Friday, October 2, 2015

2015 Dances With Dirt 50K Race Report

A Speedo and a Bow Tie?

Dirty Brides relay team

You know that nightmare where your friends invite you to a costume party and you show up in a Speedo and a bow tie... only to discover it's not actually a costume party and you're the only one dressed up? That happened to me this past weekend at the Dances with Dirt 50K in Hell, Michigan.

I decided to run this race at the last minute, just a couple of days beforehand. I was initially considering running the 100K relay with some friends. However, I had some work commitments later that afternoon so I figured it was wiser to just run the shorter, individual 50K race, which started earlier in the morning so that I could be done in time to get back to work.

My friends had talked about how crazy this race was, how everyone dressed up in wild costumes, and (perhaps most importantly) how much beer everyone drank during the event. If you know me, you know there are three things I love: running, drinking beer, and running while drinking beer (in my underwear). So this race seemed like the perfect storm!

Standing in the dark before the 6:15 am race start, I slipped out of my sweatsuit and stripped down to my stars-and-stripes Speedo and matching American-flag arm warmers and bow tie. Feeling a little self-conscious, I glanced around at my compatriots, to see what other crazy costumes people were wearing. You know, maybe some sexy nurses or sexy cops. Perhaps a Chippendale's dancer or two. My heart immediately sank into my stomach.

"Oh fuck. I'm the only one dressed up," I gasped as I glanced around at all the serious-looking runners in their serious-looking singlets and actual running shorts. No one else is dressed like a jack ass. "What the hell is going on," I wondered. Well, as I would later find out... While the relay race, which starts later in the day, is basically a drunken costume party, the 50K is a serious race for the more serious runner. Well, fuck me.

"Allow myself to introduce... myself."
And then I was in last place.

So the race starts and I immediately find myself in a pack of three other, much more seriously dressed, runners. We're moving pretty fast, flying through the first mile or two of technical single track in the dark with our headlamps and flashlights. Then suddenly the lead runner comes to an abrupt halt and we four all crash into each other. We look down at a sign in the middle of the trail that says, "Wrong Way". Shit, we're off course already?

We all immediately start shining our lights into the woods, wondering if perhaps this is the start of one of the infamous off-trail sections through the forest that we'd been warned about? Suddenly the other runners behind us start arriving and everyone is trying to figure out where to go. It's starting to become a real cluster fuck. Panicking a bit, I make an executive decision and start running down the trail to my right, which though unmarked, seems like it must be the right direction. [Spoiler alert: it was the completely wrong fucking direction].

Jim Harbaugh and staff are everywhere these days!
Several minutes later I come to an unmarked intersection where the trail diverges into three different, equally unmarked directions. Fuck me (again). Defeated, I turn around and run back to the intersection with the "Wrong Way" sign. Apparently the wrong way was actually the right way. What the fuck? Anyway, I'm now in dead last place with about a hundred runners in front of me on the narrow single track. My race is over. I decide to turn around and head back to the car.

On my way back to the car, something occurs to me: I'm acting like a whiny little bitch. Sure, I've lost any chance at winning. But so what? It's a long race. We've still got four or five hours of running. That's a lot of time to make up a lot of ground. If I put in a hard effort, who knows how many people I can reel back in. Maybe I can even end up winning my age group!

So... I step on the gas and start flying down the narrow trail at break-neck speed, catching up to some other runners. I feel like a bit of an ass sprinting around people through the bushes in my tight little shorts with my butt checks hanging out. I'm sure I look like an ass. And I'm pretty sure at least one other runner must have muttered, "what an ass!" Though I guess that comment could be taken a couple of different ways ;)

Anyway, I continue flying down the trails in my tight little bun-huggers, occasionally catching up with another runner or two. However by now things are really starting to get spread out. As I reach the little out and back turn-around at mile 17, I realize that everyone else ahead of me must have a pretty good lead since I didn't see anyone running back on the inbound section of my out-and-back. Oh well. I guess I'm just going to finish in whatever place I'm currently in. What place am I currently in anyway I wonder???

Oddly, this is one running costume I don't own... yet!
Running through the woods drunk

Things got relatively uneventful after that. Well except for the beers I chugged at the aid station. And running through the forest, completely off trail while slightly buzzed. Oh, and the "stripper pole". And also that section of the course where, after crossing back and forth over a river a few times, we then had to run waist-deep down the middle of the river for a quarter mile. You know, just your typical run-of-the-mill lunchtime run for Big Johnny.

One minute I was running along on a well-maintained trail day-dreaming about who-knows-what (probably my upcoming PowerPoint presentation at work) when suddenly the course markings went off into the woods and down a steep game trail. Then, the next thing I know, we're not even on an established trail anymore, but just following ribbons hanging from branches as we weave through the forest.

I like that they're running with bottles of beer :)
At some point we came to a ridiculously steep nearly-vertical hill which has apparently been dubbed "the stripper pole". I was somewhat disappointed to learn that there weren't any actual strippers here. I guess 9 am on a Saturday morning is considered off-peak hours. Anyway, after the stripper pole we continued meandering aimless through the woods. There seemed to be only one rule-of-thumb guiding whoever marked the course: when in doubt, go uphill; if there is no nearby hill, go over any fallen tree you can find.

Oh wait, I take it back, there seemed to actually be two rules-of-thumb guiding whoever marked the course. The other rule was: why just run along next to the river on a the trail when instead you can crisscross pointlessly back-and-forth across the river... and then run straight up the middle of the river for a quarter mile for good measure.

OK,  but enough whining about the course. Let's talk about beer! Imagine my surprise and delight when I arrived at an aid station where the volunteers asked me, "What can I get you... whiskey or beer?" Several minutes (and several beers) later, I stumbled out of the aid station with a decent buzz.

That bitch is wearing my outfit!
Ugh, I can't believe I forgot my body glitter!

The last few miles after that were all a blur. I may have passed another runner or two. I may have taken a nap. Who can say really? Finally I emerged out of the forest and sprinted across the grassy field towards the finishing line... past Jim Harbaugh and Michigan coaching staff, past the sexy nurses and the dirty brides, past the Chippendale dancers and the American presidents and first ladies waving their huge three-pound floppy polyurethane penis.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I'd finished 3rd overall in the 50K and first in my age group! Though, full disclosure, there were at least one or two 50 Mile runners who came through the 50K checkpoint ahead of me on their way to running the full 50 miles. #Badass #Gangsta

After the race I got a chance to briefly catch up with some old friends including a few of my old high-school training buddies: Jesse Sweeney, Marty McLaughlin, and Ramon Hernandez. Sadly none of them were in costumes of any kind. Would it have really killed them to put on a wedding dress or some leather S&M gear? Come on! Luckily I met some folks from the Motown Ann Arbor Hash House Harriers who were wearing kilts and drinking beer. My kind of peeps.

And then, inconceivably, I ran into not one, but five other dudes also wearing matching American flag Speedos and bow ties. And their Speedos were even smaller and tighter than mine. And they were covered in red, white, and blue body glitter. And they had a giant rubber penis. I've never felt so inadequate or emasculated in my life. Immediately I vowed to return one day -- with a tighter Speedo and enough body glitter to make Lady Gaga and Ke$ha jealous!

