Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2015 Oakland Marathon

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

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

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

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

Oops I did it again

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

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

Flying along early
photo by Noé Castañón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Johnny putting on a show
The final push

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where's the beer tent?

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

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

Shout outs

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

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hoka Challenger ATR Shoe Review

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

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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

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

The Pros

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mesh upper starting to disintegrate
The Verdict

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

Not ideal for runners with wide feet. 

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

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

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

Euro Johnny

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

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

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

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

Race briefing
photo by Mark Tanaka
Euro Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 "Dog-Meat Vertical Beer Mile" Race Recap

2015 Dog Meat Vertical Beer Mile

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

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

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

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

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

Race Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Beginning...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it Gets Ugly

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Home Stretch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aftermath and Afterwords

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 Vertical Beer Mile Challenge Preview

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

The Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Runners to Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

Beyond Exhaustion
After my running myself into the ground at the Tahoe 200 Mile in early September, I decided -- or rather my body decided for me -- that I should probably shut things down for the season and focus on resting up for next year. As I described in Tahoe 200 race report, being awake and on my feet for 65 hours (with only a short one hour nap) really took it's toll on my body and my endocrine system.

Although I didn't immediately realize it, I likely suffered from a mild case of post-race adrenal fatigue. Our bodies normally produce hormones and other natural performance-enhancing drugs like adrenaline and cortisol in response to the stress of exercise. But if we exercise too intensely, for too long, our adrenal system can become fatigued and stop producing adrenaline. When that happens, it's light's out! Suddenly we feel very tired and slooooow.

And unfortunately, while we can recover from a pulled muscle or a broken bone in just a few weeks, it usually takes anywhere from 6 to 18 months to fully recover from adrenal fatigue. Or in the case of guys like Geoff Roes, it can even take years. Scary stuff that you probably don't want to mess with.

A bunch of DNFs and crappy performances

Feeling like crap
I originally had a pretty ambitious racing calendar for the last few months of the year that included Firetrails 50 Mile in October, Rio del Lago 100 Mile in November, and The North Face 50 Mile Championship in December. Plus a bunch of the Brazen Racing series trail half marathons.

But when my wife Amy came flying by me at mile 15 during Firetrails 50 Mile, skipping up the hill effortlessly while I struggled just to hike it, I got my first sign that perhaps I was not back at 100% strength yet. I soldiered on for a few miles, but my energy levels continued to plummet. Eventually l I was even walking the easy flat sections.

I finally called it quits at mile 22 where I collapsed and curled myself up into a ball on the ground. Luckily my buddy Shiran was there. He rushed to the scene and saved the day... by pulling out his camera and documenting my agony in an impromptu photo shoot! LOL. The pictures turned out pretty good though!

Looking like crap
A month later I decided to try and run the Mt. Diablo trail 1/2 marathon just to see if perhaps the meltdown at Firetrails was just a fluke. But nope, I was still feeling (and running) like crap. I finished in a distant 12th place well behind the race leaders.

That's when I got on my computer and contacted the race directors of both Rio del Lago 100 and North Face 50 begging them to let me roll my race entries over until next year. I offered to volunteer at the race, wash their cars in my speedo, walk their dogs, or do whatever was necessary. Thankfully we managed to work things out and they now have shiny, freshly-waxed cars.

See you next year

As the white-bearded philosopher Kenny Rogers so eloquently sang, "You got to know when to hold 'em / know when to fold 'em / know when to walk away / know when to run." I'm optimistic that my adrenal fatigue issues were actually relatively mild, and that with a few months off from ultra racing, I will be back in 2015, stronger and maybe even a bit wiser.

Looking forward to new challenges in 2015
Like a farmer who rotates his crops or lets a field lay fallow to restore the fertility of soil, I'm planning to take scale back my ultra racing in 2015 and focus more on easy, short-fast stuff like marathons. Ha. All joking aside, there really is a difference between pushing your body for 3 hours versus pushing yourself for 3 days non-stop.

