Monday, May 30, 2016

Getting Older and Slower, but not Quite Dead Yet: 2016 Ohlone 50K Race Report

Ohlone 50K
photo by Nina Giraudo
Poets, drunks, and ultra runners

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas certainly had a way with words. "Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight... Do not go gentle into that goodnight." Ah good stuff! But my man Dylan Thomas (D-Thom for short) also had a way with Whiskey. And sadly, at age 39 he was dead.

I turned 43 this month -- already somewhat of an old man compared to D-Thom who never had to suffer the indignity of sitting across from a birthday cake with 40 or more candles on it. And, as has been my tradition for much of the last 12 years, I chose to commemorate this milestone by running-hiking-stumbling through the grueling, exposed, rattle-snake infested hills of the Ohlone Wilderness.

I'm not exactly sure why I choose to celebrate my birthday in such a masochistic manner each year despite the annual protest from my poor legs. (Shut up Legs, no one asked you). Perhaps I relish the pain, struggle, and suffering as poignant visceral reminders that I'm still alive and, "raging against the dying of the light." Or maybe I just lack common sense. Or perhaps a bit of both.

Team Quicksilver
photo by Agnes Pommier
In any case, since I'm not quite dead yet, I decided I might as well continue the tradition and run Ohlone again this year even though I'd been injured and unable to train properly most of the year; even though up until a couple weeks ago I hadn't done a run longer than 12 miles all year; and even though I just raced 62 miles at the Quicksilver 100K the week before, from which my legs still hadn't even begun to fully recover. Sorry Legs :(

However, I took comfort from the fact that I wasn't the only fool attempting to run the Ohlone 50K only 8 days after having run Quicksilver 100K. My Quicksilver Running Club teammate Jean Pommier, who finished just ahead of me at Quicksilver was toeing the line at Ohlone too. If that wasn't crazy enough, Pamakids runner Chris Jones had not only run Quicksilver 100K but had also run the Silver State 50 Miler the day before Ohlone and was now attempting his third ultra-marathons in 8 days!

Big Johnny leads the pack while Jean wisely hangs back
photo by Zack Steinkamp
Getting older; trying not to get too much slower

This past weekend marked my 9th time running the Ohlone 50K in the past 12 years, with my first finish being back in 2005. While my finishing times have varied considerably over the years depending on the weather and my wildly oscillating fitness levels, I've always finished between 5 and 6 hours.

My slowest race was in 2007 where I finished 24th place in 5:57:57, while my best performance was in 2013 where I finished 2nd in just over 5:01:15. But typically, on most years, my finishing time is usually between 5:25 and 5:35. That's pretty consistent, especially when you consider my erratic racing strategy and tendency to, more often than not, fly up the mountain in the lead on the first 4-mile long steep climb of the race.

Coming into the race this year severely under-trained and still somewhat beat up from Quicksilver the week before, I was naively hoping for the best, but realistically bracing myself for an epic-suck-fest. Surprisingly, I managed to finish in 5:25:19, which was actually my third fastest race ever at Ohlone. Thanks Legs!

Year Time  Place
2005 5:54:39 11
2007 5:57:57 24
2009 5:35:06 16
2011 5:30:12 10
2012 5:28:45 7
2013 5:01:15 2
2014 5:15:33 5
2015 5:35:00 3
2016 5:25:19 7

Five-minute summary of a 5+ hour race...

I won't bore you to death with all the excruciating details of the race, which basically consisted of me repeating over and over to myself under my breath, "f**k, this sucks" and "f**k, I should have trained harder". Occasionally during the less-hilly, less-sucky sections of the course I would think, "This isn't so bad," followed almost immediately by "Oh never mind, this definitely sucks," again as soon as the trail turned back up hill.

I like to think of Ohlone as consisting of three distinct 10-mile long sections: 1) the initial stupid climb up to Mission Peak and descent down into Sunol, 2) the long, stupid 10-mile climb back up to Rose Peak, and 3) the final ten stupid miles of rolling hills and steep descent down into Lake Del Valle. They key to doing well at this stupid race is to make sure that you hold back a bit in the first 10 miles so that you are really able to move well over the last 10 miles. But, like anything else that's easier said than done... it's, um, a lot easier to say than to actually do.

Jean Pommier and Mike Helms tangled up in blue
photo by Vladimir Gusiantnikov
This year I can into the Sunol aid station at mile 9 or 10 just a few feet behind a few others runners including my neighbor Mike Helms and my teammate Jean Pommier. Yet, over the next 20 miles they both put 25 - 30 minutes on me by the finish. So, while I felt like I held back on the first section and moved well over the last two sections, clearly I must have pushed harder than I thought during the first section if they were both able to put nearly a mile per minute on me over the rest of the race. Thanks for nothing, Legs.

Still, I did at least manage to catch one other runner. And I held off two more runners (including Erik Wilde who ran me down in the final miles of Ohlone two years ago in 2014) as I managed to put over 10 minutes on the two pursuers during the last half of the course. So the race wasn't a complete disaster. While I was disappointed to finish off the podium and outside the top 5, I did at least kinda-sorta-technically win my 40 - 49 age group (43 year-old Troy Howard finished in the top-3 overall). And thus I came home with "Big Wood" again for a 6th time.

Women's winner, Nina!
photo by Big Johnny Burton
Shout outs

Amazingly, a pair of rookie ultra runners won the men's and women's races at Ohlone this year, Scott Trummer from Livermore, running his first 50K, ran away with the race, finishing in 4:24:10, which is one of the fastest times ever on the modern course. And huge congrats to Quicksilver teammate Nina Giraudo, who not only won the women's race, but finished 18th overall among the men.

If Nina hadn't stopped to take so many pictures along the course she might have even caught her Quicksilver teammate and training partner, Zack Steinkamp, who finished just a minute or so ahead of her. But congrats to Zack, not just for avoiding getting chick'd, but for improving his PR at Ohlone by around 40 minutes! Way to go Zack!

Congrats also to my neighbor and Strava-nemesis, 2:31 marathoner Mike Helms, who completed his first official ultra this year at Ohlone finishing 5th overall and redeeming himself for his DNF last year. Mike, you'd really look good in Quicksilver blue ;)

Big Johnny gets Big Wood
photo by Keith Blom
I'd also like to thank all the volunteers who made this race possible. One of the unique things about Ohlone is that it's a point-to-point course through the wilderness with very limited means of access to the remote aid stations in the middle of the course. That means that volunteers have to hike out the day before with all the water and supplies and then camp overnight in the wilderness among the rattle snakes, mountain lions, coyotes, and sharp-fanged carnivorous bunny rabbits!

At the finish line, my legs threw a bit of a temper tantrum and plopped themselves down in a chair in the shade, refusing to get up for several hour. However, that actually worked out nicely because, while my legs were pouting like a toddler, I got a chance to catch up with fellow runners John Brooks and Chris Jones, as well as Jessi Goldstein (who was supporting her friend Monique Winkler). And big thanks to Jessi for fetching me chicken-apple sausages and beer. Mmm.

