Western States 2015 (Luis Escobar and Mauricio Puerto) 6/29/15

Team Escobar and Puerto
Team Escobar and Puerto


“This is not a party. Several of my friends (and your friends) are offering their support. Obviously, everyone is welcome to attend the event however, I cannot have the “beer mile – – BTR – circus” atmosphere anywhere around me at any time.”


For most American ultrarunners, Western States (WS) is the Super Bowl of our sport. Tagged as the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile race in the world, WS started back in 1974. Gordy Ainsleigh was racing the Tevis Cup, a 100 mile endurance horse riding event, and unfortunately…or fortunately for us ultrarunners, his horse went lame. Instead of throwing in the towel, Gordy ran the 100.2 mile course on foot, and Western States was born.

From Squaw Valley to Auburn, WS takes runners through a variety of temperatures, altitude and terrain. Some year’s runners face knee high snow on top of the Escarpment, and 100+ degree temperatures in the canyons. Most veterans also warn to “save your quad’s early” as there is significantly more descent than ascent throughout this point-to-point race. Being a “runner’s 100,” the second half of WS is relatively easier with more stretches of highly runnable sections. Racers that start conservatively can reap huge rewards by being able to run late in this race.

Luis asked if I would be a pacer for him while we caught up before the SLO marathon in April. Yes, this is the same Luis that called me “The worst pacer of all time” less than 24 hours later. Not that Luis needs a pacer. Anyone that has completed over 100 ultras, finished HURT 11 times and Western States 7, surely didn’t need someone tagging along… especially someone that’s never done it before. After a quick calendar check to make sure it would be ok, I jumped at the opportunity to spend some time on the trails with an ultrarunning legend.

Race weekend quickly approached, and Luis had finalized his crew and pacing team:

  • Beverly and the pups
  • Jeff Zahn
  • Crista Scott
  • Peter Brennen
  • Tyler Clemens
  • Jadd Martinez

After a busy week in Phoenix, I arrived back into SLO on Thursday and then trekked up north after finishing up some work in the office. Except for an accident that cost over an hour, the trip was relatively uneventful, and I was able to catch a good night of sleep and sneak an early morning workout in before heading up to Squaw.

Our initial plans were to meet up as a group at 9am so we could gameplan for the weekend and still have time to run in the Montrail Uphill 6k race. Pulling into the parking lot, I saw Thomas Reiss and his sons loosening up to run. Thomas was preparing to pace Brett Rivers the following day, so I sure hope he was well rested.

We gathered at Starbucks, and were greeted by Pat Sweeny and Jess Soco. Pat was at WS to crew and pace for a friend, and Jess had literally hiked down off her trip across the PCT to meet us for the evening… perfect timing!

We worked through some logistics, Peter slammed a huge breakfast sandwich about 3 minutes before the race… the iron tummies of ultrarunners… and we learned that Mauricio would need a crew and pacers as his team fell through. We divvied up crew/pacing responsibilities, found out that Ben Holmes would also be joining us on Saturday, and got ready for the Montrail 6k Uphill Challenge.

With two weeks before the Santa Barbara 100, this was my last weekend of training before my taper. As much as I would’ve liked to race this event, I thought it best to take my time and enjoy the 6K climb up to the top of Squaw Peak. Hanging out at the starting line, I ran into Tera and Jody who were in Squaw for Eric’s big day. We caught up briefly and started our nearly 2,000ft climb, in less than 3.5 miles.

Some of the front runners shot off the line like they ditched the dinner bill. Tera went out strong, and I settled in somewhere in the middle of the pack. The first mile was relatively flat, and we were cheered on by the likes of Alex Varner and Stephanie Howe. Mile 2 got real, with 565ft of climb and some slight bouldering. The last 1.4 miles was another 1,000ft of quad burning climb, up slick rockface, over boulders and finishing at 8,000ft. The views from the peak were incredible, snapped a few pics and headed out for some more miles with Mr. Brennen.

Terrible way to spend a Friday!
Terrible way to spend a Friday!

Peter knows Squaw well. He pointed out various peaks and routes that he routinely charges down when there’s snow on the mountains. Obviously, we took the Western States trail, and ran over beautiful terrain for several miles, before heading back to catch the pre-race meeting at 1:00pm. The air and terrain was very dry from the low amount of winter snowfall. We kicked up a lot of dirt heading out on the singletrack, and I couldn’t help but think how difficult this would be for the runners sucking dust the following day.

Polaroid CUBE
Checking out the WS trail with Peter

As we approached the turnaround point, we took a sharp turn and came across a wet patch of trail. Thinking nothing of it compared to the dry surrounding terrain, I charged right through. To my surprise, my right leg drops balls deep into thick sludge, nearly eating my shoe. After slowly pulling my leg out of the muck, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the runners that would unfortunately pull this exact same move less than 24 hours later.

After the turnaround, Pete and I take what we thought was a shortcut. To reiterate from my fast packing post, my sense of direction is definitely not a strength… if anything, it’s downright dangerous.

So we get lost…

You’d think from the top of a mountain, with the lodge in the ONLY valley even remotely close, that aiming down would work itself out. Obviously, you’ve never followed me on a run before. Pete finally saw some hikers making their way down the trail several hundred meters to our right… weird how he spotted that young, tan, athletic girl from so far away. Thankfully, we were able to make our way back towards civilization, but the afternoon sun was starting to beat down.

Making good time down the switchbacks, Pete makes an abrupt stop and darts off trail. Not certain on where he was going, but definitely not looking to get lost again, I follow closely behind and find Senor Brennan stripping down to his skivvies and jumping into a makeshift pond. FYI… any ”pond” fed by runoff at over 8,000 feet, probably isn’t going to be very spa-like. Pretty sure I screamed like a little girl for a few minutes, but that Antarctic water sure did cool us down enough to make the remaining run bearable.

We made it back into the valley with a few minutes to spare before the pre-race meeting. I scarfed down a hummus sandwich, it’s better than you think non-vegetarians, and hustled over for pre-race details.

With zero WS finishes under my belt and seven WS buckles on his, I definitely wasn’t going to tell Luis anything he didn’t already know about this course, but thought there may be some updates at the pre-race meeting worth listening to. Minus a couple aid stations that were pulled from the course, not much seemed to be different than years past. We watched some videos, listened to a multitude of WS and Tevis board members and sweated like pigs for a couple hours.

Our team gathered up for an early pre-race dinner at the pizza joint in the Squaw complex. Tyler and I worked our way throughout the outdoor seating area, eyeing near finished tables like hawks. We came across a solo diner, and chatted with him for a bit. Jorge was traveling the states in between finishing up a Master’s degree. He had heard of Dirtbag Runners and was interested in seeing the course. We brought him on the team, gave him my seen-better-days hat, and another crew member was added.

We spent the remainder of the evening “carbo loading” as Dirtbags tend to do, listening to stories about the PCT and Pat’s adventures from trekking across the states.

How the hell does this watch work???
How the hell does this watch work???

The 4:30am wakeup alarm was glorious! I spent a few early morning minutes stumbling around trying to pack up and wake up before the race start. At 4:45, with only 15 minutes till the shotgun sendoff, I see Mauricio at our camp. I was seriously nervous for him, but he seemed completely content taking his time. I guess that’s the zen state one falls into before the start of his second event in the Last Great Race.

Ultrarunners are a weird breed. Some say neurotic, others say slightly psychotic, but all agree you need some serious Cajones to attempt a 100 mile race. Now imagine racing five mountain 100 mile races, all within the summer months, and throw in an additional 135+ miles of running in 120+ degree heat in Death Valley, and you’ve got yourself the Last Great Race + Badwater.

We hustle over to the starting line to snap a few photos and wave farewell to these 375ish brave souls. Once the runners were off, we made quick time packing up and traveling down to Auburn. After dropping off cars at the finish line, we separated into two crew vehicles which would follow both Mauricio and Luis throughout the day. Team Mauricio consisted of Pete, Crista, Tyler and Jorge. Team Escobar consisted of Jeff and I, with Ben planning to meet us at Foresthill (Mile 62).

