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…

Fall 50: Getting into Striking Distance

Fall50 Logo“Time to race!” I huffed under my breath as I pushed even harder to chase down Mr. NoShirt and Camille Herron in the final miles of the Fall 50, this year’s U.S. 50-mile road championship. It all boils down to this. All the hours training, all the early mornings, all the late nights, all the travel plans, and all the race plans are about getting to this place: striking distance. I had the backs of two solid runners in sight and now it was time to go.

RACE PREP

I worked a week of overnights the week prior to the race—which was not ideal—but it forced a taper and I was able to get some good rest in the several days before the race.

Radiologist at work

Nonactive recovery Radiologist. AKA Just trying not to get bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome so I can still hold my water bottles during the race.

Jenny and I took the redeye Wednesday, arriving before the sun in Chicago on Thursday morning. It was an easy drive up to the sweet little harbor town of Sturgeon Bay. This city serves as the entrance to Door County, Wisconsin, a favorite vacation spot known for its cherry wines, great boating and beautiful scenery.

Door county map

Sturgeon Bay is also where the race finishes and the huge after-party begins! The weather was beautiful when we arrived, so we took the opportunity drive the course stopping to pick up cheese and local craft beer along the way.

Jenny cruising in Peninsula Park along Lake Michigan.

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Wow. It was beautiful, especially through Peninsula Park (mile 16-24 ish)

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Lake Michigan was like glass two days before the race.

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View from Peninsula Park of Adventure Island in the foreground and Chambers Island in the distance.

I also picked up some Coke for the race!

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Grabbed these two bottles of Coke for the race randomly. One had my name on it. The other had the name of two good friends from Minnesota. Coincidence, yes definitely, but still cool.

Last year I was signed up to run the Fall 50 as my first 50 mile but decided to target the North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco instead. This year, after Western States, I was seeking a bit of change and wanted to get some turnover and road speed (i.e. relative ultrarunner leg speed) back in my legs. The Fall 50 being the USATF road 50-mile national championship was good timing and the obvious choice. Given the race would be fast, I also was hoping to run a sub-5:40 time, which is a qualifying criteria to make the USA World 100K team. Additionally, it was a great excuse to visit Madison, Wisconsin to catch up with friends.

Madison Arboretum

Lake Wingra in the University of Wisconsin – Madison Arboretum (site of the Mad City 100k). Might be coming back for that in 2016!

With input from my training partner and professional coach Mario Fraioli, we devised a 6-week training plan prior to the Fall 50. In this block, I tried to incorporate “marathon-style” training back into my schedule for the first time since moving to California from Minnesota in 2013. For me, this usually meant one hard interval workout and one longer road progression run a week. These progression runs are my training bread and butter. They challenge the mind and body to stay strong and focused at the end of a long run. I run these at a “comfortably hard” effort with the intent of progressing the pace to finish the last 3-10 miles around marathon to half marathon pace. During this block, it also felt great to feel the burn while chasing speedie local roadies around the track. I hoped training on relatively flat roads would help me get back the efficiency that is vital for an ultra road race.

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Ragtag but surprisingly fertile SFRC racing team. I ran the fastest beard assisted time of the day. PC: Travis Weller

I also got my butt kicked in a few local cross country races with the San Francisco Running Company (SFRC) Racing Team to stay sharp and have an excuse hang with friends on a Saturday morning.

THE RACE

Welcome back to the Midwest! As predicted, the beautiful weather from the prior days was dissipating and it was raining and 50 degrees at start the race. My former Minnesota self would have thought nothing of this but in two years California has made me soft. Though not used to rain and cold, I was actually excited to have this added factor to the race. These conditions make me feel alive and I knew the rain would only serve to favor me, given the strong field of talented runners. I wore a light Houdini jacket, head Buff, arm warmers and light gloves to start—most of which I would strip off by mile 20.

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Raining at the start. There was this strange giant red arrow hovering over me for the first few miles.

This would also be the first race that I’ve worn a heart rate monitor, which was a bit of an experiment. I had started to use it a bit in training to see how my perceived effort correlated to heart rate. I am a bit of a data geek but also value the simplicity of just running by feel. The plan was to run by feel and use the heart rate monitor as a guide. Based on training practice, Google searches, and asking around, I figured keeping my heart rate between 145-150 would be the sweet spot.

I felt great off the start line, running smooth and enjoying the early rolling hills. I did not push it, running 6:20-40 mile pace for the first rolling miles. Early on, the rain got progressively harder, which was honestly pretty fun and added a trail race-like experience to the road.

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Wind blowing over the Fall 50 banners later in the race.

On the other hand, I cannot say many positive things about the 10-25 mph cross and headwinds that we faced throughout the day. Wind blows—pun fully intended—on the road or trail.

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Race course elevation profile. Source: Fall 50 Guide 2015

Hitting the first aid station at mile 5, I was ready to exchange my Simple bottle for a fresh one as planned, when Jenny handed me a disposable water bottle filled with a Tailwind mixture. “Here, use this, we forgot the water bottles,” Jenny said as I tried to cruise past. I could not believe, even after so many races, that I forgot my water bottles and two bottles of Coke at the hotel! I snagged the bottle and juggled it as I attempted to pour it into my Simple bottle while I kept running. All I could think was: “I hope she can find some Coke too!” Given the aid stations were close and we were moving well, I knew this might be tough, but I also knew that Jenny is a great problem solver and would do whatever it takes to help me stay fueled and hydrated.