Here's a link to the official results. And here's my Strava data (note: my GPS inexplicably turned itself off about a mile or so before the finish line).

Congrats to Andrew Bucci, who won the men's 50K race, as well as second place Matthew Zigich. And kudos to the women's 50K winner Melissa Davies who finished only 15 minutes behind me in 4th place overall!

Big ups to Jonathan Hastings and Steve Barber who finished 1st and 2nd in the 50 Miler, and who, as mentioned, both came through the 50K checkpoint ahead of me. And congratulations to Michele Magagna, who won the women's 50 Miler, finishing 5th overall!

And of course, props to everyone who ran; everyone who finished; and everyone who crossed the line carrying a bottle of beer ;)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

2015 Ohlone 50K Race Report

For once I'm not the shirtless jackass in the team photo :)
photo courtesy Agnes Pommier
Turn up the heat

If you read my (heavily profanity laced) Silver State 50K race report from this May you will recall that my annual birthday race, the Ohlone 50K, was inexplicably cancelled due to bad weather... or rather to the threat of bad weather... or more accurately, to the threat of a possible light sprinkling of rain -- which never actually materialized. Nobody really understands what the "brain trust" at the East Bay Regional Park District were thinking.

But long story short, the race was moved from May to September this year to avoid "bad weather". Ironically, the originally scheduled race date, May 18, turned out to be a beautiful day with clear skies and perfect 68 degree temps. Whereas the rescheduled date, September 18, fell in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave where mid-day temps topped out at well over 100 degrees.

Don't get me wrong though. I'm not complaining. After all, I am the same guy who publicly posted a Facebook prayer asking God to deliver a heat wave of epic proportions for Western States two years ago. "Dear merciful and compassionate Lord, please turn up the thermostat on race day so as to burn my rivals to smithereens. May the sports drink in their water bottles boil over. May their shoes melt into small puddles of rubber and/or other synthetic chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm." Yes, I'm an asshole.

So race morning rolls around and we all show up at the starting line. Well, most of us show up. Apparently around 60 of the 200 registered entrants had the good sense to stay home rather than even attempting to run 31 miles through the drought-stricken Ohlone Wilderness over nearly 9,000 feet of hills in 100+ degree temperatures.

I'm not sure how hot it actually got on the course. The temperature at the start of the race in Fremont at 8:00 am was pretty mild. And although it certainly warmed up as the day progressed, it never felt particularly hot or uncomfortable to me. Though, full disclosure, I sometimes sit in my parked car in the hot sun with the windows rolled up and the heater on listening to podcasts during my lunch break -- wearing a wool sweater. And a scarf.

Anyway, depending on who you ask, the high temp of the day was somewhere between 101 and 108 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I'm going to guess that it was at least 103 degrees (Celsius) out on the course -- which is the temperature at which sucrose melts. I say this because I had an open package of uneaten Cliff Shot Blocks in my pocket, but when I reached into my shorts to grab one, all I found was a handful of hot, wet, sticky goo.

The good news was that the temperatures were so hot, that all the rattlesnakes that usually hang out sunbathing themselves on the course also decided to stay home and call in sick. I didn't have to jump over a single rattler this year, which kinda takes some of the fun (and challenge) out of the race.

Slowly making my way up Mission Peak
photo courtesy Ellen Taylor
Off and... hiking?

In previous years I'd hammered the first climb up to Mission Peak as if there was a cash prem for the first person over the top of the hill. It's actually not a terrible strategy -- if you've got the fitness to pull it off. One year it worked well for me as I finished 2nd overall in 5 hours and 1 minute, just 6 or 7 minutes behind my Quicksilver teammate, and race winner, Jean Pommier. But this year my heart wasn't in it.

I'd pushed myself pretty hard at the North Country Run 50 Miler in Michigan a few weeks ago, just one week after racing 78 hard miles through the Canadian Rockies at FatDog 120. So I wasn't sure how much more my legs had left, and I decided to play it safe and  take it easy at Ohlone this year.

I knew going into the race that it was going to take a miracle (or an act of God, like a record breaking heat wave) for me to get onto the podium. According to the rankings, I was predicted to finish 15th overall. But I wasn't worried. Looking at the (long) list of fast young guys ranked ahead of me, I figured that at least half of them would probably go out hard and detonate in the final ten miles, giving me some roadkill to pick off on my march toward what would hopefully be another top 5 finish.

As the race started, I watched a blur of about a dozen guys take off ahead of me charging up the hill. Among them was Quicksilver teammate Ricky Russel as well as my neighbor (and Strava nemesis) Mike Helms and his buddy Chris, who were making their ultra racing debuts. But instead of running the climb with the leaders like I've normally done in past years, I decided to power hike the steep sections. I was pleasantly surprised to see Jean doing the same.

My strategy was to just take it easy for the first 20 miles, hiking the hills and running the flats and downhills. I figured that the real race wouldn't start until the last 10 miles. That's when the heat and hills would be taking their toll on anyone who had pushed too hard in the early miles. So I just focused on keeping my heart rate and breathing steady and under control. As much as it pained me to do, I avoided throwing in any of my patented Big Johnny style berserker attacks.

One of the rare sections where I did some actual running
photo courtesy Ellen Taylor
Slow and steady wins the race lands you on the podium

There's really not much to say about the race itself other than I kept steadily plugging away, occasionally catching up to and passing some of the early leaders who had started to fade. Somewhere just after Sunol, around mile 10 or 11, I came across my neighbor Mike's friend Chris, who had apparently blown a gasket and was sitting in shade under a tree. I tried to cajole him into continuing with me, but he wasn't having any of it.

A few miles later, heading into the next aid station at Goat Rock, I caught up to Mike who, as I mentioned, was making his ultra debut. Although his early break-neck pace had obviously slowed, he was still moving relatively well and appeared to not be in any real distress; yet I would later learn that he'd seen the writing on the wall and decided to call it a day and jogged back down to Sunol rather than trying to push on into uncharted territory and risk severe bonking and cramping.

Just as I was about to leave and head out of aid station, out of the corner of my eye I spied a giant bowl of bacon. I instantly shot my wad in my shorts The cliff block shots in my shorts pocket immediately melted. I love bacon. I'm the founding member of the Strava Bacon Runners Club. I grabbed two slices and thanked the aid station volunteers profusely. It was so yummy.

Getting "big wood" at the finish line
photo courtesy Ellen Taylor
Fueled on by the magical powers of bacon, I caught up with a few more runners over the next miles, gradually improving my position. I got occasional spotty reports that I had moved up to 7th, 6th and then 5th, and that the next runner was just a few minutes ahead. However, I wasn't particularly motivated to try and chase anyone down for 4th place. I mean, no one wakes up in the morning and says to them self, "I'm racing for 4th place today. It's 4th place or the infirmary".

However, I was, for some reason, oddly motivated to hold on to my 5th place spot. But, unfortunately, every time I glanced behind me I could see a runner in a long-sleeve gray shirt charging up the hill, gaining ground on me. This went on for hours. I started to wonder if it was perhaps just a heat-induced hallucination. If he was real, why hadn't he actually caught up to me by now? It was very bizarre.