Start of the 2015 Western States
Start of the 2015 Western States


Robinson Flat (Mile 30)

The first location where crews normally meet runners is Robinson Flat. After working their way up the 2,000ft+ climb to the Escarpment, racers spend the next 30 miles running through the high country, trying to “take it easy.” Robinson Flat was an absolute zoo! There were literally hundreds of fans, friends, family members, crew and pacers lining only a few hundred meters of trail. Unfortunately we missed the lead pack, but it was an awesome experience watching countless runners and crew work together like a Nascar pit stop. Gels, S Caps, ice sponge baths and all types of food was stuffed into packs and mouths, while runners were pushed back out onto the course.

It’s imperative that heat management be taken seriously for all runners at Robinson Flat. The 25 miles from RF to Michigan Bluff (MB) are the most difficult miles in Western States. Runners will climb and descend thousands of feet before MB, into remote canyons with temperatures topping 100 degrees.

Luis was the first of our group to arrive and he didn’t waste much time. We sat him down, poured some coconut water down his throat, packed an ice bandana around his neck, put his hot weather cap on and kicked him back out onto the course. He looked relatively good, or as good as you could expect for someone a third of the way through WS.

We waited impatiently for Mauricio as it started to get late. There is a hard cutoff at RF, and if a runner is not out of the aid station before a given time, the individual is immediately pulled from the race. We knew Mauricio would be taking his time considering the 100 miler he ran only a couple weeks before, and the four more he would have after WS, but the clock started to count down. With only 15 minutes to spare, Mauricio makes his way into RF. We didn’t waste any time getting him prepped for the canyons and kicking his ass back out onto the course.


Michigan Bluff (Mile 55)

After completing more than half of the race, along with the dreaded canyons, runners make their way into Michigan Bluff. MB is an awesome aid station location, with friends, family, crew and pacers scattered throughout several hundred meters of an old asphalt road. Jeff and I made it into RF in time to watch the lead women, and some of the top men come through. The day hadn’t been extremely hot by WS standards, but word on the streets was the heat had hit early in the day. Runners normally are able to make it into RF fairly unscathed, running in moderate temps, but this year it was hot throughout the high country.

We spent several hours hanging out, trying to check on the status of runners as we set up camp next to the livetracking team. Luis was again the first to make it into Michigan Bluff, and he was starting to show the signs of a battered ultrarunner. He laid down on the road, someone found him a hamburger, we switched out his heat gear and prepped him for the late night hours. Ben would be pacing Luis in less than 7 runnable miles, so we reminded him to keep eating and drinking and we’d catch him in a few.

Jeff, Pat, Jorge and I left immediately for Foresthill after Luis departed from MB, as we only had 1.5-2 hours to get to the next aid station, find Ben, and track down some damn chocolate milk that Luis demanded. Thankfully, Ben was ready to rock, as we hadn’t had reception in hours and had to guestimate a time to meet up at Foresthill.


Foresthill (Mile 62)

The Foresthill (FH) aid station is set up at a school, and is packed with fans, friends and crew, as this is the first location that runners can pick up their pacer. Fortunately, there are some stores and restaurants around for famished crew, and FH marks the start of a very runnable 38ish miles to the finish.

A pacers duty is many. You are tasked with running/hiking/walking/crawling behind your runner, offering words of encouragement, constantly reminding your runner to eat and drink, keep them awake if needed, be a psychologist, be a drill sergeant, be a shoulder to cry on, but most importantly keep them moving towards the finish.

Ben was Luis’ first pacer. He picked up Luis outside of FH and Jeff, Jorge and I set up a makeshift aid station a half mile past the school. Beverly, Luis’ son and his girlfriend also made it out to cheer Luis on, so we had a full house waiting their arrival. Wondering why they were taking so long to cover 2 miles, Luis and Ben roll in after having stopped by a makeshift aid station to rehydrate… they hit a goddamn bar and had a drink! We pack Luis up quick, remind Ben to make sure he eats and drinks, and send team 150 on their way.


Rucky Chucky River Crossing (Mile 78)

The Rucky Chucky aid station is interesting as beaten down runners near the 80 mile mark and then have to cross a river. Considering California’s drought, what many years is a river only crossable by raft, runners were able to cross this year with the assistance of only a rope and an awesome group of volunteers. For a few hours however, the water level was extremely high, as water is released from the dam daily so river rafting expeditions can continue throughout the summer.

Jeff, Jorge and I made our way down to the river and arrived with what we estimated was a couple hours to spare. Jorge and I passed out for an hour or two on the ground… best hourish of sleep I’ve had in a while! Jeff kept watch armed with Red Bull, and waited on Ben and Luis to arrive.

Team Escobar made their way down to the aid station somewhere around 3:30am. Luis looked like hammered poo and immediately passed out on a cot. We caught up with Ben and found out that he hadn’t been eating or drinking much since Foresthill. Nutrition is key in 100 milers, and even more important is the consistency in getting fuel into the body. We needed to get some food into Luis ASAP, as he was starting to look pretty damn comfortable on that cot. Sausage, quesadillas, pretzels, chips and anything else he would tolerate was shoved into his mouth.

After about 30 minutes, Mauricio arrived… Not sure if it was the 500 calories or Mauricio catching up to him, but Luis shot up and decided to get moving.

My first pacing experience was pretty damn memorable. I was privileged to spend 6ish hours with Luis working our way towards the Placer track. Some things are meant to stay on the trail, so the details of our time together will stay between us. One thing to say about Luis from watching him finish WS, is that he’s all heart. You don’t see many runners come back from the dead at mile 78, and you definitely don’t expect those runners to pass 37 racers in the last 22 miles. In my opinion, we use the word “inspiring” too much in our society. Rarely do I have the experience to be truly inspired to the core, and Luis offered me that experience at WS.

Not liking the nuts he just ate...
Not liking the nuts he just ate…
Gotta love those down hills at mile 90!
Gotta love those down hills at mile 90!

After watching Luis finish, I cleaned up briefly, caught Mauricio’s excellent finish, and had a pint with the team before trekking back home.

What I learned:

  • Both Mauricio and Luis are gritty bastards!
  • Hummus sandwiches are awesome… even if you eat them for two days straight.
  • Only one beer was consumed during crew and pacing duties, and this was at mile 99
Beer at mile 99...why, thank you!
Beer at mile 99…why, thank you!
  • Eat, drink, electrolytes, repeat…
  • Western States is an experience every trail runner needs to attend

2015 Born to Run

“I challenge you to take off your Garmin’s, throw them on the ground and smash them!!!”

-Luis Escobar ranting about the awesomeness of Suunto, or just bitching about technology…

Not sure what the hell is going on in this picture, but it pretty much sums up BTR perfectly!
Not sure what the hell is going on in this picture, but it pretty much sums up BTR perfectly!


What is this Born to Run race all about??? Definitely difficult to describe in words, I’ll try my best to put this into an equation for all the mathematicians out there.


Woodstock + Burning Man + Incredible Burritos + Mucho Running + a Shit Ton of Mariachi Music = Born to Run


With the growth of ultrarunning brings more races, more sponsorship, more press and more bells and whistles. Companies like Irunfar and Ultralive now offer real-time feeds of races. You can check out uploaded race pictures, read up-to-date tweets from spectators on the course and even watch your favorite runner blast through an aid station live over the internet. Some say all the popularity and press surrounding our sport takes away from its old school appeal.

Luis Escobar has done an incredible job directing races that protect and celebrate ultrarunning’s old school roots. Don’t expect a bag full of swag, a course map or much toilet paper in the shitters. Luis truly embodies the essence of “Corre Libre,” and his focus on self-reliance is sorely needed in our current air-conditioned society.

Whether or not you are brand new to trail running or a grizzled veteran with multiple 100’s under your belt, Born to Run is an experience you need to attend! With more luchador masks than a Mexican wrestling marathon on Sabado Gigante and the best burritos this side of Guadalajara, you can’t help but smile ear-to-ear when pulling onto the ranch.