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Extra water bottles for quick aid station exchange neatly organized and ready to go…..sitting back in the warm hotel run. Whoops!

Camille Herron, who had just won the 100K world title, caught up to me around mile 10. She was pushing the hills a bit harder than me. In race, I use the uphills as a place to keep a steady effort and not push. The downhills are my domain where I know I can let loose and make up any time lost on a slightly slower climb. Having spent the last two years practicing running downhill fast, I had no worries about pushing hard on the downhills, even in a 50 mile race. I knew my legs could handle it. Camille and I ran by two strong runners (Isaiah Janzen and Jeremy Morris) before descending down through the second aid station near mile 12.

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The second aid station transition went well and Jenny had found some Coke! I took a shot of Coke and did another quick water bottle juggle to get some more Tailwind. There was another climb and descent before entering one of the most beautiful sections of course through Peninsula Park. Jenny and I had scouted this area on Thursday so it was nice to enter some familiar and beautiful territory. It is here the course truly earns its claim as “The Most Scenic Distance Run in the Midwest.”

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Another beautiful shot from two days before the race.

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Coming through mile 20ish

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Feeling pretty good.

There were some fast miles through the rolling hills and brilliant colors of changing fall leaves. In this section, Camille and I passed Michael Borst, who was coming off a stellar Superior 100 mile finish. Unfortunately, he dropped out later in the race. I really felt smooth and was happy to have about half a mile of smooth dirt trail before getting back on the roads.

Mile 21 trail

Short section of trail around mile 21 (shot taken two days before the race), so had a few more puddles race day.

Once you pop out of the park, you quickly hit the fourth aid station followed by a gradual climb for the next several miles. Camille was in sight through this section but she was pushing harder on the climbs. I went through mile 25 two minutes under course record pace (2:42, 5:24 predicted finish), so I knew I was moving well and still had a shot at a sub-5:40 USA World 100K qualifier time.

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Just exiting Peninsula Park.

As I approached mile 28 and the fifth aid station, I saw Camille and a second runner. This turned out to be Tyler Sigl, last year’s winner, who was having a rough day and later dropped. I stopped quickly at the aid station to restock and was passed by a shirtless runner who ran through without stopping (Mr. NoShirt turned out to be Durango-based young gun Anthony Kunkel). Having passed Tyler—and now right behind Mr. NoShirt—I remained in fourth place.

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Butt bottle in full effect.

Next, there was a great short downhill before we hit the next fairly flat section. I passed 50K in 3:23. This section was the biggest grid of the day, and even though it was flat, it was also very exposed. The strong winds we had been battling all day became a bit more apparent and my paced slowed through this section (6:50-7:10 per mile). Camille and Kunkel remained in sight. My focus turned to maintaining my turnover, my effort and my individual mile splits. I figured a sub 5:40 finish was off the table given the winds and my slowing pace.

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Running into mile 36 (way in the distance).

The last big climb at mile 39 is less than half a mile long and it actually felt good to use different muscles to climb, even though it was my slowest mile of the day. By now, I lost sight of Camille and Kunkel as the road became more winding.

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Crew and spectators bundled up at one of the later aid stations.

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Jenny trying not to get blown away at the last aid station, mile 45.

At the last aid station (mile 45), I heard they were about a minute and a half ahead of me. I knew most runners would come back if I could maintain or quicken my finishing pace. I relied on the strength of my training progression runs and started to focus on the chase. Over the last 5 miles I steadily dropped my pace and I could see them both running strong, but also slowly coming back to me.

Last 5 miles pace

Progression over the last few miles.

Finally, hitting the cemetery (which marks 1 mile to go), I glanced at my watch and did some quick math (not advisable) and realized I could still go under 5:40.

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The cemetery at mile 49 not so subtly reminds you that no matter how bad you are feeling, things could be worse.

I dug deep the last mile and both runners were in “striking distance” with quarter of a mile to go and one last turn into the park for the finish. Camille turned first off the main road, then Kunkel, who I could tell was pushing hard. I saw Kunkel pass Camille after the turn and I knew I had a shot. Right then all heck broke loose as the white capped waves crashed on the lake shore and sideways rain began pelting us in the face. I squinted to see Kunkel cross the line in front of me and I pushed hard to sneak by Camille with 50 meters to go. Through the sideways rain, I could see 5:38 on the clock! Camille came quickly behind and collapsed on the ground and we all congratulated one another, finishing less than 30 seconds apart over 50 miles.

POST RACE

Race results and my Strava data 

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Kunkel (Mr. NoShirt) and I enjoying an EPIC bar. Yum!

Congrats to Camille and Kunkel on their great races. Camille ran a WORLD RECORD time for the 50 mile, though, unfortunately it will not count as the course does not meet specific criteria (see Camille’s race report for details). Given the weather, no one was at the actual finish line, except for a few cold and wet crew members who quickly ushered us into the warm tent.

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50 mile Fall50 bling. Time for some warm clothes and a refreshing beverage.

Zach Bitter crushed his own course record running 5:17. In talking after the race, he thought given the conditions we all lost around 10-15 minutes but who knows (Zach’s race report).