Ok, well I guess that's a wrap. I'll probably be back again next year for another birthday jog -- assuming that I can again trick my stupid legs into it. And perhaps next year I'll look into this whole "training" thing that I've heard so much about.

Results and other links

Saturday, May 21, 2016

2016 Quicksilver 100K Race Report: A Guide to Racing 62 Miles with Almost No Training

New 2016 finisher's buckle
photo by unknown
As a general rule of thumb, if you’re planning to attempt to run one-hundred kilometers through the mountains, you should probably do a fair bit of training. A lot of training! A metric shit-ton of training! You should put in months of high-mileage weeks. You should do obnoxiously-long emphatically-slow runs on the weekend. Maybe even a few back-to-back long-slow runs where you trudge along, on tired legs, so slowly that even your own shadow says, “f**k this, I’m gonna sit down and check my Facebook messages”.

Or… you can do what I did and wait until just a month before the race to start training, and go into the race having not run longer than 12 miles all year. And instead of doing a bunch of long runs, you can keep all your runs under an hour and toss in a bunch of random sprints of varying distances. Yes, I’m completely serious. I didn’t even start training for Quicksilver until April, and my longest run all year was only 11.8 miles. And most of my workouts involved short sprints. “WTF,” you ask? Rightly so!

Ok, full disclosure. I’m not some cross-fit wacko who thinks cardio is worse for you than an all-bacon diet (though, damn, I do love bacon). Similarly, I’m not trying to promote a controversial new training book with some oxymoronic title like, “Zero-Running is More Running: Run Farther, Faster with No Training.” My rather counter-intuitive training approach wasn’t by design; it was by necessity after I found myself injured and unable to run (or even hike/walk/hobble) earlier this January after inflaming the bursa sac in my hip. I can’t guarantee that my approach will work for you. In fact, I’m still somewhat surprised that it actually worked for me. But in case you’re interested, here are the details.

First, it’s probably a bit disingenuous of me to say that I didn’t do “any training” before April. True, I was injured and unable to run. However, my particular injury (Greater Trochanter Bursitis) thankfully still allowed me to ride my bike. And so I rode my bike – a lot! Every day. Sometimes twice a day. Two to three hundred miles a week. With most of those rides involving high-intensity intervals and mad-crazy-lung-busting hill sprints.

When I was finally able to slowly resume running in early April, my fitness was thankfully already through the roof. I knew however that I still needed to put some miles on my feet to harden up my legs to handle the stress and pounding of running all day in the mountains. However, I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to ramp up my weekly volume very quickly or spend too much time on my feet without risking re-injury.

That’s when I decided that if I didn’t have time for the traditional long, slow “junk miles” that most ultra runners build their training plans around, I would instead focus on my “secret weapons” of thirty-second strides, short-steep hill sprints, and long-fast downhill repeats. The strides would improve my running economy and leg turnover; the short-steep hill sprints would build muscle and power; and the fast downhill repeats would harden my quads and calves to withstand the rigors of mountain running.

Early morning on the mountain
photo by I-Tao Tsai
Race Start: Obscenely Early, Hours before Sunrise

I woke up obscenely early on Saturday morning and started driving over to the park for the 4:30 am race start, carefully avoiding all the drunks still driving home from their Friday night festivities. I’m not a fan of pre-dawn race starts, though I certainly understand the rationale behind them. 

An early start not only gives the mid-pack and back-of-the-pack runners a better shot of finishing while it’s still daylight, but it also helps the front-runners avoid having to run the hardest part of the course in the afternoon heat. Though if it were up to me, I would start the race at dusk and make everyone run with a raw sirloin steak tied around their waist to better incorporate the native mountain lion population into the race. He he.

As I stand in the Port-O-Potty line chatting with my Quicksilver Running Club teammate Chris Calzetta, I hear a whirring sound above my head and notice that some jackass is flying his drone over our heads. Oh wait, never mind, that “jackass” is actually my buddy – and pacer – Jeff Clowers. He’d mentioned to me the day before that he was going to film the start of the race with his drone to try and capture the stream of runner’s headlamps making their way up the mountain in the pre-dawn dark. Shit, does that mean the race is about to start? Shit, I’m still in the line for the bathroom, really needing to… you get the idea.

Luckily I make it back to the starting line while Quicksilver Running Club president, Greg Lanctot, is still wrapping up his pre-race talk. Thankfully Greg is a very prolific talker. Finally he concludes his pre-race remarks (something about mountain lions having recently stalked a local mountain biker). And with that happy news we are off and running up the mountain – into mountain lion territory – in pitch blackness. This makes me rethink my usual strategy of taking the early lead. Instead, I figure it’s probably wiser to hang safely back behind the leaders, at least until the sun comes up and the mountains lions go home to sleep.

I spend the first dozen or so miles running and chatting with a small group of runners including Bill Clements, Chris Eide, and Matt Ward. Although we are running just outside the top ten or so lead runners, by the time we hit the out and back section on top of Bald Mountain, I’m surprised to see how far we’ve already fallen behind the race leaders who have already opened up a mile or so lead! Texan, Paul Terranova, is out front with about a three minute lead over a chase group that includes  a number of other speedy runners. As we head back out of the turnaround I spot, and wave hello to, women’s race leader Krissy Moehl who isn’t far behind.

Early morning cloud cover keeping temps cool
photo by Nina Giraudo
Special Guests “Big Johnny” and the Mountain-Lion-Thing

John Burton is mild-mannered business software professional who enjoys hiking in the mountains, photographing wildflowers, writing poetry, and playing chess. Big Johnny, if you’ve never met him, is John’s alter ego who shows up, unannounced and uninvited, where he is least wanted or expected. Big Johnny is high strung and highly competitive and will often mistake even the most innocuous mundane remark or greeting as an affront to his manhood and a declaration of war. Experts advise that if you ever spot Big Johnny in the wild, you should avoid making eye contact and back away slowly while making yourself appear as small and non-threatening as possible.

Somewhere in the hills of Sierra Azul, Big Johnny decided that the pace was too slow and decided to take things into his own hands. Suddenly I found myself passing several other runners on the descent down to the Lexington Aid station. Luckily I was able to temporarily distract Big Johnny by claiming to have seen a ninja death squad hiding in the trees above. As he began scouring the tree line for ninja assassins I was able to subtly reduce the pace without him noticing.

As I pulled into the Lexington Reservoir aid station at the bottom of the descent, I was greeted by cheers and smiling faces of my family and teammates. My wife Amy scooped some ice into my hat and into the rear mesh pocket of my hydration pack, a trick that I had successfully used a few years back during the second-hottest year ever at Western States. My eight-year old son John Paul, sitting on a chair in the shade, nearly almost made an effort to quickly look up from his phone. LOL.

