SQUAMISH 50/50: Tough as nails

I had a blast running the Squamish 50/50 race in British Columbia! This race involves running a 50 mile race on Saturday and the 50k race on Sunday with the finish times added together for an overall time!

I was fortunate to pull off the overall win in 14:06 with a 8:26 2nd place finish in the 50 mile on Saturday and 5:39 4th place finish in the 50k.

Check out my race recap with Ethan and Kim on TheGingerRunner live interview:

WESTERN STATES: 100 miles is still hard

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So hot. PC: Justin Britton

I am still tired, creaky and cranky three weeks out from finishing the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run. Sitting on the couch, incessantly refreshing the iRunFar Twitter feed for Hardrock 100 results, I can’t help but wonder how the heck do these guys do it. Jeff Browning and Jesse Haynes, veterans of the sport, who I had raced three weeks prior, were both running 100 milers this weekend, with Browning finishing 4th at Hardrock and Haynes 1st at Tahoe Rim Trail. Un-freaking-believable.

I’m not sure how they do it, but maybe the answer comes with experience or just old man strength. Either way, I am gaining more experience and getting older too, so hopefully I can stay healthy and find out!

RACE PREP

I ran the Western States 100 in 2015 as my first 100 miler in 19:07 (hr:mins) (race report). The overall experience was incredible but I left a big chunk of time on the course. In 2015, I was not prepared physically or mentally to actually race the 100 mile distance. I promised myself as I crossed the finish line in 2015, that if I could get back to Western States in 2016, I would be ready to race, not just run.

Fortunately, I was able to regain entry for the 2016 race via the “Golden Ticket” race series at Bandera 100K in January (race report), which gave me 6 months plan my attack for the June race.

I did several races including Way Too Cool 50K, American River 50 mile (race report) and Quicksilver 50K. These were perfect building races and there was plenty of time to recover in between.  These went well and laid a solid foundation for Western. It also gave me more experience in racing.

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Needing to work on my vertical at the Quicksilver 50k finish line. PC: YiOu Wang

In training, I decided to focus on improving my hill climbing and preparing for the heat. I usually average 60-70 miles a week with 1-4,000 feet of climbing. In preparation for Western, I wanted to increase the amount of climbing and I was able to get three consecutive weeks of 11-13,000 ft. During one of these weeks, I spent two solid days with David Laney on the Western States Trail. We did one hot day in the Canyons with a good amount of climbing followed by a hard push down “Cal Street” the next day.

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Laney gazing at Devils Thumb and me sloughing up. PC: Me and Laney

As a third year Radiology Resident, I was also preparing for my National Board Exam, scheduled for two weeks before Western States. Fortunately, the exam center is located in Tucson, Arizona, aka “the surface of the sun.” After taking the grueling ultratest (650 questions over two days), I spent an extra two days running in the Arizona heat and got in a solid climb on Mt. Wrightson up to 9,500 ft.

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Celebrating finishing Radiology Boards at the summit of Mt Wrightson outside of Tucson, AZ. Jump assisted by the thin air of 9,500 ft.

In the four weeks prior to the race I also hit the sauna for the first time. I had not placed much emphasis on preparing the body for heat in the past, but this year I decided to give it a shot. This by far provided the best cost:benefit ratio of any of my preparation. With little effort other than standing in a 180-degree room, I was amazed to see a reduction in my resting heart rate.

Most of my crew and I arrived in Squaw two days before the race. My crew and pacers were amazing and it was a blast to have good friends to share this experience. All the girls grew excellent beards!

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The bearded ladies.

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Spending quality time with our phones at the race start. PC: Jenny Maier

This year my goal was a top-10 finish, which would provide automatic entry into the 2017 race. My training had gone very well and physically I was ready. In the final week before Western, my focus turned to being mentally prepared, as I learned from racing this year that mental barriers are often the ones that restrain us the most.

THE RACE

There was a palpable excitement at the start. I lined up on the left in the second row of runners surrounded by some seasoned pro like Jeff Browning, Jesse Haynes, Ian Sharman, and David Laney. I had briefly chatted with Browning and Sharman the day before about the race. I figured if I am running anywhere near either of these guys, I would be running a smart race.

The first climb up the escarpment felt smooth and controlled. Laney led the charge with other favorites like Sage Canaday and Jim Walmsley sitting back. Though I could tell people were excited to get the race started, the pace stayed in check as we exchanged a little banter during the climb and enjoyed the sunrise over Squaw Valley.  I crested the Escarpment faster than I expected but the effort was noticeablely less than the previous year.

