Tuesday, April 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abridged list of things that might kill you...

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

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

But be sure to see the sights...

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

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

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

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

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

Other, far-more-useful resources

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

Sunday, April 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Bunch of Drunks on a Mountain (Part 2)

Chikara unable to hold his Root Beer

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

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

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

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

Karl, "The Man to Beat"
Karl Schnaitter

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

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

Big Johnny Burton

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

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

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

Chris Eide

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

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

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

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

They’re off and… puking?

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

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

And it begins....

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

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

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

Sprint for the finish

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

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

"Big Johnny" launches a virulent attack

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

It’s all over but the pukin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King and Queen of the Mountain

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

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

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

On top of the world!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click below to watch the race video courtesy Sean McPherson

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

Big thanks to official race photographer /
videographer, Sean McPherson

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In Defense of Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong went for a jog in the woods this weekend with a friend at a small relatively non-competitive local trail race that no one has ever heard of... and the Internet flipped the fuck out! You'd think he took the last vanilla Gu at the aid station or something! Various trail running "experts" and "spokespersons" wrote angry blogs saying that Lance shouldn't be allowed to compete in trail races because of something he did 10 years ago in a completely unrelated sport.

Lance Armstrong -- in case you have been living in a yurt in the mountains of North Korea (or some other place without Internet access) for the past 20 years -- is this totally bad-ass motherfucker who won the Tour de France, the world's hardest endurance event, seven times in a row... after nearly dying of cancer and losing a testicle. He's a real life fucking super hero. Chuck Norris, the Internet meme, probably doesn't masturbate to posters of other men; but if he did, it would certainly to be a shirtless poster of Lance Armstrong. And who could blame him?

So even though he's like super-fucking awesome and stuff, a lot of people don't like Lance anymore because it was revealed that he took a shit-load of performance enhancing drugs en route to crushing his competition -- most of whom were later busted for also having taken a shit-load of drugs. Those other guys all got to continue racing after serving piddly little suspensions, but Lance got suspended for life. Presumably, because he was so fucking awesome.

Santa Claus ins't real; cyclists take drugs.

The fact that cyclist take performance drugs isn't really much of a secret. Cyclist have been doping, and dying of drug use, since the 1880s. In fact, doping in cycling wasn't even made illegal until somewhat recently, back in 1965. Up until then cyclists openly took drugs.

In fact, in the 1930's, the Tour de France guidebook for competitors informed riders that they should remember to bring their own drugs, as the Tour would not be providing any. Two-time Tour de France champion from the 1940s, Fausto Coppi, joked that he, only took drugs when absolutely necessary, which is nearly always. Similarly, five-time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil famously said that only a fool would imagine it was possible to ride Bordeaux–Paris on just water.

You have to be somewhat naive to think that normal human beings can ride their bicycles several thousand miles over some of the hardest and steepest mountains in the world averaging 25mph for weeks on end without taking a fuck-load of fucking drugs. I mean, come on man!

In any case, hundreds of top riders, including 23 of Lance's Armstrong's top 25 competitors have all been busted at one time or another for using performance enhancing drugs. It's on the Internet, so it must be true. But yet Lance is the guy that everyone hates. Again, because he's so fucking awesome.

People don't hate Lance because he cheated; they hate him because he's an asshole

Ok, let's be honest. Lance Armstrong is a major asshole. He's a complete fucking dick. He's a world-class douche bag. I mean for fuck's sake, he crashed his car while drunk driving and then made his girlfriend take the blame with the police. He's the kind of friend who would sleep with your wife while you're out of town on business and then drink all of the beer in your fridge (and not even bother to replace it). That's some cold-ass shit. Like I said, major dick.

I don't think most people are actually too bothered by the fact that Lance took drugs. Hell, at least half the trail runners I know have smoked weed -- some of them even during a race. Keep in mind that marijuana is on the WADA banned substance list; yes Mr. Speed Goat, I'm talking to you. No, I think the reason people hate Lance so much is because he ruthlessly went after anyone who tried to expose him, and didn't stop until they were destroyed, discredited and penniless. To which I reply, "Well, duh".

