About Kirk

My background is in education, specifically math. I have also spent over 10 years as a coach and been fortunate to be part of one of the premier softball programs in the country. Over the years I have developed a passion for logic and truth. Finally, I decided to write about it.

CIM 17 and my Top 10

It’s been 4 years since my last California International Marathon, and 5 years since my first. I swore off road races after completing this race in 2013. I have noticed, over the last several years, that the base I get from training for the December marathon prepares me for the Spring Ultras way better than not running, so I decided to invest my Fall time and energies to training for this 26 so I’d be better prepared for upcoming 50k and longer.

After 17 weeks of training and getting in almost all of my long runs and most of my midweek runs, but not enough core or speed work, time is up and it’s time to run. I’m never completely satisfied with my training, but this has been a pretty good season and I’m feeling prepared.

My running buddy, Dave, and I are dropped off by his wife at the bus loading point and, coincidentally, end up riding the bus with Edd and Lisa. 

Dave and I arrived at the start line early enough to grab a mocha and wait inside the warm Folsom Grind coffee shop until the time came to line up.

It is warmer at the start than in previous years and the sky is clear. I start with a long sleeve over arm warmers and shorts with compression socks and a buff from my first CIM. I’m planning on starting with the 5:07 pace group and see if I can push at the end. I’m hoping for sub-5 hours and trying to match my first marathon time of 4:52.

It takes me less than a minute to discard my plan, as the left side moved faster at the start than the right and I end up running with the 4:22 pace group. I am feeling good and moving easily with the group, so I keep going.On to Fair Oaks Blvd, I am still feeling strong and a little surprised at myself. In Fair Oaks Village I avail myself of the temporary relief facilities and continue on with the 4:30 pace group, still ahead of my intended pace.

I see my daughter, Sammy, son-in-law, Jared, and my granddaughters, Emma and June at San Juan and Fair Oaks and they propel on to the half marathon mark in 2:20 (10 minutes ahead of my Urban Cow Half time two months ago.

At mile 15, however, I begin to slow and I can see my goals slipping away. Still hoping to finish at my original goal (5:07), I am encouraged by Single Track Running’s aid station, Joel Carson and friends (with the ultra aid station), and Clint Welch and Matt Brayton, et. al. with the Fireball at 16.4.

By the time I hit the wall at mile 20, I’m feeling the resigned to simply finishing. I have lost track of all pacers and too tired to do the math, so I have no idea where I am in the pace. I see my wife, Alessandra, at mile 21 and I walk up the J St. bridge and shuffle down the other side. My pace is slowing with each mile.

 

My slowest mile is mile 24 and I am completely on empty. Entering midtown, I am running, but just barely. I notice a pace team member to my right, but she is not holding a sign. Another comes up on my left and I see that he is the 5:07 pace leader. I’m shocked! I am certain I am well behind this pace. With two miles left I decide to run in with this pacer, but as I try to increase my pace, I find that running faster is a little less painful than running slower. I pick up the pace and decide that, regardless of how tired I am, I can run 2 miles. Pushing through to the finish, I made my goal of 5:07, just in front of the pacer.

Truth be told, I learned a lot from this race, though I didn’t expect to, I’m still looking forward to being back on the dirt.

My CIM Top 10

10. The weather was perfect! (Maybe this should be higher on the list)
9. Aid stations every 3 miles – no need to carry anything
8. Spectators!
7. Single Track Running
6. Fireball!!
5. Joel Carson and friends
4. Clint, Matt, Lindsey, …
3. Seeing family on the course
2. No Plantar Fasciitis, no Achilles pain, no injuries
1. Learning that I can still run when I have absolutely nothing left!

Run LOCO

For my second attempt at a 100k I signed up for the Loco Go Big or Go Home Challenge. At the time I doubted I could be ready for that distance in time for the race, but the price for their inaugural 100k was the same as the 50k and I decided to chance it.

Training Fail

The rule of thumb is that you don’t increase your weekly mileage (nor your long run distance) by more than 10% per week. Another rule of thumb is that your weekly mileage should be at or above the race distance you are preparing for by the time you get to tapering. I was sticking to my training plan (more or less) and I knew that getting to 60+ miles per week was going to be close. The end of the school got busy and training suffered. My 60-mile week ended up being 40 and my taper week turned into 2 weeks. Still, I figured I would toe the line and see how far I could go.

Going Home

I grew up in the Chico area and I love the surrounding mountains. Going back to places I had fished and camped when I was younger was a big draw for me doing this event. Taking my family with me was another big plus.