I'm still planning on doing a few ultras in 2015 including the Fat Dog 120 in British Columbia. But I'm definitely going to sit out the PAUSATF Grand Prix series this year and just focus on one or two key races like Ohlone 50K in the spring and maybe Quad Dipsea in the fall.

But hopefully I will also get a chance to experience a few new challenges in 2015. I've been wanting to try some obstacle-course racing for a few years now. I hear that the Spartan Race World Championships are being held in Tahoe this year!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sometimes When You Shoot for the Stars... You End Up on the Couch (Crying Under a Blanket)

Lake Tahoe... my favorite place on earth
Half-way through the drive home from Lake Tahoe I started sobbing. Tears welled in my eyes and dripped down my face as the realization hit me with full force: I'd lost the fucking race. A race that I had lead for over 140 miles. Seriously, who leads a race for over 140 miles and loses? It's inconceivable.

Well, another question might be, who the hell even runs a footrace that is over 140 miles long? In this case there were 90 of us brave and foolish souls who signed up, and then even more amazingly also showed up for the inaugural Tahoe 200 Ultra organized by Candice Burt and Jerry Gamez.

And quite surprisingly -- at least to me -- is that 60 of the 90 starters actually managed to finish. That's a finishing rate of 66.6% percent on course with somewhere between 202 and 215 miles (depending on whom you ask) and with somewhere between 40,000 to 53,000 feet of elevation gain.

Mad props to all 60 of us finishers!
There was a lot of discussion on social media sites about what type of finishing rate this race would have. Most experts, Internet trolls, and Las Vegas bookmakers put the odds somewhere around 30%.  Others had it as low as 10% - 20%. I have to admit that when I was out on the course suffering, cursing the race directors and trying to find any legitimate excuse I could think of to drop, I began to doubt that ANYONE, myself included, would be able to finish this thing.

So I take my dirty, sweat-stained hat off to all 60 bad-ass mofos who spent 3 to 4 days trudging 200 plus miles across rocky jeep roads, overgrown single track, unmaintained access roads, and freezing cold mountain passes. Special congratulations to the overall winner, Australian, Ewan Horsburg who ran me down somewhere around mile 180 during a strong late charge to take the lead. And congrats to fellow Bay Area runner Victor Ballesteros who also passed me toward the top of the last climb to claim 2nd place.

And although I didn't have the opportunity to speak with her or see her run, I also want to give kudos to women's winner Gia Madole who led for all about 15 miles of the race. I feel a bond with her knowing the kind of pressure it takes to be out front-running for most of the day... and night, and next day, and night, and next day, and night, and next day.

And for that matter, congratulations to everyone who refused to listen to the voices of doubt in their heads, who refused to stop when their bodies started to quit on them, and who refused to say "this is far enough" until they actually crossed that damn finish line.

"What the hell were you thinking?"

In the days after the race more than one person has said something to me like, "That was an aggressive first 100 miles you ran." And I'm never sure whether it's a compliment. More often than not, they just stand there and stare at me as if waiting for me to provide some kind of explanation. And that's when it occurs to me that, "That was an aggressive first 100 miles you ran" is really code for "Dude, what the hell were you thinking?"

Bay Area home boys, John Burton and Victor Ballesteros
Well, to be honest, I wasn't thinking; I was just running. I didn't come into this race with any type of real plan or strategy other than perhaps to try and run it as fast as possible in order to hopefully finish before I got so tired that I had to sleep. Two hundred miles is such a long distance that I figured there was no point in really having a plan anyway. Whatever your plan, something was bound to happen and turn it all to shit -- probably sooner rather than later.

Fellow Bay-Area runner Victor Ballesteros and I were chatting before the race and he mentioned that he wasn't familiar with the first 60 miles of the course and might want to run it together for company and to keep from getting lost. That's when something came out of my mouth that was a surprise even to me, "Yeah, we can run together, but I might go out hard and run the first 100 miles pretty aggressively". Whoa! Apparently some region of my brain had already formed some sort of plan, even if just subconsciously.