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Eric Schranz greeted us at the top of the escarpment on the Alpenhorn. PC: Scott Dunlap

The rolling high country was a little more technical and rocky than I had remembered. Walmsley, having held back early, started his assault on the course and cruised by around mile 7.  I briefly chatted with Laney and Sage before they both entered the chase. Otherwise, I ran with a few others including Sharman, Mario Mendoza, Stephen Wassather, Andrew Miller, and Bob Shebest as we passed through the first two aid stations.

Sharman, Shebest and Miller pulled ahead of me after Duncan Canyon Aid (mile 24) before the climb up to Robinson Flat. I decided I would try to keep my heart rate down on the majority of the big climbs, which for the most part meant hiking, especially in the high country at 7-9,000 feet. My heart rate was low and I was feeling good and controlled.

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Hiking up to Robinson Flat. PC: Just Britton

I saw the majority of my crew for the first time at Robinson Flat (mile 30) and saw a ton of friends. I was feeling great and running well within myself.

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Great friends in the SFRC tent PC: Brett Rivers

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The ladies all shaved their beards for good luck. PC: Brett Rivers

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Joining the Robinson Flat party. PC: Brett Rivers

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Ice sleeves with Jenny’s help. PC: Brett Rivers

I ran alone from Robinson Flat down to Last Chance aid station (about 14 miles) before entering the Canyons. Running alone, my mind started to wander and I needed to keep my effort up as I found myself easing off pace with no one in sight. In retrospect, I could probably run faster through this section.

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Doesn’t this look fun? PC: StravaRun

After leaving Last Chance (mile 43), I was feeling both dread and excitement about entering the Canyons. Last year, this is where I really started to feel bad so it gave me a boost of confidence to be feeling good this time around. I was staying cool by keeping my clothes wet and with plenty of ice in my arm sleeves, hat, and bandana.

I was alone when I started the Devils Thumb climb and saw Tropical John Medinger as I hiked up, which gave me a nice boost. Near the top I was reminded that I was still in a race as I spotted Jeff Browning grinding up the climb behind me. I reached aid and headed out just before Browning, but he quickly caught up. I thought, “I can learn a lot from this guy” as he pulled out of sight down the El Dorado descent. I again decided to hike the majority of the Michigan Bluff climb and was starting to feel the heat.

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Smile with Chuck in the background. PC: Justin Britton

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High five with Sunny at Michigan Bluff PC: Justin Britton

Michigan Bluff (mile 56) gave me a big boost as I saw more people, I knew including friends from Minnesota, Kurt and Sonya Decker, along with one of the Radiologists I work with Chuck Lau, who surprised me by volunteering to serve on the medical staff! It was really great to feel all the support. Jenny and the rest of my crew was really rocking at this aid and got me in and out fast.

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Coke chug. PC: Justin Britton

 

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This beard is so hot. PC: Justin Britton

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I think I got my feet wet. PC: Justin Britton

I was surprised to hear Laney was only a few minutes up and not feeling great. I entered Volcano Canyon and caught up to him on the first climb.  We ran a bit together down to the stream crossing but then separated. Just before leaving Volcano Canyon, Chris Mocko, a local Bay Area speedster, caught me on the climb right before hitting Bath Rd., as I was hiking.

To this point I had been taking gels but really could not take many more. I switched mainly to liquid calories and GU chews. I entered a new mental space here where I focused on just moving forward. I was hoping the relatively conservative early miles would pay off. Having run this section relatively fast with Laney in training on tired legs, I knew I could move fast through this section and catch people. At this point, I was sitting just outside the top 10, so I knew this was my chance.

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All smiles coming into Foresthill. PC: Brett Rivers

I picked up my first pacer and good friend/training partner/on-call coach, Mario Fraioli, on the climb up Bath Road just before the Foresthill aid station (mile 62). As we began the descent to the river on Cal Street, Mario reminded me of something very important in racing ultra. He said, “You always have more in you than you think you do!” This resonated with me. As my mind said slow down, I pushed the pace a bit I did have more than I thought.

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Headed down Cal Street. Yes, that is a water bottle in my short but I am happy to see you 😉 PC: Ben Koss

I continued to move well and we were able to catch Mocko, Tofol and Shebest before hitting the river (Rucky Chucky mile 78), pushing me up into the top 10!

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Headed down into the River from Rucky Chucky. PC: Justin Britton

The cold water felt great and the volunteers reminded me to keep two hands on the rope as a previous runner had been swept downstream. I would find out later this was Jim Walmsley.

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Backward Rope float. PC: Ben Koss

I grabbed the rope with two hands and laid on my back and spontaneously decided to try a float technique which worked amazing. Kinda like a Tyrollean Traverse  but in the water, I floated on my back and hand over hand cruised across the river.

