Saturday, June 20, 2015

2015 Silver State 50K Race Report

The EBRPD cancels Ohlone 50K due to a few raindrops
photo credit Jean Pommier
They cancelled my birthday???

"Those bastards cancelled my birthday this year?" I ask incredulously. "I can't believe those fuckers cancelled my birthday." By "bastard-fuckers" I am of course referring to the board of directors of the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). And no, they didn't cancel my actual birthday itself. It's not like they issued a decree or proclamation stating that all birthdays falling on or near May 19 this year would be rendered null and void.

No, those infidels did something far worse and insidious. For reasons that still baffle me, this group of desk jockeys decided to cancel the Ohlone 50K -- a race that falls on or near my birthday every May, and one of my favorite races of the year. And they cancelled it just two days beforehand because... wait for it... because it rained a little?  California is in the middle of a drought mind you.

But apparently these over-zealous politicians were worried that people might get wet. Or that shoes might get muddy? I still don't quite understand what exactly they were thinking.

Meanwhile Silver State 50 proceeds in snow and mud!
photo credit JenelleP @JPChronicles
I think I've made a terrible mistake (part 1)

Anyway, there I was, several hours and several litters of beer later, fairly drunk and pissed off. And then I hatched a plan. "What if...," I asked my wife Amy, "we drop John Paul off at your mom's and hop in the car and start driving North to Reno? If we leave now we might be able to make it there in 5 hours, plenty of time to get a few hours of sleep before Silver State 50K starts in the morning!"

I'd never run Silver State before. I'd never even considered running it as it always falls the day before Ohlone. But hell, I was drunk. And I was on the Internet with my credit hard in my hand. Minutes later Amy and I were both signed up! What could go wrong, we thought? How could this not end well?

Several hours later I was driving through the winding Sierra Nevada mountains, in the dark at night, in the middle of a snowy blizzard. I can't read the road signs because they are covered with sticky white snow. "Fuck. I think I've made a terrible mistake," I mumble. Luckily Amy is asleep in the passenger seat completely oblivious to the fact that we are hydroplaning slowly down the mountain.

[Spoiler alert: We didn't slide off the mountain and explode in a spectacular fireball]. No, while that might have been preferable, we instead found ourselves in a smoke-filled run-down casino in Reno at 1:30 am with the realization that we have to wake up in 4 hours. Fuck, I think we've made a terrible mistake.

Lots and lots of hills
photo credit Drew Cortright
I think I've made a terrible mistake (part 2)

I probably should mention another small-but-important detail. I was a bit under the weather at the time of the race, fighting off some kind of terrible viral infection. I think it was a combination of swine flu, bird flu, Ebola, SARS, and tuberculosis. Whenever I would start coughing on the trail, parents would grab their children and dive off into the poison oak for shelter.

As I stood on the starting line, I didn't necessarily have any aspirations of winning the race. Amy and I had just done a hard time-trial workout the day before (I was planning to take a rest day Saturday and go into Ohlone with a one-day taper). And then there was this Bubonic plague thing I was dealing with. Still, I thought, I should be able to crack the top 10 without really running hard or getting my heart rate up too high.

"Fuck, I think I've made a terrible mistake," I mumbled to no one in particular as at least twenty or so runners charged off the starting line ahead of me, leaving me behind, and gasping for air. We were only at 5,000 ft., elevation at this point with a long climb up to 8,000 ft., ahead of us and I was already out of breath. Which is odd... because I sleep in a Hypoxico altitude tent set at 11,000 ft. each night. And I felt fine climbing over Handies Peak at Hardrock last year at over 14,000 feet. So that the fact that I was out of breath at only 5,000 ft., definitely had me concerned.

I decided to take it easy for a while and I settled into a nice rhythm beside fellow Bay Area runner Jason Reed. We were also joined by ultra-running legend Nikki Kimbal (3-time Western States champion, multi-time US 50 Mile road/trail national championship, 2014 Marathon Des Sable champion, etc., etc., etc.,) and local female standout Roxanne Woodhouse (2015 Zion 100 Mile winner, 2014 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile winner, etc.).

The four of us gradually made our way up the mountain to the snow-frosted peak, which was very cool looking. It was also very cool in general. I thought about stopping to take the lightweight jacket out of my pack. But I decided against it for two reasons: 1) It seemed like a lot of hassle and I figured/hoped it would get warmer again as descended to lower elevation, and more importantly, 2) I didn't want to look like a wimp in front of Nikki Kimbal.

Nikki and I eventually pulled away from Jason and Roxanne on a long descent and found ourselves running together and chatting for a few miles. We shared some great stories. We talked about our dogs, past and present (mine had just passed away weeks before). I told Nikki how much my wife Amy and I had enjoyed her film project, Finding Traction, documenting Nikki's FKT (fastest know time) attempt on Vermont's 273 mile Long Trail. Things were going well. We  This isn't so bad, I thought...

Post-race beers and BBQ
photo credit Drew Cortright
The mud pit of despair! The mud pit of joy?

"This is terrible," I yelled, as I tried to navigate my way through a long stretch of deep sticky mud. Every time I lifted my foot up, several pounds of heavy mud came up with it, weighing me down like I was wearing concrete shoes. Nikki, who now looked several inches taller than she had a minute ago thanks to the mud caked to the bottom of her Hoka shoes, made a joke about not having much experience running in high heels.

That last point is critical. This is where I gave up mentally on the race. And this is where Nikki made her move, dropping me and beginning a strong push that would see her catch several more runners over the last 10 miles. Nikki would go on to finish 11th, while I would drop back to 15th. Nikki made the conscious decision to embrace the suckiness of the mud pit and to let it energize her. I made the subconscious decision to feel sorry for myself and give up.

I guess this is what they call a "teachable moment". The takeaway for me is that, while some things are out of your control (like the weather and/or the course conditions), you are in control of how you choose to respond. You can get depressed and give up. Or you can accept the conditions, embrace them, and use them to motivate yourself.

3rd place woman Amy Burton
photo credit Big Johnny Burton
Time to grab a burger and a beer!

While I wasn't necessarily happy with my performance at Silver State, I was glad that fate (i.e., the complete ineptitude of the East Bay Regional Park District board of directors) presented me with the opportunity to run this race. If you've never run Silver State before, definitely consider giving it a shot. They have both a 50K and 50 Mile option. And it's a really fun, laid-back, old school style race. For more information check out this article, "The Legacy of the Silver State 50/50" by race director John Trent. It's a great read!