My Born to Run weekend started early on Friday morning, as I decided not to face the mini storm that was predicted to roll through Thursday night. Carly and I packed up our camping gear, some light snacks and plenty of refreshments for post-race festivities…

Carly and I arrived at the ranch around 9:00am. We pulled in right behind Michelle Evans, who was planning to head out with Bobby to a wedding on Saturday, only to return Sunday to help sweep the course and clean up. Hope they brought back a lot of bleach! We checked in with Beverly, and headed onto the ranch to stake out some prime real estate.

For those of you thinking about camping out at Born to Run, which is an absolute must in my opinion, I’m going to offer up a few pointers on choosing the right location:


“I’m not entirely sure about this Born to Run thing. I want to try it out, but am a little nervous if I’ll enjoy it.”

There is plenty of space, far enough away from the main camp, for you to have some privacy and still be in easy walking distance to the action (drive past the main camp and look for a comfortable site past the shitters).


“We’re bringing in a crew to support our runner doing the 200 miler. We need to be able to set out enough food, extra socks and likely some morphine in a location our runner will have easy access to.”

Set up somewhere between the main camp and the turnoff to begin exiting the ranch. During the race you’ll pass by your campsite on each loop, have easy access to all your needs, and there’s free beer at the Patagonia and ZAP THREADS tents post-race. Just remember that the closer to the main camp you are, the louder the mariachi music.


“You mean there’s running going on this weekend? I’m just here to drink Fireball and dance with Whiskey Jerry!”

Set up as close to the stage as humanly possible!


After setting up our camp site in the exact spot we scored in 2014, Carly and I spent the rest of the morning relaxing and catching up with fellow Dirtbags. We watched Gregorio dominate the Archery Race, met some new Dirtbags and got front row spots for the Bolla Races.

The Beer Mile kicked off at 4:00pm and I was looking forward to a rematch with Pat Sweeny. Recently returning from his ridiculously impressive cross country run, I assumed he was still in recovery mode. Never sleep on Pat and a solid beer mile performance.

We all gathered around the start line, swore the Beer Mile Oath and commenced to pounding! I finished the first lap in second behind Rob Mccool, who was literally on sub 6 pace. Rob slowed on the second lap, and I was fortunate to catch up, with Pat close behind. As most veteran Beer Milers can attest, the third lap is where the pain really starts to set in. Keeping the beer down at this point is crucial, as burping and belly sloshing is a given. The pace is also important on laps 3-4, as redlining can lead to seeing your lunch for the second time.

Carly helping to set the pace...
Carly helping to set the pace…

Thankfully, the third and fourth laps were uneventful, except for Carly crisscrossing in front of me about 47 times, and my stomach feeling like Sigorney Weaver in Aliens. I crossed the finish in an unofficial 6:48ish, with Pat close in second. There’s not many amigos out there, and maybe only one, that could run 3,000+ miles and then days later drop a sub 7 beer mile. Cat Bradley, the ladies champ, and I took a celebratory lap around the camp in luchador mask and cape, and all the participants took some great pictures on the stage. We also received some absolutely rad luchador bottle openers for the win.

Successful Beer Milers!
Successful Beer Milers!

Kris, Alejandra and my Dad arrived shortly after the conclusion of the beer mile. Not sure if a dad can really be proud of watching his son “win” a beer mile, so maybe it was best that they were a little late to the ranch.

After getting situated, we made our way back to the main camp to witness the awesomeness that was “The 0.0 mile Race.” This one was a real nail biter, with mere milliseconds separating first from last.

We cheered as the 100 milers started their journey at 6:00pm. There were some solid runners toeing the line in this race, and I couldn’t wait to cheer on fellow Physiophyx ambassador Bryan Toro, along with Ben Holmes and Kevin Cody on their virgin 100 mile race.

We later munched on our first round of burritos for the weekend. Pretty sure our group of 4.5 put down close to 20 burritos in two short days. DAMN, that’s one good burrito!

After dinner, we hung out and listened to the Mother Corn Shuckers, and donated some Jello shots to keep the dance party going. We called it an early night, as Alejandra and I would be racing at 6:00am the next morning.

If you haven’t had the exhilarating experience of waking from a deep slumber to a shot gun blast and mariachi music blaring loud enough to make Univision jealous, I’d highly recommend it… No coffee needed! At 4:45am, Sheriff Escobar fired off his weapon and tells everyone to, “Get up! Come check in. Be at the start line at 5:45… and someone bring me some Alka-Seltzer!”

Alejandra and I got ready, took our pre-race poops and made our way to the main camp.

With 400-500 runners toeing the starting line (10 mile, 30 miler and 60 milers all started together), it was important to start out quickly as to not be caught sucking dust for the first 15 minutes. We clicked off a couple sub 7 minute miles, and thankfully were able to separate a bit from the large group behind. Loren Davis, a recent Montana transplant and excellent runner, and I shared the first 5 miles and got a chance to catch up on Bozeman’s skimo and trail scene. There were a handful of runners hammering the first loop, and unfortunately we couldn’t tell where we stood in the 30 miler.

Claire Mellein, a local running stud, caught up halfway through the first loop, and decided to zoom right past us. Feeling relatively loose and springy…maybe it was remnants from the beer mile, I decided to run with her and we made some great time completing the first loop in 1:09.

The second loop “yellow” is a bit hillier and a bit longer, according to most GPS’. The start of this loop is a mile climb, with another significant climb at mile 7. Claire had spent some extra time at the aid station, so I ran this loop mostly solo, sitting somewhere in the top 5. I caught up to senor Sweeny around mile 17, as he was starting to feel the effects of 3,000+ recent road miles. Right after passing Pat he hollers out, “You know, everyone that’s won the beer mile has also won the 50k the next day. No pressure!”

Fortunately, I didn’t feel much pressure as my strengths in ultras (and there aren’t many) definitely don’t reside anywhere even remotely near speed. After passing Pat, there was a short climb and then a pretty nasty descent at a high percentage grade. Moving through the descent, I pass George Plomarity from Patagonia and ask him what he’s up to, “Just checking out the course and getting a few miles in!” Dream job… I think so!

Yellow Loop completed in 1:27

The final loop is shorter and faster, with only one significant incline from miles 6-8. Only taking 2 gels prior to the start of the 3rd lap, I was a little nervous that the lack of calories might catch up, but thankfully I had a couple extra gels just in case things started to go sour. A couple miles into the final lap, I see 2nd place in the far distance, which I estimated to be about 5 minutes ahead. I tried to put some good work in over the next several miles, cresting the final hill at mile 28, and ready to make a push for 2nd over the last two downhill/flat miles.

Hello cramps!

Definitely my fault for thinking I could breeze through nutrition and hydration for this “short” race. With 2nd place within striking distance, I couldn’t get my damn legs moving without hobbling every few strides. Thankfully the legs loosened up for the last mile, but I still had to play the game of running up to the cramping line and then pulling back. Making one last anemic push, Joe Devreese quickly looked back and easily outkicked me to finish 7 seconds ahead in a strong 2nd place.

Finishing the 30ish mile in 3:37 (7:06/mile pace with 3,000+ ft vert) but cramping the last two miles, I needed to rehydrate quickly! After pounding 30 ounces of Physiophyx (two scoops @ 320 calories), I made my way over to the Patagonia tent to continue post-race hydration. Having a beer at 9:45ish on a Saturday is usually reserved for college football tailgating, but this is Born to Run!

After cleaning up and having another incredible burrito for brunch, we made our way back to the main camp to enjoy the day. We cheered on Arnoldo Arrieta and Oswaldo Lopez, the 200 mile and 100 mile champions, watched some incredible wrestling matches with Crista in full penguin suit, and witnessed an awesome Dirtbag Runners talent show. The AZ contingent’s performance was nothing short of amazing. Nearly certain they were singing a bluegrass, backcountry hillbilly tune, my jaw dropped when I heard, “My neck, my back, lick my pussy and my crack!” Maybe it was the twangy voice, the Deliverance inspired guitar work or the background dancers, but it just sounded so right.