Not sure this is the best way

The adventure began on Thursday with my two younger kids, one dog, and I heading up to Butte Meadows to set up the borrowed tent trailer at our campsite. My friend, Jason, was camped across the way and we hung out by the fire and talked about how we came to be involved in this craziness.

hiking to Cold Springs

We decided to explore the course on Friday and see how much snow was hanging around. We drove up as close as we could to where we thought the Cold Springs Aid Station would be and hiked up to the AS location. Glad we had trekking poles and crampons for the race the next day, we decided to see how far we could get on the Cold Springs loop. As it turned out, it wasn’t quite as far as we went and we weren’t even on the course. I drove forward and then tried to back out, but buried my rear axel in the snow. After nearly two hours of digging someone with a four wheel drive happened by and tried to pull us out. Although we snapped my rope, we created enough room to get out

STUCK!

forward. I completed a 30-point turn and blasted through the snow coming back. I wish I had video of the flying snow and the front wheels coming slightly off the ground, but I hadn’t anticipated the level of drama and was just glad to be free.

We headed part way down the hill to find cell phone coverage so I could firm up plans for meeting with my wife and my other daughter for dinner and because I had forgotten my shoes (that’s right, I forgot my running shoes for a race).

Pre-race adventure over, we headed to Chico for dinner with everyone else running the race from our Sacramento area group. After dinner, we drove the 45 minutes back to camp and tried to get some sleep before the 6 AM race.

Sleep is elusive before a race and I was glad to see the sky getting lighter as I was lying in my sleeping bag trying to keep warm. Checking my watch revealed that it was near enough time to get up and get ready. My wife drove Jason and me to the start and the race part of our adventure began.

Race Time

There were some pre-race instructions, which included some necessary changes due to accessibility. In a first-time event, this is to be expected and there is always some necessary flexibility in a trail event where weather and forest service trail maintenance are out of the control of the race director.  I had carefully mapped out a pace chart and was determined to stick with it. For me, that means not starting too fast. At “go” I started at a fast walk and gradually built to a slow running pace. I wanted to stay at or near

Veronica

Jason and Kiley

Jacqi

 

 

 

 

 

15 minutes/mile for the first 14 miles and slow to 18 mm on the climb up to Jonesville AS. I told my wife I should arrive around 10 AM. This was her first time crewing me and all of my drop bag supplies were in the back of her car. I fell quickly to my comfort position at the back of the pack and locked pace with my new friend Jacqi. Veronica was just behind us and Jason just ahead with Kiley (running her first 50k). At the junction where the 5kbeer5k overlapped a couple of friends missed the sharp left and continued back almost to the start line. Jacqi and I caught the sign and took advantage off the natural anti-inflammatory effects of hops at the Hydration Garden before continuing to Jonesville. We didn’t stay long and made it to Jonesville about 15 minutes ahead of schedule and feeling good. Alessandra took my eta as literal and arrived with Georgia and the dogs at 10. This gave me some time to reload on calories, electrolytes, and Squirrel Nut Butter anti-chafing lube.

I changed from my Orange Mud to my Camelback. The larger pack carried 100oz and had room for my crampons and trekking poles. Fully ready, we moved on towards the tougher terrain of the part of the course exclusive to the 100k.

Leaving Jonesville, the course continued up the road for half a mile before turning onto single-track down into the canyon. Technical single track is my favorite part of trail running so, even though I was slow, I enjoyed this the most. I had left my phone in my other pack so thanks to Jacqi for getting pictures in this section. The mostly runnable trail was occasionally interrupted by fallen trees and water crossings. The pre-race instructions mentioned 2 water crossings – one with a rope and two volunteers and one where “you can expect to get your feet wet.” There were SIX water crossings. One with the rope, two that maybe should have had a rope, two shallow crossings in the canyon, and the little one in the snow loop. The current in the final canyon crossing was strong enough to pull the snow basket from my trek pole and, without the rope, would have knocked me over. My friend Veronica reported that it took her “100-pound ass right out from under” her. As the day progressed and the snowmelt increased, the current grew stronger and depth increased – just another way that being slower makes this sport harder.

We climbed up out of the canyon and onto the service road and then followed that down to Humbug. I was glad to be through with the water crossings. After a climb, we were coasting on a long downgrade to the Humbug aid station. On the way there I saw Jason heading back out and, once there, filled up on peanut butter/Nutella sandwiches, oranges, banana, everything looked good! My good friend, Youa was there and gave some encouragement and helped Jacqi and I get through the aid station quickly and ready. I was still feeling good at mile 25 and ready for the climb up to Cold Springs. As we were leaving we saw Carina, Veronica, and Lily, all of whom had missed a turn and done some bonus miles early.