Also, kudos to the men's and women's winners of the 50K: Quicksilver Running Club teammate Stephen Wassather for the men, and the legend herself, Nikki Kimbal for the women. Also, a shout out to my wife Amy Burton who finished 3rd woman and 22nd overall, just 10 minutes behind second place women Roxanne Woodhouse. It's worth noting that all three of the women's podium are master's runners in their 40s and 50s. Way to go ladies!

Here's a link to the official results. And here's my Strava data including course map and elevation profile.

And last but not least, the post-race BBQ at Silver State is not to be missed. They've got soups (lots of them). They've got burgers and hot dogs. They've got "shitty tacos", which reportedly are actually quite delicious; full disclosure, I erred on the side of caution and abstained. They probably even have some green leafy stuff if you're one of those vegetarian/vegan/fruitarian wackos. And they even have people walking around handing out ice-cream Twix bars! Yum.

The only thing they don't have is beer (WTF, I know!) so remember to BYOB! I certainly did :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

2015 Kalamazoo (Borgess) Marathon: A Litte Running, A Lot of Beer!

Kalamazoo Borgess Marathon start
Hey, are you OK?' the race volunteers asked as I collapsed to the ground on the side of the road at mile 18 of the Kalamazoo Borgess marathon. "Yeah, I'm good," I replied, "I've been doing this every mile or so," I explained as I attempted to get back up on my feet.

"Have you had anything to drink?" they asked, concerned about the heat and humidity that had been steadily rising all morning. "Oh yeah, I just chugged a giant mimosa that someone handed me,"I proudly exclaimed. They did not seem impressed.

"We're going to need an ambulance at mile 18," I overheard one of the race officials mutter into his radio. "Wait! No, I'm fine! Hold on. I just need to lay down for a second," I protest in vain.

A minute later they are helping me into the ambulance. But, to save face, I refuse to sit in the back "with all the sick people" and demand to ride shotgun in the front seat with the EMT. I think he senses that I'm not going into the back without a fight, and so he shrugs and opens the front door. Several minutes later I'm sitting in the post-race beer tenting fussing over some fine local craft beer.

Big Johnny taking it out hard!
But let's go back to the beginning.

In the Beginning

My buddy Bill Pritchett who lives in Michigan talked me into doing the Lansing marathon. Or maybe I talked him into doing it. Or maybe we talked each other into it. Who knows. In any case, it seemed like a good idea. I grew up in Lansing. It's where I first began running at age 10 with my father. But alas, like most things associated with Lansing, the has race fallen on hard times lately and was cancelled this year.

But luckily (or perhaps not-so-luckily) Bill found another race in Michigan being held on the exact same day that the Lansing marathon was supposed to have taken place. So, a quick change of venue and there we are, wandering through the deserted aisles of the Kalamazoo Marathon race expo the night before the race, hurrying to pick up our bib numbers so we can head to the local brewery to do some pre-race carb loading!

Kalamazoo has no shortage of great micro-breweries, so it took us a couple of hours to wade through all the Yelp reviews. In the end we decided on Latitude 42 Brewing Company, mainly so that my buddy Bill could have his precious Lil' Miss Sunshine Ale (or whatever it's actually called).

He offered me a sip and I can attest that it was just as refeshing and delicious as your would expect from a 4.8% "chick beer". I on the otherhand of course went for the strongest most-manly beer on the menu, the 9.5%  Flavor Savor Imperial IPA. Go big or go home!

Bill's go-to pre-race beer, Lil' Miss Sunshine Ale
And We're Off

Bill and I had both decided at some point (probably after a few 9.5% ABV beers) that rather than taking it easy and running a smart but boring race, we were going to run agressively, if not even a bit recklessly, right from the get go.

So, true to my word, I hammered the first 3 miles in 6:20 pace (whereas I realistically should have been doing no faster than 6:40 pace). And the rest as they say is history.

Somewhere around mile 10 I found mysel muttering, "I think I've made a horrible mistake". Three miles later I was laying on the side of the road in a shady grassy spot debatting whether it would be faster to turn around and walk back to the start or to continue jogging slowly toward the finish in hopes of finding a second wind.

Bill won his age group!
Spoiler alert: I never found a second wind. However I did find a group of spectators drinking mimosas on the corner around mile 17. I don't recall if somoene actually offered me their mimosa, or if I just helped myself, but I will say, nothing hits the spot on a hot day like a really, really, big fucking cup of mimosa. Ahhh.

A mile later I was down for the count, lying in the grass beneath a shady tree thinking about what might have been. Bill had just blown past me.

I momentarily thought about trying to stay with him so that we could run the last 8 miles together and get our finish line photos taken. But, it seemed like a lot of work. The heat of the day and the hills of the course had fried my legs and I didn't have the willpower (or the sobriety) to solider on.


Bill paying the price for a hard effort!
It's easy to say that I should have done this, or that I shouldn't have done that. Sure, hammering the first 3 miles of a hilly course at a suicidal pace probably wasn't the recipie for success. And very few race winners have ever got up on the podium and credited their victory to a super-sized mid-race mimosa.

But what the hell... you can't win em all. And if you're going to fail, you might as well fail spectacularly. Go big or go home, right?

My buddy Bill held on to finish the race in a very respectable time of 3:17. While about 8 minutes off his personal best, his time was fast enough for a 15th place overall finish, and more importantly, he won his age group!

And how did young William celebrate you ask? Well, by puking out his guts in the beer tent of course! I guess he should have stuck with the Lil' Miss Sunshine Golden Ale instead of trying to pound IPAs with Big Johnny!

Running into ultra-runner buddy Scott VanLoo
So, in conclusion... Even if a race doesn't go the way we hope it will, you can generally salvage some teachable moment or life lesson.

In this case I re-learned a valuable lesson, one that I have re-learned many times before: if you go out hard like a reckless jackass you will likely end up walking back to the start/finish line in shame (or if you are luck, riding back in the shotgun seat of an ambulance playing with the lights/sirens while the EMT driver yells at you).

Beer... Of course!

Come for the race, stay for the beer!
Aside from the ambulance ride, the other highlight of the race was the beer. Arcadia Brewing Company hosted a beer garden at the finish line where Bill and I enjoyed a couple post-race beers.

As we were leaving (to head over to Bell's, another local brewery) I ran into ultra-runner buddy Scott VanLoo who was disguised as R2D2.

Bill a I drank a couple of Bell's Hopslam beers, which Bill had been saving for a rainy day, in the parking lot of Bell's brewery (which was closed unfortunately). Then we headed over to Bell's Eccentric Cafe, which was thankfully open, for some more beer... and a little food.