"Look at that idiot running up the first climb. He's insane. He's going to crash and burn!" Thankfully, they weren't talking about me. I hiked the entire first four mile climb. Rather the other runners were talking about Alexander Kaine who took off flying up the mountain and had opened up a 55 minute lead on me by mile 30.

And they're off... only 202 more miles to go!
So no, I didn't charge out of the gates like a complete rookie. I took it easy on the first climb chatting with fellow runners like Kent Dozier, JB Benna, Martin Hack, and Johan Steene as I made my way up through the field.

Eventually, somewhere around mile 24 I caught up with 2nd place runner Hassan (Sammy) Lotfi-Pour who I had wanted to meet and talk to. Sammy is the two-time champion of the Fatdog 120, a race -- described as the Hardrock of Cananda -- which is on my bucket list. In addition, Sammy has also represented Canada in the 100K at both the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. The guy is legit! 

Sammy and I ran a couple of miles together and chatted about various topics. But mainly our conversation focused on the fact that we were both completely out of water and would probably die if we didn't find some kind of water source soon. Luckily we came across a campground at Loon Lake. My plan was to drop down on my knees and beg the campers for a beer or two. But instead we found a water spigot and made do without beer.

After chatting with Sammy I moved on ahead and started trying to bridge the gap to the race leader, Alex. A few miles after the Wrights Lake aid station I came across Alex sitting on the side of the trail fumbling with his shoe laces. He complained of having gotten off course. And while I expected him to jump up and run with me, he stayed behind and I never saw him again (and the results oddly show him dropping earlier at mile 30).

Miles 60 - 90 (drinking out of a rusty pipe, chasing off a bear, and other ridiculous stuff) -- Starring Peter Rabover

After pulling away from Sammy and passing Alex I found myself running alone at the front of the race. It was kinda cool. It's not very often that I find myself in the lead of any race. Things went pretty smoothly and uneventfully except that I kept running out of fucking water. 

Sunrise selfie with pacer Peter Rabover
I'm no stranger to drinking out of rivers, creeks, lakes, natural springs, or whatever. I have even been known to fill my bottles from small trickles of water dripping down cliffs. But somewhere on the climb up to the Sierra at Tahoe aid station I became so thirsty that filled my bottle up from some rather sketchy-looking water leaking out of a rusty pipe beside the trail.

I shined my flashlight into my bottle and saw that it was full of leaves, bugs, debris and other assorted stuff. "Extra calories" I said, trying to reassure myself that I probably wasn't going to die from drinking this water -- at least not right away anyway! And luckily, Giardia spores are invisible and generally take a week or two to incubate. So if I was going to come down with crippling stomach cramps and diarrhea, it would be well after the race was over.

My friend Peter Rabover, who I met at Hardrock, was supposed to pace me from mile 60 to mile 90. But when I rolled into the aid station at Sierra at Tahoe (60.4) with a two hour lead over the next runners, my crew chief Jeff Clowers informed me that Peter hadn't made it in time and would instead meet me at mile 80.0 at Big Meadows. I would be on my own for the next 20 miles through the night.

It actually wasn't a big deal though as I was moving great and had some kick-ass Taylor Swift tunes stuck in my head on repeat. "But I keep cruising / Can't stop, won't stop grooving / It's like I got this music / In my mind, saying it's gonna be alright."

Not a terrible way to start the morning!
Suddenly the Taylor Swift concert in my head was interrupted by a bear cub running across the trail in front of me. The bear was apparently investigating a camper's tent, but when he saw my headlamp he took off running. It's tempting for me to talk smack now after-the-fact and say something like, "Yeah, it's a good thing he ran, because I had something for his punk ass". But in reality, I was pretty nervous and threw down a couple of fast miles to put some distance between me and him (and his mother who I assume was also nearby).