The next 8 miles were on the service road and mostly up. It was here that we saw the eventual winner of the 100k on his way back to the creek crossings. Apparently, I missed the race day change that we would be going back the way we came and through the 5 water crossings in the canyon. Honestly, I think this makes the course a more legitimate 100k (whatever that means), but I was not looking forward to the waist deep water, nor the thigh deep with no rope. There were more immediate obstacles, however. The 5-mile Cold Springs loop held unknown amounts of snow and I had to do it twice.

Crisis of Faith

Once at Cold Springs, I verified that I would, indeed, have to go back through the water crossings before climbing to Colby Lookout and down to the finish. I decided not to put on my crampons since the snow was slushy enough to provide traction. Heading out for the first loop, I started falling behind Jacqi. I saw Jason coming around (he had taken the first loop the wrong way). I felt bad for him because his way was more difficult, but the RD allowed him to continue and he eventually earned his first 100k on this day. I felt like I had everything under control because it was just 2 laps in the snow and then up to the Lookout and down… then I looked at my watch and realized that I was just now half way. That, and the snow really took the strength out of me. With each bend, I saw Jacqi pulling further ahead. I got slower and slower. Those 5 miles destroyed me. During any given ultra I have moments where I begin to doubt my ability to finish. As I would hear from volunteers that there were fewer runners behind be, not because they had passed me, but because they had dropped, I could feel the cutoff coming up behind be like certain doom. I had no business being out here. I obviously cannot do 100k. I should just stick with shorter races… or not at all. By the time I got back to the aid station, I told them that I intended to drop. Youa and Hassan were there and they and the volunteers talked me into doing the second loop before I  decided. Something clicked as I began the second loop. I ran it. Even in the snow. I finished the second loop in better than 5 minutes faster than the first. I did the last mile in 13:30. Youa had gone to pace Jason and Hasson had left, but I decided to continue.

My next objective was to get through the water crossings before dark, which I did. Then back up the single track out of the canyon. I moved slower than I wanted to, but still moving pretty well and enjoying the single track again. When I came onto the road at dusk and saw my wife and Jeff I thought I might have a chance to finish this thing. They ran me into the Snake Mouth AS (mile 46). Jeff told me that I was slightly behind the cutoff but gaining on Jacqi again. They gave me the option to continue but told me I would have to do the next 8 miles in 2 hours. 4.5 of those miles involved 1000 feet of elevation gain in the form of a hill called Slow Death. I was unsure until I pulled off my wet shoes and socks and realized my feet were covered in blisters. I had bought shoes a little big and compensated by using the heel lock lacing, but I had put in new laces and forgotten to do that. The wet shoes slid around a lot and destroyed my feet. I had also somehow strained my knee. I was done!

Truth be told, I learn something from every race, whether I finish or not. It takes a huge amount of commitment, both in miles and in time, to prepare for a 100k (or longer) race. My weekly miles were at about 40. I ran 46 miles. I need to get a lot more hill work and more miles, in general, to be prepared for something like this. I’m not sure I have the time to dedicate to that. I need to lose about 20 lbs. I was down to 165 when I ran my first marathon. Ultra running and injury time-off have added 20 of that back on. For the past 5 days, I’ve been thinking about whether or not I will try this distance again. I really don’t know, but I’m going to keep running. I’m going to lose the 20 lbs. I have the 110k Folsom Lake Ultra Trail that I’m considering attempting for the second time, and I might have to come back and try Loco again.

For certain, I would not have gotten as far as I did without Alessandra’s support and I really loved my kids being there. I would have stopped a lot sooner had it not been for my good friend Youa and the encouragement I got from Jacqi. The best parts of trail running are the people you meet on the journey and the scenery you get to be part of.

Runs With Poles

I’ve never run with trekking poles, in fact, I don’t even usually hike with them. I have been in races where others are running with them and I often find myself dodging the flailing pointy sticks as they swing erratically behind the person carrying them. My upcoming 100k, however, is going to be run at an elevation that may have snow and will certainly have some slippery trails and steep climbs, and the race director highly recommended using them.

A few years ago I was hiking at Half Dome and I had left my hand carved walking stick at home so I picked up a telescoping trekking pole at the basecamp supply. The base camp store will have exactly what you need at a price you’d rather not pay, but you will because you can’t go anywhere else. Anyway, I used it on the trail that day and I learned a few things. I’ve also watched and talked to those who use them regularly and discovered what they are good for and what they are not good for.