We called it an early night and made our way back to camp to relax and catch some shuteye. I caught up with Peter and Crista over a bottle from my favorite SLO winery, Saucalito Canyon. Had some reservations about Tom taking over winemaking operations several years back at such a young age, but he has done an outstanding job creating some incredible zin’s and blends. Try them out next time you’re in town.

We woke up early, packed up camp, headed north and had a great breakfast at Del Monte Café before wishing my Dad and Kris safe travels

Alejandra's first trail race!
Alejandra’s first trail race!


What I learned:

  • Nutrition and hydration matter… don’t be an idiot and fuel accordingly!
  • I want a Born to Run burrito right now!
  • Crista looks amazing in a penguin suit!
  • I’m SO PROUD that Alejandra finished her first trail race! She took an early spill but bounced right back up and kept moving.
  • Whisky Jerry is still looking for that bottle of Jack that was taken away…

San Luis Obispo Half Marathon Pacing Weekend (4-26-15)

“You’re the worst pacer of ALL TIME!!!”
(Luis Escobar at mile 9ish of the SLO Half Marathon)

The numbers only dwindled from here...
The numbers only dwindled from here…


When you spend your time running in the mountains, you get slow. At least that’s the excuse I’ve been using the past couple of years when describing my road running abilities. Sure it’s easy to forget about pace when you’re trudging up a root-infested jungle in Oahu, or descending a laughable grade in the Santa Barbara backcountry, but speed matters. The “newbies” dominating the sport of ultrarunning over the past several years have not been the grizzled veterans that you hear legendary stories about, but rather recently converted roadies with marathon PR’s in the 2:15-2:25 range. These guys and gals can flat out move!

Considering I’ve never “raced” a marathon before… completed two over the past couple years as the second of back-to-back long training runs (marathon PR of 3:15), I’m really excited to work through an actual training block and race CIM in December. Granted, I’m sneaking in the Santa Barbara 100 in July and the Born to Run 30 mile in mid-May, but these will be my last two ultras of the season, before marathon-specific training kicks off.

To get a little taste of the roads but mainly because I completely support Samantha Alderson-Pruitt and the amazing race she directs each April, I connected with her team to volunteer as a pacer this year. Considering the massive amount of road miles accumulated over the past couple of years and my extensive pacing resume (<5% of total miles and 0), I felt entirely confident to assist wherever needed. Receiving the confirmation email and request to lead the 1:30 half marathon pace group, I jumped on the opportunity and then quickly looked online to find out how fast this pace is… 6:52 per mile.

Hmmm… my pace for Nine Trails was 12:00/mile and I blazed through HURT at a blistering 17:00/mile. Better get my ass on the roads and see what 6:52 feels like!

Leading up to the race on 4/26, I nervously went out for a few “tempo” runs to test my fitness and comfort level at a 6:52 pace. Most road runners define a tempo run as a set distance, usually 4-12 miles, ran at a relatively uncomfortable, but even pace (slightly slower than 10k race pace). My tempo runs did not fall into this definition… 7:15, 6:30, 6:45, 7:00, 6:15… this pacing thing was going to get ugly.

The Saturday before race day, I had volunteered to work the info/pace booth at the SLO marathon gazeebo, and my buddy Javier was running the 5k at the same location. Nursing a hangover from free drinks at the MindBody new campus kickoff (not the best way to carbo-load for this lightweight) on Friday evening, this was going to be a long day of cheering and volunteering.

The weather gods must have been laughing at us, as the storm that rolled through SLO on Saturday morning decided to dump for only the 30 minutes while Javier raced. After drying out and grabbing a quick breakfast at Del Monte Café (if you haven’t eaten breakfast here before, do so), I headed back to the gazebo to check in with the pace group and get my volunteering on.

After getting our lime green shirts and pace sticks with corresponding times attached, we started to introduce ourselves to the rest of the group. Seemingly everyone I talked with had pacing experience and a plan for how they were going to execute. I tried to dodge the questions of, “so how many times have you paced? How many halfs/marathons have you raced? What’s your plan? Are you going to bank time in the early miles so you can weather the hills?” One of our team members asked, “You’re pacing the 1:30 group so you must have a fast PR in the half. What is it? 1:25? Faster?” I told him the only answer I had… “No idea. Haven’t ran a half marathon in years and I only train on trails.” His look didn’t inspire much confidence for Sunday’s event.

After making my way through the vendor booth and testing every fluid-based freebie to try and settle my stomach, I made it to the pace/info booth for the start of what I assumed to be a laid back six hour shift… One shouldn’t assume!

After getting a 33 second orientation from Larry on how to track and sell the wristbands for the race morning shuttle, hey I thought this was the info/pace booth, Dom and I were released to the wild. For the next six hours, we were on our feet giving directions, talking about pacing and trying to determine the best options for getting runners to-and-from the start/finish lines, considering the two different shuttle pick up locations. Answering a myriad of questions by a seemingly endless line of runners, while dealing with howling winds and a pounding, self-induced headache is an excellent way to spend a Saturday!

After finishing up our shift, man I have a lot more respect for race volunteers, Alejandra, Javier and I mowed down some Mandarin Gourmet takeout, and hit the sack at 8:30pm for an early morning wakeup.

Sunday morning arrived early. Fortunately, Javier was able to drop off Alejandra and I close to the start (she was racing the half), and we hustled over to check-in and turn in our drop bags. Rocking my stick and 1:30 pace group sign, I kissed Alejandra good luck and hustled over to the start corrals to look for a short shitter line. Fortunately, the elite runners had their own toilet and I planned to sneak in for a quick one before the gun. Unfortunately, all the elites were thinking the same thing I was and I didn’t want to be the “turd” holding them back from a podium finish.

Deciding to hold it, damn if this were only an ultra I could slip off the trail in the first 5 minutes to fertilize the native plants, I met up with Matt Ruane, our co-pacer to discuss strategy. “I’m going to run and figure out if I need to slow down or speed up as the race goes on…” Thank god Matt’s done this a few times!

At 6:45am we were off! 6:33…6:47…6:42…7:09 (up Johnson st.)… hey this pacing thing isn’t too bad. Sure, I unknowingly sped up on all the “hills” and had to stop several times after realizing I had been chatting with some runners that were moving too quick for our group, but overall felt we were holding a pace that should get everyone in under 1:30.

Matt and I chatted over the first few miles, when I wasn’t darting up the hills like a jackass, discussing training/racing and his talents for pushing a stroller up Valencia Peak at Montano de Oro… seriously, how the hell do you that?


We were right on pace to break 1:30 and I was ecstatic! Unfortunately, the tailwind that had assisted our group on the first 6.6 miles quickly flipped to a headwind at the turn, and people started to suffer.


Assumed a slower mile might help to regroup the troops so we could prepare for the upcoming hills… One shouldn’t assume! Our pace group had officially broken after 7 miles.

With no one around, literally no one around, and a headwind coupled with several “hilly” miles ahead, I decided to speed up and offer support to other runners struggling on the backend of the race.


Running completely by myself at this point, I tried to pass the time by complementing the oncoming runners, as we were on the out-and-back portion of the race. “Great job! Looking good! Nice work!” This didn’t help combat the onslaught of awkward looks received, as I was the only guy running with a pacing stick and not a soul around.


Always one for a few words of encouragement, I look up on the side of the road and see Luis Escobar snapping photos next to budding grapevines, “You’re the worst pacer of ALL TIME!”


Turned right onto the Railroad trail and caught up to several runners. Tried to make some small talk with two of the elite women we ran into, but realized that it’s probably safe to shut up and let the runners suffer in peace and quiet.

6:47, 6:51…

Left the gals as we made it into downtown and caught up with a runner wearing a Cal Poly water polo jersey. He was moving pretty well, but was definitely suffering. Decided to stay with him and push him over the last 1.1ish mile to the finish.


We crested the last hill with less than .5 miles to go. The water polo player was struggling, and I was starting to lay into him. “Come on! Let’s go! What are you worth? Push! Come on! Go!” We covered the last .5 miles in 5:20ish pace, with me berating the young kid for the entirety of his last half mile. We finished in 1:28 and change, a PR for the water polo player, and thankfully under our 1:30 goal.