What the fuck did they expect? You go after one of the richest and most powerful athletes on the planet, a guy who is famous for stopping at nothing and doing whatever it takes to win? You try to ruin his life and take away everything he's achieved? And then you're surprised when he comes out shooting to kill? You didn't think that one through very well did you?

Hypothetical situation: If I see a rabid pitbull foaming at the mouth and angrily pacing back in forth at the end of a dark alley, I might think to myself, "Hey that pitbull isn't actually bothering me but... maybe I should pick up this stick and attack it". I might think that... if I was a complete fucking moron. Or, more reasonably, I might think, "He's not bothering me. Let me just mind my fucking business".

I'm not actually justifying what Lance did, or how he treated people. His actions were dispicable. And he's admitted as much in recent interviews. Whether he is truly remorseful or merely going through the motions is anyone's guess. But if start banning everyone who's ever made mistakes or acted like a dick at some point in their lives, we won't have many people out on the trails.

Shut up, smoke your weed, and let Lance run

There are quite a few people who think that Lance shouldn't be allowed to compete in trail running and/or ultra-running because he took drugs ten years ago in sport where everyone else was taking drugs. I'm not saying these people all a bunch of whiny-ass-bitches. Not all of them anyway. Some are merely well-meaning but pretentious hypocrites. Others are jealous haters. And most are probably guys who are mad because Lance banged their wives and drank their beers. Dudes, get over it.

I think one of the most common misconceptions about drug cheats is that they are somehow trying to "take shortcuts" because they aren't willing to put in the work. Though it's actually the exact opposite. Athlete's don't take drugs because they are afraid of putting in work; they take drugs so that they can put in even more work.

I don't think that they aren't necessarily looking to cheat their fellow athletes; rather they are looking to cheat the laws of physiology that say, "dude, you've just put in two killer workouts today; there's no way you can go back out tonight and hammer another one". They look down and say, "shut up legs". Which by the way was the mantra of another famous, now retired cyclist, Jens Voigt, who I might add, much like Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test ;)

In truth, I sheepishly admire the dopers. They're fucking committed, I'll give them that. They're all in. While you or I might kick back and enjoy a beer after a race or long run, these guys go out and hammer another grueling workout after a race. They never rest. They are willing to do whatever it takes to improve, even if that means sacrificing their long-term health and risking death. And this isn't mere hyperbole; recall that dozens of riders inexplicably dropped dead in the 80's when EPO usage first became widespread.

Full disclosure: I don't consider myself a "doper" as I've never taken EPO, steroids, or any of that kind of stuff. But I have inhaled or ingested various things (always out of competition) that do appear in the WADA list of banned substances, which includes some fairly innocuous items like over-the-counter cough syrup, vitamins/supplements from GNC, and the occasional recreational stimulant and/or barbiturate. I could claim some weak shit like, "I didn't inhale," or "I didn't ingest," but I'm not going to try and pull a Bill Clinton on you.

Now obviously Lance wasn't just taking a little cough syrup to get some sleep at night, or smoking a joint on the weekends with friends. He systematically took a pharmacy full of crap, most of which I can't properly spell or pronounce. But so fucking what? So was everyone else. That was years ago. And that was in another sport. How does his running today, presumably clean, in a small-time trail race harm anyone else? How is he "cheating" anyone?

Elite dopers aren't hurting mid-pack runners

No disrespect to the average midpack or competitive age-group ultra/trail runner (myself included), but Lance doesn't need any drugs to kick our asses. He was beating the world's top professional triathletes when he was 14 (and presumably clean) while those guys were grown men at the top of their sport (taking who knows what). So the notion that Lance is somehow cheating everyone he beats at a local trail race today is absurd, bordering on completely butt-fucking-ridiculous.

Look, I may suspect Kilian -- and the rest of the entire Salomon Europe trail racing team of doping. Allegedly. [My lawyers made me write that last bit]. But I know that even clean, Kilian would still clean my fucking clock. So maybe instead of beating me by 6 hours at Hardrock, he might only beat me by 3 hours. And honestly, what do I care? It's not like his using (or not using) EPO somehow detracts from my experience or my enjoyment of the mountains.