So if you're ever in Michigan in early May, I definitely recommend the Kalamazoo marathon (which by the way is surprisingly hilly and quite challenging) and of course, the post-race beer!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2015 Oakland Marathon

2015 Oakland marathon race start
photo from Oakland marathon Instagram page
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Sixteen miles into the 2015 Oakland marathon and I had a comfortable lead in the Master's (40 and over) competition. Yet, I was feeling anything but comfortable at the moment. My legs were really starting to hurt and I was paying the price for having gone out way too hard... yet again. Now here I was, on one of the most mentally challenging sections of the course, the very place where I had quit and dropped out last year in 2014.

"Never make a decision when running up hill". That's the advice I routinely dole out to other runners, usually muttered in my best Yoda zen-master voice. Quite literally it means don't decide to quit when you're suffering on a tough uphill climb. Wait until the downhill section of the race; then, if you still feel like quitting... yeah, you're totally screwed and should probably throw in the towel.

This advice  is similar to other nuggets of wisdom like "never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach" or "never text an ex while completely drunk off your ass". Cliched, but true. I could probably add to that list, "never go out so hard in a race that your first mile is your fastest mile". Unfortunately I'd ignored that advice... yet again.

"Running into" fellow ultra runner Chihping Fu at the expo
photo by Chihping Fu (obviously)

Oops I did it again

As I stood at the starting line, about two hours earlier, waiting for the race to get underway I keep repeating to myself out loud, "Don't go out too hard. Do NOT fucking go out hard." I got more than a few strange looks from other runners, along with a knowing nod or two. Yet, just a few miles into the race I found myself doing just that.

I had been tucked in behind another runner who, based on his salt and pepper hair, was clearly also in the men's Master's (40+) division. He was running strong and I knew that if I wanted a chance to win the Master's title I would need to stay with him. "Just be patient," I told myself. "Tuck in behind him. Let him do the work. Whatever you do, don't attack yet." And then, suddenly, I was attacking.

Flying along early
photo by Noé Castañón

It wasn't my fault. At least not completely. Another runner, though clearly not in our 40+ master's division, accelerated past us. I should have just let him go. He wasn't in our age group; there was no point in trying to go with him. Yet, there I was, speeding up and tucking in behind him.

After a couple of miles we began chatting. His name was Sasha and he had read my Oakland race report from 2013. He was a fellow ultra runner with a comparable marathon PR to mine. It was nice running with someone and the miles flew by as we powered up the long climb from Temescal up to Claremont and Montclaire.

Running on empty
Hitting the wall (already at mile 16)

Unfortunately as we reached the top of the climb it became clear that Sasha was too strong for me. Despite stopping to pee in bushes, jogging a hundred yards with his young son, and making a wrong turn, he still pulled away from me. Luckily I found another guy named Don to run with.

Don wasn't much of a conversationalist. During the 6 miles or so that we ran together he only spoke one word. And that word was "Don", after I asked him his name. In that respect, Don reminded me a bit of the character Groot from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy.

But I'd been in his shoes before and I know how annoying it can be when the person you are running with insists on trying to hold a conversation while you are at your breaking point. One time on a training run with my friend, Caitlin Smith, in the Marin Headlands I found myself trudging up hill and gasping for air while Caitlin bounded along effortless trying to chat me up. I think I faked an ankle injury and excused myself that day, sending Caitlin on her own.

Eventually Don dropped back and I was left running by myself for the rest of the race (with the brief exception of when the second place woman Kimberly O'Donnel came rocketing past me). I looked afterwards but didn't see Don's name in the results list; I fear he likely dropped.

But I really am thankfully for his company, as he helped me get through what I consider to be the most mentally draining part of the course -- a boring two mile long completely straight and flat section along International Blvd. That's where I dropped out in 2014 and found myself prancing through the heart of Oakland in boy shorts and super-hero cape.

Big Johnny putting on a show
The final push

I was really suffering in the last 8 miles of the race. The voices in my head were engaged in a lively conversation. I don't consider myself crazy per se... well, at least not clinically. But I do have a bit of a split-personality alter ego who takes over when things get too tough for me to cope with. His name is Big Johnny. And he's one bad-ass motherfucker. He doesn't quit... ever. If you shoot him, you better kill him. He's a G like that :)

"I can't do this anymore. I want to stop," I feebly muttered. "Shut up bitch!!!" Big Johnny retorted. "We 'bout to get paid my ninja. Check yo'self before you wreck yo'self. #ThugLife #WestSide" Big Johnny quipped, referring to the $150 prize money on the line for Master's champion (Yes, Big Johnny seems to think he is a '90's rap star). At this point, I was willing to write myself a $200 check just to be allowed to quit. Thankfully Big Johnny wasn't hearing it.

One of the most annoying things about the Oakland marathon, as a runner in the full-marathon division, is getting passed by a stream of fresh-legged relay runners in the last few miles of the race. Somewhere around mile 24 I got passed by a at least 5 or 6 dudes hammering 6 minute miles. I tried not to let it devastate me, but still it was quite demoralizing.

Thankfully right about this time I saw my friend Sarah Lavender-Smith who was out on the course to cheer along some of her coaching clients. Seeing a friendly face gave me just the boost I needed to gut out the last two miles.

As I rounded the final turn and headed up the hill to the finish line I unleashed everything I had, which at this point was admittedly not much, and sprinted to the tape. I was pretty sure I had the Master's win sewn up, and I could have just as easily jogged it in and savored the moment. But Big Johnny was in the driver's seat and being the total ham that he is, he decided to put on a show.

With sweat flying everywhere he dove across the finish line and collapsed to the ground. Several race officials and medical personnel came over to see if he was OK, but Big Johnny just waved them off and asked for directions to the beer tent. Such a clown.

Where's the beer tent?

Here's my Strava data for the race. My official finish time was 3:04:31, which is actually 8 seconds faster than the 3:04:39 that I ran in 2013. I think I was 18th overall. But most importantly, I won the men's Master's title! Now if I can just just keep whittling off 8 seconds a year, I might be able to break 3 hours in 28 more years... when I turn 70 :)

Posing post-race with Sasha, his son, and my trophy!
Me and the Mayor!

Shout outs

I would like to give shout-outs to the following people:
  • Sasha Waring, who I has the pleasure of running with for much of the first 11 miles.
  • Silent Don, man of few words, whose company got me through the toughest part of the course.
  • Chris Jones, a fellow ultra-runner who finished 23rd overall in 3:12:01.
  • Ethan Veneklasen, another fellow ultra-runner, who brought the 3:20 pace group home on target and somehow ended up finishing 3rd in his age group.
  • Chihping Fu, yet another fellow ultra-runner, who races more than any man I know.
  • Shiran "Shir Kahn" Kochavi, for shouting, "I'd recognize that body anywhere" as I ran by.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hoka Challenger ATR Shoe Review

Hoka Challenger ATR 
I'm not going to lie to you. I'm a running shoe whore. I'm a running shoe slut. If there's a shoe out there, I've taken it home.