Then suddenly with only about 4 or 5 miles to go as I was descending down the switchbacks in the only section of shaded forest on the course, I saw my Quicksilver teammate Ricky (who had been leading the race earlier) sitting down on a log in the shade. I poured a bit of water from my bottle over his head and neck hoping it might revive him a bit. He jumped up and started running down the trail with me. I knew that the gray-shirted runner/apparition was chasing, so I unfortunately couldn't afford to slow down and jog it in with Ricky.

The last few miles went by quickly and uneventfully until, with about a mile to go, a got stung in the ass by a wasp. But not to worry, I've been stung in much worse places, so I just laughed and kept on keeping on. When I arrived at the finish line I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I'd actually finished 3rd overall and that teammate Jean had won the race (his 5th win at Ohlone).

A few minutes later the gray-shirted phantom, who I learned was actually 52 year old Jeff Boutte, came sprinting in shirtless (or rather with his shirt tied around his waist), which momentarily confused me. We were excited to later see teammate Ricky come across the line in 5th place, thus giving our Quicksilver team 3 of the top 5 places. Also cracking the top 10 overall was teammate Stuart Taylor! The full results are here.

Ricky, John, Jean, Yujung, and Stuart
photo courtesy Ellen Taylor
Beer (and other stuff)

As soon as I crossed the finish line and collected my "big wood" award, I sprinted to my car hoping that the ice in my cooler hadn't all melted and that my beer was still cold. Thankfully, the beer was still ice cold despite the 100+ temps. And somehow, to my amazement, race director Larry England had successfully talked his son into standing over a hot grill on an already hot day, grilling some burgers and sausages. The food was amazing. Even the yellow jackets, who tried to fight me for my burger, seemed to agree).

Jean, Ricky and I kicked back and cheered on the other finishers including Quicksilver teammates Stuart Taylor, Yujung Wang, and Tim Thompson (who finished just in time for me to hand him my last beer before I had to take off to drive Keith Blom back to his car at Mission Peak).

Congrats to all the other runners who persevered out there in the heat and made it to the finish line!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

2015 North Country Trail Run 50 Ultra (50 Miler) Race Report

Flavor Flav approved: World's largest finisher medal!
It's all about the bling...

This was my third year running the North Country Trail Run 50 Miler in Wellston, Michigan. I first ran it back in 2012 where I managed to finish 3rd overall despite pushing myself so hard that my whole body cramped up in the last few miles and I ended up peeing blood afterwards. Here's my 2012 race report. I did slightly better the next year in 2013 where I managed to finish 2nd overall and 1st masters (and more importantly, avoided peeing blood or being hospitalized with rhabdo this time). Here's my 2013 race report.

I really love this race. I can't say what it is exactly that draws me back every year. Maybe it's the course features miles and miles of forested single track on the famous Big M mountain bike trails. Maybe it's the post race feast or the beer. Mmm, beer. Or maybe it's the camaraderie and the chance to spend the afternoon hanging out with all my ultra-runner buddies from Michigan who I don't get to see as often as I like. Though, if I'm honest, it's probably for the finisher medal.

In case you haven't seen it, North Country has the biggest ultra-marathon finisher medals in the world! And I don't mean that figuratively. I mean literally. The finisher medal this year measured 7 inches wide and weighed nearly half a pound. I couldn't initially figure out why my neck was so sore the morning after the race. And then I realized it was probably from walking around for hours after the race with that giant hunk of metal hanging from neck. Which really makes me wonder, how does Flavor Flav do it?

When in doubt... attack like a mad man!
A series of questionable decisions...

Conventional wisdom holds that you should cut back your mileage in the weeks leading up to a big race. I kinda did the opposite though. Instead of taking it easy and relaxing the weekend before North Country I ran 78 miles through the Canadian Rockies as hard as I could. Am I an idiot you ask? Well, yes, probably... but that's beside the point. Let me explain.

My big A race of 2015 was going to be FatDog 120, a grueling 200 kilometer race through the Canadian Rockies just North of Vancouver, British Columbia. I wasn't actually planning on running North Country this year as it fell just 7 days after Fat Dog. But shit happens. Unfortunately I found myself dropping out of FatDog at mile 78 after leading the race for much of the first 100 kilometers. So when a last minute opportunity to run North Country presented itself, I said, "what the hell, why not."

I had hoped to arrive in Manistee the night before the race in order to meet up with some friends from Midland who were camping including my buddy Bill Pritchett who had paced me at North Country in both 2012 and 2013. This year Bill was pacing another buddy of ours, Matt Frazier, who had finished 2nd last year at North Country. But due to some unforeseen circumstances (namely me getting drunk off my ass at Rare Bird Brewery in Traverse City), I wasn't able to arrive at the start line until race morning.

Unbeknown to me, the race organizers had apparently moved the race start up an hour. This was fine except that now the race started before dawn (while the trails were still dark) and I hadn't brought a headlamp with me. Luckily for me, I was able to tuck in behind our buddy Matt for the first few miles who hadn't brought a headlamp either (but who had managed to borrow one from our buddy Bill).

My plan was to be patient and not to do anything stupid for at least the first 25 miles. Then, if I was feeling good and the opportunity presented itself, I might try to attack on the downhills of the second 25 mile loop. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. Suddenly, only four miles into the race, I found myself sprinting past Matt (who lead the first four miles) and bombing down the first descent like a complete nut job.

Some of the Midland gang: Maggie, Chris, Bill
Could have been worse...

I'm not sure what exactly I was thinking when attacked so early in the race. Maybe I was hoping that no one would be ballsy enough to go with me and I could open up a decent lead and then stay out of sight for the rest of the race. Maybe I was hoping to shake things up and test the field to see was capable of responding. Or, most likely, maybe I wasn't thinking at all and just doing what I do best: crazy incomprehensible shit.

Things pretty much played out as you might expect. I did manage to open up a bit of a lead for the first 18 miles or so. But I eventually got caught. And then I eventually got dropped. And then I eventually got caught, and dropped, again. But thankfully I did manage to hang on for 3rd place overall. And more importantly, I held off all the other "old" dudes and manage to win the Master's division championship, taking home a nice little piece of hardware.

My official finish time of 7:17:26 was only about 7 minutes slower than my PR on this course of 7:10:46 which I ran in 2013 when my buddy Bill paced me. Considering that I ran solo this year without a pacer, and that I'd raced 78 hard miles the weekend before, I was pretty pleased with my performance. Maybe next time I'll run smarter and skip the silly antics. Maybe.