Dreading the long steep climb waiting for me around the corner I procrastinated a bit at the aid station, pretending to search for some imaginary – but certainly very important – item in my drop bag. But sensing that the aid station volunteers were on to me, I reluctantly zipped up my bag and dramatically sprinted out of the aid station. As soon as I was safely out of sight around the corner though I immediately began walking. My plan was to continue walking, for the next six miles, all the way to the Kennedy aid station back on top of the mountain.

Alas, just as I was settling into a nice relaxing pace, Big Johnny re-emerged from the woods, his hands and face covered in blood, having apparently successfully slain dozens of imaginary ninja assassins in the Manzanita bushes. Big Johnny ratcheted up the pace, and we caught and passed a couple of more runners including Mike Hirst and Dario Zea. Finally, off in the distance, we saw the prize we had been hunting all day – our arch-rival, Karl Schnaitter, two-time defending Vertical Beer Mile Inter-Galactic World Champion.

Normally a strong and fluid climber, something appeared off today with Karl. His normal tall, upright gait had been replaced with a strange, bent-over list. Perhaps he was drunk? Or maybe he’d been mortally wounded by ninjas? Or perhaps just a bad case of menstrual cramps [that was supposed to say “leg cramps” #StupidAutocorrect]. 

Just as I was catching up to him, about a third of the way into the section of rolling hills on top of Kennedy, some kind of wild animal ran across the trail right between us. It was much larger than a bobcat (and had a longer tail than a bobcat). But it seemed too small and svelte to be a mountain lion (and its color appeared too grayish to be a mountain lion). Whatever it was, I decided now would be an ideal time to pass Karl just in case whatever-it-was was hungry and looking for a snack.

"Taking my time, I'm just moving along..."
photo by I-Tao Tsai
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

I trotted off ahead, running the last of the rolling hills, leaving Karl behind to do his best impression of a wounded Gazelle in the African savannah. Upon reaching the Kennedy aid station for the second and final time, I politely demurred as the self-proclaimed “Sierra Azul’s Most Attractive Aid Station” volunteers attempted to ply me with alcohol. 

They also presented me with an award for “World’s Second-Sexiest Pair of Calves”. [First place apparently went to the aid station captain Loren Lewis, though I’m currently petitioning for a recount of the votes due to suspected bribery of the judges.] In any case, me and my second-rate calves trotted on alone for the next few hours without another runner in sight.

Looking at my watch, I had cranked out the first 50K in 5 hours and 13 minutes, just slightly over 10 minute per mile pace. Woo hoo! After descending the 5 mile stretch down off the mountain alone I rolled through the Hicks aid station where got to see a few familiar faces of Quicksilver Running Club volunteers Scott, Claire, Sean, and company. Then it was back to solitude and open dirt road as I continued dropping down Woods Road, Yellow Kid Trail, Mine Hill, and Deep Gulch. 

#pushps challenge
photo by Qi Song
Near the bottom of Deep Gulch I came across two people walking their dogs. One of the dogs lunged at me and attempted to take a chunk out of my leg, but I swiveled my hips like I was dancing for money. Lesser men wouldn’t have survived. I trotted away with G-string full of dollar bills.

As I emerged out of the woods into the Hacienda parking lot aid station I was happy to see my elite team of pacers ready to go.  Thomas Anderson had agreed to pace me for the three mile section from Hacienda to Mockingbird. Then Jeff Clowers, who paced me at both the Tahoe 200 and Rio del Lago 100, was going to attempt to pace me the last 20 or so miles. And just in case we needed to go to the bullpen for a relief pacer, Jeff had also lined up our friend Tim Thompson to step in if necessary.

At the aid station they informed me that I was now in 7
th place and that the next runner, teammate Jean Pommier, was about 20 minutes ahead of me. With only 23 miles left to run, there was realistically no way I could catch up to him (unless I ran every single mile a whole minute-per-mile faster than him – which probably wasn’t going to happen). 

And sensing that I had put a bit of time on Karl and the other runners behind me, I hoped I could take it somewhat easy for the rest of the race without risk of anyone catching me. Not feeling a great sense of urgency, I even took a minute to crank out 22 pushups for my friend and massage therapist Kirra who was volunteering at the Hacienda aid station.

My pacer Jeff pretending to let me drop him
photo by Tiffany Trevers
My Pacers Both Pretend to Let Me Drop Them J

Thomas and I jogged out of the aid station and made quick work of the next three miles. Occasionally I would pull a bit ahead of Thomas on the steep climbs thanks to my strong power hiking, but he was able to catch back up to me on the down hills. And so ended my hopes of being able to claim that I dropped my pacer. As we made our way up the final climb approaching the Mockingbird aid station at mile 43, Thomas fell back a bit to text Jeff that I was arriving and that I had requested ice for my hat and vest. Although I’m sure he could have kept up had me pushed the downhill harder, I certainly appreciated Thomas’s gesture of letting me drop him to boost my ego.

As we left Mockingbird and made our way up toward the Bull Run aid station on top of Mine Hill, I was expecting to start suffering. We were now over 7 hours into the race and the run had finally broken through the clouds and started to really heat things up. However, instead of starting to feel tired, for some reason I started feeling stronger! Suddenly, no longer hearing the footsteps of my pacer, I looked back to Jeff falling a bit behind. 

“Hey, stop messing around and get back up here,” I laughed, knowing that he was only goofing around and pretending to let me drop him in order to boost my morale. Even when he announced that he was going to skip the next little loop and meet me up ahead so that he could catch his breath, I rolled my eyes, still certain this was merely part of his act to boost my confidence.

Act or not, it was definitely working; I was moving well and feeling on top of the world. Until suddenly I wasn’t. Expecting it to be a warm day, I’d decided to try and ward off any potential stomach issues by avoiding solid food and relying solely on gels and soda. My go to fuel source for the day had been Mountain Dew. But those bastards up at the Bull Run aid station didn’t have any Mountain Dew and they instead tried to poison me – somewhat successfully – with a can of Sprite. 

I spent the next 6 miles burping up foamy sprite and desperately trying not to puke. This is where my prior beer mile training and race experience definitely came into play. Although I knew that I was getting behind on calories and should probably eat a gel or two, I just couldn’t risk putting anything else into my stomach until I got the Sprite wet burping situation under control. 

Eventually I finally decided that it didn’t really matter if I couldn’t take in calories anymore. At this point there was only about 8 miles left to go in the race. So I decided to switch over to ice water and make sure that I at least kept myself cool, figuring that over-heating would probably be more potentially devastating to my race than bonking a bit.

Enjoying a well-deserved post-race beer with Jeff
photo by Amy Burton
Running on Empty

Tiffany and David and the folks at Tina’s Den aid station tried to fire me up by telling me that I was now only a three minutes behind teammate Jean Pommier. But a few miles later as I approached the dam at the bottom Guadalupe Reservoir I could see the blue shirt of Jean Pommier making his way up Mine Hill. He was at least 5 minutes ahead. 