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Made it across, now time to cool down. PC: Gary Wang

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River crossing PC: Gary Wang

We hit the other side and picked up second pacer Mike Aish. He told me Sharman was just ahead. Aish, having battled Sharman several times at Leadville 100, was excited to help me give chase.

Aish kept me moving well with real-time coaching on relaxing my form. A former 2-time Olympian in the 5K and 10K for New Zealand, he did not let me back off the pace for the next 10 miles of rolling, runnable single track. We spotted Sage coming out of Browns Bar (mile 90), and I ran hard to catch him.  Sage was clearly fighting with everything he had left but graciously encouraged me as I went by.

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Climbing up to Green Gate mile 79. PC: Jenny Maier

On the climb up to Highway 49, I heard footsteps and thought Sage might have caught a second wind. It turned out to be a second-wind for Chris Mocko, who was passing me back. I was running in 9th now as far as I could tell, so I knew a top ten was possible but I would need to keep working. Ethan Newberry, the Ginger Runner, was randomly out in the middle of the woods cheering which gave me a great boost!

I came into Highway 49 (mile 94), this year in the light and was told Walmsley  was just ahead. I caught Walmsley  as we began across the Cool meadow trails before descending to the river. He was walking and encouraged me with a smile as we passed. “8th I thought to myself. Top 10 is happening.”

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Highway 49 in the light PC: http://www.zackj.com in Billy Yang film

Hitting No Hands Bridge (mile 97) in 8th place I knew I would finish but would have to push hard. I tried to dig deep but felt like the shovel was scraping the bottom of the barrel. I was moving forward but not fast. At that moment, Mike spotted two headlamps gaining from behind only 2 miles to the finish. Every states runners worst nightmare. Having to race up the last climb of the race at Robie point!

I gave everything I had left with a final grunt push to the bottom of the Robie Point climb. I had reached my mental limit for the day. Though I could probably physically run the final climb, mentally I was spent. Kyle Pietari caught me. I hiked hard but Kyle pulled away.

Reaching Robie point, I was greeted by my friend and pacer from last year, Fernando, and his big cheers and encouragement helped me to finish strong. I was able to run again and ran in hard trying to catch Kyle. This reinforced that it was mental fatigue that held me back on the Robie Climb. I hit the track and saw my crew and it was an amazing feeling! I did the last half a lap on the track  finishing in 17:07, 2 hours faster than last year and in 9th place, 11 places better than last year.

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I was fortunate as Haynes was breathing down my neck and took the coveted 10th position only a few minutes back.

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Only took me about 10 mins to stand again. PC: Jenny Maier

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Tired hug. PC: Justin Britton

POST RACE

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Aish admiring his handy work. PC: Jenny Maier

I could not have been happier to hit my goal of finishing in the top 10. Ninth place means a guaranteed entry to Western States 2017. I gave everything I could out there. Most importantly, I gained experience regarding what it takes to race a 100 miles. I am slowly finding the balance of effort, nutrition, and pure guts.  I can’t wait to come back and apply my new knowledge, one year older and one year wiser.

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Happy. PC: Justin Britton

 

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Top 10. PC: Gary Wang

HOKA RACE RECAP VIDEO by Billy Yang

THANKS TO:

Craig Thornley and the Western States crew for putting on a great race. I hope to come back and go after the elusive sub-16 hour time!

Jenny! Thanks for your unconditional love and support.  You’re an amazing person and keep me inspired to find new adventures and to be the best person I can on and off the race course. You’re the best!

My race crew Amy Leedham, Kristin Neland, Chris and Tristan Blagg. Totally spot-on and kept my nutrition/hydration up and body temperature down all day!

My pacers, Mario Fraioli and Mike Aish. Best damn friends and pacers in the business. Thanks for sharing the trails with me and pushing me into the top 10. I hope you have another free weekend next June!

John Medinger for his finish-line announcing and encouragement up Devils Thumb.

Chad “Chuck” Lau for volunteering on the Western States Medical Staff and being out there to support me.

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HOKAONEONE: I can’t thank them enough for their huge support including the HOKA team including Sunny Margerum, Peanut Harms and great photos from Justin Britton.  I ran in the ultra lightweight and cushioned Clayton shoe for this race. They felt super fast all day and had enough protection for the rocks!

Stance socks: Style and performance can’t be beat. The crew socks protected my ankle and always look pretty!

Headlands Brewery: Tasty and after-party enhancing liquid support.

SimpleHydration: Providing a simple but effective way to carry water. Always had one filled at the aid station to chug or take along as needed.

Bliz Eyewear: The photochromic lenses were perfect for the mixed bright sun and shade. Worked perfect!