After downing 30 ounces of Physiophyx, taking a quick wet wipe shower and congratulating Prashant on an awesome 1:21 finish, I hustled back to the fence to watch Alejandra finish. She came in with a PR, on a challenging and windy course. Super proud of her!

We finished up the afternoon at the Morris & Garritano aid station, eating some bbq and cheering on the marathoners. Terrible way to spend a Sunday!


Alejandra setting a new PR!
Alejandra setting a new PR!


What I Learned…

  • Pacing is not easy
  • Training for the specificity of the race is important (i.e. don’t spend all your time in the mountains if you want to pace on the roads)
  • Finding a bathroom before a road race is critical
  • I may very well be the worst pacer of all time

Nine Trails 35 Mile Endurance Run (March 28th)

“If you’re interested in a humbling experience or just plain want to get your ass handed to you, I’ve got just the race for ya!”

I’m writing the beginning of this blog while sitting near the top of Gibraltar Rd. in Santa Barbara, watching a beautiful sunset, preparing for my first race post HURT.

Terrible view to end the night

Partially because I felt gutted after racing 8 ultras in 2014, mainly because I wanted to spend some free weekends enjoying the Central Coast with Alejandra and Carly, and somewhat because the chafing from ass-to-ankle looked like I had worn out my season pass to “The Sandpaper Amusement Park,” I decided to take a month off of training after we returned from Hawaii. Not setting the alarm for 5:00am on the weekends, biking into downtown for coffee on Sunday mornings and being able to volunteer at Rancho San Juan definitely helped to recharge the batteries after nearly two years of training and racing.

Jumping back on the horse in late February, I knew there wouldn’t be much time to prepare for Nine Trails, but thankfully there’s not much one can do to prepare for this damn race. After work on Friday I headed down to Santa Barbara to check in for the race, munch on some great Mexican food and scope out a prime location to car camp for the night.

Considering the Mexican food in San Luis Obispo is “Gringo Approved” at best, I was excited to try out the local fare in Santa Barbara. Luis sent out an email for an informal pre-race dinner, and considering the comida that his sister throws down at the Allwedoisrun events, I trusted that his recommendation for Las Agaves wouldn’t disappoint. If you haven’t made your way down to this taqueria/restaurant on Milpas St. in SB, please do. The food was excellent and I can vouch for everything except the hot sauce. Now there’s not much I won’t eat or drink the night before a race, and I love my food retardedly spicy 99% of the time, but please trust me to stick with the mild-to-medium salsa before a race. Unfortunately, Luis doesn’t provide wet wipes with the bib numbers…

After catching up with some fellow Dirtbags and meeting Tony Miller from the PhysioPhyx team, I headed up to Gibraltar Road to stake out some prime real estate for the evening. Luis and his caravan arrived shortly after, and we spent the next 30 minutes helping set up the 9 mile/27 mile aid station. I knew we were in great hands when I saw the volunteer crew of Crista, Peter, Michelle, Bobby, Chris Rios and Beverly show up. Also knowing that we had Chris Norling, John Vanderpot and Luis racing the next morning, I was confident there wouldn’t be too much Fireball being passed around.

We hung out under the Escobar’s extra-large canopy for the remainder of the evening sharing stories, petting their awesome Corgi with nubs for legs, and having a few beers. I started to get nervous watching Luis deny Rios’ offering of cerveza, as I’ve heard the horror stories of this race. Did Luis know something I didn’t? He’s hydrating the night before this “relatively short” 35 mile race. Should I put my beer down… My fears were allayed when we found out that Luis was nursing a solid hangover from the night before.

I hit the sack early, as I had just returned from a work trip to Baltimore and sorely needed to catch up on some Z’s. Sleeping soundly like a log, it normally takes an act of God to wake me up, and being rolled into the side of your car against your will is a great way to do it at 2:00am! The wind was absolutely howling in the middle of the night, moving my car back and forth like a cat playing with a dead mouse, and enough to upend Luis’ canopy that we had anchored down with heavy stakes only a few hours earlier. After helping to salvage our aid station, I tried to get back to sleep for a few minutes before our 4:45 wake up call.

Hustling down to the start location, Nine Trails begins at the water treatment plant on San Rocque road. There is little parking available, so I had planned on parking down the hill and catching a ride by another of the awesome volunteers offering their time to assist at the crack of dawn. Not sure if it was the windy road, the back-and-forth of the 2:00am wind party, Los Agaves’ pre-race feast or a combination of the three, but I had to stop to “fertilize” Santa Barbara’s beautiful landscape multiple times before sunrise.

Not entirely sure where to meet our shuttle, I knew I’d found the location spotting the countless 50/100 mile stickers on the back of multiple cars. With shorts around my ankles and lubing up all the same spots that hurt for days after HURT, Joanie’s taxi service showed up at the perfect time! Trying not to grease down her seat, it was great to see a familiar face and catch up for a few minutes before heading out for 35 miles of fun.

After checking in with Mannly, BS’ing with Jody Chase and Glenn Ohler, asking Van Mcarty if I could “borrow” his headlamp and reciting our favorite pre-race quote, “If I get lost, hurt or die… it’s my own damn fault. Amen,” we were off.

As expected, Van took off like a bat out of hell, followed closely by Bryan Toro. I attempted to stick with these guys for the first couple of miles, not because of race strategy, but because it was dark as hell and I couldn’t see a thing without leeching off Van’s headlamp. As the sun began to rise, I felt comfortable “letting” Van and Bryan pull away, along with a few others, as I tried to find a pace that was uncomfortably relaxed. Knowing we had some big climbs and a long day in the heat ahead of us, I tried my best to stave off the adrenaline rush that hits early in each race and find a pace that I could theoretically hold for the remainder of the day.

My sense of direction is poor-to-borderline-dangerous at best, but thankfully I didn’t get lost in the early miles as Sean Garbutt, Jack Rosenfield and I had some experience marking the first 9 miles (or 18 total miles as this was an out-and-back) of the trail before the 2014 race. There are two big climbs before the first aid station, with the first being a mix of technical switch backs and semi-runnable single-track. Joanie magically teleported to man the 5ish mile water-only aid station after the first big ascent. The second climb is relatively short yet nasty, with a steep grade that finally spits you out onto the pavement of Gibraltar Rd.

Pulling into the first aid station I was met by Ricardo Ramirez, a ridiculously fast So. Cal runner and Kevin Cody, who both looked incredibly strong. Forgetting to pack more than 6 GU’s as I assumed we’d have some at the aid stations (do not assume when racing an ultra), I quickly learned that Snickers would be nutrition choice for the day.

Heading down the mountain behind Gibraltar, the remaining 8ish miles before the turn would be relatively uncharted terrain, as we did encounter a bit of the Red Rock course heading down to Romero Canyon. I tried to stay relaxed on the big descent behind Gibraltar, knowing that blown quads would be a recipe for disaster on the big ass climb back up the mountain. I also spent some time trying to guestimate the number of calories in a mini-Snickers and determining how many I’d need to eat each hour to stave off from bonking.

Entering Romero Canyon aid station
Entering Romero Canyon aid station

Approximately a mile from the Romero Canyon aid station, I saw Van cruising up the big climb looking really determined. He definitely looked as if he’d learned something from his last Nine Trails experience, and I didn’t expect to see him again till the finish. Bryan followed close behind Van, with Daniel Fawcett and Claire Mellein each within striking distance. After topping off my water bottles, grabbing another handful of Snickers, saying hi to Bobby and Michelle and thanking the volunteers, I headed back up the ridiculous Romero Canyon climb.

Hi Michelle!
Hi Michelle!

As the elevation increased on the ascent from Romero Canyon, so did the temperature. Climbing back up from Romero and over the next 5-7 miles, I crossed paths with the rest of the field. There were mostly smiles, and a handful of “Looking goods” and “Keep it ups.” The community is what so many of us enjoy about the sport of ultrarunning, as we all suffer through these races together. Giving words of encouragement is something I love to do when out on the trails, and thankfully was able to knock these out early, as talking isn’t high on my priority list for the last few miles of a race.