I just can't help myself. When I see a sexy pair of new running shoes sitting on the shelf of the local running store looking all demure and alluring,I have to have them. I've run in Altra, Adidas, Asics, Brooks, Hoka, Mizuno, Montrail, New Balance, Nike, Pearl Izumi, Puma, Salomon, Saucony, Skechers, Sportiva, and Vasque. I've run in shoes you've never heard of like Scarpa and Topo Athletic. I even did the minimalist thing for a while and ran in Vibram Five Fingers and Luna sandals.

Over the years I've found a few shoes that have really worked for me, namely the New Balance MT110 (the old now-discontinued version) and the Montrail Fluid Flex (again the old now-discontinued original version). Everything else has ranged from "Meh, OK" to "Ugh, this shit sucks" or somewhere in the middle. Today I will review the new Hoka One One Challenger ATR trail shoe.

I wanted to love the Hoka Challenger ATR as, at least on paper, the shoe had everything I was looking for in a trail shoe: namely something super lightweight and fast, but with a decent amount of cushioning to protect my feet.

First Impressions

There are certain things in life that will always make anyone feel self-conscious, like wearing a leopard-print speedo when everyone else is wearing knee-length board shorts. No matter how much you tell yourself, "I bet this suit is all the rage Europe right now" it doesn't make you feel any less like a pervert as you walk past families trying to shield the eyes of their children at the neighborhood pool or beach.

Wearing Hokas out in public is kind of like that. As much as you tell yourself that no one is going to care or even notice that you wearing fluorescent orthotic clown shoes, you can't help but feel like a cross between a young Forest Gump in knee braces and a psychotic circus clown.

I waited until dark to sneak out for my first run. Still, even in the pitch black of night, it was hard not to notice the eerie bright fluorescent green glow emanating from my feet. Also, I felt like I was wearing shoe lifts. Even though I am only 5' 10", I felt like I should duck when walking out my front door to avoid banging my head on the door jam.

What they lacked in style and appearance, the Challenger ATRs were made up for in comfort -- I'll give them that. If felt like I was running on a soft track made from ground-up Styrofoam peanuts. I wouldn't necessarily call them "mushy", as they still felt pretty responsive for such a cushioned shoe. But it was definitely a strange sensation. But in a good way. I think.

The Pros

After putting in several runs over various terrains from super-technical steep downhill single track, to paved roads, to rubber all-surface tracks, I have to say that I found the shoe to be very comfortable (as you would probably expect), but also surprisingly fast and responsive! I was able to run PRs on a variety of surfaces, including some fast intervals on the track. Not bad for a shoe marketed for technical trails!
  • Very soft and cushioned, even over rough terrain
  • Fairly comfortable with a roomy toe box (although somewhat narrow in the forefoot)
  • Surprisingly fast and responsive (even on the roads and track) for such a cushioned shoe


Compared to the more minimalist shoes that I log the majority of my miles in (such as my all-time favorite New Balance MT110s), the Hoka Challenger ATRs definitely took some getting used to. I found myself rolling my ankles once or twice per run, something that rarely if ever happens to me in other shoes.

Missing top shoelace hole!
The shoes were relatively comfortable with a fairly roomy toe box, but I immediately noticed that they were rather tight across the widest part  of my forefoot. Granted, I have fairly wide feet -- which, as an aside, is one of the things I loved about my New Balance MT110 which came in size 2E extra wide). If you have narrower feet, the Hoka Challenger ATR might work better for you. But for me, they started to blow out and fall apart after only 150 miles (see photos).

Which brings me to my next concern about the Hoka Challenger ATR. They seem to be very cheaply constructed. As soon as I got them home from the shop were I bought them, I noticed that one of the shoes had a minor defect: the holes for the two top laces didn't go all the way through the shoe. You could thread the lace in but it never came out anywhere. I had to grab a pair of scissors and and a screwdriver and make my own holes. Not the end of the world, but... come on man!

After surgery with scissors/screwdriver
Also, I noticed some weird loose threads sticking out of the shoe. Again, probably nothing that was going to slow me down and cause me to lose a race. But when you pay $130 bucks for a shoe that was probably made in China for $30 in materials, you don't expect a bunch of loose threads and half-assed shoe lace holes.

My biggest complaint about the quality of the shoes is that both the uppers and the tread on the bottom started falling apart around 150 miles. The material on the uppers (on the medial side) started pulling apart and disintegrating. This happened on both the right and left shoe. Around the same time, I noticed one of the lugs on the bottom of the left shoe near the toe started falling off. 

I know that some shoe company these days "recommend" that you replace your shoes every 250 miles (though it seems like just a few years ago the recommendation was every 500 miles). Both my wife and I routinely get up to 1,000 miles out of most of our running shoes. So for a shoe to practically disintegrate in less than 200 miles, especially a shoe as expensive as the Hoka Challenger ATR, was quite a disappointment!

  • Felt clumsy on technical terrain, caused me to roll my ankles often
  • Narrow forefoot not comfortable for people with wide feet
  • Poorly constructed; lack of attention to detail (missing shoelace holes, loose threads, etc.)
  • Cheaply made uppers started to disintegrate around 150 miles
  • Lugs on bottom of shoe started to fall off around 175 miles

Mesh upper starting to disintegrate
The Verdict

Light-weight, well-cushioned shoe that performs well on various terrains. 

Not ideal for runners with wide feet. 

Poorly constructed with cheap materials; tend to fall apart very quickly. 

With such a limited lifetime, these shoes provide poor value for a rather expensive shoe.

Monday, March 2, 2015

8th Annual Los Gatos Overgrown Fat Ass 50K -- Euro Edition

Euro Johnny

Did I ever tell you about that time I won a 50K trail race wearing dress pants, a collared shirt and a fedora? And how I cut nearly a mile off the course by taking a bunch of shortcuts? Oh yeah, and the beer I pounded at the aid station -- where they were serving wine? No? Well sit down and make yourself comfortable. Here it goes...

This year was the 8th annual running of the Los Gatos Overgrown Fat Ass 50K organized by Quicksilver runners Adam Blum and Sean Lang. While perhaps not the most well-known or most competitive ultra in California, it is however definitely one of the most fun!

With around 6500 feet of elevation gain, the course isn't as hard as say Quad Dipsea or Ohlone 50K, but it will definitely test your climbing legs. And unlike other races that have aid stations every few miles, this race has just one aid station! Luckily it is an out and back course, so runners pass through the aid station twice: once at mile 13 on the way out to the turnaround, and again at mile 17 on the way back. On a hot year, many a runner has found themselves drinking out of seasonal creeks along the course, or in extreme cases, out of a horse trough.

