was much faster than me on the Hazards descent, the only slim chance I had to hold him off would be to put some time on him before the turnaround after Hazard’s Peak.

The descent off of Valencia is a newly developed several miles of extremely runnable, buffed out trail. Aside from the 5 mile and 7 mile runners that we shared this section with, you can definitely open up on this stretch of trail.

Trying not to eat shit descending off Valencia…

Making my way back into Spooner’s Cove in second place with Greg likely a couple minutes ahead, I picked up my water bottle and started the climb up to Hazards. My plan was to push this climb hard, as I knew that if Thomas were within even a few minutes before the turnaround, he’d likely pass me on the return. A couple miles into the climb as I was settling into a steady pace, I heard heavy footsteps, as UCLA blasted by me like I was hiking. I had to check my watch a couple times to make sure I wasn’t dogging it, but in fact he may have been literally flying. I’ve never raced with someone that could climb that effortlessly. As he was disappearing into the distance I shouted, “How far back is the German?” He responded with, “Pretty close, probably a minute or two.” If the Vegas lines were open on our race, I would’ve bet that farm on UCLA to hunt Greg down.

Continuing the climb up to Hazard’s I looked back a few times to check on Thomas, but thankfully couldn’t see him. After cresting the climb, Wendell took us down the backside of Hazards towards East Boundary. Likely not noticing that the new trail descending off Valencia added some mileage, we went approximately a mile past the turnaround spot Thomas and I originally planned on. Not knowing how far we were going to descend, at least I was able to see Greg and UCLA on this out-and-back section. Greg had several minutes on me, and UCLA was not too far behind, so I didn’t expect to give either chase.

Hitting the turnaround and picking up my rubber band, I checked my watch so I could approximate how far back Thomas was as I made my way back up to Hazard’s. Climbing back up to the peak, I passed Thomas after a minute and change. Knowing that the climb would be more difficult than the descent, I expected to have around 2+ minutes. Based on his downhill speed, I calculated that this could get ugly.

Hitting the peak for the second time, there were only three miles of downhill running to go. Trying to open up on the descent, with runners making their way up to Hazard’s for the first time, we were forced to tippy toe around each other to avoid contact. With my HR pegged from both climbs up Hazard’s, thankfully these last few miles provided a slight respite to the wind I’d been sucking for the past 45 minutes. Not certain on where Thomas was or if he was closing, I worried about controlling what I could control.

Stay relaxed… don’t over stride… quick turnover…

Looking back a few times throughout the descent, I didn’t spot Thomas but knew he was likely closing. Hitting the road at the end of the trail, runners have less than a half mile of sandy single track to navigate before dropping into Spooner’s Cove. Trying not to slip on the wet and semi-technical descent, thankfully I made it into Spooner’s Cove and sprinted to the finish a hair in front of Thomas, finishing third in 2:13.

Ready to be done…

Catching up after the race, I learned that UCLA had a name. Steven Youngblood is a youngster that recently graduated and had run for the Bruins club team. He finished in 2:11, so he gave back some of the gap he’d built from flying up Hazards, but watching him climb was the highlight of my day. Greg Scott finished in 2:05, which is 11 minutes off the course record, but would’ve likely beat it had the race not been 1.5ish miles long. Thomas finished in 2:16. Ethan finished in 2:39. Beth finished in 2:40. Chad finished in 2:46. Brent finished in 2:55. Tom finished in 3:21.  Marian finished right behind Tom also in 3:21. Mike finished in 3:25, and Jeremiah finished his first 25k in 3:40 after nursing a big leg cramp for 10+ minutes. Emily and Kymberly finished together in 4:19. Dylan smoked the 5 mile race and set the course record in 41:53… guess speed runs in the family.

Beers, snacks and congratulations were shared by all. Had a blast racing around MDO with the SLO Trailrunners, and can’t wait for some redemption at the 50k distance next time.


MDO 1.jpg
Dylan was the fastest by far out of our group today!


What I learned:

  • Light, road shoes are comfy and fast when the trail isn’t soaked, but not the greatest idea when it is
  • Fitness wins! With zero experience racing on the trails, Greg absolutely crushed the field with his sub 15min 5k speed.
  • Control what you can control. I worried too much about where I was in relation to Thomas, that I should’ve focused my energy on moving as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • Shorter races can hurt just as bad, if not worse than an ultra
  • MDO is absolutely majestic. If you haven’t experienced these trails, come visit!

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