Heading back up to the Gibraltor aid station at mile 27, I was able to catch Daniel and Claire. Daniel fought through some intense cramping, and was able to pull out a great finish! Claire ran the entire course without water or nutrition, absolutely blowing my mind! Pulling into the last aid station, Crista filled up my water and thankfully topped off my “just in case” soft flask, that helped to stave off cramping as the last couple of hours were hot and technical.

Following the long pavement climb up to the trailhead, there’s a steep descent, one last big climb, and then several miles of technical downhill to test the quads before spitting runners back out at the finish. Considering the technicality and steep grade throughout the course, I decided to race in Icebugs, as they performed great at Red Rock and for the first 60 miles of HURT. For what they make up in grip, they make you pay in support and cushion. A hot spot started flaring up on my right heel just entering the final technical downhill. Trying to tiptoe down the rocky descent wasn’t my cup of tea, so I bit down on my 40th Snickers of the day, and grunted through the last few miles.

It was a relief to see the water treatment plant, and made me smile thinking that I was nastier and more spent than the shit normally entering this site. After congratulating Van and Bryan on a great race, I pounded what felt like a gallon of PhysioPhyx, cracked open a cold cerveza, and relaxed for a few minutes to cheer on the other runners.

Like always, Luis and his crew of volunteers pulled off an excellent race. I didn’t believe him at first, but now completely agree with Luis that the Nine Trails 35 Mile Trail Run races like a 50 miler.

Results: 35 miles, 11,000ft of elevation gain; 7:00:41, 3rd Place
Results: 35 miles, 11,000ft of elevation gain; 7:00:41, 3rd Place


What I learned:

  • Don’t assume, and pack enough nutrition to take care of yourself
  • Sacrificing grip for a bit of cushion is an absolute must unless I’m climbing Everest
  • Lube works… use it!



Rancho San Juan Trail Races and Beer Miles…

Rancho San Juan 2/14-2/15 (Los Alamos, CA)


“Hey Luis, beer mile at 7:00am… Let’s do it!”

I’d been looking forward to “helping out” at Luis Escobar’s Rancho San Juan trail race for months, after deciding to take 4 weeks off of training, back in October. Rancho San Juan has been tagged as “Born to Run’s Younger Sibling.” A weekend filled with running, Bolla racing, Banda music, camping and good times, Rancho San Juan does not disappoint.

Rancho San Juan is a 5,000+ acre cattle ranch nestled into the rolling hills of beautiful Los Alamos, California. Miles of lush, green trails awaited the couple hundred runners signed up for this not-to-miss race.

Leftovers from 2014's race...
Leftovers from 2014’s race…

Decked out in full non-running attire… pants, jacket and cowboy hat, Carly and I arrived at the soggy ranch around 8:00am. Similar to the inaugural event, the weather gods decided to have a laugh at our expense, and soaked the course for the only rainy day in two months on the Central Coast. After catching up with Mondo, a ridiculously fast runner from SLO, for no longer than five minutes after pulling in, Luis fired off his shotgun signifying the start of the 10k.

The runners were off, and I was nursing a cold pint. Having a few weeks off from training/racing wasn’t too bad.

A few weeks before the race, Luis updated the Rancho San Juan crowd that Arnulfo Quimare would be spending the weekend at the Ranch. For those of you familiar with Born to Run, Arnulfo was the Tarahumara runner that beat Scott Jurek… yes, the same 7 time Western State’s winner Scott Jurek, in Caballo Blanco’s inaugural Copper Canyon event. I didn’t have many goals for the weekend, other than staying more upright than Whiskey Jerry, but I definitely wanted to spend some time on the trails with Arnulfo.

Unfortunately for my full pint and warm clothes, Arnulfo was running the 10k with Luis. Thinking that this might be my only time to spend with this running legend, I stripped down, dropped my beer, and took off after the two. Since they were running the 10k, I thought my Luna’s would be more than adequate. Unfortunately, I didn’t know we’d be kicking around a wooden ball for the next two hours!

If you haven’t heard of Bolla racing, it’s a Tarahumara team sport that’s played by running ungodly distances, kicking and chasing a wooden ball, wearing the Raramari footwear of choice… Huaraches (running sandals). Bolla racing is not only insanely popular in the Tarahumara culture, it’s a huge betting event. Tribes throughout the Copper Canyons will wager large sums on their local runners, and Arnulfo Quimare was the Tiger Woods, or at least pre-Cracker Barrel hostess Tiger Woods, of the sport. I was so excited to spend a few miles with Arnulfo and hopefully pick up some Bolla racing tips.

Being half-Mexican, kicking and chasing a ball around should be in my blood. Unfortunately, Manchester United won’t be calling anytime soon. I spent the next two hours and probably 9-10 miles, slipping, tripping and “kicking” this damn ball no more than two feet at a time. The 10k that I thought would be spent enjoying a leisurely run and conversing in my best Spanglish, turned into a death march, where I used every curse word picked up in the last 33 years. Maybe it’s a good thing that Arnulfo doesn’t speak much English, or that I don’t speak much Spanish.

Arnulfo Quimare
Arnulfo Quimare

We arrived at camp just minutes before the end of the 5k. After retrieving my pre-race beer and putting on some warm clothes, we luckily made it back in time to watch Mondo zoom by for the win. What I’d give to have some of those wheels…

Beer Mile #1 10:30am

Numero uno...
Numero uno…

If you haven’t been to a Luis Escobar event before, the only mandatory items outside of your usual ultra-attire, are four, hopefully low alcohol beers. Unless you’re a Mormon, and I’m fairly certain I’ve seen a few on the starting line, you will run a beer mile at an allwedoisrun race. Quick rules for the beer mile virgins. Drink one beer, run a quarter mile. Drink beer two, run another quarter mile. Drink beer three, now you’re getting it. Drink beer four, stagger to the finish. Vomit, and you have to run an extra lap.

With beer mile legend Patrick Sweeney spending the next several months traversing the US on foot and no actual racing planned for the weekend, I thought a beer mile victory may be possible. We started off with the usual suspects… Luis, Michelle, Bobby, Greg, Chris and a few newbies that looked thirsty.

Frankie Escobar, a beer mile virgin and apparently no relation to the family, took off like a bat outta hell, chugging his first of four and sprinting towards the turnaround. Shoeless Bobby was close behind, and I slogged along hoping to keep all the frothy goodness down.

There are many similarities between a normal mile and beer mile, but a few of the differences that nearly everyone will encounter are supplied below:

  • Being forced to a damn near crawl
  • Feeling like an alien is clawing its way outside your tummy
  • Uncontrollable “Gurping”… burping while holding back lunch
  • Bubble guts to the ninth power

Unfortunately for beer mile virgin Frankie, he must have been plagued by one of the abovementioned symptoms, and slowed enough to be passed by lap three. After barely squeaking out the win, Frankie finished in a close second, with Bobby close on his heels. Michelle dominated the women’s race, and Luis gifted us with awesome Luchador masks. In an unconfirmed record for “Slowest Beer Mile while Eating a Burrito,” Chris Clemons, finished in a hair under 100 minutes.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent hanging around the campfire, catching up over some amazing grub cooked by Luis’ sister, cheering on the kid’s mile, and watching the little one’s put a hurting on a Luis-inspired piñata.

Beer Mile #2

Maybe this was number one???
Maybe this was number one???

According to Luis, beer mile #1 was only a warm up. Unfortunately, training for longer distance events over the past two years has turned me into the ultimate lightweight. This beer mile was definitely going to hurt! Quick recap… I was lucky enough to pull off the victory, but race details are a bit fuzzier this time around.

We spent the evening watching Arnulfo show us an amazing Tarahumara dance, and listening to an awesome Mexican band from Santa Maria. Before calling it an early night so I could wake up refreshed for a full day of volunteering, I briefly recall mentioning to Luis that a 7:00am beer mile would be a great warmup for the next morning’s race.