Eventually I made it to Big Meadow and picked up Peter at mile 80. It was great to finally have some company after 17 hours of running on my own with Taylor Swift's greatest hits stuck in my head. Peter was able to distract me with some good wilderness survival stories about starving to death in the woods and outrunning forest fires. I filed away the information for future use, hoping that we wouldn't necessarily have to call upon those skillsets this weekend.

Peter set a really nice pace up the climb with the goal of trying to get us up to the top of the mountain before sunrise. We timed it pretty well and were treated to some pretty amazing views up on top as the sun was rising over the lake. Not a terrible way to start the morning. If only Peter had thought to bring some gourmet coffee beans, a battery-powered grinder and a French press... Oh well, no one's perfect. Before we knew it we were already at Armstrong Pass where my friend Karl was eagerly waiting to take over pacing duties.

Miles 90 - 120 (breaking my broken finger, bonus miles, trying to convince my pacer to let me sleep in the bushes) -- Starring Karl Schnaitter

My buddy Karl Schnaitter has obviously never run 200 miles before as he took off out of the aid station setting a ridiculously fast pace that I wanted no part of. "Slow down dude" I yelled, "no need to hammer". Karl looked down at his watch, shook his head and mumbled something disparaging about 17:00 minute mile pace. And it would all go downhill from there (well except for the trail of course, that unfortunately would mainly go uphill).

Pacer Karl Schnaitter who would go on to win
Headlands 100 the following weekend!
Fresh-legged Karl proceeded to bound along down the trail, hopping effortless over rocks and fallen trees. Meanwhile I stumbled along like a man who had already run 100 miles. Oh wait, that's right, I had already run 100 miles. Why did I sign up for this race again? Suddenly things went from bad to worse as I slipped on a log over a creek and smacked my broken finger pretty hard.

"Oh !@%$#%. I think I just re-broke the finger that I shattered into five pieces at Hardrock 100 back in July. It was finally just starting to heal up too" I yell. The searing pain was  excruciating, but as I recalled from last time, it should probably start to numb up within 10 minutes or so and then be fine for the rest of the run. At least I hoped so.

Eventually the finger did finally numb up and I forgot about it and started to worry about other things... like the fact that I was completely out of water again. Although our GPS showed that we had already gone the advertised 17 miles between aid stations, the Google Maps app on Karl's phone showed that we still had 3 more miles to go the Spooner Summit aid station. Damn you Candice Burt.

Sampling the wares at Spooner Summit aid station
Later, my pacers and I would come to refer to this phenomena as "Candice miles". In general, we discovered, any given section of the course would have somewhere between two and five additional "Candice miles" beyond the advertised distance. So, for example, what was supposed to be a 13 mile segment could actually be anywhere between 15 and 18 miles.

As I stumbled across the rocks on the top of the ridge, I desperately tried to convince Karl that I should curl up under a tree and take a nap. But Karl kept declining my requests with sensible responses about how the aid stations would probably have better sleeping facilities and that I should probably get some warm solid food in me before going to sleep. Leave it to an engineer to use logic and sound arguments to win a debate against a sleep-deprived Zombie with a broken finger and an intestine full of incubating Giardia spores.

Mile 120.7 to 149.4 (refusing beer, going in circles, dumb-stupid-evil hills) -- Starring Jeremy Johnson

After Karl and I eventually made it to the Spooner Summit aid station, thanks more to his Google Map iPhone app than to the almost non-existent course markings. I immediately jumped in the back of my friend Jeff's truck and tried to take a nap. At this point I had opened up a four and half hour lead on the rest of the field, but it was definitely starting to take its toll on my body. I wasn't actually able to fall asleep, but it sure felt good to just lay down for a few minutes and rest my legs.