If the elites want to shoot themselves up with all kinds of crazy-ass shit, maybe we should let them. Ultrarunning and trail running don't have any governing body for most races -- with the obvious exception of USATF championship events, which let's be honest, are few and far between. And most races don't have prize money or even trophies at stake. So yeah, maybe our Ultrasignup.com ranking might go down another fraction of a percentage after some doped up elite sponsored runner beats us by 5 hours. But, so what?

Watching doped up elite runners battle each other is actually kind of entertaining. It's like watching two superheros battling on screen. One punches the other through a brick wall. And then the guy climbs out of the rubble, brushes the dust off his shoulder, and smashes the other guy through a steel door. Are we not entertained?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

2015 Rio Del Lago 100 Race Report

Beards: fashion statement of ultra-runners and homeless
It's always darkest before the dawn

You know you've hit rock bottom when you find yourself drinking beer on a park bench in the wee hours of the morning, shivering cold and unable to remember when you last showered or had a warm meal.

A scraggly homeless-looking man with a long disheveled beard that would make a 17th-century pirate proud shuffles past. The wind whips at his beard like a tattered flag that's been left hanging outside for a few too many seasons. His face is covered with what appears to be a mixture of equal parts dirt, dried snot, and food crumbs (possibly cookies, but it's too dark to tell).

He's wearing two garbage bags that have been fashioned into some kind of makeshift hooded windbreaker. He limps past in slow motion, each step seeming to take an eternity. As you look into his dead eyes you can feel the weariness of his soul. You begin to question your own life and to lament the decisions you've made that have lead you to this point.

"Why did I click that damn 'Register Now' button on UltraSignUp.com," you muse to yourself. You're an ultra runner and you've just finished a grueling 100 mile race. As you take a sip from your fancy bottle of expensive Oregon craft-beer -- and a myriad of juicy citrus hop aromas and flavors envelope your mouth -- the throbbing pain of the giant blister on your big toe fades into the background.

"Hey Brendan, good race," you shout to your red-bearded compatriot as he hobbles past, clutching his finisher's belt buckle tightly, the metal glowing, almost magically, in the first light of the breaking dawn. A bird begins to chirp and you close your eyes and drift off to the sleep, the comforting smell of freshly-cooked bacon wafting through your dreams.

UFO preparing to abduct us?
What the fuck am I doing out here?

"Seriously, what the [bleep] [bleep] [bleep] am I doing out here Jeff?" I ask my pacer Jeff Clowers, only somewhat rhetorically, for probably the hundredth time as we make our way over a brutal section of the course that's known affectionately, and for very good reason, as the "Meat Grinder". We are eighty-seven miles into the race and I am so ready for it to be over already.

But Jeff knows the drill; he's no newbie to this pacing shit. He spent nearly 20 hours slogging through the mountains with me during the last 50 miles of my Tahoe 200 race last year where he had to explain to me, on more than one occasion, why it probably wasn't a great idea to lay down and take a "death nap" on the top of a 8,500 mountain at night during a freezing rainstorm. So I had relatively "full confidence" that he'd get me to finish line again this time despite any bonehead antics that I may or may not attempt.

"Hey, what the fuck is that up in the sky," I say, pointing up at the white beam of light that appears to be an alien spacecraft hovering above us, undoubtedly fidgeting with their tractor beam as they ready their instruments for a series of exploratory anal probes.

"Oh, it's probably just one of those searchlights that car dealerships shine up into the sky," Jeff tries to reassure me. "Or maybe Mattress Discounters is having an end of the month sale." This last notion intrigues me; a soft pillow-top mattress would be amazing right now. But, like Robert Frost wrote in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, "But I've got promises to keep / And thirteen miserable more fucking miles before I sleep."

That time I abducted Steve Patt the night before the race

Steve Patt suddenly realized he'd made a terrible mistake. As I peeled out of his driveway, squealing tires and burning rubber down his quiet residential street, Steve immediately regretted his decision to carpool with me up to Rio Del Lago. Out of the corner of my eye I saw see him surreptitiously text his wife. Something about alerting the authorities if she didn't hear back from him every hour. It was difficult to read over his shoulder, especially at such high speeds.