And more importantly, he was still running (while I had been looking forward to power-hiking that section). I knew that Jean would fight to the death to prevent letting anyone pass him in the last miles. And since I wasn’t particularly interested in contributing to the death of either of us, I decided to back off and try to save what was left of my legs for the Ohlone 50K coming up in just 8 days!

When I next saw Jean as he was coming back up from the out-and-back section down to the Enriquita, his lead over me had extended to nearly 15 minutes, and he was still running strong. Confident in my decision not to try to chase him, I was content to coast in as long as no one tried to overtake me from behind. 

The last report I’d received from my pacer Jeff was that Krissy Moehl had overtaken Karl, but that she was still safely 20 or more minutes behind me. Krissy is an amazing runner – having won numerous races including UTMB and Hardrock, including having briefly owned the course record at the latter. However, as fast as she is, with only a few miles left to go, as long as I kept cranking out 10 minute miles for the rest of the race, she would have to run sub 4 minute mile pace to catch me.

As my pacer Jeff and I crested the final hill of the course with just a half-mile of downhill left in front of us, Jeff jokingly yelled up, “this is what you trained for,” – a reference to the fact that I’d run this last section eight times in the previous two days as part of my last-minute “training” on the course. 

At the bottom of the descent I turned the corner and saw Amy and John Paul. I threw in one final sprint for good show, crossing the finish line in 10 hours, 29 minutes, and 2 seconds for 7th place overall. Not a bad training for run Ohlone 50K just 8 days away, And I was pleasantly surprised to see my split for the second 50K of the race was only 3 minutes slower than my split for the first 50K!

Here’s a link to the official race results. And here’s my Strava data. And here’s a link to teammate Jean Pommier’s race report.

Race elevation profile

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beautifuly-Dangerous Hike #5: Gold Strike Hot Springs (Nevada)

Gold Strike Canyon Trail hike
Five of the most-awesomest hikes in the world

I haven't been running much due to a prolonged injury as I mentioned in my previous blog postIn fact, I've even thought about changing the title of my blog from "Running John" to "Hiking John", "Hot-Yoga John" or "Stationary-Bike Spin-Class John". But none of those titles seem to have quite the same ring to them. 

However, since I have been doing quite a bit of hiking lately, much of it on spectacular trails, it gave me an idea. Why not write a series of posts about the "most awesomest" places I've hiked. Of course, "most awesomest" is high subjective. In my case it implies two things: 1) the scenery must be out of this world, and 2) there must be a reasonably high probability that someone will get injured, leave with a head full of stitches, or never be seen alive again.

So, without further ado, here's #5 in what I'm calling my top-five most beautifully-dangerous hikes...

The trail seems pretty tame at first...
Most-awesomest hike #5: Gold Strike Hot Springs (Nevada)

When you think of Las Vegas, Nevada, you probably picture smoke-filled casinos, fat-Elvis impersonators, and single mother's working through law school by dancing part-time on weekends. Umm, yeah sure. What you probably don't necessarily associate with Las Vegas is snow-capped mountain peaks or 110 degree hot-spring fed waterfalls.

Yet, if you drive 30 to 45 minutes outside Las Vegas in any direction, you'll encounter amazing places like Redrock Canyon and Calico Basin with their picturesque, almost alien-looking rock formations. You'll discover the 11,000 foot, snow-capped Mt. Charleston. And don't forget about Lake Mead, the Colorado River, and the Hoover Dam. There's even a series five abandoned old train tunnels you can hike above Lake Mead that cut right through the mountain to the dam.

Perhaps the coolest place of all is a three-mile long slot canyon leading down to the Colorado River that boasts several amazing hot-spring fed pools, and even a 100 degree heated waterfall! And if you get too hot soaking in the hot spring, you can hop into the adjacent cold spring just a few feet away (which of course, also has it's own waterfall which is refreshingly cool).

So... how do you find this place? When is the best time of the year to go, and when should you not go unless you want to die a terrible death and/or get arrested and pay a $600 to $5,000 fine? What should you wear and what kind of supplies should you bring? And most importantly, which is more likely to kill you: 120+ degree temps, monsoon-season flash floods, boiling-hot waterfalls, brain-eating amoebas, skin-eating algae, poisonous rattlesnakes, or carnivorous tarantula hawks? Read on my friends!

Then things start to get a bit more interesting.
Know before you go!

The best time to hike this trail is in the Winter or Spring. December through March are especially pleasant when the rivers and springs are flowing strong from the Fall monsoon season and the sun is out, but the temps are still pleasant and mild.

The worst time to hike this trail is in the summer... because, well... a) the trail is closed and violators are subject to hefty fines, and b) with average daily temperatures of 115 - 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the canyon you'll probably die of heat stroke long before the park rangers find your dead body and issue you a posthumous citation.

The trail used to be open year round, but after several people died in 2014 and dozens more hikers had to be rescued, the National Park Service decided to close the trail during the summer months. When I was there earlier this year in March 2016 the sign read, "Closed May 29 - September 8. Violators will be shot and feed to the rattlesnakes," or something like that.

Even though the trail re-opens in early September you might want to wait until at least October or November to plan your hike as the temps in canyon (which are generally 15 degrees hotter than the temperature in Las Vegas) can still be reach well over 100 degrees during September.

Regardless of the time of year you go, if at all possible, try to avoid getting completely shitfaced the night before your hike. Not only will this make your hike more enjoyable, but it will hopefully allow you to get up early and beat the crowds (and the heat). Gold Strike is an extremely popular trail, even during the Winter months, and getting an early starts gives you the best chance at having some alone time at the hot springs before the party crowd shows up with their loud music, beer pong tables, and Ed Hardy shorts.

Add then it gets really fun!
And finally, a word or two about dogs and baby strollers; and those words are: "WTF people!" Trust me, I don't care what kind of crazy after-market monster-truck off-road tires you put on your Bob Revolution Baby Jogger, you're not getting that thing over those boulders and through those narrow slot canyons. And while your dog might be able to make it down to the river, you're probably going to be carrying it on the way back up. That's cool if your dog is a 10 pound terrier, but do you really want to carry your 45 pound Collie while trying to climb up a 10 foot rock wall with a fixed rope? Probably not.

So you've made a terrible mistake: let's get started!

OK, so you woke up late, slightly hungover, and arrived at the Gold Strike Hot Springs Trail Head at noon on the hottest day of the season. You were running late, so you forgot to stop and pick up extra water and supplies at the gas station on the way. You've only got one bottle of water to share with your hiking party which includes your two toddlers in a double stroller and your dog Shiloh. "I'm sure everything will be fine," you think to yourself optimistically.

It's about a 6 mile round trip with about 1000 feet of descent on the 3 mile downhill hike/scramble from the trail head to the Colorado River. The way down is rather strenuous with a decent bit of class-3 scrambling including 8 or so fixed ropes. The way back up is, not surprisingly, also about 3 miles with around 1000 feet of elevation gain (funny how that works, huh?). But unbeknownst to you, the way back up will probably take you about twice as long.