My favorite thing about this particular race is that it has a different theme each year. One year the aid station was a set up as a Mexican cantina serving margaritas. Another year it was an Irish pub with Jameson and Guinness. Then there was the Cops and Robbers theme where I made the mistake of drinking liberally from a jar of cherry moonshine that Sean Lang offered me. I can't recall too much about the last 13 miles of the race that year :)

Race briefing
photo by Mark Tanaka
Euro Edition

This year the race was branded as the Euro Edition, meaning of course that the aid stations would be serving cheese, salami, and wine! Also, as per European custom, it was announced that the course would not be fixed, meaning that runners would be free to cut the switchbacks or take any shortcuts that they could devise. In addition to a prize for the overall winner, this year there would also be awards for "biggest cheater" and "most Euro".

The shortcut aspect would definitely promise make things interesting this year, particularly for experienced veterans familiar with the mountain range. While the established course does take the most direct route through the mountains for the most part, many of the race entrants started scouring old mining maps and aerial imagery looking for secret lost trails that might shave off a few minutes here or there!

As you can see from the photos, race director Adam Blum came dressed to win in his resplendent Euro kit complete with knickers and trekking poles. I decided to go less for the techno-dork Euro look and more old-school Euro hiker look with my long pants, collared tee shirt and fedora.

Big Johnny san Fedora
photo by Keith Blom
And They're Off

My strategy going into this race, I explained to my wife the night before, was to go out ludicrously hard in hopes that my main competitors would take the bait and come with me. I knew that we'd eventually blow up. In fact this was what I was counting on. I routinely practice "blowing up" and recovering during my long runs, so I figured I would have the edge in terms of getting my legs back under me.

Alas, no one took the bait. Larry Neumann wisely hung back biding his time. His buddy Matt Ward initially gave chase for a mile or so before letting me go and settling down into his own rhythm.

However, the advantage of opening an early lead was that it provided me an opportunity to take an early shortcut unseen by my competitors. (Also, this gave me a good opportunity to stash my fedora in a secluded spot as I was already starting to sweat profusely just a few miles into the race). Instead of following the official course and taking a left turn onto Limekiln (Overgrown) trail, I instead turned a 100 yards earlier on the paved road into the rock quarry that parallels the trail on the other side of the river.

Larry Neumann giving chase!
photo by Keith Blom
Unlike the trail that meanders a bit and gains some elevation, the paved road is perfectly straight and perfectly flat. The only downside is that you have to scramble down a river bank, through the river, and then up the other side of the bank to regain the trail. Still, I estimate this little detour probably gained me at least a minute over my competitors. And of course, I would also later take this same shortcut on the return back.

Toshi Moshi the Pimpin' Chickin' Hosaka, who is famous for eschewing established trails in favor of bushwhacking through poison oak, rolled the dice and ventured completely off trail, meandering across the mountains along animal game paths and overgrown trails no longer on any maps. In the end, he conceded that his shortcuts didn't save him any time and if anything, significantly added to his finishing time.

I reached the first aid station still in the lead and stopped quickly to fill my water bottles. I hadn't seen anyone behind me so I figured I had at least a few minutes lead, if not more. I must say that I was surprised, quite pleasantly, to see Larry Neumann running strongly towards me only a minute or two after I'd reached the turnaround. Apparently he had hammered the down hills and made up quite a bit of time, passing Matt and Toshi and moving into second place.

Winos at the aid station
photo by Keith Blom
The Second Half of the Race

The second half of the race was pretty uneventful aside from seeing Amy and John Paul at the outbound aid station at mile 17 and slamming a nice cold IPA that Amy brought me. That was definitely the highlight of the race :)

I never did see Larry again, so I assumed that I put a lot of time on him on the long climb back up over the backside of Mt El Sombroso. There were a couple of good vantage points toward the top of the mountain where I could look back down for a good half a mile or so, and I didn't see anyone.

At that point, knowing I had the race in the bag, I decided to run it in on cruise control rather than trying to push and go for a personal best. I ended up finishing in 4 hours and 28 minutes, which was 5 minutes slower than my fastest time on this course (from the infamous cherry moonshine year). Still, I was happy with my effort and considered it a good training run for the Ohlone 50K coming up in May.

The men's podium
photo by Keith Blom
Larry charged in just ten minutes later for 2nd place in 4 hours and 38 minutes. His buddy Matt held on for third, finishing just a few seconds under 5 hours. Several beers later, Toshi finally arrived bloody and disheveled, looking like he'd been alone in the wilderness for days with no food, water, or razor.

I wanted to stick around and wait to cheer on the other finishers, but alas I was out of beer and had to go off in search of more!

I'm already looking forward to next year and whatever new theme Adam and Sean come up with. Word on the street is that it might be a formal black tie affair!

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 "Dog-Meat Vertical Beer Mile" Race Recap

2015 Dog Meat Vertical Beer Mile

The inaugural 2015 Dog Meat Vertical Beer Mile was as much about who showed up to run, as it was about who stayed home and chickened out. Several contenders were noticeably absent including pre-race favorite Nike Trail Elite runner David Roche. Also missing were ultra runners Marc Laveson, Victor Ballesteros, Jason Reed, and Greg Lanctot as well as several others -- all who offered various elaborate explanations and excuses. Race officials are currently in the process of fact-checking to confirm their alibis.

However seventeen slightly-brave and/or slightly-stupid runners (as well as a handful of spectators, press and paparazzi) made it to the start line, a feat in itself. Unlike most races where you can drive to the start line and hop out of your car, this race required runners to hike 2.5 miles up a steep mountain trail just to get to the start. And then there's the race application process. In order to even enter the race, applicants had to locate and take a selfie in front of an old abandoned outhouse that requires going off trail through thorn bushes and poison oak.

Beer miles are becoming increasingly popular and commonplace. Everyone's doing them. So naturally, anyone who considers themselves a serious drinker-slash-runner wants to take it to the next level. And that next level is the vertical (or uphill) beer mile! Why run around a flat track when you can run up a gnarly mountain. Yet, surprisingly, a significant number of the entrants in the race were beer mile virgins who were attempting the feat for the very first time. That's one way to pop your cherry!

As the race director explained at the start, this course does not favor the bold. The course gains 700 feet over 1 mile, which might not seem that bad. But almost 500 of those feet are in the last ½ mile. That makes the second half about 20% grade. Locally the hill is referred to as "Dog Meat" because presumably that's how your legs feel when you reach the top. And that's how you feel after running it sober. Now imagine trying to get up it after hammering four beers.