Eventually, after several unplanned stops for potty breaks (where Steve had ample opportunity to escape and flee I might add) we arrived safely at our hotel in Folsom. We drove over to the race headquarters and picked up our race bibs and listened to the mandatory race briefing. [I should write "listened" in quotation marks, because I spent more time chatting with Quicksilver teammates than actually listening to the briefing. But let's assume the briefing contained a bunch of super useful stuff that I would later regret having missed.]

Steve generously invited me to join him for dinner after the briefing at the local brew-pub, but I reluctantly informed him that I was on strict diet of cocktail peanuts and Greek yogurt, which pretty much limits my dining-out options. So yeah, I ate a bag of peanuts alone in my room like a weirdo and then got ready for bed. It wasn't even 7 o'clock yet and was out for the night.

Nine hours later I popped up out of bed, made a surprisingly decent cup of instant coffee, and successfully managed to correctly put my right and left running shoes onto the respective feet.

Hey, at least he's "sponsored"
What the what???

"Don't do anything stupid. Don't do anything stupid. Don't do anything stupid," I repeated like a mantra to myself over and over as we stood in the dark waiting for the race to start. But "not doing anything stupid" has always been a challenge for me. I'm known for my erratic pacing and proclivity for making bold race moves at tactically questionable times. Like earlier this year at FatDog when I attacked on the first climb of a 120 mile long race... and ended up dropping at mile 78.

Speaking of stupid things, I couldn't help but laugh as I looked over and saw a shirtless dude (note: it was so cold that the rest of us were all wearing shirts, jackets, hats and gloves) who had his sponsor's name written on his bare chest... with a sharpie. Talk about low budget. LOL. But hey, at least he's got a sponsor (I guess).

Also, perhaps more amusing is that his sponsor is a company who markets "high-end luxury lubricant" that promises to "transfer sensation while reducing friction". So naturally I had to Google this stuff. Let's just say that the company's homepage could easily be mistaken for a soft-porn website. (Side note: I wonder how one goes about getting sponsored by anal-lubricant manufacturer anyway?)

I definitely was not surprised when this guy immediately bolted off into the lead in the first hundred yards of the race. Similarly, I was also not surprised when somewhere around mile 45 we passed him and then never saw him again. But I don't want to sound too dismissive; I'm grateful for the sharpie-chested gentleman. For the first time ever, I wasn't the shirtless jackass who went out in the lead and then blew up :)

Cold morning race start
The "conservative-yet-fast" pacing fallacy

I had told everyone who would listen (and even some who wouldn't) that I wasn't planning to actually "race" this race; instead I was just going to take it easy and make sure I finished. Having dropped out of my only other Western States qualifying race back at FatDog, this was my last chance to get my name into the Western States lottery (Rio Del Lago is literally the last race on the 2015 calendar of Western States qualifiers).

Instead of hammering the first half of the race and then trying to hold and survive, which is my typical race strategy, I decided that I would run at a "conservative-yet-fast" pace -- as if that's an actual thing. So when Luke Garten, and the anal-lube-sharpie-chested guy, and a couple other of the early leaders charged off out of sight, I checked my ego and resisted the urge to do anything incredibly stupid -- which took a surprising amount of will power.

There I was, running my patent-pending "conservative-yet-fast" 7:30 minute-mile pace for the first twenty-mile section of asphalt bike path from Beal's Point down through Folsom and back. The addition of the hard unforgiving asphalt loop was a new "improvement" for this year's race, and unfortunately an "improvement" that I neither approved of nor prepared for. I can tell you that my poor quads -- or what's left of them -- certainly didn't approve!

I definitely would have gone a bit slower on this section if I had been alone, but I found myself running alongside Quicksilver teammate Ricky Russel, who was making his hundred miler debut. Ricky is a much faster runner than me and the sensible thing for me to do would have been to ease up and let Ricky run off ahead on his own. But no one's ever accused Big Johnny of being sensible!

