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 [Update 12/31: David Roche has withdrawn with "flu-like symptoms."]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!