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Me, Kunkel, Sean Ryan, and Bitter. I was looking around for one of those GIANT checks that I always wanted to hold for winning something!

The after-party was spectacular and highly recommended. Free pizza, free beer, and tons of crazy costumes on the 50 mile relay runners made for a fun night!

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After-party tent was getting too hot for shirts it seems.

Congrats to the other racers and thank you once again to the race organizers and tough volunteers!

THANKS TO:

Race Director Sean Ryan who puts on a first class road race! I hope to be back again!

Jenny for being the best crew ever and braving the wind and cold. Thanks for all the training runs and encouragement along the way. You’re the best.

HOKAONEONE shoes for their continued support. The Huaka was a perfect shoe for this race.

Stance socks: the style and performance can’t be beat. I had no blisters after running 50 miles in wet shoes and socks!

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Actually shoe and sock I wore race day. Rain was like a car wash all day so the are clean as a whistle. #notatrailrace

Data:

Strava data

Strava

Strava race analysis

Splits
Ten mile splits: 1:05, 1:04, 1:07, 1:11, 1:11
25-mile split: 2:42
26.2-mile split: 2:52
50K split: 3:23
50-mile finish: 5:38

Average heart rate
146

Nutrition
Pre-race
– Cliff bar
– Bogg’s Nut butter (4.5 oz package)
– 8 oz Redbull
– 1L Gatorade

Race
– Simple bottle
– Tailwind Endurance Fuel
– Roctane (1 every 30 minutes)
– Salt sticks (1-2 every 60 minutes)
– Coke, as needed

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

FALL 50: USATF 50 mi Road Champs!

3rd place at the 50 mi Road National Championship in 5:38!

Hit my goal of running sub 5:40 to get the 100k World Team qualifier. Pouring rain and heavy winds made for a pseudo trail race feel! Thanks for all the support and congrats to Zach Bitter and Camille Herron (world record time) on their ridiculous runs! Thanks to all the volunteer and great race organization! Jenny, thanks again for braving the nasty conditions all day to support me, you’re the best! Thanks to HOKA one one and stance socks for protecting my feet!

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Fall 50 Bling! PC: Jenny Maier

Race report up shortly…

WESTERN STATES: 100 miles is hard

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Magdalena Boulet adjusting her hair before crushing me. PC: Chasqui Runner

“I have another 364 days a year to wimp out, not today”. This quote stuck in my head for many hours on the Western States 100 mile course. Brett Rivers, friend and 9th place finisher at last years race, told me this after badly twisting his already bum ankle about 6 miles into the race. Everyone deals with their own demons, physical and mental, over the course of a 100-mile race, but it’s how you choose to deal with them that often determines your fate and how you look back on the experience. It’s been over a month since the race and it’s had a chance to fully set in, my mind and body are finally starting to recover from this journey. Putting it all into words isn’t easy, so I’ll stick with a few that represent it best: Grateful, Perspective, and Progress.

The Road to Western States: Grateful

In the six months prior to Western States, I ran my first 50 mile (North Face Endurance Challenge SF), my first 100K (Gorge Waterfalls) and handful of 50k and marathon distance events on both the trail and road. My build-up for Gorge back in March was solid and I showed up ready to rumble. I raced hard and left everything I had on the course–earning second place, which got me a Montrail Ultra Cup ticket into the coveted Western States 100.

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Look Ma, Justin and I made it into the glossy July 2015 Ultrarunner magazine!

With only 3 months before race day, I would have to recover quickly before another ramp up cycle for my first 100-miler at States. In doing this, I would be walking a fine line between injury and fitness, prepared and exhausted, ready and not, but I was grateful for the opportunity to walk that line and show up on race day and give it all I had.

Being my first 100 mile, I decided to concentrate my training on getting “time on my feet” with a tiny bit of longer speed work mixed in. I kicked off my training by running the Boston Marathon a few weeks out from Gorge 100K as this was already in the works. I used this year’s Boston as a long paced training run but tried not to push it since recovery was still hit and miss a few weeks after the 100K effort. Later, in May, I scheduled three sequential weekends of long training runs (30+ miles), which included a 50K race in the East Bay, a 50K+ “fun run” with friends from Palo Alto to Half Moon Bay, and the Western States Memorial Day Weekend Training Camp where we ran most of the Western States Trail over the course of three days.

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Western States Training Camp: Happiest people to ever climb Devli’s Thumb. I knew there would be pay back. Right to left. Kaci Lickteig, Ian Sharman, Magdalena Boulet, and Mr. Green.

Training camp was definitely one of the highlights of my year. Picking the brains of veteran runners, meeting the race organizers, other runners and previewing the course proved to be invaluable during training and on race day.

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Western Training camp near Cal 3: Kaci, Ford Smith, and Scott Wolfe

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Obligatory trail selfie with Billy Yang.

Over this train block, work also became progressively busier as I finished my second year of Radiology residency at Stanford, which took a different kind of toll on the mind and body.  All of this culminated in a fair bit of fatigue and a feeling of “flatness” as I geared up for Western States.  I knew this was a sign I needed time off and this feeling was reinforced by a series of nagging injuries. Finally, a hamstring strain forced me to enter a deep, early taper with “no real running” two weeks out from States.

Resting up, taped up.