Further adding to the excitement and drama was the last-minute announcement to the runners from the race director warning that because temperatures had fallen below freezing during the night, there was a chance that the beers (which had been left out on the course the night before) might be frozen solid or at least a bit slushy. Luckily, temperatures in the area apparently remained above 27.8 degrees which is the point at which beer freezes, as the beer was ice cold but unfrozen.

Race Morning

Road runner Larry Neumann showed up at the starting line wearing a hideous assortment of mix-matched neon-colored running gear. The other runners in attendance all knew each other already (as they belonged to either one of  two rival trail running gangs: the home-town heroes from the Quicksilver Running Club of San Jose, and the unsavory infidels from the Excelsior Running Club of San Francisco). But who was this other guy decked out in every color of the rainbow, everyone wondered?

Check out those day glow orange compression socks. Is he even a trail runner? He looks like he raided the bargain bin at REI's end-of-the-year sale on discontinued gear? Who invited him? Oh, he's a friend of Big Johnny's? Well, then must be fast! Oh, he's Canadian eh? I guess that explains his fashion sense.

However, Karl Schnaitter was paying less attention to the color of people's compression socks, and more attention to his beer. He stood there lovingly stroking a can, rubbing it gently against his cheek. After having experimented unsuccessfully with Budweiser, the semi-official adjunct-lager-piss-swill used in most beer miles, Karl decided to go the BYOB route and showed up with four cans of Big Sky Brewing Company, Moose Drool brown ale.

As he trotted up the mountain strategically placing his delicious craft beer in quarter mile increments, Karl could already taste victory -- and it tasted malty (with a hint of caramel and chocolate). Yum!

Meanwhile Bree Lambert stood at the start of the beer mile looking up at the finish line on top of the mountain. This was the same location where, back in 2003 she had suffered a horrific mountain bike accident and woke up strapped to a metal gurney inside a helicopter as she was being airlifted off the mountain. Now here she was, 12 years later, returning to the scene of the accident for the fist time, getting ready to run a vertical beer mile up the same hill.

Never mind that she had never run a traditional beer mile on a track before. Or that she had never even chugged a beer before -- not even in college. "If only this were a vodka mile" Bree thought to herself, "I would crush everyone. It wouldn't even be a fair fight."

In the Beginning...

The race got underway and race director Big Johnny Burton immediately opened up a huge lead on the rest of the field, slamming his first beer in mere seconds while the rest of the field struggled to gulp down their icy beers. Big Johnny was followed, eventually, by a chase pack of several runners that included dark-horse former-Marine Jeff Clowers, pre-race favorite Karl Schnaitter, and a guy named Donnie Blameuser wearing what appeared to be his wife's cutoff blue-jean shorts. But we didn't ask, and he didn't tell.

When Jeff Pace signed up for the Vertical Beer Mile he suspected he might be chasing the cut-offs, but this wasn't what he had in mind. Race director John Burton had warned runners that there would only be 18 beers at each aid station. If you were one of the last runners to arrive at any of the three aid stations and found yourself looking down at an empty box of beer, you "missed the cutoff" and were out of the race. Train harder and better luck next year.

But as Jeff looked up ahead at the next runner in front of him wearing bedazzled Daisy Duke's, all he could think about was: a) trying not to puke up his beer which would result in disqualification, and b) passing this guy as soon as possible so that he wouldn't have to "chase the cut-offs" any longer.

Meanwhile, at the very-back of the pack, the women's pre-race favorites Amy Burton and Bree Lambert were engaged a tactical chess match. Neither woman wanting to finish their beer first and be forced into taking the early lead, the two engaged in what can only be described a super slow-motion beer sipping contest. Eventually Amy ran out of beer first and was forced into taking the lead and doing the pacemaking.

And in the men's Designated Driver division, sole entrant Zack Steinkamp, who had brought two cans of Safeway club soda, was learning something that most experienced beer milers already know. The real challenge of the beer mile is not actually handling the alcohol content of the beer, but rather managing the carbon dioxide. The key to doing well is to burp out as much carbon dioxide as possible while running in between beers. Often the race is won not by the swiftest runner or the fastest beer chugger, but by the best belcher.

"After only 20 steps I let loose the biggest belch of my life," said Steinkamp. "It was a belch of victory... Victory over the doubters of the Bernoulli Principal. Victory over those spinsters in the Miss Manners club. An echoing belch of supreme victory over more uptight and longer-running events."                

Then it Gets Ugly

At the front of the race, Big Johnny Burton was already in trouble. He still had a small lead, but he was struggling to burp effectively. Every time he tried to belch out carbon dioxide, he instead burped out a mouthful of foamy beer. And if you've never tried it, re-swallowing your own beer-vomit (foamy or otherwise) falls under the category of "things that are surprisingly unpleasant".

Karl Schnaitter on the other hand was having no problems keeping his beer down. Still tucked in behind Big Johnny in second place, Karl was getting increasingly optimistic. As they approached the the next beer station, Karl boasted to Big Johnny, "I'm really looking forward to drinking my beer; it tastes so good." Big Johnny, who was dreading even the thought of choking down another wretched Budweiser gave up mentally; and then he spewed.

With his chief rival disqualified for puking, Karl jogged on to victory while the rest of the race unfolded behind him. Chris Eide was running strong in second place. Chris is a self-described "sympathy puker", meaning that if he sees someone else puke he suddenly feels like puking himself. And now here he was, trying to avoid the sights (and smells) of Big Johnny trotting alongside him, half running and half puking.

"I've got to get away from this guy before he pukes on my shoes," Chris thought to himself. That thought was immediately followed by, "What the hell am I doing with my life... Saturday morning pounding beers in the mountains? Whatever it is, it felt right."

Just behind the leaders an epic battle was brewing (yes, that's a beer-mile pun) between a four-pack of runners including Chikara Omine and Larry Neumann. A sober Chikara would normally dominate in a race on this kind of terrain. Chikara won Quad Dipsea, finishing ahead of Dave Mackey on a grueling course with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain over just 28 miles. But Chikara, who purportedly hasn't had a beer in 3 years, couldn't match the drinking prowess of Neumann's Canadian heritage. "You can see my superior technique on display, as well as Chikara's rookie form," quipped Neumann.

Tim Thompson, a former pro mountain biker turned trail runner, was looking forward to making his beer mile debut. He hung toward the front of the pack all day, but ultimately wasn't able to handle the fourth and final beer. "I burped a lot going to the last beer station up the super steep part of the trail. I felt like I had enough room to put away the 4th one but 20 yards later it came back up" confessed Thompson. "I finished out the climb feeling good but that was only cause I lost half the beer I'd consumed."