The hike begins inauspiciously enough with some nice flat wide jeep road. It's pretty slow going due to the fact that you're basically walking in ankle deep gravel, but hey, at least you aren't climbing over any boulders or rappelling down rock walls with fixed ropes (not yet anyway). "I can do this," you say, giving yourself a little pep talk. You're already starting to sweat a little, but you're blown away by the amazing scenery of the striking canyon walls that look like they belong on an alien planet.

You made it to the hot springs!
After about a mile or so of relatively easy hiking and light scrambling you finally start to approach some of the more difficult obstacles. You don't need to be an experienced rock climber and you don't need any fancy gear (no ropes, crampons, helmet, etc.), but you may want to bring a pair of gloves to protect your hands while scrambling. You may also want to bring a pair of aqua socks or water shoes to wear in the Colorado River (if you make it that far) as the beach and river there are full or sharp, pointy rocks.

You will definitely want to bring a pair of hiking  boots or trail running shoes with good aggressive tread as the wet slick rocks can be surprisingly treacherous. You certainly don't want to attempt this hike in flip flops or any other ridiculous footwear such as ballet flats, platform wedges, ankle-strap sandals, or pumps. As a general rule of thumb, if it has heels, fur, or bedazzled jewels on it... save that crap for the dance club ladies.

Abridged list of things that might kill you...

So, assuming that you took my advice and left your gladiator heels and your chihuahua back at the hotel (and remembered to bring lots of water) you've got a 50/50 shot of getting out of this thing alive (which are better odds than you'll find at the blackjack table). You're not out of the canyon yet though. Below is a short, though certainly not exhaustive, list of some of the things that might still leave you full of fear and loathing in Las Vegas.
  • Dehydration, exposure, heatstroke: As mentioned previously, the most important thing to keep in mind is that, in general, the temperatures in Gold Strike canyon are usually about 15 degrees hotter than the weather in Las Vegas. Since this strenuous hike will likely take several hours (or longer) depending on your fitness level, make sure you plan accordingly.
  • Snakes: Gold Strike canyon in home to a variety of snakes including both California King snakes (completely harmless) and rattlesnakes (significantly less harmless). Here are some tips for avoiding getting bitten: 1) Leave the fucking thing alone! He probably just smoked a bowl of weed and is baking on a warm rock in the sun. The last thing he wants is some douche bag standing over him blocking his rays.  Don't harsh his buzz, bro! 2)  If you do happen to spot a rattlesnake, which is very unlikely, don't turn to your friends and say, "hold my beer and watch this..." Regardless of what dumb shit you have in mind, this probably won't end well. 3) Don't try and take a selfie with the snake. Rattlers are highly private creatures. If they even sense that you are trying to take an Instagram pic they will not hesitate to bite you in the nuts.
  • Tarantula Hawks: Imagine a giant six inch wasp bigger than your hand. Now imagine this thing is so powerful that it's sting can paralyze an adult tarantula. Now imagine how fucking fast you should probably run away if you ever see one. It probably goes without saying, but don't attempt to pet the tarantula hawk or pose for a selfie -- unless you have an spare hand whose services you no longer require. And if you do see a tarantula hawk, that means there are probably also tarantulas nearby, which is probably another good reason to run like fuck.
  • Deadly "brain-eating amoebas": Naegleria fowleri is a water-born amoeba that can enter your nose and swim up into your brain where it causes an infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The good news is that it's extremely rare; the bad news is that it is nearly always fatal. So yeah, you might want to keep that little fucker out of your nose if at all possible. Go ahead and enjoy the hot springs; but its probably a good idea to keep your head above water.
  • Blue-green "skin eating" algae: Cyanobacteria won't kill you (though it might kill your dog if they eat it), but it can definitely give you a nasty rash. Stick to the clear deep pools and avoid shallow stagnant pools that have algae. Don't touch the algae; don't give yourself a mud-facial with the algae; don't eat the algae; don't smoke the algae. Just leave the fucking algae alone!
  • Flash floods: First, the good news. Las Vegas is a desert and it rarely ever rains in the desert. Typical rainfall for Las Vegas is only about 5 inches a year. And most of the rain falls during the so-called "Monsoon season" during the summer months... when the Goldstrike trail is closed. So you probably won't have to deal with rain on your hike. Now the bad news. If it does happen to rain, say during early September -- and in particular if it happens to rain hard -- you are pretty much fucked. Proper fucked. The entire hike is basically inside a deep slot canyon with vertical rock walls that are hundreds of feet high with only one way out at the trail head on top of the canyon. If you get caught deep inside the slot canyon during a flash flood it will likely be several days later before you dead mangled body washes up somewhere in Arizona at the bottom of the Hoover Dam. 

Entrance to the Cave of Wonders
OK, so that's about it. In summary, don't attempt to hike this trail in summer. Wear sensible shoes. Brings lots of water. Don't eat the algae. Don't drink the water or stick your head under the water. Don't piss off the snakes. Consider rescheduling your hike if it's raining hard. And run like fuck if you see tarantulas and/or giant tarantula-eating wasps!

But be sure to see the sights...

Hopefully I didn't scare you off with the list above of crazy shit that might kill you. It's important to know that hundreds of people hike this trail every day and almost none of them die. Sure, one person died in 2013 of heatstroke as did three others in 2014. But as long as you avoid the hot summer months (when the park is closed) and make sure to bring plenty of water with you, chances are you will be fine(ish).

This trail is so spectacular that it's worth the risk anyway. And as you lie back and relax in the majestic hot spring pools, surrounded by the beautiful canyon walls looking out at the peaceful Colorado River, you will think you've died and gone to Heaven.

View from Sauna Cave
The main attraction of this trail is, obviously, the series of hot spring pools located toward the bottom of the hike as you approach the Colorado River. The first couple of hot springs are fine. They are both rather small and nestled against the canyon wall, which affords you some privacy but not much view. The third hot spring however is quite spectacular with a heated waterfall and sweeping views of the canyon. The last hot spring, which is located right at the mouth of the Colorado provides a great view of the river and the new by-pass bridge.

If you are feeling daring you might also want to check out the "Cave of Wonders" and "Sauna Cave". The Cave of Wonders can be accessed by squeezing through a narrow crack in the canyon wall from inside the second hot spring. Once inside, you have your own private hot-spring cave... unless this guy shows up with his video camera. Sauna Cave is a little harder to find access and requires a bit of rock climbing to reach. I'm not going to spoil all the details, so I'll let you find this one on your own. But here's a glimpse of what awaits you in Sauna Cave if you manage to find it!

Good luck on your adventure! And stay tuned for my next post in this "Five most-awesomest hikes in the world" series as bring you #4, Königssee, Germany!

Other, far-more-useful resources

I hope you found this blog post mildly amusing. I tried to cover the basics, but if you still want more info on the Gold Strike Canyon Trail hike, here's a far more informative post with lots of great pics.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

There are two types of runners: the currently injured, and the soon-to-be injured!