During this time period where I felt fatigued, overworked, unable to train and teetering on the verge of legitimate injury, I kept thinking to myself that I was still grateful to be in the position I was in.  I was grateful for the opportunity to run.  I was grateful for my friends and family.  I was just grateful to be alive.  I was grateful to be given the chance to push myself and compete, as I know that Western States claims many casualties in the months leading up to it and some of my runner-friends may not even make it to the start line.  Though I was having doubts that my body would cooperate on race day, I knew I would make the best of whatever Western States could throw at me.

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Arriving in Squaw two days prior to race with a view of the first climb up the escarpment.

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Hiking up the first climb. My sea level lungs could immediately feel the 7300 ft of elevation.

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Got plenty of shoes, plenty of water bottles, my crew, and made it to the starting line 34 hours before the gun! Let’s do this!

Western States June 27, 2015: Perspective

3:00 am. Get up! The race starts at 5:00 am right before sunrise, which was awesome.  I met up with the Mill Valley-based San Francisco Running Company (SFRC) crew at the start line. Everyone was in good spirits and ready to get the day started.  It was already warm, depriving us of the cool early morning temperatures before Mother Nature cranks up the heat.

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All smiles with Alex Varner and Brett River. PC: Chris Blagg

There was a countdown, a gun to start the race, and then there was slow climbing.  We started nice and easy but I could feel the elevation right away as a group of us, including Brett, Ian Sharman, Michael Wardian, Ryan Kaiser and Stephen Wassather, made our way up Escarpment together.

Escarpment climb with Warden, Stephen and Brett.

Early on the escarpment climb with Brett, Wardian, and Stephen. PC: Chasqui Runner

As we crested the hill, the sun peaking just above the horizon, I had a good feeling about the day.

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Cresting the escarpment at 8,700ft. PC: Facchino Photography

In a blink, Ian was gone as the downhill began. Brett and I ran together, which felt so familiar and smooth, just like a Saturday Morning SFRC group run.  Too soon after, Brett twisted his ankle and limped to a halt. I felt awful since I knew Brett and how much this event meant to him, especially after last year’s stellar performance.  I checked into see if he was ok, but he urged me to keep going, said some inspiring words, then I was alone.  But you’re never really alone in a race like this.  Over the next ten miles, I ran with a good mix of people, including Kaiser, Wardian, and the early pack of lead women including Michelle Yates and Joelle Vaught.  The lead men were pushing hard, but I knew there was plenty of race left and tried to keep perspective over the long day ahead.

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Descending into Duncan aid station with a good group including Michelle Yates, Stephen, Kaiser, and Wardian. PC: Dominic Grossman

By the time I reach the first aid station with my crew at Duncan Canyon (mile 24), I was still not sure how the day would play out. I was feeling good but not great. The boost of familiar smiles and a hug from Jenny, raised my spirits and gave me perspective. No matter what happens, today will be a good day because I’m running, I still feel pretty good and I have lots of people cheering me on.

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Exiting Duncan like I was jumping out of an airplane. PC: Luke Tamagda-Darr

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Running up to Robinson Flat with Magda (Women’s winner!) before she got lost for 2 miles! PC: Chris Blagg

I ran well through Robinson Flat and felt smooth and comfortable descending to down Dusty Corners (mile 38), the last place I would see crew before entering 18 miles of hot, steep canyons.

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Jenny restocking me with fuel at Dusty Corners with Ben and Stephen photobombs. PC: Stephen Ingalls

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Checking to make sure my butt looks good before entering the Canyons. Jenny said it did.  Volunteers were less impressed. PC: Stephen Ingalls

In the Canyons, I started to feel the heat and fatigue seeping in. I started to slow and eating was becoming difficult.  Here I saw the first carnage of the day including Justin Houck, who I had run much of Gorge 100k with, and Ford Smith who I had met at training camp. They were both having rough days, so I tried to provide a little encouragement. A few runners passed me through this section as well.

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Sneaky Nate took this shot at Pucker Point before I entered the Canyons, almost scared me off the edge! PC: Nate Dunn

Quickly there after, I was rejoined by my soon to be partner-in-suffering, Michael Wardian.  We cooled off quickly in a small spring, just before climbing Devil’s thumb. Together, we made our way up Devil’s thumb and stumbled up to Michigan Bluff, arriving much later than we both hoped.  Having that company and playfully egging each other on kept our minds temporarily off the pain.

At Michigan Bluff (mile 56), I crumbled into a collapsible chair and sat first time. I felt like crap. A big pile of it.

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Jeff Goldblum and I (on the right) at Michigan Bluff. Copyright Jurassic Park (1993).

Sitting there, I started to feel even worse to have made all these people come out to help me.  Half my crew was at Michigan Bluff, the other half waiting for me at Foresthill.  I had high hopes to really nail my first 100 mile race and it was seeming to unravel a bit.

I was sad to hear several of the Mill Valley runners were also having rough days of their own and decided to pull the plug early. Elite Nike athlete Alex Varner, having just smartly ended his day, yelled in my face, “You look awesome, get up and do this!”.  A little switch flipped and I thought, “What the heck am I doing sitting here. Keeping going, there are 364 other days to quit”. Feeling like a slightly smaller pile of crap than I had minutes earlier, I set off with new fire to meet my crew and first pacer at Foresthill.