Beer Mile #3


Unless you’re in college, in Vegas for your buddy’s bachelor party or on your way to a “Ten Step Program,” there’s no good reason to drink four beers at 7:00am. Kicking myself for telling Luis this would be a good idea and trying to figure out how the hell he remembered our conversation from all the cerveza’s being imbibed the night before, several of us toed the line for our third beer mile of the weekend. We had some new challengers, as both Tyler Clemons and Tyler Tomasello made their way north from the Sean O’Brien 100k the day before.

Coming off a previous long day on the trails, Tyler Tomasello led out the race with an incredibly quick first lap. Barring such a long day working the trails on Saturday, this race would’ve likely ended differently with fresh legs. No one truly wins when doing a beer mile at 7:00am, but I was lucky enough to ring the bell first.

Likely knowing my keen sense of direction (only runner to get lost on the Rancho San Juan course in 2014) and my solid grasp on that morning’s sobriety, Luis gave me the difficult task of hanging out at the exact same turn that I screwed up while racing the previous year. I was fortunate to spend the day hanging out with my beer mile brother Frankie Escobar, and a team of the upmost pillars of society. We blasted everything from Celine Dion to Biggie Smalls, while snapping photos and cheering runners along, trying to keep them on trail.

We were so impressed with the effort of all the runners! From speedsters like Ben Holmes to the back-of-the-packers, it’s always so inspiring to watch those that choose to suffer for hours on end.

50K winner Ben Holmes!
50K winner Ben Holmes!

Hanging out around the halfway point of the 11 mile loop, we realized that Luis’ last minute trail change, due to the weather, would turn the 25k runners two loops into a a wee bit more than the 15.5 miles they were expecting (22 miles). Unfortunately there was no cell reception at our location and Luis would’ve likely told us to kick rocks anyways, so we led herd on their way. We headed back to camp after cheering on the runners throughout their second loop. Hopefully, their sense of direction was better than mine.

Carly and I packed up camp, grabbed a quick bite and headed home to clean up and relax with lady.

Things I learned:

  • Don’t open your mouth, especially after a few beers, and bring up anything running related to Luis that you’re not willing to do… at 7:00 in the morning!
  • If you’re going to kick around a wooden ball chasing after one of best endurance athletes on the planet, it’s probably best to start with shoes and not Luna’s.
  • Luis’ sister makes the best veggie burritos on the planet!
  • Luchador masks are not built for beer miles, but they do look awesome.
  • Volunteering at a race is an absolute blast, and all runners need to do it.

HURT-ing my way through the HURT 100…

What the hell is a hot spot???

January 14th sure did sneak up on us! After nearly two weeks off around the holidays, Alejandra and I were off on another “vacation” less than two weeks after returning to work. With travel being a frequent part of my work schedule, I completely forgot that Alejandra is a bit less comfortable when it comes to flying.

After tearing the metal off our seat armrests and imbibing enough Jesus Juice to make Dean Martin jealous, we successfully touched down in Oahu on Wednesday evening. We headed directly for the hotel in our spiffy new white, Toyota Camry, a popular rental car choice for the island, and crashed as soon as we hit the bed.

We spent Thursday exploring the island, traveling counterclockwise around the coast, stopping at beaches and eating lunch at an awesome food truck stand in the North Shore. The poke tuna bowls were great, as were the Cajun beans/rice and fried pickles. We also made our way over to Pipeline beach and checked out a surfing competition.

Not many better ways to spend a Thursday
Not many better ways to spend a Thursday

After leaving North Shore, we headed over to Pearl Harbor. The self-guided tour was incredibly educational, and although a somber site, we felt proud and honored to walk the grounds where thousands lost their lives protecting those shores.

Friday afternoon was race check-in, and we spent the morning going for a run, enjoying a relaxing Thai lunch, and spending some time exploring the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. These 15 acres, set in downtown Honolulu, were packed with hundreds of various trees, plants, herbs and flowers. They even had pineapples growing out of pots!

Pineapple in a Pot!
Pineapple in a Pot!
Big Ass Tree!
Big Ass Tree!


We made our way over to race check-in and met up Tyler Tomasello, Luis Escobar and Mauricio Puerto, fellow dirtbags all getting ready to test our mettle against the course. I still cannot possibly fathom how or why Luis has 11 HURT finishes under his belt. We also met up with Nick Kopp, an amazing runner out of Tacoma that would definitely bring the HURT to Hawaii.

After receiving our swag bags and listening to the race instructions, we were off to the beach to enjoy a couple hours of relaxing before our 6:00am start. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and nasty, obviously foreshadowing the day to come.

Race morning came quickly, and as we jumped into our new, white Toyota Camry at 4:45am, it felt awkward that the hotel would’ve cleaned out our car from the night before. Anyways, we prepared to drive off and were immediately chased down by the hotel staff. Apparently new, white Toyota Camry’s are a popular Hawaiian rental choice, and the pilots that were picking up their car behind us weren’t too happy that we were driving off with their luggage. We picked up our car and headed over to the Nature Center.

In keeping with the no frills nature of the event, the start of the HURT 100 was uneventful. Stan gathered the 120+ starters around the shitters for some last minute race instructions. A couple corny jokes were made, and a conch is blown signifying the start of a long day, night and for most… another day.

The HURT course consists of three legs, formed in the shape of a drunken “T,” with each of the three aid stations located at the bottom of significant climbs. The start/finish of the “T” is the Nature Center, located only 3 miles away from downtown Waikiki.

The 7ish mile leg 1 takes runners up a nasty, root infested climb, up and down, through the TREE ROOT CROSSROADS FROM HELL, up and down, passing beautiful Manoa Falls, before dropping into the Paradise Park aid station.

The aid station is somewhere over those hills...
The aid station is somewhere over those hills…

The Paradise Park aid station is insane! With a full on pirate ship entrance, this site is decked out in One-Eyed Willy Party Mode! Music is blasting, everyone is fitted in their favorite shwashbuckling garb, and the variety of food choices is unreal… vegan sushi, really? The energy gushing out of this aid station is contagious, and it takes a ton of effort to not stay and partake in the party.

Leg 2 takes runners on the shortest of the three legs (5ish miles), up and out of Paradise Park, and past the seemingly never ending TREE ROOT CROSSROADS FROM HELL!!! After a short climb, runners descend into the Nuuanu aid station, where they’re welcomed with a slippery creek crossing before being able to pick up their supplies.


The Nuuanu aid station is a bit more reserved than their counterparts at Paradise Park, forcing their runners to walk the plank. The volunteers here are great, helping to refill bottles, stuff food down your throat, and in my case, clean and patch up an evil, heel hot spot.

Was it morning, or evening?
Was it morning or evening?

Leaving Nuuanu, Leg 3 takes runners up and back through the TREE ROOT CROSSROADS FROM HELL!!! After another moderate climb, runners are offered the only olive branch on this course; a semi- “runnable” downhill stretch of a few miles that bring them back into the Nature Center (approximately 7.5 miles).

I chose to enter the HURT lottery because I wanted a race that would be humbling. What would it be like to tackle a course where you couldn’t train for the majority of its variables… Wet, rooty, muddy, rooty, slippery, rooty, humid, rooty, tons of climbing, rooty conditions?

HURT offered all the humility one could ask for and more!

After 28.5 hours, a heel hot spot that nearly knocked me out of the race, save for the most incredible medic at the Nuuanu aid station, I was fortunate enough to finish the HURT 100. Over two weeks later, I’m still laughing at the ridiculousness of this course. Be prepared to climb, be prepared to slip and slide, be prepared to question yourself for entering, and definitely be prepared to HURT!