Meditation, yoga, and Pilates work for some
 I wish I could say none of this was my fault; that I had been sensible and listened to my body. That I took rest days. That I’d stretched and foam rolled and done those exercises they recommend in articles like, “Seven-hundred-seventy-five-and-a-half easy ways to avoid injuries”. I wish I could say I’d done all that… But, no.

“Everything happens for a reason," they say. However, as I've learned, sometimes that reason is simply that you’re stupid and you've made terrible decisions. There I was. I’d just run the fastest 100 mile race of my career, and my body was completely trashed. So naturally I went out the next day and hammered a track workout! 

No, just kidding; I’m not a complete idiot. For once in my life I figured I would do the sensible thing and take a couple weeks off from running to let my body repair itself (See, I can be sensible sometimes!). After my two weeks of mandatory down-time were up, I decided to carefully ease back into running with a short, light jog. 

No, I can’t lie to you. What I actually did was far more foolhardy. For some reason, I decided that the best way to jump back into running was to race a 5K race, followed immediately by a 10K, at my local Turkey Trot.

Whatever works for you...
The 5K race went well, surprisingly. That is to say that nothing in my legs popped, tore, or exploded. I probably should have quit while I was ahead after the 5K. But instead I decided to double down and try to hammer the 10K as well. Less than a minute into the second race I felt something snap in my hip, followed immediately by a painful burning sensation. “Chances are, that’s probably not good,” I thought to myself.

Thankfully I was only a couple hundred yards from the start/finish area so I could easily walk back to my car. I could have easily walked back to my car. But… I didn’t. Instead – for reasons that I still can’t quite fathom – I decided to try and press on try to see how fast I could hobble the next ten kilometers on just one leg. Which turns out, was not particularly fast. However, several mimosas and a plate of bacon later, I was feeling no pain.

To make sure I totally screwed things up, instead of seeing the doctor afterward and resting and rehabbing my sore hip, I spent the next two months logging workouts on Strava with alternating daily titles such as, “All-out sprint down Lombard Street” followed the next day by, “Slowly hobbling on sore right hip” and “Vertical Beer Mile course record attempt” followed by “Attempt to jog around the block”.

Apparently at some point during all this nonsense I even flew out to Texas and tried to compete in the USA Track and Field 100K Trail National Championships. It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that I dropped out 20 miles into the race due to hip and ankle pain. But still, I refused to admit that anything was seriously wrong. I wasn’t actually “injured”; I was just “working through a niggle”.

But then one day, in the middle of an all-out sprint while attempting to capture a Strava course record during a work trip in Germany, that “little niggle” suddenly became an “Oh S#!t. I hobbled back into the conference room after lunch, barely able to walk, stoned out of my mind on several thousand milligrams of something called “Marihuana”, which my helpful German colleagues assured me was the German equivalent of ibuprofen. (Although on a positive note, our Senior Vice President remarked that he was impressed with my creativity and out-of-the-box thinking).

Have a friend evaluate your form...
So here I am… a month later and twelve pounds heavier, and just finally able to start back running again. My life has become a cautionary tale. It is only now that I appreciate one of the most profound truths in the universe – that there are essentially only two types of runners: the injured and the soon-to-be-injured.

Those of us who are currently injured realize, albeit after the fact, that prevention is indeed the best medicine. Yet it is too late for us and so we sit at home, foam-rolling in the dark with the curtains closed; icing and intermittently applying moist heat to our swollen bits; rubbing strange-looking and worse-smelling liniments all over our aching ligaments; self-medicating with bulk quantities of ibuprofen, and occasionally the harder stuff – wine, cookies, and ice cream.

And then are the un-injured (or, as I prefer to think of them, the soon-to-be-injured). Those smug bastards. Those happy, carefree fools skipping along through fields of wildflowers with the sun on their faces; smiling unapologetically, completely unaware that they are just one misstep away from a devastating injury and a life or "Netflix and chill" with a five-gallon drum of ice cream.

So, how can soon-to-be-injured runners avoid calamity? Sure, they can stretch and foam roll. They can light candles, burn incense and pray to the gods of pulled hamstrings and sprained ankles. But not everyone is convinced of the efficacy of stretching and/or offering sacrifices to the trail running gods.

And don't be afraid to look stupid.
There are certain things that people will probably always fight over: politics, religion, race. You can probably add to that list: stretching! Granted, I doubt that anyone has ever been shanked with a sharpened spoon in a prison yard for claiming that yoga is more beneficial than Pilates. And I haven't seen too many Twitter wars between elite runners about the efficacy of static versus dynamic stretching.

But still, people don’t seem to be able to come to a consensus about when stretching is most effective (before running or afterwards), whether it works at all, or if it is causes more injuries than it claims to prevent. However, there are a few thins that most runners will agree on including the importance of rest, and the importance of not being a complete f*ing idiot.

In short, if something hurts, take a rest day! If something feels kinda weird, take it easy. Do some stretching. Foam roll a bit. Maybe hop on bike or jump in the pool. But whatever you do, don't do what I did. Unless of course you're looking to take a break from running and want to catch up on all those Netflix shows your injured friends have been raving about :)

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Bunch of Drunks on a Mountain (Part 2)

Chikara unable to hold his Root Beer

Chikara Omine lay on the ground puking after drinking one too many Not Your Father’s hard root beers. While this might sound like the aftermath of a high school party, Omine has just competed in a serious sporting event, contested by grown adults, that involves chugging cans of beer and sprinting a mile up a steep mountain. We’re talking of course about the second-annual, Big Johnny’s Vertical Beer Mile Inter-Galactic World Championship as featured last year in this Trail Runner Magazine article.

Chikara is one of our planet's top ultra-marathon runners. He has won dozens of races and has represented the United States in international competition, most recently at the 100K World Cup. Yet he also has a fetish for participating in strange and novel events that many people might reasonably characterize as “somewhat odd, if not completely bizarre”.

For example, there is the “Swedish Meatball 100 Yard Dash” which – while the rules are not completely clear – apparently requires stuffing a bunch of meatballs into your mouth and then trying to keep them all inside your mouth while sprinting down the track. Chikara has also competed in other eating-related contests, including speed-eating hot dogs, pancakes, spam, pot stickers, and even fried asparagus. He’s also a five-time winner of a race called the “Donut Dash” that involves sprinting two miles, engulfing four donuts, and then sprinting two additional miles.

I guess you could say that Chikara loves to eat and run. He doesn’t care how far or long he runs (he’s won everything from 5Ks to 24-hour timed events), on what surface (he fares equally well on tracks, roads, and mountainous trails), or even in which direction (he occasionally likes to participate in local 5K races while running backwards). Heck, he even once ran a race on crutches while recovering from a broken toe. And did I mention that he's even run while dressed as Cookie Monster?