DATA:

Strava and race results

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 2.19.09 PMAverage heart rate:
128

Nutrition

Pre-race
– Coffee!
– ClifBar—Nut butter-filled
– 12 oz Redbull
– Vespa CV-35
– 1L Gatorade

Race

– Amphipod bottle (20 oz), Ultimate direction Body Bottle Plus (17 oz), Simple Bottle (13 oz)
– Tailwind Endurance Fuel (150-200 cal/20oz bottle) and Cliff electrolyte drink
– GU Roctane/Huma gel (1 every 30 minutes)
– GU Energy chews, as needed
– Vespa concentrate
– Coke, as needed

Gear

– Hoka OneOne Clayton
– Stance Fusion Run crew socks
– Fenix3 HR
– Bliz Tracker Ozon Black

American River 50 mile Grinder

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Ouch. PC: Auburn Running Company

Meat grinder. Feet grinder. Meat grinder. Feet grinder. I repeated to myself as I attempted to dance through the fixed rocks, gnarly roots and twisty rolling trail dubbed “The Meat Grinder” at mile 34. All was quiet except for my heavy breathing and inner monologue. Do I have enough left? Is that poison oak? Should I quit? Did I just loose another toenail? This section of the race was markedly different than the smooth paved bike path which comprised most of the first 25 miles.

RACE PREP

Since earning a “Golden Ticket” at Bandera 100K in January, my main focus has been getting ready for Western States 100 in June. In 2015, I ran Western States 100 as my first 100 mile race (see report here). The race, the organization and my crew were beyond amazing. My performance on the other hand, was below my expectations and left me hungry for another crack at this legendary course.

After Bandera, I laid out a few races to prepare me mentally and physically for the challenges of running and racing the 100-mile distance. I decided on Los Angeles Marathon in February, Way Too Cool 50K in March and the American River 50 mile (AR50) in April as build up races for the Big Dance in June.

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LA Marathon February 14, 2016. Fun weekend in LA exploring Santa Monica beaches, rubbing shoulders with running Celebrities and handing Jenny a Valentine in a plastic bag at mile 22 of the marathon. Yes I’m lame and she’s a trooper.

I used L.A. Marathon and Way Too Cool as hard long efforts which I incorporated into my normal schedule and did not require big tapers or recovery periods.

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Way Too Cool March 5, 2016. California finally got some rain and we got river crossings! 9th place behind a horde of speedsters in 3:35 (6th place in my Saturday morning run group). I was later told I would be moved to the Junior Varsity squad.

I planned AR50 as a goal race for which I would taper and race hard, knowing I would have plenty of time to recover before getting into the bulk of training for Western States.

I was excited about running AR50 giving its deep history as a classic Northern California ultra. I can’t even begin to list all the legends that have run this race (Tim Twietmeyer, 5 time winner of Western States, finished his 35th AR50 this year!).

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Old school NorCal Ultra.

AR50 mile was started in 1980, running from Auburn to Sacramento on a downhill course. This was changed in 1982 and course direction was switched giving an uphill profile with a 3 mile climb at the end for a finish in Auburn.

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Old course on the right started in Sarcamento. New course on right starts on Folsom Lake

In 2014, the course was again changed, now starting on Folsom lake, adding more trail in the beginning and running south before turning onto the original course around mile 16 and heading north to Auburn.

There have been subtle changes in how the course runs from mile 16 to the finish with a small extra trail loop (Twin Rocks loop) around mile 30 for extra miles. Having run both courses, after this years race Ian Sharman thought the new race runs about 10-15 minutes slower than the old course.

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Shaded grey represents the elevation profile grabbed from runners data from 2013 and 2016. The first 15 miles in the new race are different with more trail early in the race. The remainder of the course is grossly similar with the last 3 mile climb unchanged.

I knew the first section of race would be relatively fast and I planned to push the edge of my comfort zone on pace and basically see what happens. Chikara Omine, a Bay Area speedster and former USA 100K National team member, holds the fastest time on the new 2014 course running 6:13 in 2015.

We drove up to Folsom for packet pick up the day prior and got out on a first section of trail to explore a bit.

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Previewing miles 2-5 of the AR50 course and testing the Claytons on the trail for the first time. All systems go.  Jenny flying on the trails hours before the Flu grounded her.

The first trail miles of the race were beautiful rolling single track on the shore of Folsom Lake. Too bad it would be dark when we ran here! I used the course preview to also decided on a pair of shoes for the race. The Claytons felt light and fast so they were a go. I hoped to run 6:00 hours on a good day.

As a side note: The week of the race I was fortunate to be on UltraRunner Podcast with Eric Schranz who would also be out spectating the race. Check out the interview here.

RACE

Carey Williams took me to the start, as Jenny was unfortunately down for the count with the Flu.