Things I learned:

  • Alejandra is more incredible than I already thought! She stayed awake throughout the night to meet me at the Nature Center for each deteriorating loop! Pretty sure I wasn’t speaking much English after loop 3, but she was awesome nonetheless, filling up my pack and repeating words of encouragement.
  • Take care of your feet! Hot spots are awful, especially when they’re on you heel.
  • Practice switching out headlight batteries before the race… it’s really, really dark in the jungle!
  • Losing GPS reception and using your watch to solely track nutrition and hydration is not always bad… especially when slogging around for 28+ hours
  • Fighting my brain to stay within the moment was incredibly helpful for dealing with the miles, overall fatigue and treacherous terrain
  • A Red Bull provided by the most incredible volunteer, manning the TREE ROOT CROSSROADS FROM HELL at 3:00am, might just save your life.
  • High humidity, constantly sweating out salt and not constantly applying body glide can and will likely lead to an extreme case of chafing.
  • Be prepared to lose a few toenails. Not only are roots slippery as hell, they seem to have a magnetic attraction to my toebox
One week later...
One week later…
  • Changing shoes may seem like a great idea at mile 60, but a softer, less tacky shoe makes you think twice when lying on your ass two miles, five miles, 10 miles, and throughout the remainder of the race.
  • HURT volunteers are the best! Always helpful, always upbeat, and always encouraging
  • There are far more enjoyable ways to spend a vacation in Hawaii, but likely not as memorable
Thanks for the memories!
Thanks for the memories!

Fast Packing Gone Awry!!!


Does the temperature rating on a sleeping bag really matter that much???

Pine Ridge Trail.


Three days fast packing the trails of the Central Coast, carrying all my own gear in December… NO PROBLEM!

I’m an ultrarunner. I’ve finished a 100 mile race. How bad can a few days in the Los Padres National Forest really be??? Well, I found out…

For the second year in a row, I’ve successfully been able to peel away from work for nearly two full weeks around the holiday season. With Xmas travels to the bay area and Arbuckle taking up several days, I was fortunately able to calendar Mon-Wed for my first fast packing adventure with Carly in Big Sur.

Sunday was spent at Mountain Air Sports, wondering through the aisles buying too much gear that looked great, but likely wasn’t needed… a blow up LED lantern for only $15 dollars, I’ll take one! I literally spent hours combing the shelves trying to pick out the perfect fire starter, water purifier and liquid carrying bag (liquid carrying bag?), and about 5 minutes deciding on a sleeping bag… weather rated, does that really matter in the Central Coast? After feeling confident in my countless purchases, I began packing up my Ultimate Direction 20 liter fast pack (better to look the part than be the part right) with all my new gear, enough food to survive the winter and my brand new 50 degree sleeping bag.

We spent the remainder of the evening planning a conservative route (Day one 11 miles, day two 25ish miles, and day three 11 miles) and making sure to let Alejandra know exactly where we planned to be each night.

Monday morning came, and after a quick workout and last minute gear check, Carly and I headed out for beautiful Big Sur. Now, if you haven’t driven up Highway 1 past Cambria, Hearst Castle and Ragged Point taking in the beautiful Pacific coastline, you’re truly missing out. Windy roads, belching sea lions and a crisp, salty winter morning… there aren’t many better ways to spend a December Monday!

Road closures and delays happen frequently on Highway 1. Aside from the countless rock slide cleanups, Cal Trans must be tapped into some underground slush fund for the never ending road improvement program occurring on this 30 mile stretch. The extra-large coffee and 1.5 hours of S turns started kicking in as we stopped for the first of two road closures this morning. Just my luck that there were no bushes or trees around to block the view, as I was forced to water the rocks, in all my glory, being passed by car-after-car. FYI… make sure to pee quickly, or the train of vehicles waiting behind you will not be too happy watching you finish up while being stuck behind your weak bladder as the cars ahead drive off.

After two road closures and 2.5hrs of driving, we made it to the Pine Ridge Trailhead. I was surprised to see a metal gate with a “No Parking” sign affixed, blocking the parking lot at the Sykes trailhead. We pulled in anyway, thankfully the lot was actually open, parked, and began prepping for our adventure. Note that most state parks in CA require a daily camping fee, paid in full based on the number of days you plan on staying. Assuming that a lack of payment envelopes at the entrance meant the trail gods were offering a freebie, we got ready to hit the trail. Shouldn’t have assumed…

Before heading out, two young “hikers” came in dragging ass. I asked them about their experience and the trail conditions, and they said it was brutal. Not surprising considering the cigarette that one of the kids fired up after lying supine for about five minutes. We were ready to take off.

Start of our adventure!
  Start of our adventure!
View from the beginning of the Pine Ridge Trail.


Carly and I hit the trail around 12:30pm, passing by a sign at the entrance reading, “Trail washed out 2 miles ahead.” Worst case scenario, we’ll check it out and head back to another trailhead if it’s as bad as the sign reads. The Pine Ridge trail is a beautiful, mostly non-technical single track that runs east from Big Sur into the Los Padres National Forest. Carly and I ran the majority of the 10-11 miles, stopping intermittingly to snap some photos, readjust the pack and knock down the 80lbs of food we brought.

The washed out trail…
Big Sur 2
Several miles into the Pine Ridge Trail.


We had the trail to ourselves for the first couple of hours, until we came up on a hiker approximately 2 miles from our campsite. Descending after a climb, Carly and I were moving at a descent clip. I assumed the hiker had noticed us as he seemed to turn his head (forgot about that beautiful view over our left shoulder), so I didn’t say anything until we came right up on him. Shouldn’t have assumed…

He let out a shriek after we startled him, and I nearly had to grab the guys pack, as I was nervous he would slip off the single track. Fortunately, he remained upright and we both had a quick laugh, chatting briefly about our plans for the next few days.

We pulled into the Sykes campsite around 3:30pm, taking our time to find a good resting place for the night. After stripping down and taking a quick soak in the hot springs, mmmmm…. Sulfur, we headed back to the campsite to set up, start a fire and prep for a comfy night under the stars.

This is the part of the recap that should be uneventful, culminating in a restful night of sleep, waking up feeling refreshed and ready to attack the trails. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those nights…

Big Sur 3
Carly thinking, “why the hell did you take me out here?”


Starting a fire

Ask Alejandra about my fire starting prowess, and she’ll tell you about the 13 newspapers it took to light her fireplace on one of our first dates. As much as I’d like to blame the damp kindling and logs, I couldn’t have started a fire that night with a blowtorch and gallon of kerosene! Carly and I were destined to a dark night under the stars. Not thinking much of our lack of external heat and with nothing else to do but twiddle thumbs, we decided to call it an early night.

Choosing the right sleeping bag

Winter nights in the Central Coast are fairly hospitable. We’ll encounter nights at freezing temps, but these are few and far between. Most winter nights are crisp, but not unbearable.

Our first and only night in Big Sur was COLD… really freaking cold!

I’m not one to frequently pitch products, but the hot chili’s top/bottoms and northface thermoball jacket saved my tail. I was bundled up like the little kid in the Christmas Story, shivering throughout the night, with nothing between the ground and me but a 50 degree sleeping bag. With temperatures in the 20’s, we were in for a long night…

Recently joining the Dirtbag Runners Ambassador’s Team, I’ve been thinking of ways to integrate dirtbag running into my first blogpost. There was some definite dirtbaggery involved spending 12 hours huddled up with my dog, that’s spent the entire afternoon trouncing in mud and sulfur springs, both wrapped in a silk thin “sleeping bag” to keep us from freezing to death. I highly overestimated my backpacking skills, and it culminated in my first DNF!

The decision in the morning wasn’t too difficult after not sleeping a wink, and feeling amazing “sleeping” on wet, hard, uneven ground. We packed up camp early, and made our way back to the trailhead. The return trip was uneventful, and we made decent time back to the vehicle. On our arrival, the California State Parks had left me a surprise, a $72 ticket for not paying camp fees. Shouldn’t have assumed…

We made it home a day early, alive and healthy, and went directly to Mountain Air to discuss sleeping bag options.


What I learned…

A 50 degree sleeping bag, while great for Phoenix summer sleepovers, will not keep you toasty in 20-30 degree nights

Sleeping pads are functional and protect you from wet, cold nights… or so I’ve been told

Less is more… the blow up LED lantern, magnesium fire starter I couldn’t use, towel and the extra 43 pounds of food could have probably been left in the car

Pay your daily camping fee and find a ranger if there are no envelopes. You will get fined!

Don’t be afraid to DNF/cut short a fast packing trip, especially if you are as underprepared as I was.