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Luke and I running up Bath road right before the Foresthill aid station, feeling little less crappy. PC: Chasqui Runner

There are things you have control over in a race and things you don’t.  I didn’t have control over the fact that my body was rejecting the distance and I was having a hard time eating.  I didn’t have control over the fact that my legs didn’t want to climb after the Canyons.  But I did have control over whether I was going to look back on this day and say it was a good one or not.  Today might have not be my best day, but I was still determined to make it a good one.

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Rolling into Foresthill with Luke, Mario, Drew and Fernando and Chris just behind.. PC: Jenny Maier

Hitting Foresthill (mile 62), I was actually feeling better. It was amazing to see my killer crew Jenny, Luke Tamagna-Darr, Chris Blagg, and Drew Smith in one place.  They were simply the best!

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Getting an ice massage from Drew. Contemplating the fact I have 38 miles left. PC: Luke Tamagna-Darr

I was extra excited to pick up my first pacer, good friend and training partner Mario Fraoli. This would be my first time with a pacer and his first time pacing; I knew we would have beginner luck. What a memorable experience to share with a friend.  Mario actually beat me to the punch and wrote his own “pace report” about his experience just days after the race.  He really nailed it and I echo everything he said. Read it here –> Mario pace report

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Mario setting pace out of Foresthill. “Let’s catch Wardian!” says Mario. PC: Luke Tamagna-Darr

During this stretch was my only real racing of the day and it felt good. Through Cal Street (mile 62-78), Wardian and I and our pacers played a friendly game of leap frog, during which he jokingly (or not?) told me he would “wear me down”.  We all had a good laugh.  After about 2 hours of back and forth, I eventually was able to pass him and just barely hold him off for the remainder of the race.

Mario and I have logged many miles together, but the miles on the Western States course will always be some of the most memorable. This was not my day, but it was our day. It was a day I could share with others and others were happy to share with me. I was never more happy in my life to wade across a freezing river than when Mario and I hit the American River at Rucky Chucky (mile 78).

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Crossing the American River at mile 78, I was happy on the inside. PC: Facchino Photography

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Mario looking strong, me…horizontal in the river. Hey, wait for me dude! PC: Facchino photography

Fernando De Samaniego Steta was waiting on edge at the other side of the river and would pace me home. Fernando had crushed Canyons 100k finishing 2nd this year and also had run this section numerous times. The guys oozes energy and I was a sponge at this point in the race.  I was going to need some help at this point, with both my eating and just getting me to the end in one piece.

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Climb up from the River to Green Gate (it literally is a green colored gate). PC: Chris Blagg.

Picking up Fernando at mile 78, my perspective changed again.  He said, “Let’s go hunting, Trailwolf”!  As if on cue, I starting eating again and blasting the downhills at sub-7 pace.  This lasted only in short spurts but felt good when it did.  I love running, just love it. But running for 80 miles (or more) tests that a bit. My bursts of speed were balanced out by walking, justified only by the age-old mantra that powerhiking the uphills is key in 100-milers. During this time, at night when your mind begins to wander a bit, I just kept thinking I needed to remember this moment, remember your friends, remember everything you’re feeling for better or worse, and soak it in.

Fernando pushed me all the way to the last climb up to Robie point (mile 99) where most of my crew met me. Running in with nearly my crew the final mile was the highlight of my day.

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Arms up, arrival at Robie point was so sweet. One mile to the track with my crew. PC: Chris Blagg

I think this last mile was my fastest and my body felt the best.  Maybe it was finally being able to stretch my legs a bit, maybe it was because I could hear the cheers and the voice of Tropical John Medinger at the track, maybe it was because I was just running with friends, but I finally felt good and at peace with my performance.

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Crossing the line and greeted race director Craig Thornley, film crew JB Benna, and women champion Madga. PC: Nate Dunn

Hitting the track was an experience that’s hard to put into words and I hope that anyone reading this will be able to experience this one day for themselves.  Anything I say about how it feels to finally reach the track and cross that line at this event won’t due the experience justice.

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Happy to be alive. PC: Facchino photography

My perspective on the race changed throughout the day.  It went from a race to a sufferfest to a long run on the trails, then finally to a shared deep and rich experience with close friends and other runners that I will never forget. I did not have the performance I intended to have, but this is also something that requires perspective.  My tough day is someone else’s good day and my best day is someone else’s bad day. Though we are all out there together on the same course, we are all running our own race, for our own time, for our own reasons and keeping perspective on this is important. Brett finished a few hours after me, and while it was no 9th place repeat from last year, everyone who knows him was so incredibly proud of his performance and ability to gut it out even when his body failed early on.  And to put things in perspective, he still finished well under 24 hours, a gold standard for success in the 100 mile distance.

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Congratulating Magda on her killer run and winning her first 100 miler. She edged me out by 2 mins, I’m cool with getting beat by an Olympian! She is truly amazing! HOKA power. PC: Facchino photography

In the end, even if you take away the timing chips and the medals and belt buckles, I do this for fun and I truly feel fortunate to be healthy enough to compete, and be surrounded my supportive friends and family when I race.  I will have better days, and likely worse ones in my future, and I welcome them both equally.