Congrats to Jordan Lafreniere, who ended up winning the 50 miler, as well as to 2nd place runner Kyle Kiel who was finished just 3 minutes later. And a big shout out to our fellow Midland runner Maggie Mae Retelle who won the women's master's division finishing 2nd woman overall behind women's winner Angela Carron. Here's a link to the official results. And here's my Strava data

And while I normally would not bother to mention the results of the children's fun run or any other sub-ultra distance, in this case I must make an exception and offer congratulations to another Midland buddy Michael Barrows who not only won the marathon race, but destroyed the course record with a ridiculously fast 2:47:13. #WhatTheWhat #AreYouKiddingMe #ThatsReallyDamnFast

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

2015 Mountain Madness Fat Dog 120 Race Report

A cold and wet Fat Dog
photo by Team Riccardo
Short summary of my DNF at Fat Dog 120

OK, if you've purposely sought out this race report you are probably either: a) my mother, who is legally obligated to read anything I write, b) some weirdo who enjoys reading about other people's epic failures, or c) a concerned friend who wants to know how I managed to fuck up yet another race. In which case, definitely read on. 

Or perhaps you are a runner who is thinking about signing up for the Mountain Madness Fat Dog 120 Trail Race next year and you are scouring the Internet for race reports hoping to gain some nuggets of wisdom -- in which case, you're shit out of luck. The only thing you're going to learn from my race report is what NOT to do. However, you might enjoy this race report from Nickademus Hollon who won the race and broke the course record this year, or this spectator report from Mitch Leblanc. Also, Mitch's race report from 2014 where he finished 2nd is another great read.

Or maybe you are just a beer geek looking for reviews on "Fat Tug" IPA from Driftwood Brewery in Victoria, BC. Which means you apparently typed "Fat Dog" instead of "Fat Tug". In which case... you're drunk, go home. But buy me a bottle of Fat Tug if you see it at the store. It's fucking amazing and we can't get it out here in California.

In any case, here's a short summary of what happened at Fat Dog this year. Basically, I tried to slip quietly off the front of the race early when no one was looking. I hoped that if I got out in front and then hammered the first two downhill sections like a crazy fucking nut job, I might be able to open a sizable enough lead to hold off the inevitable late charge of the speedy elites like Nickademus Hollon, Jeremy Humphrey, Chris Calzetta, Nick Pedatella, and others. 

But, as you probably guessed, it didn't work. Nickademus Hollon caught me around the 100K mark. We ran the next 18K together, which was awesome (he's an amazing guy). But I had been stumbling and falling on the tails all day, including a hard fall where I'd injured my hand. Then, approaching the Cayuse Flats aid station with Nick around mile 72, I inexplicably lost my balance and fell off a log-bridge crossing over a river bed. I narrowly avoided impaling myself on a bunch of sharp sticks in the river. That's when I decided to DNF. 

But the good news is that I got to join the crew of my good friend Riccardo Tortini who was in 6th place at the time and running strong. Riccardo eventually moved up to finish 4th! I can't say that I was a particularly useful or helpful member of "Team Riccardo". Mainly I just sat in the back seat of the Jeep, stinking to high heaven, and eating handfuls of Jujube candies in between naps. I sincerely apologize to Riccardo's girlfriend Tanya and her friends Jessica and Brett who had to endure the death-stench of my socks, shoes, and shorts (all of which I was forced to burn later as even boiling hot water and soap proved ineffectual in removing their horrible odor).

Sent home from work by HR again today
Where it all went wrong, part 1 (super-hero complex)

My greatest strength as a runner, and perhaps ironically also my biggest weakness, is my unwavering, unbridled, unmitigated, unrelenting, undying... and probably unfounded (if not utterly irrational) belief in myself. No matter how ridiculous the challenge, how miserable the conditions, or how absurdly stacked the starting field, I always feel that I can overcome the odds and win!

I might be ranked as low as 15th or 20th in the race predictions, and I will look at the names of all the elite runners ranked way ahead of me and think to myself, "Oh fuck. Holy shit. I've got this motherfucker! This race is mine". It defies all common sense really.

Why, you might reasonably ask, does a guy who's never won a major race, go into every race thinking he can win? Excellent question. And like most excellent questions, the person answering the question is usually best served to just hem and haw for a few seconds before deftly deflecting the question by breaking into a peripherally-related anecdote.

So... did I ever tell you about that time at Hardrock where I shattered my finger into five pieces, almost got struck by lightening, and held off a late-charge from Timmy Olson? No? Well... sit down and make yourself comfortable while I start from the beginning. Actually, never mind. You can read about it here if you're interested. 

The point is... yes, there actually is a point... is that sometimes all it takes is just one small taste of modest success to make you start questioning your preconceived limitations. And nothing -- nothing in the world -- is more powerful (or more dangerous) than a person who believes that anything might be possible!

But irrational and unfounded belief in one's self -- no matter how powerful it might be -- is not enough to explain some of the ridiculous things I sometimes attempt in races. For example, there was that time I went out hard in the first half of the inaugural Lake Tahoe 200 Mile endurance run opening up an almost 5 hour lead on the field before my body shut down in the last 10 miles and I slipped from 1st to 3rd place. Or that time, more recently, when I decided to launch a mad-crazy-bust-your-shit-open attack just four miles into a 50 mile race (where I also ended up eventually slipping to 3rd place).

So there's definitely another factor in play in explaining my questionable race tactics (antics?). I think perhaps the other part of my issue is that, in addition to believing that I can accomplish anything if I try hard enough, is that I'm not particularly afraid of failure. I don't mind going for broke and coming up empty. I have no problem with taking a shot at glory and going home with a DNF when it doesn't work out. Other people, my wife in particular, find this infuriating. I can't count the number of times I've called her on the phone while she's in the car driving to see me at a race, telling her to turn around and go home because I've dropped out.

Cat napping cut into my training time
Where it all went wrong, part 2 (beer and cat naps)

Those of you who read my 2015 North Shore Knee Knackering 50K race report know that I have a score to settle with Vancouver (and British Columbia in general) after I got completely "knackered" by the brutal North Shore trails back in July. I shrugged off my lackluster performance at Knee Knacker blaming it on the humidity and/or a lack of early-summer fitness. But I'd be ready for Fat Dog in August I vowed! 

I'd intended to train for Fat Dog. I'd intended to train hard with months of 120 mile weeks. But... you know, shit got in the way. We adopted a cat from the shelter this summer; and every time I got dressed to go running she'd hop up on my lap and lay on my chest, preventing me from training.

Beer brewing/drinking also cut into my training
And then there was my ill-fated attempt at home brewing that after a month of hard work, resulted in about a gallon of remarkably unremarkable beer that compares favorably to a flat glass of Blue Moon or Shock Top that's been sitting out all night. Though in its defense I will say that what my brew lacked in body and mouthfeel, it made up for with a surprisingly high alcohol content. 

So... instead of training like a mad man for Fat Dog, I basically just sat around for a month getting drunk and petting my cat. Good times. As far as training goes, since I obviously didn't have time for long runs or high-volume training (due to my previously mentioned beer and cat-related commitments) I decided to focus almost exclusively on high-intensity interval workouts -- particularly short downhill sprints. Whether this would prove to be a good training strategy for a 200 kilometer race would remain to be seen.

Where it all went wrong, part 3 (quite possibly going out "slightly" too hard)
My pre-race plan was, as I mentioned in the intro above, to try and slip off the front of the race on the first climb and then slowly build a solid lead by hammering the shit out of the first couple of descents. But as soon as the race started I immediately found myself bottled up on the opening single-track in about 20th place, well behind the front runners. So much for my plan.