Karl, "The Man to Beat"
Karl Schnaitter

While lesser men might be intimated by the prospect of racing one of the world’s most feared legends in the running and/or eating circles, Karl Schnaitter fears no one. And this isn’t mere false bravado; Karl returns this year as the defending vertical beer mile champion and pre-race favorite after having convincingly won the inaugural Big Johnny Vertical Beer Mile Championship last year in dominating fashion. 

Karl is no stranger to winning races. He has an impressive resume that includes wins at Nisene Marks Marathon, Ruth Anderson (50 Mile and 100K), Headlands (50 Mile and 100 Mile) and San Francisco New Year’s Eve 6 Hour. Perhaps more impressively, among his nearly one hundred Strava course records include two of the most prestigious and sought-after segments: the Western States 100 – Hwy 49 to Finish segment, and of course, the Big Johnny’s Uphill Beer Mile Challenge segment.

Big Johnny Burton

Speaking of "Big Johnny" Burton, no one can ever be quite sure what to expect of this highly-unpredictable, yet highly-entertaining athlete. “His race strategies and training methods are unorthodox, if not incomprehensible,” remarked one competitor. He is truly, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” mused another. “He has a penchant for doing the unexpected; so much so that he is – rather ironically – almost predictable in his unpredictability,” explained one other. [Ed: Who are these anonymously quoted sources, and why do they all talk like Winston Churchill?].

Left to right: "Big Johnny" Burton,
Chris "Big Wiener" Eide, Donnie Blameuser
No one knows for certain from whence the nickname “Big Johnny” originated. One report claims that the title was conferred upon him by a Native American Indian chief in acknowledgement of an amazing act of heroism and bravery far too lengthy and convoluted to be recounted here; another legend says the name was whispered to Big Johnny by a Tibetan monk on top of Mount Everest. Others think the moniker is perhaps a stage name from Big Johnny’s brief – albeit highly successful – career as an exotic male dancer.  Skeptics suggest that the name was most likely self-bestowed. 

The one thing pundits can agree on however, is that whenever “Big Johnny” shows up at the starting line of a race, two things are almost certain: 1) He will likely disrobe moments before the start of the race revealing a risqué and garish costume whose tightness is rivaled only by its skimpiness, and 2) It is highly probable that at some point (usually sooner than later) he will launch an explosive, excessively flamboyant attack that – in more cases than not – he will be unable to sustain.

Chris Eide

One runner who no one seems to ever talk about is Chris Eide. He’s always the forgotten man in the pre-race rankings.  Much like Seth Swanson, who finished 2nd in his first Western States race and was then overlooked the following year in the pre-race predictions by the experts (and went on to finish 2nd again that year), Eide – who finished second at last year’s Big Johnny Vertical Beer Mile – isn’t being talked about as one of the favorites to make the podium again this year.

One can only wonder if perhaps the reason people avoid talking about Eide is because no one is quite sure how to pronounce his last name.  Is it pronounced “I’d” like in the contraction of “I would”? Or is it pronounced more like “eddy” in fluid dynamics parlance. Or should we add a silent (and invisible) “s” to the end as in the “Ides of March”?  Who the heck knows!

Amy Burton (top-left), Jenny Lockwood (top-right)
Liz Louie (bottom-left), Tehani Nishiyama (bottom-right)
Women to be reckoned with

On the women’s side of the race, the pre-race favorite has to be Amy Burton who won the women’s two-beer Powder-Puff division last year. However, the word on the street [Ed: I guess more appropriately, the word on the trails] is that Amy hasn’t been doing much training (or racing) due to an Achilles tendinitis injury. That could potentially leave the door open for one of the new women’s entrants toeing the line this year: Jenny Lockwood, Liz Louie, or Tehani Nishiyama – all three of whom are flirting with the idea of eschewing the two-beer Powder-Puff division and mixing it up with the big boys in the full four-beer version of the race!

They’re off and… puking?

At approximately 10:00 am on the morning of January 2, 2016, seventeen brave-and-foolish souls gathered at a remote trail head in the 22,000-acre wilderness of the Diablo Mountain range south of San Jose, California. Towering above them, as they stood in the parking lot clutching their carbonated cans of malted beverages, was a mile-long 1,100 ft. climb with a steep 25% average gradient.

“Oh no. Oh $#*!,” more than one competitor could be heard muttering. And this was before Big Johnny disrobed, revealing the world’s skimpiest and tightest pair of Lycra faux-denim shorts, so snug and form fitting that they appeared to be painted on. At this point several competitors already began suppressing their gag reflex and fighting the urge to hurl, well before any actual beers had been opened or chugged.

And it begins....

A few seconds later the pop-tops were popped and the runners began chugging their beverages and sprinting/hiking/slowly ambling up the mountain. Karl Schnaitter took the early lead, followed immediately by Big Johnny. Slightly further back was a small chase group of a few other runners including Chikara and Chris Eide – who regardless of how you pronounce his name, was dressed in a giant hot dog costume and will henceforth be referred to simply as the “Big Wiener”.

Karl Schnaitter continued leading through the second and third beer “aid stations”, always shadowed closely by Big Johnny who was never more than a few seconds behind. Karl later confessed that his front-running strategy had less to do with race tactics, but more with wanting to avoid having to look at the back of Big Johnny’s ass-tight booty shorts.

The race heats up
Chikara and the Chris “Big Wiener” Eide slowly clawed their way up to the two race leaders, creating an exciting four-man race. Further back, a battle was also brewing in the women’s race. Amy Burton, who was running solo in the two-beer Powder-Puff division, seemed to be in a race of her own [Ed: Technically she was in a race of her own, literally as well as figuratively]. Meanwhile, the three women behind her were steadily chugging and slogging their way up the mountain in a too-close-to-call race for the women’s four-beer division.

Sprint for the finish

As the runners left the final beer station, Karl Schnaitter was still in first place followed closely by Chikara (who had moved up into 2nd place) and Big Johnny in third. Meanwhile Big Wiener seemed to struggle with his last beer (or perhaps he was just overheating a bit in his costume) and slipped slowly back out of contention for the podium. As Karl, Chikara and Big Johnny approached the steepest section of the course with only a few hundred meters left to go, it looked like the race had been sorted out and the finishing order had been determined.

But then inexplicably (or perhaps all too predictably), Big Johnny launched an epic attack, rocketing up past Chikara and Karl into the lead – all the while showboating and celebrating ostentatiously and voraciously as he strode past race camera man, Sean McPherson, who was filming the action. The race was over!

"Big Johnny" launches a virulent attack

Or… was it? Not fazed by Big Johnny’s antics, Karl and Chikara kept their cool and pressed on, suspecting perhaps that Big Johnny may have kicked a bit too soon. Only mere seconds later, clearly gassed out, Big Johnny slowed dramatically and then stepped off to the side of the trail, letting Karl and Chikara pass. Conceding defeat, Big Johnny jogged it in, screaming unsolicited (and generally unhelpful) advice to the two remaining combatants: “Put him in a choke hold Chikara,” and “Use the Force Karl. Use the Force!”