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Crew captain got her runner in safe and sound. Photobombed my Chris Jones and Matt Laye. PC: Chris Blagg

Recovery time: Progression

It’s a little over a month out from Western States and just did my first long run and some speed work that felt normal again. This last month has been a mix of excitement, let downs, false starts, running withdrawl, procrastination, contemplation and reflection. I’m not sure what will be next for me. I will do another 100, that is for sure.  I left a ton on time out on the course and look forward to getting after it again and seeing what I can do now that I learned some valuable lessons about the distance and the course.

One of my favorite runs in a progression run when you start off easy, build pace gradually and finish strong over the last few miles. I think over the last six months my progression started a little fast and I slowed a bit by the end.  This is not how I like to operate in my individual runs or over the course of training, so over the next six months, I look forward to changing that.  Starting slowly again, building strength, getting fitter, staying healthy, and aiming for a strong finish in the near future, wherever that may be.

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Still standing at the award ceremony the next day with our shiny new belt buckles with Stephen and Brett. PC:

Western was all I expected it to be and more. I hope anyone who wants to do this race, will get the chance.  I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to run it so early in my ultrarunning career.  While I might have been able to run faster, I feel that I really did make the most of my States experience and take away some amazing memories and valuable lessons.

Special congrats to the race winners Rob Krar and Magda, truly inspirational. Congrats to Ian Sharman for another stellar top 10 finish, not sure how he does it, but I was honored to share some training miles and race miles with him.

Thanks to:

Crew captain and main squeeze Jenny for her unyielding support, sacrifice, great organization and keeping me going throughout the day.

Mario for being an amazing training partner, impromptu unpaid coach, and great pacer. I look forward to having many more adventures with you in the future.

Fernando for bring me home strong and keeping me eating. You’re a rising star and I look forward to watching what you can do.

Luke Tamagna-Darr for being a Jenny-handler and driver for my last two races. You were awesome out there and I hope to pay you back someday.

Chris Blagg and Drew Smith for being an unending stream of positive vibes and Trailwolf support.

The organizers, the racers, and the volunteers.

Kurt Decker from Twin Cities Running Company for his great advice, guru level wisdom, always open ear, and continued support!

Many other friends that were out there on the course for support. You guys rock!

Ian Sharman, Scott Wolfe, and Kaci Lickteig for their recommendations about the course.

Mike Wardian for sharing many rough miles with me on race day.

Craig Thornley for the tremendous race organization and John Medinger for the voice of the track, bringing me home after a very long day!

HOKA ONEONE Shoes: HOKA OneOne Challenger ATRs.  Thank you HOKA ONEONE for all the support with gear and for Eric Emerson who was out on the course to cheer me on!

Stance Socks: I love these extreme quality running socks. They’re the perfect mix of cushion, performance, and design. Thanks for the support Russell Nadel!

Strava data

https://www.strava.com/activities/335868917/embed/14c8a123f33116d7502e00b1524fbf6457e7be6c

Chasing States at the Gorge 100k

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Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama (www.tachifoto.net )

My crew later told me I looked like death as I rolled into the Mile 49 (Yeon) aid station six minutes behind the leader. I was feeling tired and thirsty, but not dead yet. After slamming five cups of Coke, I was pushed out of the aid station with 10 gels, 12 Shot Bloks and 32 ounces of water shoved down my shorts. After all, if I was carrying enough fuel in my shorts to supply a high school track meet, it certainly could get me through the next 13 miles. I left and started down a stretch of road and back into the woods. It was time to grind. From the road to the woods was something I was familiar with. After a couple years of pounding pavement at everything from 5Ks to 50Ks on the road, I found my way into trail racing. Gorge 100K would be my first attempt at 100k, like North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco had been my first crack at 50 miles. After pacing Jorge Maravilla at Western States last year, and feeling strong at North Face 50 last winter, I was determined to reach the start line at Squaw one way or another. I singled out Gorge Waterfalls as my goal race. Being a Montrail Ultra Cup race, the top 2 male and female runners would go to Western and the race looked spectacular (see the GingerRunner video on Youtube to find out for yourself!). I planned to race my way into Western. I registered knowing there would be tough competition for those top two spots, but I would be ready to fight for one.

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Drew and Jenny scouting the course from Cascade Locks aid station the day before the race.

Training for me over the last few years has been centered around squeezing in runs when I can. Because of my busy schedule as a Radiology resident, runs are often squeezed in at odds times. At times on call, I have resorted to running loops around my block at 11pm carrying my pager (yes we still have pagers) or climbing stairs at the hospital. Most of my runs are very early or late, with many miles in the dark. Some of my early morning runs also had the added benefit of the company of Mario Fraioli. We started something we call 6@6 (six miles at six am). Meeting early gets of both out of bed and the camaraderie, the coffee and conversation kept us coming back. Mario and I also attempted weekly workouts, but we kept a high level of flexibility that busy lives demand. In the end, I ran when I had time, I ran hard when I felt good, and I recovered when I felt tired. Pretty simple.

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Mario showing me how it’s done on the downhill.

When I had a weekend off, I would head to Marin to roll with the San Francisco Running Company crew. These guys and gals are fast and have started to feel like family over the year and a half that I have lived in the Bay Area. Running a couple times a month with elite trail runners like Dylan Bowman (DBo), Alex Varner, Jorge Maravilla, and Brett Rivers can get you fit. This supportive community, the year round running, and the beautiful trails make training with limited time work just fine.