A few years later I thought I might use them for my second attempt at Euchre Bar Massacre. I had seen Starchy Grant use them there and he never had any of the problems that seem so common with people using them on runs I had seen. I picked up the second pole and decided it should match what I had. I got the Pinnacle by Mountainsmith.They sell for just under $20 each on their website and a little less at Amazon with free shipping, if you have Prime. I ended up not running Euchre Bar that year (or the next), so the poles have been sitting in my garage.

When the Loco race director recommended using them I decided I should try them out a little more before then. I took them out on my last 50k race. The race consisted of 3 loops through the start/finish area, so I knew I could drop them off if they bothered me. I ended up running the entire course with them and figured out a few things that I thought I would pass along.

Find a pole that is light and strong and collapsable. There are two types. Foldable poles fit together like a tent pole and have a thin bungee cord running through them. I avoided these because I have seen the cord break and then the pole is useless. Telescoping poles extend and twist to lock. I have a tendency to over tighten these and I had to get used to the amount of tension needed to lock them in place without getting them stuck, making them difficult to collapse. Fortunately, I had worked that out on my Yosemite hike and can now quickly collapse or extend them as needed. These are light and can be attached to a hydration pack or carried at full length without any problem.

Get the pole the correct height for you and for the terrain. In general, the pole handle should be held with your elbows at 90 degrees on flat ground. You might like them a little shorter for steeper terrain. The Pinnacle has 3 sections. Extend the bottom to where it has the “stop” indicator and extend the middle section to the desired height. It has a measurement scale, so you can note your perfect height when you get it right and don’t have to test it every time.

If you’re going to be using them repeatedly throughout the run it is easier to learn to carry them extended than to collapse them and extend them repeatedly. Avoid holding the handles and having the tips stick out behind you and interfere with other runners. Find the balance point on the poles and hold them comfortably as you run. Gripping them tightly will lead to muscle fatigue in your hands and arms. They will rest easily in your hand. If I’m in a group, I reposition my hands slightly so the handles are slightly up and the points point down behind me. With a little practice, switching back and forth from the running to the trekking position became effortless. If you’re going to run for some distance without them it is worth collapsing and strapping to your pack.

I used to snow ski quite a bit and I learned that the poles are an extension of your arms, reaching out with the pole to form a slalom point and ski around it. Trekking is similar. The pole only goes slightly in front of you and plant firmly, but don’t dig in, and move smoothly from right to left in a natural walking rhythm. It’s probably best to not over think it and just let it happen. Your feet and hands (and poles) will sync up to your natural pattern. Try to stay upright. Shorten the poles a bit if the terrain is really steep and the poles force your arms to swing too high.

Besides the (seemingly not so) obvious problem of assaulting runners around you, there are also two other things to avoid. First, while a little pushing is fine, the poles will not hold up to using them “two-fisted” to propel you up a hill, and neither will your arms. I found myself slipping into this from time to time and had to think about it to avoid it. Poles provide balance and stability, they do not provide upward propulsion. Similarly, but different, poles are not designed to support your entire weight. These are rated for about 90 lbs. I saw a friend of mine using his coming down a hill and put his entire weight on it coming around a sharp turn in the trail. The pole snapped and he went face-first down the trail. It was not pretty and damaged his ego more than his face, but not by much.

Here’s a video put out by Mountainsmith that you might find helpful if you are a beginner or considering using poles.

Truth be told, I’m pretty new at this, but I feel pretty confident after running 50k with them. I will likely leave them (and drop them) at a drop bag location for the part of the race I will need them and be free to run the rest unincombered. If any of you experts out there want to add or correct anything, please feel free to comment. Preferably before June 3rd.

Age Group Winner, Wierdest Race Ever

 Plans change and I ran a different race this week then I had intended. As it turned out, I finally found that race where I could win my age group. Being the only male in the 50-59 age group, all I had to do was finish to win my AG. First ever. Probably the last. I appreciate all the congratulatory remarks, but they are probably less deserved that it may first appear.

I was scheduled to run the Gold Rush 50k, but due to a permit issue, their course was changed to multiple laps on the paved bike trail near Sac State. 31 miles on pavement is not my idea of a good time, so I accepted their refund and registered for a race around Jenkinson Lake at Sly Park. I’ve trained on these trails before and I love the terrain and the views. This was the location of my first 50k, but that race took me out through Fleming Meadows. I found that particular trail to be hot, exposed, and dusty. I decided it was not pleasant and ran the 20 miles is subsequent years. This weekend’s race was three laps around the lake.. well, sort of.