The URP Golden Shower
There are very few times in my life when I have ever turned down a cold beer. In fact, I can count those times on two fingers. And both times involved  a golden shower. I'm referring of course to Eric Shranz's URP (Ultra Runner Podcast) home-made "Golden Shower" mist cooling machine. The first time in my life I ever turned down a beer was while spectating at Western States earlier this year a couple of weeks before Hardrock. I was trying to drop some weight before the race so that I wouldn't look so fat standing next to Kilian at the starting line.

Now, here I was at the Spooner Summit aid station telling the aid station captain Krista Cavender that I would have to skip the beer and take some water instead. Thankfully, to her credit, Krista refrained from rolling her eyes and shouting "pussy" as I half expected her to do. Right about this time I looked over and saw Eric Shranz and the URP golden shower. Hmm, was it a coincidence or is that golden shower some sort of kryptonite device that takes away my beer-drinking super powers?

I hiked out of the Spooner Summit aid station (completely sober) together with my fresh-legged pacer Jeremy Johnson who had also paced me on some of these same trails during the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100 back in 2012. Jeremy is a great guy with a positive attitude, a ton of patience, and a cool head. So I knew that if anyone could put up with my whining, complaining, and second-guessing it would be him. Still, I'm pretty sure that after a few hours of listening to me constantly question whether we were still on course, he probably wished he'd brought a beer or two (or three).

Jeremy Johnson, who despite what the paranoid voices
in my head say, was not actually leading me in circles.
And then, I don't really know how to explain what happened next. After going several hours without seeing any course marking I became increasingly nervous and agitated. I somehow got it in my sleep-deprived head that Jeremy had been leading us in circles. Every tree stump or rock we passed looked familiar, as if we had already passed them several times before. Finally I sat down on the trail and called my crew chief to tell him that we were lost and that my race was over.

Jeremy, who was a few yards ahead, yelled back "Dude, we're at the Tunnel Creek intersection. There's a bunch of course-markers here. Who are you talking to?" I quickly apologized to my crew chief and hung up the phone, "Oh nobody" I yelled back, lying. That was embarrassing.

As we hobbled into the Tunnel Creek Café aid station at mile 137.7 we were greeted by the familiar faces of fellow Bay Area runners Chris Jones and Ace Ewing who informed me that I had built a five and half hour lead! They sent me on my way with talk about a glorious flat paved bike path, which my sore legs and feet were desperately looking forward to.

"Hey Jeremy, is that a Taco Bell ahead?
Oh, I'm just hallucinating again?"
However Chris and Ace sort of glossed over this terrible thing called the Powerline "trail" which wasn't really an actual trail, but rather a steep 22% grade, sandy, overgrown, monstrous climb up a thorn-infested mountain side. Check out the Strava segment. We averaged 50:34 minute per mile pace for the 1.2 mile climb. What the !@#$.

Anyway, after several more hours of similar ridiculous never-ending climbs, I resigned myself to the fact that I must have died somewhere out on the course and was now apparently in Hell. As punishment for my sins in life, I would be condemned to keep hiking uphill for the rest of eternity, never reaching the peak. However, if somehow I actually was still alive and we did ever make it to the top, I vowed to get a tattoo of Sisyphus (the dude from Greek mythology whose fate was to roll an immense boulder uphill and then watch it roll back down, forever) on my arm after the race. Note to self: call the tattoo shop to set up an appointment this week.

Mile 149.4 to 187.2 (more hallucinations than a college acid trip) -- Starring Jeff Clowers

When Jeremy and I reached Martis Peak, I was pretty wrecked. I'd been hallucinating non-stop for the past 12 hours since Spooner Summit. Nothing major, just your normal run-of-the-mill, non-drug induced visions including: a 1965 Pontiac GTO, several Asian super models, a house cat lying in the middle of the trail, and bears (lots of bears).

Waking up after a refreshing nap at the
Martis Peak Road aid station!
In order to make sure I would be able to finish the race my crew and I decided it would be smart for me to take an our nap at the aid station. With a 5.5 hour lead, we figured there wasn't any danger of anyone catching up to me anyway. Spoiler alert: we figured wrong.