Since there was nothing I could do about the situation until the trail later widened, I just took it easy and chatted with my buddy Riccardo. We also struck up a conversation with elite pro runner Nickademus Hollon who was running near us. Nick is a talented young runner who is making a name for himself on the international ultra scene. I enjoyed our short chat, but as soon as the trail opened up I made my move and threw in an acceleration.

Me, Riccardo, and Nickademus at mile 1
photo by Team Riccardo
The problem was that, although I was slowly making my way up through the field and passing other runners, I had absolutely no idea of how many people were still ahead of me, or in which place I was. After about 9 miles of steady uphill running, we finally got to the top of the first climb and started descending. I stepped on the gas and bombed down the mountain, hoping to reel in some more of the front runners ahead of me.

Sections of the descent were fairly sketchy. At one point, I was legitimately wondering if perhaps I had missed a turn and strayed off the official trail and onto a deer path. But I was moving too fast to safely stop or slow down, so I just kept flying recklessly down the cliff side hoping that I was still on course. And then it happened. I lost my balance and began a long slow-motion fall off the side of the trail. Luckily I landed on a log. It hurt like hell, but it broke my fall. I was worried that it possibly also broke by hand, which immediately started hurting and swelling up. 

At this point I still had no idea in what place I was. I hadn't seen another runner in at least an hour. I figured that I was probably in the top 10, maybe 6th or 7th place. But I was worried because even though I was recklessly flying down the mountain out of control like a complete jackass, I wasn't catching or passing any other runners. No one else could possibly be stupid enough to run this descent this fast, so it didn't make any sense to me that I wasn't making up ground or passing anyone else. What the hell?

As I rolled into the first aid station at the bottom of the mountain I saw Tanya, my buddy Riccardo's girlfriend. She said something very confusing. "He's only two minutes ahead of you". She couldn't be taking about Riccardo, because he was behind me. "Who are you talking about," I asked with a puzzled look on my face. "The guy from Idaho," Tanya said, referring I gathered to Jeremy Humphrey. "What place am I in," I asked. "Second place," she replied! "Oh shit, that's not good," I blurted out, somewhat surprised to find myself so close to the lead so early into the race.

Tanya informing me that I'm already in 2nd place
photo by Team Riccardo
Then, in an adrenaline-fueled stupor I hammered the next mile of flat(ish) fire road and caught up to Jeremy just as he was turning off onto a the start of single-track climb. And it's a good thing I saw him or I very well might have missed that hard-right turn! We ran/hiked together for the next few miles. Well, sorta. I basically just power hiked the whole climb. Jeremy alternated between slow hiking and fast sprinting (or at least that's how it seemed to me). Every time I would catch up to him, he would throw in a burst of running and open up a bit of a lead. I found this strangely amusing and it helped pass the time.

Eventually we both finally settled into a compatible rhythm and we were able to chat while running/hiking together. He's a great runner and I was glad to be be able to share a few miles with him. Then suddenly he abruptly stepped off to the side of the trail and told me to pass, explaining that he often struggles a bit around 4 or 5 hours into races. 

I had no doubts that he would eventually catch back up and blow past me. But oddly, I never say him again. I later heard an unconfirmed account that he took a hard fall and possibly dislocated his shoulder and that, even though he wanted to continue, medical staff pulled him from the race. I hope he is OK. Unfortunately at the time of this writing, he hasn't yet updated his blog.

Outdoor Research Helium II waterproof jacket
and Montane waterproof pants :)
Shortly after taking the lead I started hearing rumbling in the sky behind me. The rumbling quickly turned to lightening. My next move was crucial; what should I do? Although I did have a thin light-weight nylon shell in my pack, I hadn't packed an actual raincoat or any warm clothes. And I was only wearing a sleeveless tee shirt. I knew that if I kept moving at my current pace and the storm caught up to me, I would be cold and miserable -- and likely end up DNFing with hypothermia.

My other option was to pick up the pace run like fuck with complete reckless abandon down the mountain and try to outrun the storm. This would be a foolhardy and risky choice with several negative potential outcomes including falling and injuring myself and/or completely trashing my legs on the long descent. Only a complete fool would try to try to out sprint a lightening storm down a mountain. So naturally that's what I opted to do.

Where it all went wrong, part 4 (falling off bridges and stumbling towards stupidity)

I won't go into all the minutiae of the next 10 hours. But basically I stayed one step ahead of the storm and made it safely to the Bonnevier aid station where my waterproof pants and jacket were waiting for me in my drop bag. Unfortunately, many of the other runners behind me got caught in the storm without warm gear or waterproof clothes and ended up DNFing due to hypothermia. My Bay-area friends Dan Decker and Franz Dill were among those unfortunate casualties.

Unfortunately for me, but I guess fortunately for him, Nickademus Hollon was not among those taken out by the storm. Despite the 40 or so minute lead that I had built going into the Bonnevier aid station at mile 40, I was worried that it wouldn't be enough to hold off Nick who is a notoriously strong finisher. And, as it would turn out, [spoiler alert], I was very right to be worried.

In the interest of time I will summarize the highlights of miles 40 - 60 as follows:  
  • Jessica made me a delicious industrial-sized grilled cheese sandwich that was probably at least 1000 calories and took me almost three full bottles of water to wash down.
  • My legs were getting very cold and wet from brushing up against all the wet plants on the overgrown trail from Bonnevier to Heather aid station when I suddenly remembered that I had a pair of light-weight waterproof pants in my pack. I stopped and put them on and instantly went from feeling cold, wet and miserable to feeling magically happy and warm. I imagined that I was on a tropical beach drinking giant buckets of Sangria.
  • My sunbathing and sangria fantasies were suddenly interrupted when I spotted a very large, very black bear on the trail in front of me. Without thinking, I instantly let out a loud blood-curling yell. In retrospect, this was a risky move that would likely have one of two effects: the bear might perhaps be startled and run off, or equally likely, the bear might turn and attack me. Luckily, the bear scampered off into the bushes. Then, for reasons that are still not clear to me, I decided to use the emergency whistle that the race organizers insisted we carry on our person as part of our mandatory gear. This tiny plastic whistle produced the most pathetic wimpy sounding tweet in the history of the world. I was immediately embarrassed, and more importantly worried that the bear might come back out of the bushes laughing at my feeble whistle and dismember me.
  • After refueling at the Heather aid station on top of the mountain, where it was very cold and windy as the sun was starting to set, I said goodbye to the aid station volunteers and wished them good luck. I was fairly certain that they would either all freeze to death in the night, or be eaten by the bear. It suddenly got very foggy leaving the Heather aid station just as the sun was setting. I was having problems seeing the trail in front of me. Turning on my headlamp proved useless and actually made things worse as it simply reflected off the fog causing a terrible glare. So instead I ran down the rocky, technical mountain in the dark fog. Not surprisingly, I started tripping and falling. I rarely, if ever, fall during a race. But I must have taken at least a dozen spills on that descent, some of them pretty hard. There was lots of profanity. A few death threats against the race organizers, and Canada in general, may have been uttered.
Finally it happened, as I feared. Nick caught me. Just as I was heading out of the Nicomen Lake aid station at around 100K, Nick came running in. My hopes were dashed. I guess I mumbled something passably complimentary to him like, "Hey Nick, you're moving well." Although what I was actually thinking was probably something more like, "Fuck, you're alive! I was hoping the bear had eaten you."