The Home Stretch

Karl Schnaitter went on to claim victory, while his Excelsior teammate Chris Eide finished second. The relatively unknown Larry Neumann would later round out the men's podium.

Amy Burton, who took the lead early in the women's race, had been running (un)comfortably out in front all day with a slight lead over Bree Lambert, who was hanging back in striking distance -- perhaps waiting to make her move. Neither woman had ever run a beer mile before, so they had both elected to run the two-beer option of the race which involved chugging (or in their case, politely sipping) one beer at the start and then another at the 1/2 mile. They had also discussed possibly substituting Chardonnay for beer, but luckily race officials got wind of the plan and interceded.

As they ascended the final climb, Amy was cheered on by her husband Big Johnny who was catching up to her from behind while Bree's man Joe Sanders, who was spectating shouted encouragement down to her from on top of the hill. In the end Amy managed to hold off Bree as well as a hard-charging Big Johnny, claiming not only the women's title, but also bragging rights in the Burton home. Bree finished shortly afterwards and was happy to get some closure and reclaim the trail that she had avoided for so long after her bike crash.

Zack Steinkamp, who created (and I guess won?) his own new division by only bringing only two cans of club soda (rather the 4 cans required for the official Designated Driver division) charged up the last hill like a rocket, momentarily passing Big Johnny at one point. "Maybe it was the emboldening effect of the CO2, or perhaps it was the single filtered Modesto water that Safeway uses in its canned soda, but that last climb was no match for this guy," boasted Steinkamp.

Jeff Clowers, a former Marine, who ironically no longer drinks, dusted off his beer chugging skills and put on a clinic. He finished the first beer faster than everyone except Big Johnny, and took off in second place. Although he lost ground during the running sections of the race, Jeff continued to keep himself in the hunt by out-drinking his competitors at the aid stations. The 10th person across the line, Jeff was happy to learn that he was actually 5th among the men who didn't puke (with both Big Johnny and Tim Thompson having had "reversals of fortune" out on the course).

Greg Hales came into this race on a hot streak, having won one of his previous two beer miles and finished first-masters in the other. In each race, he came from behind with a strong move late in the race. But both of those races were on a track. And neither of those tracks, I am guessing, had a 20% incline on the last lap. There would be no come-from-behind victory today. But Greg did manage to hold his beer down and finish without puking. "I kept burping up foam in my mouth!" said Greg. "But I kept saying to myself, just don’t let any get past your lips!”.

Jeff Eisenman's official finisher status is currently under investigation following a too-close-to-call finish line puke. The official rules state the runner must have their finisher medal in hand before puking. But Eisenmann is arguing the race director, who may or may not have been stumbling around drunk, failed to provide his medal in a timely manner. The International Panel for Sports Arbitration is expected to rule by March.

Loren Lewis executed his pre-race strategy perfectly. He didn't puke and he finished all his beers. Part of his strategy was to avoid getting overwhelmed by thinking about how hard the event really was. "So the beer mile became four short sprints with a mini-tailgate type atmosphere in between" explained Loren. "But the key would be not to get too relaxed at the beer breaks." Reportedly, next year Loren plans to bring a Hibachi grill to enhance his tailgate atmosphere.

Other runners to cross the finish line and claim glory include Jeff Pace, Stephen Strauss, Donnie Blameuser and Marc Bauman. Donnie, who had gone out hard with the early leaders -- presumably to encourage other runners like Jeff and Stephen to try and get ahead of the cutoffs -- faded hard after his second beer. When pressed for details, Donnie chimed, "The second beer took longer to go down than my first high school girlfriend and I quickly lost position." Marc Bauman, who finished DFL and took home a bottle of Pliny the Elder for his efforts joked that, "this was certainly my A race for the year, at least so far".

Aftermath and Afterwords

As if on cue, moments after the last finisher arrived on top of the mountain, park rangers showed up to congratulate everyone! Well, I suppose they came to check on us and to make sure everything was OK. They reminded us that events with 20 people or more require a permit (thankfully we were fewer than 20). But they also asked that we inform them of future events, even if we have less than 20 people and no permit, just so that they can be close by if needed. Seems reasonable enough.

Special thanks to the official race photographers Nina Giraudo, Keith Lubliner, and Sean McPherson.

And thanks again to Jeff Clowers for helping hike some of the beer up the mountain and for generously providing the bottles of Pliny and box of wine for the winners.

Finisher's List in Order of Finish
  1. Karl Schnaitter, 13:17 
  2. Chris Eide, 
  3. Amy Burton ** women's two-beer division
  4. John Burton *  puke division
  5. Zack Steinkamp ** two-soda division
  6. Larry Neumann 
  7. Chikara Omine 
  8. Bree Lambert ** women's two-beer division
  9. Tim Thompson * puke division
  10. Jeff Clowers
  11. Greg Hales 
  12. Jeff Eisenman * puke division
  13. Loren Lewis 
  14. Jeff Pace 
  15. Stephen Strauss 
  16. Donnie Blameuser 
  17. Marc Bauman
** Update: Several people have asked whether Big Johnny really got chick'd at his own beer mile? Yes, it is true. Here is the pic of the Missus, Amy Burton, outsprinting Big Johnny at the finish line.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 Vertical Beer Mile Challenge Preview

This weekend some of the San Francisco Bay Area's top runners (and beer drinkers) will be gathering at a remote top-secret location in the Santa Cruz mountains to ring in the new year by doing battle at the first annual Dog Meat Vertical Beer Mile. Entrants will chug four beers (one beer every quarter mile) while racing up one of the steepest, baddest mountains in the area. Your guess is as good as ours as to who is going to come away with top honors. But one thing is for certain...There will be puke! Here's a look at the potential winners, and the potential roadkill.

The Favorites

At least on paper the clear favorite certainly has to be Nike Trail Elite bad-ass-mofo David Roche. He's a two-time USATF Trail National Champion. He is the 2014 US Sub-Ultra Trail Runner of the Year. And he represented the United States at the 2014 World Mountain Running Championships. And most impressive, the dude has 22 pages of Strava course records. Not 22 course records.That's 22 pages of course records! But little is know about Roche's beer chugging prowess. Word on the street is that he used to be a 200 pound college linebacker. So one assumes that he has probably tossed back a beer or two in his day. However, one has to wonder whether his current lithe frame can still handle 48 ounces of brew or not? [Update 12/31: David Roche has withdrawn with "flu-like symptoms."]