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Ian Sharman and I hugging it out before the race. I kicked him in the shin after this photo. He was unfazed. PC: Carey Williams

It was dark at the 6:00 AM start and a headlamp is a must as about 1 mile into the race you enter the rolling trail I explored the day prior in pitch dark. I knew at least several of us would be in the hunt today, including Coree Worthering, Ian Sharman, Chris Wehan, not to mention many other solid runners who could surprise any of us.

Coree, having run a 2:28 marathon last month, took the race out fast and I gave controlled chase. I came into the race with the plan to push hard early and see how I held up. I again wore a heart-rate monitor and planned to use it as a guide with the plan to keep my heart rate slightly higher than it had been in my last 50 mile (Fall 50). Following this plan, things felt smooth and controlled and I kept him in sight until about mile 15, averaging 6:15 pace, until we hit the bulk of the trails. Upon entering the trail section, I quickly took a wrong turn but was able to regain course by backtracking and continued to chase.

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Running into Main Bar at mile 17. Headlamp was no longer required but added to the cool ultrarunner look (actaully waiting to drop it with Crew at mile 20 as I did not want to lose it!). PC: Eric Schranz

I ran smoothly through the next section feeling strong and keeping a good pace. I arrived at Main Bar (mile 17) with Coree about 3 minutes ahead. I also knew Ian and Wehan are both smart and strong runners and would be hot on my tail if I let off the gas.

First aid station with crew was Negro bar at mile 20. To my surprise, Jenny had dragged herself out of bed and was out on the course crewing and cheering with local supercool Auburnite Carey Williams and Western States RD Craig Thornley to boot! I dropped my lamp, grabbed a new bottle of Tailwind, two gels and was off with Coree still holding a 3-minute lead.

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Beals Point mile 24: Grandpa’s hat providing good shade from the sun. Photobomb by @BlowUpArch, come on dude. PC: Leigh-Ann Wending

I ran the next 13 miles solo (except for some awesome 25-mile runner coming the other direction, you guys rocked!) with great aid stations and more expert crew help along the way. At mile 33, after not seeing a flag for 0.25 miles I convinced myself I had missed a turn and ran back up a climb to find a race flag. I hit the top of the hill trying to find the course when Wehan turned the corner moving well and much closer than I expected. We consulted briefly and he assured me I was on the right course so I turned to run back down. I pushed hard from here trying to build back a buffer.

Wehan and I were entering the “Meat Grinder” section (around mile 32-36) which naturally slowed the pace and rhythm of the race because of the abundant rocks, twisting trail and punchy up and downs. Just like the Newton hills in the Boston Marathon, the timing of the Meat Grinder was perfect to chew you up and spit you out. After about 20 miles of fast turnover and 12 miles of trail you hit this section which forces high knee lift and accurate foot placement, both of which can be challenging and require a good deal of focus.

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Exiting the Meat Grinder fully ground. Let the grimacing begin. PC: Eric Schranz

I survived this section pulling about 30 seconds ahead of Wehan by Horseshoe bar at mile 38. I was now 2 minutes back from Coree. I knew if I could get some turnover going again on smoother trail I would be well positioned for an all out attack over the last 10 miles.

I hit Rattlesnake Bar (mile 41) and saw Eric Schranz at the top of the out-and-back section leading down to the aid station. Eric shouted, “one minute back!” I ran down to aid and saw Coree just leaving. Jenny and Nathan Yanko were there and on spot with fresh fluids and Coke! I turned back and ran hard out of aid now only about 30 seconds from the lead at mile 41.

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Looking for Coree as I climb back out from Rattlesnake Bar aid station. 30 seconds back. PC: Eric Schranz

Now it was time to go. It took me about half a mile of hard running to catch Coree and he was still moving well. I encouraged him to latch on and we ran together for about another half mile until his footsteps faded.

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I got the crazy eyes. Need oxygen. PC: Eric Schranz

From here on I felt surprisingly strong and was able to push. I felt smooth and ready to respond if needed.

Though I felt good I was still dreading the final climb starting at 47 miles. I had not had time to preview the last 3-mile climb, so I prepared myself for the worst.

As I started the climb up to the ominously named Last Gasp aid station, I got a high-five from Craig Thornley which gave me a boost. Then, Luke Garten arrived like clockwork and talked me up to Last Gasp aid station at 47.5 miles with a mix of power hiking and grinding. He said Wehan was still close, which lit a little fire under my butt.

From Last Gasp aid station, the final 2.5 miles runs an average 5 percent grade up to the finish at Overlook Park. Carey met me around 1.5 miles out and helped me to navigate the last mile of the race. I was pushing hard as I knew Wehan would be running me down if I let up.

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All smiles and getting ready to throw my hat at the finish. PC: Mike Kreaden

I hit the parking lot at Overlook Park in Auburn with a big smile and crossed the line in 6:00 hours flat. I was very happy with my race.