It’s all over but the pukin’

As they approached the finish line at the top of the climb Karl could taste victory. Or maybe it was the Moose Drool brown ale coming back up that he was tasting? Trying to hold off a hard-charging Chikara only steps behind him Karl closed his eyes and sprinted… right past the finish line and championship belt hanging from the tree. Luckily Karl heard Big Johnny call out to turn around and he reversed course just in time to clinch the belt (and the victory) in 17 minutes and 10 seconds.

Chikara crossed the finish line 3 seconds later, seemingly no longer able to even run in a straight line, and immediately collapsed onto the ground… emptying the contents of his root beer-filled belly into the drought-stricken earth. Chikara would later explain that it wasn’t the 5.9% ABV content of his Not Your Father’s Root Beer that caused him to puke, but rather the quick glimpse of Big Johnny’s tight Lycra shorts in his peripheral vision.

Big Johnny sauntered casually up the hill for third place in 17:28, seemingly more concerned with re-adjusting his teeny-tiny shorts (which had steadily ridden up higher than any levels of comfort or public decency would permit) than with his actual finish time. In addition to winning the “Tightest and Most Inappropriate Shorts Award” Big Johnny also laid claim to the Master’s Title (i.e., first old dude). Additionally he also was awarded (Ed: technically I think he awarded himself) the “My Beer is Stronger than Your Beer Award” for his impressive choice of 7% ABV Sculpin IPA.

The aftermath!
Chris “Big Wiener” Eide stumbled across the finish line a minute later in 4th place, after spending some time on the trail pondering to himself the time-old existential-drunk question: “What am I doing with my life?” He later came to terms with himself after realizing that this race was actually perfectly in line with his recent New Year’s Resolution to focus on “quality miles” over quantity. 

Matt Ward, who finished 5th was the first completely sober runner to reach the top, having won the Club Soda category as well as the award for “Best Mullet on a Bald Guy”. Matt too was wondering how his life had come to this. He thought he’d hit bottom years ago, ironically due to chugging too much beer; yet here he was – of sound and sober mind – binge-drinking seltzer water for bragging rights. It really came full circle for him as he watched Chikara vomit while Larry remarked, “look he’s filling a gopher hole.”

Winning the Super Master’s Division (i.e., “First Really Old Dude” Award) was 50 year old, sub 3-hour road-marathoner Larry Neumann. For a roadie accustomed to gentle asphalt bike paths, Larry acquitted himself remarkably well on the steep and rugged dirt trails. Feeling understandably proud of his achievement, he posted a photo – an action shot where he could be seen in the distance behind the leaders battling up the final hill – to the road-runner’s club that he belongs to. Their response was, “So you’re saying you got smoked by a guy in a hot dog suit and a lady walking her dog?” Man, tough crowd!

Amy Burton ran/hiked/walked away with the women’s two-beer Powder-Puff division title with no other woman in sight. This was partially due to her amazing performance and perhaps also partially due to the fact that she was the only woman in the two-beer division. She regrets ever listening to her husband [Ed: Don’t most women regret ever listening to their husbands] Big Johnny who talked her out of attempting the four-beer race. However, she bows to the drinking prowess of Liz Louie, Jenny Lockwood and Tehani Nishiyama, and looks forward to challenging them next year!

King and Queen of the Mountain

In the women’s four-beer division, Liz Louie was the first to cross the finish line, narrowly edging out fellow competitor Jenny Lockwood. There was a moment of confusion and controversy after the race among the “official judges”, all of whom were quite drunk, and none of whom were actual judges in any sort of capacity – official or otherwise. The point of contention was whether the hard strawberry-apple cider consumed by Liz was actually “beer” or not. 

After conferring, the judges ruled, quite decidedly, that strawberry-apple cider is indeed beer – or at least some distant second-cousin-in-law-of-beer-from-another-marriage. And so Liz was awarded the women’s Championship Belt. However, the judges also decreed that – if feasible and time-permitting – an additional women’s championship belt shall be constructed out of empty Budweiser beer cans and presented to Jenny at some nebulously vague future date.

The second annual Big Johnny’s Vertical Beer Mile Inter-Galactic World Championship was a resounding success.  Nobody died (which is always good). And much more importantly, no one had to run a penalty lap for puking during the race [Ed: puking after the race is considered a faux pas but is not penalized].

On top of the world!


“The vertical beer mile was simultaneously the most glorious and the worst idea of my life.” – Liz Louie

“The quote that will stick in my head is Liz Louie saying ‘is this poop or not?’ while batting around a lump of something on the ground with her hand that was most definitely poop (I think).”
– Chikara Omine

“I'd really like to know how exactly Big Johnny found this trail.  With the millions of acres of parkland in the area, he managed to find a segment that was a) crazy steep, b) exactly a mile, c) right off the road.  Does he have a job?” – Zack Steinkamp

"I like the remoteness and difficulty of the course. You could smell the last belch of the competitor in front of you much longer than on a flatter course." – Loren Lewis

“Never had more fun running up a steep trail while getting my ass kicked.  What’s worse than consuming pamplemousse flavored French sparkling water?  Oh yes, getting beaten by a wiener...”
– Thomas Anderson

“I’ve been training for this all year… I embraced the belch and improved my total beer drinking time by almost a minute.  Improving at this rate means I’ll be ready to vie for the podium in about 4 years, if I’m not a raging alcoholic by then.” – Jeff Pace

“I decided to take on this challenging with the joke of going sub 26 minutes.  Well the joke is on me with sub 30 minute mile and DFL.  That was one crazy hill.  I ran maybe 10%, hiked 80% and burped 10%.” – Sam Louie

Click below to watch the race video courtesy Sean McPherson

Vertical Beer Mile Official(ish) Results
Place / Award
 Karl Schnaitter  17:10  Overall Champion
 Chikara Omine  17:13  (Hard) Root Beer Champion
 John Burton  17:28  Master's Champion / IPA Champion
 Chris Eide  18:20  "Biggest Wiener" Award
 Matt Ward  19:16  Club Soda Champion / "Best Mullet" Award
 Zack Steinkamp  20:09  "Loudest Belch" Award
 Larry Neumann  20:17  Super-Master's Champion
 Amy Burton  20:43  Power-Puff (2 Beer) Champion
 Thomas Anderson  22:26 "Most Cutting the Switchbacks" Award
 Jeff Pace  23:43  "Most Improved" Award
 Loren Lewis  24:25  German-Non-Alcoholic-Beer Champion
 Liz Louie  24:44  Women's-Hard-Strawberry-Cider Champion
 Jenny Lockwood  25:12  Women's Actual-Beer Mile Champion
 Dan Nishiyama  25:56  "First Nishiyama Finisher" Award
 Tehani Nishiyama  28:17  "Most Colorful Tights" Award
 Donnie Blameuser  29:xx  "Least Improved" Award
 Sam Louie  29:xx  "Most Room to Improve" Award

Big thanks to official race photographer /
videographer, Sean McPherson