After the bike-path purgatory section of the course, we thankfully got to finally run on actual trails. I was struggling a bit with some mild GI issues, but I managed to keep moving pretty well despite a few impromptu visits off trail to the bushes. I was surprised to learn that Ricky and I were in 4th and 5th place, which was higher than I expected (or wanted) to be at that point. My "conservative-yet-fast" strategy was tilting a bit more toward "pretty-fucking-fast-and-not-quite-so-conservative".

Which should I drink: this stuff or my pee?
It was only a matter of time until I did something else stupid

Ricky had been moving well all morning, but then suddenly around mile 26 or so he fell back mentioning that a lingering toe problem was throwing his gait off and causing quite a bit of muscle tightness. I wished him well, hoping that maybe he would loosen back up at some point. But unfortunately I didn't see him again after that, and I later learned that he dropped at Rattlesnake Bar at mile 36.

Left to my own devices, I started to slow down a bit. That's when I was caught and overtaken by another runner, Dominick Layfield, moving me from 4th down to 5th place. Even though I supposedly wasn't "racing," I never like being passed, and I instinctively picked up the pace in order to keep Dominick in sight. The change of pace actually felt quite good as my legs had been getting a bit tight. At this point I was moving efficiently and everything felt great...

... And then suddenly I was completely fucked. I'd made a questionable tactical decision earlier that morning to not wear my running vest (which holds two water bottles) and to instead just carry one handheld bottle (you know, to save weight or some silly shit). This proved to be a very poor decision on the 9 mile long, exposed section with no aid between Granite Beach (mile 24) and Horseshoe Bar (mile 33). Only 5 miles into this segment and I had completely drained my bottle.

As I thirstily eyed every muddy little slime-filled puddle on the last 4 miles of that hot exposed section of the course, I began seriously debating the pros and cons of drinking my own urine. Pro: it's probably rich in vitamins and electrolytes. Con: it probably tastes like piss. Pro: it's probably more more sanitary than a bacteria filled mud puddle. Con: it probably tastes like piss.

#Showboatin' #Stuntin' #Flossin' #OnFleek

You can't fix stupid with more stupid

What happens out on the trail stays out on the trail. But I can at least tell you that I made sure to bring an unopened can of Coke with me as I left every aid station after that, just to avoid running out of fluid again. And for some reason, I also avoided drinking Mountain Dew or any yellow-colored sports drinks at the aid stations for the remainder of the race.

After just a short three mile jaunt between Horseshoe Bar (mile 33) and Rattlesnake Bar (mile 36), we began a long climb up to Last Gasp (mile 42) and Auburn Horse Assembly (mile 45). It was on the base of the steep climb up to Last Gasp where I caught back up to Dominick and another runner, thus leapfrogging up from 5th to 3rd place.

 At this point, for reasons that are still not completely clear to me, I decided to show off by running (rather than power hiking) the steep mile-long climb. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. That superfluous bit of showboating, while rather amusing, was probably ill-advised so early in the race. Several miles later Dominick caught back up to me again on the long descent down to the iconic No-Hands bridge.

Dominick and I bridged up to the previously mentioned shirtless-sharpie-sex-lube dude, who apparently claimed to have just had a "life-changing encounter" with a bear on the side of the trail! I didn't catch all the details, so I can't speculate as to whether any high-end luxury lubricant was involved. Dominick and I were now running together in 2nd and 3rd place, but still quite a ways back from the leader Luke Garten.

My pacer Jeff, kilted up for battle
Jeff Clowers to the rescue

Dominick and I backed off the pace a bit and started chatting on the climb up from No-Hands bridge to the Cool Firestation (mile 52). He entertained me with a great story about his epic battle with Jesse Haynes for 2nd place at the Bear 100 in September. I reciprocated by launching into a detailed account of all my hard-won Strava CRs at the local park near my house.

Dom told me about the time he held off Timmy Olson at a race in Europe. I told him my story about almost getting run down by Timmy Olson at Hardrock. By the time we arrived at Cool it felt like we were old friends. And then the bastard dropped me! LOL. He got in and out of the aid station like a Nascar pit crew, while I screwed around posing for selfies, signing autographs and chatting with my fans -- all three of them.