The folks at the Martis Peak Road aid station were amazing and treated me like a celebrity asking me to pose for pictures and sign autographs. Ok, they didn't actually ask me to sign autographs but we did all pose for some photos together. It was really cool! Thanks guys. But unfortunately, as much as I wanted to stay and hang out, I still had 50 more miles inbetween me and the finish line. So my crew-chief / pacer Jeff Clowers and I set out to git er done.

Eight miles later Jeff and I ran into Chris Jones and Ace Ewing at Watson Lake who informed us, much to our surprise and horror, that second-place runner Ewan Horsburgh had come flying through the last aid station only two hours behind me. Fuck! Shit! Damn! This was not what I wanted to hear. Still, I figured that Ewan must have pushed himself pretty hard to close that distance, and that as long as I picked up the pace a bit and ran the flats and down hills my lead should hold up. Spoiler alert: Surprise, I figured wrong again.

Jeff and I picked up the pace, determined to hold on to the lead. We rolled into the Tahoe City aid station at around 1:00 pm on Sunday. I had now been out on the course for over 51 hours. Yet somehow I was still alive (at least temporarily) and in relative possession of my faculties. However, as I would later learn, Ewan was still closing hard and would charge through the Tahoe City aid station exactly one hour after me, cutting my lead down to just one hour!

Pacer Jeff Clowers suggest we rock hop across
the lake to make up lost time. LOL
I pushed the pace as hard as I could on the next section, clicking off quite a few "fast" 12:00 minute miles. My legs were feeling good, my strength had returned, and there was no way I was going to let anyone take this race away from me. If Ewan wanted to beat me, he was going to have to kill me!

But as Californian novelist John Steinbeck correctly noted, "The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry". Or perhaps as pugilist and philosopher Iron Mike Tyson once quipped, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." Well, the sun came out from behind the clouds and the trees and it definitely punched me in the mouth, sapping the last of my dwindling strength. And then, just as I was giving it my best Monty Python's Black Knight, "I'm not quite dead yet. It's just a flesh wound", a little 5 mile 2,000 ft., climb put me out of my misery.

Resting against a tree at the top of the mountain and catching my breath, I looked back and saw what I had been dreading: Ewan and his pacer running up the mountain like madmen. I figured I still had a 45 to 60 minute lead, at best. Fifteen minutes later they came flying down the mountain past me. Like a true gentleman Ewan stopped his assault briefly to congratulate me on my effort and to shake my hand. And then, like my many vivid hallucinations, he suddenly vanished as if he was never there at all.

Mile 187.2 to 202 (this is where everything really goes to shit)

Jeff and I hiked down into the last aid station at Rideout, my feet too beat up to do any actual running. I contemplated taking another nap, hoping it might quell my hallucinations, which at this point were basically nonstop. But Vajin Armstrong and the other upbeat aid station volunteers warmed me up with some heat lamps, feed me soup and grilled cheese, and sent me on my way. I guess I will sleep at the finish... if I make it.

Fumbling toward stupidity... dead man walking...
The last section was brutal. It started with a nice flat paved bike path followed by some more flat(ish) back country roads. But it was all a trick to lull you into thinking that you were going to be able to make it to the finish. Then, just as you are getting your hopes up, it hits you in the mouth with the worst climb of the day, a relentless 2,000 ft., ascent directly up to the top of Ellis Peak.

About two-thirds of the way up this climb I looked back and saw headlamps approaching quickly from behind. It was my buddy Victor Ballesteros making a late charge. He pulled up next to us just long enough to give me a high five and then he and his pacer disappeared ahead into the darkness.

It was freezing on top of Ellis and even though I was wearing a warm insulated long-sleeve shirt and two different jackets, I was still cold. Luckily one of the other items that we were required to carry in our mandatory kit was a mylar space blanket. I took the blanket out and went to work with my origami skills, folding it into a beautiful kimono (which my pacer Jeff kept mistakenly referring to as a "dress").