There's at least one person who thinks David Roche can be beaten. Big Johnny Burton has been telling anyone who will listen that he plans on winning -- and winning convincingly. Burton is perhaps best known for finishing ahead of Timmy Olson at the 2014 Hardrock 100, but he's also the reigning Silicon Valley Beer 2 Mile Champion. When asked about his competition, Burton conceded, "In our country, David Roche is well-known and respected. It will be a good victory." When pressed to elaborate on whether he is wary of Roche's speed, Burton explained, "Big Johnny is the most perfectly trained athlete ever. This other man has not the size, the strength, the genetics to win. It is physically impossible for this little man to win."

Rumors are starting to swirl that Bay Area speedster Marc Laveson might may show up on the start line. Marc breezed through Western States in 18:47:46 back in 2012. Since then he has finished on the podium at San Diego 100 and set course records at several shorter Bay Area races. However, pundits question whether he has ever fully recovered emotionally from being dropped by his runner, Big Johnny Burton, at Hardrock last year. Also, critics point out that Laveson made numerous trips to the port-o-potty immediately following his last beer mile attempt in 2013 and had trouble even walking in a straight line afterwards.

Victor Ballesteros is a legitimate threat to finish on the podium. He's recently come off an impressive string of 2nd place performances including second overall at both the Mt. Tam 10K and the Lake Tahoe 200 (where he ran down Big Johnny in the last 10 miles). Victor is also a very respected beer drinker who knows how to handle his IPA. However he reportedly aggravated his knee in a 6 hour race at Crissy Field in San Francisco on New Year's Eve. So if he does show up at the beer mile he will have to lean very heavily on his beer-drinking strength if he hopes to hang with the leaders.

Chikara Omine is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, stuffed inside an enigma. On the one hand, he's an amazing runner with a resume of big-time wins including his most recent victory over Dave Mackey at the Quad Dipsea. But he's not just an amazing runner; he's also a world-class speed eater whose donut-eating prowess is legendary. However, little is known about his beer drinking expertise. Many pundits quietly note that like many people of Asian ancestry, he may be susceptible to the effects of aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency, possibly causing him to turn bright red and perhaps even explode after consuming massive quantities of alcohol.

Karl Schnaitter has been slowly but consistently targeting (and acquiring) many Strava uphill course records at Quicksilver and Sierra Azul -- records that were formerly held by Big Johnny. In addition to his impressive sub 5-hour performance at Pikes Peak earlier this year, Karl's other claim to fame is that he has his name listed on the wall at the 99 Bottles Pub in Santa Cruz, which requires drinking all 99 bottles of beer on their menu. Presumably he didn't drink them all in one setting?

In the women's race Amy Burton is the clear favorite -- mainly due to the fact that she is the only woman currently planning to toe the line. Presumably she will be competing in the women's 2-beer division, which may give her a shot at hanging with the top men. But according to anonymous sources (who share a residence and altitude tent with her) Amy has taken an unorthodox approach to training. Instead of chugging beers, she has been throwing back a bottle of wine each evening. It remains to be seen how this strategy will pan out on race day. Too bad there's not a Chardonnay Mile division.

Other Runners to Watch

Nakia Baird has been trying to psyche out the competition via social media. He recently posted an action shot of himself out training with the caption: "I can fit a lot of beer in my belly". Way to use your belly to get into their heads Nakia. Well played sir.

Marc Bauman is a 5:03 miler whose 11:01 beer mile PR leaves plenty of room for improvement. When he's not puking on the side of the track, he's also a semi- amateur brewer and vintner who has won a few awards (Double Gold 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Gold 2012 Sauvignon Blanc). Marc is a fan of tacos and beer -- but mostly beer.

A self-admitted beer mile virgin, Donnie Blameuser is nonetheless a threat to finish in the top ten. He's a home brewer who knows his hops and malts. He's also the uncontested Slim Jim eating champion of Palmar Avenue. However, he has struggled at races races with extreme altitude, so it remains to be seen how he will handle the almost 3000 ft peak on top of Dog Meat.

Late entrant Jeff Clowers is a former Marine who once got so drunk that he decided it would be a good idea to go out into the streets of Korea and direct traffic. However that was 20 years ago and he admittedly hadn't chugged a beer in at least 15 years. But he dusted off his beer slamming skills earlier this week and gave Big Johnny a run for his money... at least for the first 100 yards.

Chris Eide, who is making his beer mile debut, lives by the words of Homer, "In sporting events, it's not whether you win or lose; it's how drunk you get!" Wise words. Wise words indeed.

Jeff Eisenman is a beer mile virgin who admittedly has probably never consumed four beers in a half hour period. But he's ready to step up and give it a shot. He completed his first ultra marathon in 2014 and now he's ready to tackle an even bigger and more menacing challenge -- the vertical beer mile!

Greg Hales is the President of the Santa Cruz Track Club. While his 9:09 beer mile PR is relatively unimpressive, he somewhat famously ran down Big Johnny Burton in the last half mile of a 10K Turkey Trot. Greg once went out for a run at Nisene Marks in Santa Cruz... and kept running until until his GPS showed 100 miles! Also of note, he owns a hula hoop.

Guy Herr was last seen at a tattoo parlor. If he can manage to stay out of the poison oak, he could give some people a run for their money.

Marc Klemencic is still planning to try and sneak into the race despite having received a double life-time ban from race organizers for posting photos of himself drinking lite beer on the course. [Update 12/31: Marc Klemencic has convinced race organizers to reduce his double-lifetime ban to a one-year ban and is looking forward to racing next year.]

Greg Lanctot, aka Big Poppa, is a one of those rare specimens who is equally at home on the trails or in the bar. He finished Western States in 2013. But perhaps more impressively, he placed 2nd at the 2013 Silicon Valley Beer 2 Mile Championships, finishing just minutes behind teammate Big Johnny Burton. [Update 12/31: Big Poppa will be taking advantage of the early start option due to a scheduling conflict.]

Loren Lewis will also be making his beer mile debut, hoping to run anywhere close to his 5:44 dry mile PR. He is also expert at shotgunning beers and quarters (the drinking game), which may or may not give him an advantage over the competition. Loren reportedly has a penchant for pumpkin-flavored ales (though he drinks IPAs in public to maintain his street cred).

Jeff Pace was born at a very young age. He still has most of his hair. His hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner. He's a 10, on the pH scale.......because he's basic.

Tim Thompson, is a former pro mountain bike racer turned trail racer, making his beer mile debut. As a Chico State grad he has plenty of beer drinking experience to draw upon.

Alex Voytov is a former Russian rocket scientist who certainly knows about alcohol levels and combustion rates. It will be interesting to see if his extensive scientific background gives him any practical advantage. 

Zack Steinkamp feels that his high alcohol tolerance will give him an edge, or at least make him the least drunk runner out there.