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Flying hat. PC: Jenny Maier

Wehan and Ian finished 2nd and 3rd, both catching Coree before the finish. I was really impressed with their early season races given neither has been getting in serious long runs. Chris Wehan (Inside Trail Racing Team) is doing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this year so keep an eye on him (that is four 100 milers in 4 months; incidentally Ian currently holds the record for fastest overall finish time).  Ian has an exciting year planned as well, schedule on his blog. I look forward to running with both of them at Western States! Coree toughed it out and held on to 4th. Great guy and with his leg speed we all need to watch out when he nails one of these things! Congrats Coree, you will get it next time!

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I hope I brought the Tecnu because that was ALL Poison Oak.

POST RACE

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Three amigos.

THANKS TO:

Julie Fingar and the NorCalUltra crew for a putting on a great race. I hope to come back and go after the elusive sub-6 hour time!

Jenny! I still cant believe you made it out of bed to crew—you’re amazing! Again, thanks for your continued and unconditional support. Thanks for all the night training runs! You’re the best.

Carey Williams and family! Thanks for your hospitality in Auburn, crewing assistance, and support in the last mile. You rock!

Don Freeman for his finish line announcing. Great work out there all day! Love Trail Runner Nation Podcast.

Eric Schranz from Ultrarunner Podcast for being out on the course, snapping photos and for the post-race refreshment! Thanks again for the interview.

Craig Thornley, thanks for the race course advice and motivational high fives! Next time, it will be a hug and on the Placer High track in June!

Jean Pommier for a great blog post about the 2015 race (2015 report), which I used for planning. Congrats on your finish and best of luck with your ongoing health issues (2016 report).

HOKAONEONE shoes for their continued support. I used the new Clayton lightweight road shoe for this race! Felt super fast and had enough protection for the rocks. Loved it for for the mix of road, dry trail and short technical sections.

SimpleHydration bottles providing a simple way to carry water. Always had one filled at the aid station to chug or take along as needed.

Stance socks style and performance can’t be beat. Still loving them.

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Caption please!

Data:

Strava and Race results

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10-mile splits 1:03, 1:04, 1:10, 1:22, 1:20
25-mile splits: 2:42, 3:18
26.2-mile: 2:50
50K: 3:26
50-mile: 6:00

Average (max) heart rate
148 (163)

 Nutrition

Pre-race
– Coffee!
– Cliff bar
– Bogg’s Nut butter (half 4.5 oz)
– 12 oz Redbull
– 1L Gatorade

Race
– Amphipod bottle (20 oz) and Simple Bottle (13 oz)
– Tailwind Endurance Fuel (150-200 cal/20oz bottle) and Roctane drink from course
– GU Roctane/Huma gel (1 every 30 minutes until mile 32)
– GU Energy chews, as needed
– Coke, as needed

Gear
– HokaOneOne Clayton
– Stance Fusion Run crew socks
– Suunto Ambit 3 watch and heart-rate monitor

BANDERA 100K: Getting back to Western by cut, sting and bite

 

When the world stopped spinning, I saw the water bottle that had been securely tucked into the back of my shorts laying on the trail in front of me. At 48 miles into the race, I had caught a toe, cartwheeled and was laying face down on the rocky trail. As the adrenaline surge wore off, I was happy to realize all my limbs were intact. The tiny new scrape on my knee faded into the general dull heavy leg ache that all runners know. No real damage, so let’s go!

RACE PREP 

As has become my abnormally normal schedule, I worked a week of 14-hour overnight shifts the week prior to the race. As I transitioned back to non-vampire hours before the race, I tried to focus on catching up on sleep and maintaining good nutrition/hydration.

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Getting packed up. So much sugar. Think this will get through TSA?.

Jenny and I landed in San Antonio on Thursday and made the short drive to the “Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera, Texas! Of course, we had to stop for some Fatty Beef Brisket on the way.

Before the race, I face toughed competition in the Beef Brisket eating contest; needless to say the competition was over before it began, I came in third.

We explored downtown Bandera and ran into Joe Uhan at the hipster coffee shop downtown (of course!) and found out he had to drop from the race related to plantar fasciitis (see Joe’s recent article on iRunFar here). He gave me some race pointers.

The Tejas Trail Crew is on top of their game and the course was fully marked the day prior to the race. Joe Prusaitis was even out on the course to point me in the right direction as I did a little course recognizance.

Jenny ran one of the flatter sections of the course, losing a shoe in the mud, getting poked by a cactus, and almost run over by a deer. Hearing this, I smiled knowing the race would live up to its motto of “everything cuts, stings, or bites.”