Starting a Tam Hill Climb with the Bros: Left to right DBo, Varner, Jorge, Brett

Starting a Tam Hill Climb with the Bros: Left to right DBo, Varner, Jorge, Brett, and Michael.

Fast forward a few months and you have me sitting in a dark car, 15 minutes before the start of Gorge 100K, making what felt like the biggest decision of the day. Which socks do I wear? Go with a new pair, or go with the fancy new ones that have not been race test? So much to decide…15 minutes before race start. Did I mention it was 3:45AM? The race finally started and a couple hundred headlamps sped off into the dark woods. The first few miles, I was hanging behind the lead pack. All those neon Nike race kits were easy to see in the dark. We were all running comfortably up the first climb. I was in shorts, a singlet, arm sleeves and gloves to start, which ended up being a good combo for the slightly chilly and damp morning weather.

Lining up bright and early behind the Nike Trail Gang. Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama (www.tachifoto.net )

Lining up bright and early behind the Nike Trail Crew. Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama (www.tachifoto.net )

I planned to “run my own race”. I ran comfortably with the group on the first climb and then felt like I was moving really well on the technical downhill sections. I eventually found myself in second place coming into the second aid station at mile 13 (Yeon), which would also serve as the mile 49 aid station on our return. I felt good going into this aid station at mile 13, ready to tackle some of the technical terrain ahead, still without the benefit of sunlight. My “crew”, was basically my girlfriend Jenny, who had planned to meet me only at Cascade Locks (miles 22 and 40). This aid station was very close to where we were staying and easily accessible. We had a good crewing plan going into this race, with the proper number of gels, calories from Tailwind, balance of electrolytes and caffeine waiting for me at Cascade Locks aid twice. The thing about ultrarunning is you can plan as much as you want, but always expect to have to troubleshoot and be flexible.

Jenny organized fuel plan

Jenny organized fuel plan!

Somewhere between Yeon and Cascade Locks things went off track. I was running in second place behind Ben Stern, and followed by Bob Shebest, Justin Houck and Mario Mendoza. Ben was far enough ahead that we didn’t even see him take the turn, but we followed an arrow that was pointed up a steep stretch of loose rocks to join a trail above. This scramble seemed out of place given the rest of the race, but was clearly marked with pink ribbon, the same ribbon used to mark the course. So we climbed. Just before we reached the peak, we saw Ben come running down from the top saying that it lead to nowhere. We all took a look and also realized there was no continuance of the trail. Something was wrong. We decided as a group to descend the peak. On the way down, we ran into the chase group of a few other runners, including Jeff Browning, Gary Robbins and others. Jeff immediately suggested we wait for the local racer, Yassine Diboun, to guide us. It was a unique experience to be standing around with top 10 runners in the middle of a competitive race. Yassine ended up figuring out which direction to take, whistled to us to follow him (that guy can whistle), and the race was back on. As we made our way to the next aid (Cascade Locks miles 22), Justin and I found ourselves running together. At that point, we realized we had met once before during North Face 50 back in December. It was mile 45-ish and we were climbing Marincello (the notorious “$10,000 hill and the last climb of the race). Justin had gone out hard with the lead pack and was suffering when I caught up to him on the climb. I encouraged him to run up the climb with me but got no real response from him. Turns out, he actually remembered that interaction and thanked me. Well, now our encounter was a little different. North Face was my backyard, Gorge is pretty much Justin’s though he had never been on the course. And as it turns out, Justin is a great climber! We ended up working together through the latter part of the race, him pulling me on the ups and me pushing him on the downhills. I edged him out at North Face and was hoping to pull out a similar result here, though working as a team seemed to help us both and in the end, two people could get golden tickets.

Just before dropping into Wyeth aid (mile 32) turnaround aid station with Bob Shebest in tow. Photo Credit: Glen Takiyama (www.tachifoto.net )

Just before dropping into Wyeth aid (mile 32) turnaround aid station with Bob Shebest in tow. Photo Credit: Glen Takiyama (www.tachifoto.net )

For the next 10 miles, we were all cruising. I’m not sure if you should be running this fast during a 100k but we were. Though we were running pretty fast, I didn’t feel like I was taxing myself too much at this point and it felt good to stay with this lead pack. At Wyeth aid, I was surprised to see Jenny there since she was supposed to stay at Cascade Locks the whole day. It turns out after seeing how fast the top runners were moving through aid she made the decision to try to meet me at all the remaining aid stations to avoid putting me at a disadvantage against other racers with crew.

Lead pack coming into Wyeth at mile 32. Photo Credit: Thomas Lee Houck

Lead pack coming into Wyeth at mile 32. Photo Credit: Thomas Lee Houck

Bob, who had come into Wyeth in first (with myself and Justin nipping at his heels), must have spent less than 10 seconds at the aid station and was out just as fast as he ran in! I thankfully remembered to finally take off my arm sleeves, with Jenny basically pushing me out of the aid station after Bob. I knew that Bob and I could climb together but was glad to get out of the aid station before Justin, who was climbing so well at that point in the race. Bob and I ran together with Justin nowhere in sight and until I heard him creeping up from behind. He ran up to us wearing a new set of flashy red shoes and bright pink socks. I had to laugh. There isn’t much in this world as demoralizing to get passed by a dude who took an extra minute at aid to put on pink socks just so he could pass you shortly after.