I really struggled on the next section, an 8 mile loop on the Olmstead Trail through Knickerbocker canyon. Even though I made sure to bring an extra can of coke with me in addition to my water bottle, I still ran out of fluids pretty early into the warm exposed loop and ended up hiking most of the last few miles. About a mile or so from the turnaround at mile 60 I got to see the two race leaders -- Luke and Dominick come running back out past me. Luke was still in the lead, but Dominick was only a minute behind and closing fast.

When I got back to the aid station at Cool, my pacer Jeff Clowers was standing by in his kilt -- apparently ready to lead us into battle on the Scottish Highlands. Just having somebody to run and chat with again did wonders for my morale; we made great time on the second reverse-direction loop. This was also my first chance to see all the other runners behind me. Everyone was looking pretty strong, including women's race leader Erika Lindland, which was great -- but which also meant I would not be able to slack much if I wanted to hold on to my podium spot.

Jeff and I made quick work of the second loop and powered up the paved road back into Cool at mile 68. It was pretty chaotic with hundreds of people standing around cheering. Everyone kept yelling that I was only ten minutes back of the leaders and that I was looking stronger than those two guys.

I heard a few people yell my name, but everything was kind of a blur. I did manage to pick out my friend Jessi who is hard to miss with her cowbell and big red hair! I also briefly spotted my buddy Karl Schnaitter who helped pace me last year at Tahoe 200, but then I got distracted my the smell of a grilled cheese.

I'll take that can of coke to go please!
And then things start to go downhill (in more ways than one)

The three-mile descent from Cool back down to No-Hands bridge (mile 71) was pretty awesome. I was surprised to see quite a few runners still coming up on their way into Cool as we headed down. It was at that point that it really started to sink in just how well I was doing. Everyone was so friendly and kept shouting out encouragement. I felt a bit like a celebrity. It was so cool to have a small taste of what it must feel like to be an elite runner.

After the fun descent down to No-Hands, Jeff and I started the long hike up Robie Point back toward Auburn Horse Assembly (mile 75). Somewhere along this section the sun went down and my shirt and headlamp came out. It got surprisingly cold, surprisingly quickly. I felt bad for the runners we passed who were still coming from the opposite direction, already some 25 miles behind us with a long cold night in front of them.

We made great time on descent from Auburn Horse Assembly down the paved road to Last Gasp (mile 78) . But then everything started to go downhill (figuratively) for me as as soon as we (literally) stopped going downhill. I'm not sure if I fell behind on calories, or if maybe the early conservative-but-probably-too-fucking-fast pace on the asphalt bike path was finally catching up to my quads? Jeff did his best to keep me motivated and moving, but that section of technical rolling single track along the American River back toward Rattlesnake Bar (mile 84) seemed to take forever.

I spent a few minutes at the Rattlesnake Bar aid station refueling and tending to business in the bathroom. Suddenly, to my horror I heard everyone start cheering again while I was in the bathroom. I safely assumed that they weren't applauding my bowel movement (as spectacular as it might have been). Shit, that must mean another runner had just arrived. So much for my 3rd place podium spot. I didn't know who it was at the time, but I later learned it was fellow Bay Area runner Ray Sanchez closing strong.

The rest of my race from this point on was basically a colossal shit show. While I had been previously averaging 10 minute miles for most of the race, the miles that followed were in the 16 - 18 minute per mile range. I walked any slight incline that even remotely resembled a hill. I stepped carefully over every rock and pile of horse poop as if there might be a hundred foot drop off on the other side. It got real ugly, real fast.

Run. Forest. Run.
I'm not quite dead yet

As Jeff and I slowly shuffled along the interminable 9 mile section of horse trails from Rattlesnake Bar (mile 84) back toward Granite Beach (mile 96), I kept looking back, wondering who was going to pass me next. I was thankful that Ray Sanchez had already passed me and taken over 3rd place so that I no longer had the pressure of having to defend a podium spot. Now I could saunter back as leisurely as I liked.