This isn't me (I crossed at night), but this is the log-bridge thing that I fell off
photo by Brian McCurdy

Even though I had been fairly certain that Nick would eventually catch me at some point, I had hoped that point would come later -- ideally sometime after mile 100. The race profile indicated that miles 80 - 100 were supposed to be relatively flat and runnable (at least compared to the rest of the course). And since Nick is a much faster flat runner than me, I knew he would be able to cover that 20 mile section much faster than I could. So my only chance of winning would have been to hit that section with a decent lead and try to hold him off on the last climb and descent.

So now I had to regroup and re-calibrate my goals and aspirations for the race. Instead of thinking about the win and/or course record, my new goal would be to hang on for 2nd place. I left the aid station a few minutes before Nick and it took a while for him to catch back up to me even though I stopped to pee at least twelve times on that section. When I finally heard him and saw his light approaching from behind and I stepped aside. To my surprise he invited me to run along with him. This was really cool of him as he could have easily blown by me. We spent the 18 kilometers running together and chatting. It was a bit surreal as he is a runner who I really admire (hell, the guy finished Barkley, a race that only a handful of people have ever finished). Anyway, that was definitely the highlight of my race!

Also not me (I wish I was that graceful). Overhead shot of the log I fell off
photo by Brian McCurdy

Unfortunately, my race would come to an abrupt end. Just as we were approaching the next aid station together at Cayuse Flats, we had to cross over a river on a fallen pair of logs that had been converted into a makeshift bridge. While Nick just trotted effortlessly across, I really struggled with my balance and coordination. Every step I took was tentative. And then, trying to duck under a small tree branch, I inexplicably lost my balance and toppled off the side of the log into the river.

Somehow I avoided getting impaled on any of the hundred or so sharp sticks pointing up in every direction. But my confidence was shook. That fall scared the shit out of me. I decided then and there to DNF. I was legitimately worried about my health. It may also have had something to do with the fact that I've suffered a couple of serious running related health injuries in the past few years. 

Three years ago I suffered a bad case of rhabdomyolysis after running myself into the ground during a hot and humid 50 mile race in Michigan. My kidney and liver both shut down and I peed blood for days afterward; it took me almost six months to resume racing again. Then last year I ran my body down during the Tahoe 200 and ended up struggling with adrenal fatigue syndrome which took me another five months to fully recover from.

Although I had already made my mind up to drop out of the race, I knew that I still had to get down off the mountain to the next aid station at the Cascades parking lot down by the highway, which was still 8 kilometers away. I didn't say anything to Nickademus about my plans to drop as he might try to talk me out of it. More importantly I was worried that he might do something overly generous like volunteer to slowly hike down with me instead of running, which would of course affect his chances of breaking the course record.

So I made an excuse about wanting to eat some soup and sent Nick on his way. He yelled back, "You've got 5 minutes. Don't stay at the aid station longer than 5 minutes." I smiled and waved. 

Riccardo taking a moment to savor the finish
photo by Team Riccardo
Second guessing?

It's easy to DNF. There are plenty of convenient excuses you can come up with to convince yourself that did the right thing by quitting. I'm looking after my long-term health. I didn't want to risk injury. I had terrible blisters. I had terrible chaffing. I was "border-line hypothermic" (i.e., I was kinda cold), I was tired. I wasn't having fun anymore. They all sounds good in the moment.

The true test is whether those excuses still satisfy you in the days after the race. Once you've taken that warm shower, slipped into clean dry clothes, stuffed yourself with food, and fallen asleep. When you wake up the next day are you still content with your excuse, or are you kicking yourself for having taken the easy way out?

In my case, you could rightfully point out that when I dropped at the Cascade aid station at mile 78 the hardest part of the course was already behind me. I done the worst of the technical descents. It would be daylight soon. The next 20 miles were all supposedly "flat and runnable" (well, relatively speaking anyway). And the last climb and descent would be in the daylight instead of the night, and was far less technical than the other descents I'd already done. Hell, I could have just jogged the flats, power hiked the climbs, and carefully walked down the descents and still probably finished in a top spot. 

But I didn't want to. I wasn't willing to put in the effort, endure the suffering, or risk the potential repercussions. I wasn't sure why I was stumbling and falling, and that really worried me. In retrospect it might just have been that my legs were fatigued from all the hard running early on. But whatever the case, it wasn't something I was willing to risk. And, a month later, as I write this blog I am still OK with my decision. Maybe I'll go back to Fat Dog some year and give it another shot. And maybe things will work out better. Or maybe I'll do all the same dumb shit all over again. But that's my choice. And I'm comfortable with it ;)

"Team Riccardo" from left to right:
Riccardo, Tanya, Jessica, and Brett
Shout outs!

Congrats to Nickademus Hollon for winning the race and breaking the course record -- and for doing it with grace and amazing sportsmanship.

I of course want to give a big shout out to my good friend Riccardo Tortini who ran a smart and controlled race all day (and night, and morning, and day) moving up from 6th place to finish 4th overall! 

Thanks also to Tanya, Jessica and Brett who drove hundreds (or perhaps even thousands?) of miles through the mountains, with little to no sleep, to cheer us on and keep our bellies full of warm delicious grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, and guacamole-bean-rice tacos! You guys are the best!

And of course, thanks so much to all the amazing volunteers who spent the weekend camped out in cold, wet, miserable conditions. You rock! And to the folks on top of the mountain at the Heather aid station, I hope you weren't eaten by that bear!

Here's a link to the official race results. And here's my Strava data for the first 100K as well as the rest of my Strava data before I dropped at mile 78. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

2015 North Shore Knee Knackering 50K: A Lesson in Humility... and Humidity

Knee Knackering 50K race start
Perhaps you've heard of me, Big Johnny Burton. Not to brag, but I'm kind of a big deal. Beer two-mile American record holder. 2015 Oakland marathon master's champion. 2014 RRCA California trail 12K State Champion. One of only twelve people in the world who have ever finished in front of Timmy Olson at Hardrock. And perhaps most impressively, custodian of approximately four hundred Strava course records. [Drops the mic and walks off stage].

So if you've told me that it would take me almost 6 whole hours to run a race that wasn't even 50K long, I would have scoffed. If you'd suggested that it would take me over 31 minutes just to run a single mile, I would likely have slapped you. And if you'd had the audacity to hint that I would finish outside the top 20 overall, I would have rolled my eyes and told you to lay off the drugs.

"What the hell have I gotten myself into," I mutter to no one in particular as I sit down on a rock and let twenty or so others runners – including a half dozen women – stream past me. I’m only four miles into the 2015 Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run, a point-to-point 50K(ish) race that traverses Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains along the infamous Baden Powell trail. I say 50K(ish) because, according the website, the race is actually only 30 miles long. My GPS measured it as only 28.4. Canadians and their silly metric system.