Flying down the mountain in my kimono like a fearsome samurai headed into battle... Wait a minute, who am I kidding. Hobbling down the mountain in my iridescent mini-skirt like a drag queen with a broken heel who's had one too many Margaritas... Jeff and I eventually made it to the finish line where I thought about jogging it in for the last hundred yards. But I figured, why bother. I'd walked the last 20 miles, now was no time to start running. "You gotta dance with who brung ya," as they say. Anyway, I was finally done. And boy was I done.

Afterthoughts and aftershocks

I ended up finishing 3rd place in 65:02:33, over 3.5 hours behind the winner Ewan Horsburgh and a good hour and twenty minutes behind 2nd place Victor Ballesteros. Clearly, not the finish I was hoping for after having opening up a 2 hour lead at mile 60 and then having built it to over 5.5 hours by mile 137.

Race Director, Candice Burt congratulating me.
"That shit was easy... too damn easy!" Just kidding!
In retrospect it's easy to say that perhaps I should have held back more early, or that I shouldn't have pushed quite so hard during the heat of the second day. Yes, it's easy to second guess after the fact. But I don't have any regrets about my race. I saw an opportunity and I went for it. It just didn't quite work out. I was ready to keep pushing, but my body (perhaps wisely) decided to call it a day and shut down on me.

I experienced a few health concerns toward the end of the race that would make me question whether I would ever want to attempt something like this again. In addition to the normal stuff that I was expecting (blistered feet, black toenails, bloody chaffed thigh and crotch region, broken fingers, etc.), I also experienced some other pretty scary conditions that caused me some alarm including fluid in the lungs (possibly a bit of pulmonary edema), oxygen desaturation, and extremely elevated breathing and heart rate. Some pretty scary shit.

Also, in the days immediately after the race my body was wrecked. I spent most of the next days sitting in bed wrapped in blankets fighting off an intermittent fever. At night I would wake up drenched in pools of my own sweat. After I soaked the bed sheets the first night, my wife kicked me out of the bedroom and I've since been sleeping on an inflatable air mattress.

And perhaps the most disturbing side effect of running 200 miles is that my body's hormonal system has been completely out of whack and I've been experiencing these strange non-manly feelings that my wife tells me are called "emotions". Let me tell you, "emotions" suck. One minute I am sitting on the couch reading a nice comment from Victor Ballesteros on my Facebook page, and the next minute and I am huddled under the blanket sobbing like baby. What the hell! There's no crying in ultra running!

Thank yous!

First of all, I would like to thank my wife Amy Burton for allowing me, albeit reluctantly, to participate in this event, even if as she says, I snuck this one past her when she wasn't looking. Someone has to stay home and walk the dog, water the kid, and fight off the invasion of ants trying to take over the kitchen and bathroom.

Secondly, I would like to thank my crew chief and pacer Jeff Clowers. He was invaluable in so many ways, and there is no chance I would have made it anywhere even close to the finish line without him. In fact, I'd probably be resting peacefully (in the eternal sense) under a tree on top of a mountain if he hadn't talked me out of the "death nap" I desperately wanted to take.

I'd also like to thank my elite team of pacers, Peter Rabover, Karl Schnaitter, and Jeremy Johnson who all put up with varying degrees of interminable whining, complaining, and second guessing of their pacing skills. Sorry guys. All I can say is that the brain does funny things after you've been running for two days. Hopefully I can make it up to each of you and return the favor someday.

Big thanks to Rich de Borba, the Senior General Manager of the Sports Basement Campbell for hooking my team up with some great Ultimate Direction gear. You da man Rich.

And of course, I have to give mad props to all the aid station volunteers. You guys rocked! Thank you so much for giving up you weekend to help a bunch of dirty, stinky, zombie runners achieve our dreams! You're the best. Thanks again folks!