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In March 2015, I was fortunate enough to gain an automatic qualifier for Western States via the Montrail Ultra Cup series at Gorge Waterfalls 100K (race report).  I ran Western States as my first 100 miler (race report) in June 2015 and learned a bunch—but even during that race I was already plotting my next attack at the 100-mile distance.

When the Golden Ticket races were announced this year, Bandera 100K fit perfectly into my schedule. Its rugged but runnable reputation was intriguing, and being the USATF 100K Trail Championship I knew competition was a guaranteed.

I am a big proponent of race and terrain-specific training. For a rugged but runnable course, I focused on improving my efficiency on technical terrain. My training partner and running guru Mario Fraioli and I set up a few workouts to prepare me for the challenges of Bandera. For example, instead of doing 6 x 800m on the track, I did 3-minute intervals on rocky single track. These were hard workouts that require a little bit of recklessness as you push to run fast over rocks and roots. I also did multiple longer tempo and progression runs on smooth surface (road or treadmill) to prepare for the open runnable sections of the race.

I scheduled back to back “training races” on a weekend 4 weeks out from Bandera: the USATF Club Cross Country Championships 10K on a Saturday followed by a hilly and muddy 50K on Sunday, which Mario advised to treat like the last 50K of Bandera. This allowed for some speed work, followed by building strength on tired legs. I did all of these races in HOKA Challenger ATRs, same shoes I ran Western States in. The range! (Of interest, this was the event where Lance Armstrong won the 30k, see Scott Dunlap’s blog).

USATF Club Cross Country Championships 10k – The SFRC ultracrew

Woodside Ramble 50k race – Inside Trail Racing

The Bandera course runs a 50K loop twice for the full 100K distance. There are six 4-6 mile segments in this loop, all of which have their own character, some of them rugged, others more runnable; all of them ready to cut, sting and bite you.

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100k does this loop twice.

In looking at previous Bandera performances, large positive splits between the first and second loop were the norm, even for the winners. The winners and other top runners would run the first 50K between 3:47-53 and then who ever positive split the least would win.

Year Winner 1st 50k 2nd 50k Finish time Pos split Other
2015 LANEY xxx xxx 8:34 xxx Ice & rain
2014 MARAVILLA 3:47 4:15 8:02 0:28 Old CR
2013 CANADAY 3:51 4:22 8:13 0:31 Rain
2012 OLSON 3:52 4:36 8:28 0:44 Hot

For example, CR holder and Marin speedster Jorge Maravilla split 3:47 for the first 50K to run a 8:02 (28:00 positive split). For the winners since 2012, this was the least slow down of anyone and a spectacular performance. This is nearly a minute per mile slow down for the exact same 50K loop. Too me, this meant the choppy terrain course took more energy out of people than expected, even at the highest level.

In knowing this, I planned to be a bit more conservative on the first loop as to have reserves for the second. Only issue was, I was not running a time trial. I was racing for a Western entry so I knew all bets were off once the race started. I needed to run within myself but also needed to keep contact with the lead pack. In doing this, I might be walking the fine line to failure, but this is the risk I would take to contend for 1st or 2nd place and the Western States Golden Ticket.

Don’t mess with Texas….or Sotol. This plant bites! This year it was plentiful and unavoidable on the course. Calf sleeves/compression shorts where recommended but I decided to just deal. Even my Sasquatch leg hair did little to protect me.

THE RACE

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Got to the start with great weather predicted for the day. I was ready and excited to run in whatever conditions arrived. Standing at the start line , we all knew early no one could blame weather for whatever would happened today. I had lucky number 32, the same starting number I had to Western States.

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Profile Map of the 50k loop. Blue numbers on top are the distances between aid stations.

The first 12 miles were spent running comfortably with Mario Mendoza, Jim Walmsley and a speedy dangerous chase pack including Ford Smith, Stephen Wassather, and Paul Terranova (to name a few).

Feeling a bit antsy, I made a small surge on a runnable downhill section around mile 14 to see who would come with me. Mario and Jim quickly closed the gap and the three of us arrived together at Cross Roads 1 aid station at mile 17.

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Chapas at mile 11. Getting an expert crew hand off!

At this point (mile 17), the race broke up with Jim and Mario pulling ahead through a rugged section with two small but punchy climbs (one being the Three Sisters climb). At this point, I was running alone, only intermediately catching glimpse of Mario and Jim, then just Mario as Jim laid on the gas and pulled away at around mile 22. Jim would go on to win and break the course record by 16 minutes.

I hit the 50K turn comfortable at 3:52 with Jim 3:47 and Mario 3:50. I knew I had to just keep pushing and not get too comfortable. A podium spot would be great given the competitive field but I came to Bandera to fight for a spot at Western. Ford Smith came in a few minutes behind me, and I knew the chase pack was hungry to swallow me up as I set for the second 50K loop (Ford would later drop with GI issues).