Finally some fucking downhill!
photo by Clement Cheung
Side note: I’m not sure who the hell this Robert Baden-Powell fellow was, but he must have been quite the jackass if he pissed off so many people that they decided to punish him posthumously by naming this nasty death-trap of a trail after him.

I’ve just ascended straight up the side of a mountain, climbing over scree, talus fields, and giant boulders. At no time did I see anything that even remotely resembled an actual trail. Perhaps there was a trail there once… Before it got buried under several tons of rock by an avalanche (Note: one US ton equals about 907 kilos for all you metric fans). For comparison, this climb was by far, much harder than anything I encountered at Hardrock.

"Remind me to kill Riccardo," I grumble, adding his execution to my list of things to do later that afternoon – preferably after showering and getting drunk (though not necessarily in that order). I'm of course talking about my good friend this guy I used to know, Riccardo Tortini. "Come up to Vancouver in July... run our fun little local race... have a few beers afterwards," he says. "It will be a great tune-up for FatDog 120 in August,” he says.

Runner enjoying well-groomed section of ttrail
photo by Ron Nicholl
What he doesn't say, but definitely should have, is that this is hands-down the hardest 30 mile race in the known universe. It's got more stairs than the Dipsea, more rocks than Hardrock, and more roots than Hurt. Oh yeah, and a healthy sprinkling of yellow jackets. “Something for everyone,” as they say.

Just 12 hours earlier Riccardo and I had been sitting around drinking craft beer and talking smack, entertaining his girlfriend Tanya and her friends Claire and Jessica with stories of our ultra-running exploits. Now here I was, slumped over on a rock with my head between my legs, sweating like a junkie in the midst of a detox. "I'm fine. Move along, move along. Nothing to see here," I say with a wave of my hand, assuring the other runners that I'm not going to die.

"Fuck, I’m dying,” I mutter quietly. “It must be this damn humidity. It has to be the humidity," I repeat, reassuring myself that I'm probably not actually experiencing a combination of myocardial infarction and acute renal kidney failure. "It's just the humidity. You suck in humidity. It's your kryptonite. It's like peanut butter flavored Gu. That shit will kill anyone."

Riccardo carefully descending
photo by Clement Cheung
Inspired by my little pep talk I get back on my feet and start trudging along. "The rest of the course is all downhill! Well, it’s mostly downhill,” I lie, trying to offer myself whatever encouragement I can. In truth, while the worst climb is indeed behind me and the next few miles are mainly downhill, there's still about 5,000 feet worth of climbing to go over the next 26 miles. But what you don't know can't hurt you (OK, maybe it can hurt you; but at least can't intimidate you).

In retrospect, looking at my Strava data, I now see the fucking problem. Or at least part of the fucking problem. Mile 3 has nearly 1000 feet of elevation gain, followed by mile 4 with almost 1,500 more feet of elevation gain. Add to that my apparent humidity intolerance (the initial climb begins on the windward side of the mountain directly next to the ocean) and you have a recipe for a spectacular implosion.

"Just keep moving and get over the peak. Hopefully things will be less humid on the leeward side of the mountain,” I proffer optimistically. Finally, after cresting the peak and heading down the descent I start feeling better and begin passing a few runners. When I hit the first spectator-friendly aid station and see Riccardo’s crew – Tanya, Claire and Jessica – It's obvious that I am still pretty far back in the pack. Although they smile and try to sound positive, they have that "why the hell is he way behind so many women and old dudes" expression on their faces.

My brand new shoes got "knackered"
The last half of the race is just a blur of roots and rocks, broken up by the occasional fallen tree. I'm not sure if Canadians are just lazy and abhor trail work, or if they actually enjoy running across crazy shit like this (I'm guessing the latter). But I don’t care. I’m having a blast and ever so slowly reeling in other runners. “If only this race were another 70 miles long,” I chuckle, “I might be able to claw my way back up to a respectable finish." But alas, I’m running out of miles (I mean, kilometers).

Finally, I emerge from the forest into a residential neighborhood and sprint down toward the finish line. I see my good buddy the jerk who talked me into running this race, Riccardo, standing there nonchalantly, having finished 24 minutes ago. (Did I mention that the dude is seriously fast? He ended up placing 6th overall!)

All-in-all this race was quite a humbling experience. I came into the race thinking that if I had a good day I might be able to finish in around 5 hours and crack the top 10, or maybe even the podium. But instead, I got “knackered” as they say. I ended up finishing 21st overall in 5:57:46, barely good enough for 3rd in my age group.

Done at last. Thank God almighty, done at last!
photo by Mike Jones
Several hours (and several beers) later, all was forgotten. I showered, changed into warm clean clothes, and stuffed my face with a strange-but-delicious, fried honey doughnut thingy, which is apparently a delicacy among the local inhabitants. I recommend it highly! The doughnut that is. Oh yeah, and the race; I highly recommend the race too!

You might need a little luck getting in though as the race is so popular among the folks in Vancouver that there's a lottery. Take a look at this amazing video and you will see why!  And here's a bunch of great photo albums if you want to see the suffering in more detail.

And be sure to stick around for the post-race BBQ and beer garden. I probably shouldn't admit this publicly, as the race organizers might not invite me back ever again, but I think the race actually lost money on me as I ate several hundred dollars worth of sausages (Canadians apparently call them "smokies") and brownies at the BBQ. Oh yeah, and you very well could run into ultra-running celebrities like Ellie Greenwood or my buddy Sammy Hassan Lotfi-Pour, who I hadn't seen since we both nearly died of dehydration during the Tahoe 200 Mile last September. Ah, good times.

Ok, here are the official race results, and here's my Strava data.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

2015 Santa Cruz Firecracker 10K: That Time I Almost Got Beat by a 15 Year Old Girl (And a 60 Year Old Man)

As a grown man, in decent shape, who has finally started to be able to grow a small (albeit patchy) mustache and goatee, and who considers himself a not-too-shabby runner... there's nothing worse than getting beaten by a 15 year old kid. Especially if that 15 year old kid is a girl. That's what almost happened to me a few weeks ago on the 4th of July at the Santa Cruz Firecracker 10k.

My buddy and long-time training partner Joe Bistrain invited me to come over to his neck of the woods to challenge him in his local race on his side of the mountain. Joe used to live here in San Jose, but a few years ago he bought a house in Capitola near the beach. As a result, we don't get too run together as much as we used to.

And so, even though it had been years (many, many. many years) since Joe had beaten me in a race (of any distance), I humbly accepted his challenge, ready to dispense another ass-whupping to remind him of the pecking order in our running microcosm. [Note: all this cockiness and bravado should immediately raise some red flags in your mind. This is what they call "foreshadowing".]

I knew that Joe had been putting in a lot of speed work and track workouts lately as he prepared for his A-race of the year, the Wharf-to-Wharf in Santa Cruz. But I figured that my ultra-running endurance and my sporadic Strava course record poaching efforts would see me through to victory. I knew I didn't have a shot at winning the race outright, but I figured I should probably be able to crack the top 10 overall, win my age group, and hand Joe another beatdown.