And then, inconceivably, I saw two lights of a runner and his pacer up ahead of us on the trail. Who could possibly be moving slower than me? Surely it must just be two random hikers or equestrians out in the woods in the dark of night in the middle of nowhere (yeah, because that makes sense). But no, it turns out it was former race leader Luke Garten whose legs had given out on him and who was now just trying to hike it in for his first 100 mile finish.

"Fuck," I whispered to my pacer Jeff. "We're back in third place again. Looks like we'll actually have to do some running," I sighed as we broke into what felt like a fast gallop or canter, but which probably more resembled a slow trot. When we finally arrived back at Granite Beach (mile 96) I was so happy to almost be done that I nearly started crying. I confidently assured my buddy Jeff, "It's all downhill from here."

"Where the fuck did these hills come from," I shouted in disbelief as we made our way over several stupid uphill sections that I swore hadn't been there this morning. I gave up mentally and decided to just hike it in. And with that decision, I slipped from 3rd place to 5th as two sets of runners and their pacers ran past me in the last 4 miles.

"Don't worry Jeff," I said, "We're got less than a mile to go. There's no way anyone else is going to catch us now." Of course, the very second I finished saying that, we looked behind us and saw another light approaching fast. "Fuck. Shit. Son of bitch," I mumbled quietly. As we crested the final climb and emerged onto the levy I could see the finish line just two hundred yards away. "No one can beat me in a 200 yard sprint I proclaimed," as I took off in an all-out sprint, desperately trying to hold off the hard-charging headlamp behind me.

I think this is slightly uphill; let's walk!
Trying to out sprint the undead

Unfortunately, while the physical finish line itself was only 200 yards away, I discovered, much to my fucking dismay, that we still had to run a half mile superfluous loop around the damn parking lot.

"Motherfucker. Cocksucker. Son of bitch," I mumbled again as I continued sprinting around the perimeter of the parking lot trying to outrun the headlamp behind me that I still hadn't managed to shake.

"How can this guy still be running so fast at the end of a 100 miler," I wondered incredulously in complete disbelief. "And wait a minute... it looks like he is taking a shortcut across the parking lot. What the fuck," I protested silently as I continued my all out sprint towards the finishing chute.

As I crossed the finish line in 5th place, over 6 minutes ahead of the next finisher, I later learned that the phantom headlamp chasing me through the parking lot was actually my very own pacer Jeff!  Rather than just stopping at the finish line when we initially passed it, he decided to continue chasing me the entire way through the parking lot. I can only assume this was to pay me back for my earlier post on social media saying that I planned to try and drop him.

In retrospect the silly sprinting nonsense was pretty funny -- especially since I had been joking with my buddy Matt Ward, who has making his 100 miler debut, that I hoped he and I finished together so I could out sprint him in the chute. So yeah, I guess the lesson here is to be careful what you wish for because you might actually get it :)

Despite all my whining during the last 10 miles of the race, I was still very pleased with my performance. Not only did I finish 5th overall and qualify for Western States, but I improved my previous 100 mile PR by over two hours with my 18:36:54 finish! Yeah!

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

Shout outs

First and foremost, a big shout out to JC who gave me the strength and faith, even in my darkest hour, to carry on. I'm talking of course about my pacer, Jeff Clowers. Thanks again dude. You're the best!

Congrats to Dominick Layfield for his impressive victory. He ran a smart, strong race all day and definitely deserved the win. And congratulations also to Erika Lindland who won the women's race in 19:24:24 despite getting off course and running some bonus miles!

Big ups to Matt Ward, Dave Moore, Lisa Decker, and everyone else who kicked butt and finished their first 100 miler!

And congrats to Quicksilver teammates and veteran 100 mile runners John Brooks, Bjorn Flatt, and Veronica Fujisawa who each brought home another buckle for their collections!

Condolences to Quicksilver teammate Steve Patt, who fought valiantly, and who will hopefully git er done next time. He should hold his head high; just surviving a three-hour car ride with Big Johnny is something to be proud of in itself!

And of course, crazy-mad-props to all the wonderful volunteers, crews, and pacers who gave up their day (and night) to help out a bunch of crazy, sleep-deprived, stinky runners. Special thanks to Jessi Goldstein for bringing me bacon and beer when I was too stiff and sore to hobble over to the food tent!