Chasing with stuffed shorts. Thanks Jenny! Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama (www.tachifoto.net )

Chasing with stuffed shorts. Thanks Jenny! Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama (www.tachifoto.net )

We reach the climb with Justin leading, Bob and I following. This started to feel like a theme for the rest of the race. But then we hit the downhill, I pushed a bit. I had been working on my downhill running since North Face. That additional training plus the help of my HOKA ONE ONE (Challenger ATRs) really allowed me to descend fast, passing Bob and catching Justin.

Running with Justin. Photo Credit: Thomas Lee Houck

At my second time through Cascade Locks at mile 40, my crew was there again and totally on point. We had a quick transition and I was back out and in the lead with Justin right behind. I was running well, felt strong and was cautiously optimistic that Justin and I would be able to run this thing in together. Quickly after the aid, I realized I could keep moving but did not have the energy in the tank that Justin had. He was moving well and I wasn’t able to comfortably keep up. This is when the whole “running my own race” plan had to come into play.

Running from Ginger runner

Coming into Yeon aid at 49 miles with Ethan Newberry (The Ginger Runner) chasing. Photo Credit: Luke Tamagna-Darr

So this is when I get to mile 49 aid (Yeon) and my crew thought I looked like death. Justin had put a bit of time on me and I was running into the aid station tired and thirsty. You know what helps when you’re tired and thirsty? Drinking as much Coke as possible, as fast as possible, while trying to explain to your crew to stop shoving more gels in your already full pockets. Apparently, I looked so bad that she thought I needed twice as many calories to get me to the finish in one piece. I couldn’t find the words to explain that my pants were already full of empty gel trash and I was just not focused enough to remove it. As I exited the aid station with excessive amount of fuel and fluids, my shorts were nearly falling off. This is the last time I would see my crew until the finish line. So that brings us back to the road, something familiar, but it seems like over the past couple years, the trails have felt more like home. I ran comfortably on the road but with cars passing by, there was nowhere to hide my suffering. I was happy to re-enter the woods a few miles later where I could silently grind out the remaining ten miles. Fortunately, I was also able to hand Skip Brand from Healdsburg Running Company some of my extra nutrition to lighten my load! Trail running requires a lot of suffering. The remainder of the race hurt. The type of hurt that you can’t escape and can leave you in despair. I fell during this stretch. Not the cool kind of fall where you tumble and pop back up with mud on your clothes and blood on your face, but the kind where you are just too tired to fight gravity any longer and catch a toe and slow-motion crumple to ground. Maybe you catch yourself, maybe you don’t. It doesn’t even matter. The point is, I was less than ten miles to the finish of this race and I was on the ground. But I got back up, probably faster than I fell. And I did have blood on my face, for the record.

Let the suffering begin. Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama (www.tachifoto.net )

Let the suffering begin with a little blood on the cheek. Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama (www.tachifoto.net )

I hit the last aid where there is no crew access. Only 6 miles to go. I kept telling myself, “it’s just another 6@6, you got this”, though none of our 6@6’s have climbs like the one that was about to rear its ugly head on. It was about 1500 feet of climbing in two miles. Real evil stuff, thank you James Varner. You are also running amongst tourists on these endless paved switchbacks. Some of them are very old, others have strollers, and they all seem to be going faster than you. I really had to dig deep to get through this section, let’s just leave it like that. Reaching the top, you can see the parking lot adjacent to the finish area. At this point, I knew Justin probably already finished and was having a celebratory beer. I took a brief look behind me to see if anyone had caught me on the climb, but no one was in sight. It was just me, my race and a few miles of downhill to the finish. I couldn’t have been happier to see that finisher’s chute. It was an emotional experience to be able to run this race how I did and finish with the result I had.

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Finisher’s chute at Benson State Recreation area. Photo Credit: Luke Tamagna-Darr

Running at Western States 100 was not only a possibility, or a probability, but was now a reality. See you in Squaw, Bros!

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A couple months before Gorge 100k  Photo Credit: Jenny Maier

THANK YOU TO:

  • My family and friends, who always support me.
  • San Francisco Running Company Crew for giving me a running community that feels like home.
  • Twin Cities Running Company Crew for the continued support from afar.
  • Rainshadow Running and their volunteers for putting on a great event. Go do one!
  • HOKA ONE ONE for their support as an Ambassador and for making shoes I love to run in. I left everything I had out on the course that day, including my last pair of Challengers, they did their job and died a good death. Can I have another pair now?
  • UltraSportLive.TV for the great LIVE coverage.
  • MY CREW and girlfriend Jenny. Thank you for all your support and keeping me running with shorts full of gel! You’re the best and could not have done it without you!
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Jenny pushing the pace on the hike the next day. I have to practice power hiking for States she says 😉

PS: If anyone is wondering, I finished this race in a time of 9 hours and 49 minutes and ran a total of 65 miles (trail sabotage bonus). Both Justin and I ran under the course record. I also finished with about 8 gels still in my pants. Some of them exploded. GU, if you could work on that in time for Western that would be awesome. Oh, and I went with the Nike cushioned elite socks. Sorry to keep you all in suspense, 😉

Post race interview with Victor Ballesteros and USL.TV

The Ginger Runner Race video: CHASING WESTERN – The 2015 Gorge Waterfalls 100k