As I stood at the starting line, I saw the familiar faces of Quicksilver Ultra-Running teammate Bill Holmes and his son Mac Holmes, a talented 16 year old runner who I had barely managed to outkick two years ago at another race, the Santa Cruz Turkey Trot 5K. Mac had gone out way too hard at that race and faded badly. But I figured he had learned his lesson, and now older and wiser, he would go out more conservatively and run a smarter race. [Note: this is more foreshadowing].

The starting gun fired and I took off at what I thought was a pretty decent, though somewhat controlled 10K pace. I was immediately swamped by about 30 runners or all ages and sizes. "What the fuck's wrong with these idiots," I though to myself. "Don't they know this is a 10K, not a 5K? Don't they know what a tough, hilly course this is?". I settled in to my somewhat pedestrian pace, unfazed, assuming that the majority of the runners would come back to me in the next miles.

I didn't sweat the fact that my buddy Joe was a already a good 100 feet ahead of me. Or that at least 3 women had gone out in front of me. Or that I was getting passed by what appeared to me a man in his late 50's or early 60's. "It's a long race; you'll reel them all in," I told myself, "No need to panic just yet".

"Oh shit, it's time to panic," I realized when at mile 3, about half-way into the race, when I was still well behind my buddy Joe, the three lead women, and the 60 year old. "Fuck, it's definitely time to panic." The first couple miles of the race had been on paved roads, but now we were entering the hardest part of the race, a dirt fireroad section that climbed up steeply through Harvey West park.

Knowing that the last two miles would be downhill and paved, I figured that this off-road section would be my best chance to make up some time on the other runners, many of whom were presumably road runners not necessarily accustomed to navigating ungroomed dirt trails. I dropped the hammer and made my move. I reeled in a few runners including my friend Bill Holmes' son Mac. Then I flew past the three lead women. I was closing in and about to catch my buddy Joe!

And then the lights went out. "What the fuck? Why are you walking," I asked myself. "Because this fucking hill is fucking steep as shit," I answered myself rhetorically. "Dude, Joe is pulling away from you! Dude, that girl you just passed is passing you back."

Finally we reached the top of the hill and I picked the pace back up. I hammered the last two miles, which were mostly downhill, as hard as I could. I was certain that I was going to be able to reel by buddy Joe back. But oddly, no matter how hard I ran, I wasn't making up any ground. Every time I looked, there he was, about 100 yards ahead of me. And to make matters worse, I couldn't seem to shake that 15 year old girl. She was still tucked in behind me, probably hoping to hang back and outkick me in the final stretch.

As we approached the finish line I realized that I wasn't going to be able to catch my buddy Joe. "Shit. Well, at least don't let this girl outkick you," I pleaded with myself. "For God's sake, don't let everyone see you get run down by a 15 year old girl!" A female spectator on the side of the road yelled encouragement, "Go girl! Catch that guy!" That was all I needed. I unleashed a furious sprint. The sprint of my life. Everything went silent; everything went dark. I crossed the finish line in glory, one second ahead of the 15 year old girl. Total victory!

I have to give mad props to my buddy Joe for running a strong, amazing race. He went out hard and held me off the whole way, finishing 22 seconds and one place ahead of me. He now has bragging rights until our next head-to-head battle. And who knows when that will be.

And of course, mad respect to 15 year old Marielle Friedman of Santa Cruz who pushed me the whole way and who convincingly won the women's race by over two and a half minutes. Watch out for this girl. She's going to be kicking a lot of ass and chicking a lot of dudes! And let's not forget about 60 year old Robert Coyle of Fresno who came in less than a minute behind me and Marielle. That's one fast old motherfucker! And I mean that in the most respectful way possible. Talk about being an inspiration!

And last but not least, I would like to point out that I am now 2-0 against my buddy Bill Holmes' son Mac :)

Here's a link to the official race results. And here's a link to my Strava data.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

2015 Squaw Valley Half-Marathon Race Report

Race leaders at mile 2
Photo credit Lefrak Photography
It was a beautiful, albeit somewhat warm, morning on the Truckee river. The sun was out already. The wildflowers were in bloom. Jogging along the bike path next to the river I decided to take a dip. I took a few steps off the path towards the river. "What the fuck are you doing," I screamed at myself. "You're in the middle of a race. You're in 3rd place... with 4 miles to go. You can't go fucking swimming! What the fucking fuck!"

These are the types of conversations that I have with myself. Or that myself has with me? Or whatever. You get the idea. Dueling voices in my head. One voice wants to sit down in the river and have a beer. The other voice thinks we should probably at least finish the race before cracking open a pre-noon beer.

I'd woken up at 3:00 am in order to make the three-and-a-half hour drive up to Tahoe from San Jose in order to run the Tahoe Trail Running Series: Squaw Valley Half Marathon. Despite drinking several gallons of coffee on the way, I still found myself a bit sleepy. But I figured once the race started my adrenaline would kick in and I'd be fine. And I was right. At least about the adrenaline bit.

Despite knowing better, and despite promising myself I wouldn't do something crazy like attack the field and jump out to an early lead... there I was leading the race out of the parking lot. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Do I ever learn?
Getting dropped and thinking about sitting in the river
Photo credit Lefrak Photography
Somewhere around mile two I found myself breathing hard and getting passed by two other runners. They opened up a bit of a gap on me, but I was able to keep them in sight. Oddly though, after slowing down a bit and getting my heart rate and breathing back under control, I started slowly reeling them back in.

And then, at mile 5, I did something stupid. As the two lead runners slowed down at the aid station to grab cups of water and gatorade, I attacked! Carrying my own water bottle, I didn't need to slow down at the aid station. Instead, I sprinted through the aid station as hard as I could, trying to open up a gap.

The good news is that I did indeed manage to open up a small gap. The bad news is that little surge aggravated a nagging injury in my right calf. I hit the turnaround still in the lead, but the pain in my calf was getting worse and I knew that I wasn't going to be able to hang on to this pace, or the lead.

The other two runners rocketed past me as I was reduced to a shuffle. Watching them pull ahead and out of sight, my thoughts shifted from winning the race to just trying to hold on to a podium spot. Luckily the three of us had opened a rather sizable lead over the next runners, so even with my drastically reduced pace I figured I still had a good shot at holding on to third place as long as I kept running and didn't do anything stupid... like sitting down in the river.
Running scared and looking back
Photo credit Lefrak Photography

"That river looks so invititng. We should go lay down it. Just a minute," I plead, trying to convince myself. Thankfully myself ignores me and I keep running. This happens 3 or 4 more times on the way back. Ocassionally I step off the trail towards the river. But each time, thankfully, I correct course and start running again.

Finally, after what seems like an eternity, myself and I all cross the finish line.  We take 3rd place. We shake hands, with ourselves and with the other runners. We drink some beer. We start running up the escarpment towards the top of the 8,500 ft ski slope as a "cool down" before realizing what a terrible idea that is. We sober up part-way up the hill and say, "fuck this." We turn around and run back down to our car and drive home.

Here's my Strava data and here's a link to the official results.