Coming into the 50k turnaround. PC: Jeff Ball & USATF Mountain Ultra Trail (MUT)

I continued to run alone, from mile 31-53, briefly catching glimpses of Mario ahead. He remained between 1-2 minutes ahead through this 22-mile section. We were playing cat and mouse as he would steal a glance back to see my position at the top of a climb before darting off down the winding single track. I was feeling physically strong but developed some nausea and thus stopped taking gels around mile 40, relying on Tailwind and a few shot blocks the rest of the way. My legs were getting heavy and burning but the cutting Sotol plants keep me honest. I fell once after mentally drifting, which immediately reestablished my focus on foot placement and lifting my feet.

As I approached the 53-mile aid station (Cross Roads 2), I decided this was my time to start pushing. I had been working up to then but patiently waiting for Mario to come back to me. I decided I was no longer going to wait for Mario to come to me. I had to go to Mario. I picked up the pace and began to push. I knew I was risking a blow up, cramps, or a nasty fall. But I also was ready to fight for it.

Around mile 54, right before a nasty little climb called Lucky Peak I spotted Mario’s purple Nike singlet. I pushed hard to catch up. I asked how he was doing and he said his head hurt. He was still moving well but I could see he was giving his all to keep going. I told him to hang in there and pushed hard to pass on a short down hill before we began Lucky Peak. I was no longer comfortable, my breathing was labored and a few cramps began to put a hitch in my stride.

I knew Mario was a fierce competitor and he would come with me if his body would cooperate. The slosh of my water bottle tucked in the back of my shorts convinced me Mario was right behind me so I continued to push. In actuality, the effects of a lingering cold shortly there after ended his day (Mario’s race report).

Coming through the last aid station ahead of Mario, Jenny yelled my name, handed me my bottle and said she would see me in 5 miles. I continued to push the last 5 miles not knowing who was coming. I also tried to savor the moment. I had felt this last year at Gorge 100K—the feeling of accomplishment combined with the fear of failure. I crossed the line in 8:06, gaining entry into Western States 2016 and a shot at revenge. I finished two minutes under what I had I guessed.

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Uhan stealing the spot light in my finish photo 😉

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I won some horns! So cool!

POST RACE

Congrats to Jim Walmsley on the silly fast new CR.

Great racing Mario! Way to tough it out so far when not feeling your best. Much respect.

Paul Terranova and Stephen Wassather also had solid races and kept me running scared all day.

Great meeting Roy Pirrung at the finish! Total legend.

Congrats to the other racers who toughed out this course! I was really impressed by all the runners out there. You guys and gals are tough!

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My best Alex Varner impersonation (unintentional).

 THANKS TO:

The Tejas Trail Crew including Chris McMatters and Joe Prusaitis who put on a first class kick your butt trail race! Definitey recommend this or any of their other races. I will be back.

Jenny for being the best crew ever and running over 12 miles to crew for me. Could not have done it without your expert help. Thanks for all the training runs and encouragement along the way. You’re the best.

HOKAONEONE shoes for their continued support. The Challenger ATR was a perfect shoe for this race and has range. I have now race distances from the 10K-100 mile in the same shoe!

Stance socks: the style and performance can’t be beat. The crew socks protected my ankle from the cutting Sotol and still look pretty!

Data:

Strava and Race results

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Splits

26.2-mile split: 3:18
50K splits: 3:52, 4:14
50-mile: 6:29
100k finish: 8:06 (22 min positive split)

Average (max) heart rate

144 (166) – took off monitor at mile 52

Nutrition

Pre-race
– Half pound Beef Brisket (just kidding…only a ¼ pound)
– Bogg’s Nut butter (4.5 oz package)
– 12 oz Redbull
– 1L Gatorade

Race
– Amphipod bottle (20 oz)
– Tailwind Endurance Fuel (150-200 cal/20oz bottle)
– Roctane/Huma gel (1 every 30 minutes until mile 40)
– Salt sticks (only took 1)
– Coke, as needed

Gear

– Hoka One One Challenger ATRs
– Stance Fusion Run crew socks
– Suunto Ambit 3 watch and heart-rate monitor

Bandera 100k: #seeyouinsquaw

8:06 at Bandera 100k USATF National Championship (results) was good enough for second place and a second year of getting a golden ticket entry into Western States.

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Thank you to Tejas Trails for putting on a great event, all the support from friends, family and the running community as well as HOKA ONE ONE and Stance. I could not have done it without my one woman amazing support crew Jenny, you’re the best!

Strava gps data

Full race report to follow…