For my non-running readers or those who might be unfamiliar, there are three basic ways to organize a run. The point-to-point, as it says, starts at one place and runs to another. Advantages are that terrain is never repeated and when you reach the finish, you are done. The disadvantage is that runners have to worry about transportation. If your car is at the start, you need a ride back from the finish. The out-and-back solves the transportation issue, but the drawbacks are that you repeat the terrain and when you “finish” you then have to run back. A loop combines the best of both; runners do not repeat terrain and end up back at their cars. There are multiple ways to combine or modify these. Loops are often modified to create runs of greater distance or provide more variation. Some races create a modified loop with a “figure 8” that goes back through the start/finish in the middle and end of each loop. My favorite of these is Born To Run (I am sworn to secrecy to never reveal the actual course) which is a figure 8 course that looks nothing like an 8. The race I participated in this weekend had 3 loops and was run washing-machine style, switching directions on subsequent loops. This race ran two loops in one direction and then switched to the other…

Wait, let’s start at the beginning…

When Gold Rush changed their course, I signed up for Troy’s California Trail Runs Trail Run at Sly Park. When I arrived at the check-in station I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. The parking lot was nearly empty and there were only about 6 people milling around. I could see they were runners, so I parked and went inside the event center at Sly Park Recreation Area and found a few people I know. Generic bibs were handed out, a different color for each distance, and a few people were standing inside waiting for the bathroom or just chatting. I was told that we would walk across the street to the starting line at about 7:45. Around that time Troy showed up from setting up and aid station and we shuffled over to the starting point of the race. Standing there with 25 runners, next to a pop-up and two tables that would make up the aid station at the end of each lap, I felt like this might have been what it was like when trail running was new. There is no start line, no inflated arch, no giant clock, no sponsor signs… just one guy trying to explain to a small group of runners what to expect on the course.

The pre-race instructions went on way too long. There were several tangential discussions on the sport, other races, why things had or had not been done, etc. We were instructed to follow pink ribbons out, except that there would be some yellow ribbons indicating a sharp right for the 5k runners, who would then return following orange ribbons until they rejoined pink ribbons back to the start. Everyone else would continue to the creek and the bench where the 10k runners would turn around and follow the pink ribbons back to the start. The half marathon runners would follow the 10k course (pink out and back) and then do the 5k course (pink out to yellow and then orange back until pink). The 20-mile race and the 50k race would follow the pink ribbons all the way around (except that he ran out of pink ribbons and had to use some used red ribbons instead) for the first loop and then follow pink/red until the trail split and we follow the orange ribbons (also marked as the 20-mile loop) for the second loop. 20-milers are then done, but the 50k runners turn around at the start/finish line and repeat the pink/red/orange/pink loop in reverse order. In addition, the course had been modified at the last minute due to forest service work on part of the trail. We would run on the paved park road for part of the course and that would end up shorting us to about 27 miles at the end of 3 loops. We were told we had the option of doing the first 3 loops and then continuing back out to do the 5k loop (pink-yellow-orange-pink) to get closer to our 50k distance. Got it? Good.

“Ready, set, go!” And we were off, as the start/finish/aid station person started a stopwatch. Yes, a stopwatch!

We all started together down a fairly steep gravel road, up a switch back single track trail, over fallen trees and across the street to the trail next to Jenkinson Lake. I love this trail and enjoyed the rolling hills along the lake. I ran the first 4.5 miles with Carina, Veronica, and Sheng, who are also training for their first 100k at Loco next month. I felt pretty confident in the trail markings as I saw the yellow and the orange trail variations for subsequent loops. When we reached the mid-loop aid station, Race Director, Troy told us that we need to run the extra 5k loop at the end to be considered as completing the 50k course. We were OK with this since we planned to do it anyway.

I tried picking up the pace a little while continuing up the road, but I had to pause a couple of times to make sure I hadn’t missed a turn. Ribbons were sparse in this area and there are a lot of places to rejoin the dirt, but none were part of the course. Although it was road, it included several longish climbs that drained me. I reached the end of the first loop on my pace and felt pretty good heading out for loop 2.

Then it got weird.

Beginning the second loop on familiar trail (pink ribbons) until I got to the fork in the trail where the orange ribbons began the alternate roof, I was feeling pretty comfortable on my own. I Continued following orange until I saw some pink ribbons and continued up on the higher trail. The the trail just ended. That’s when I realized that the first service was using pink ribbons to mark trees for removal. I shook my head at the unlucky coincidence and looked around. The trail was just below me so I scrambled down the hillside to get back on course. I hadn’t added much additional distance, but the time looking around and scrambling was a little frustrating. I followed orange/pink/orange/pink until I found my way back to the mid-loop aid station where Troy asked me how it was going. I told him about the forest service ribbons and he said “oh yeah, forgot to tell you guys about that.” It was here that he told me that they were hoping to get this done in 8 hours and the two ladies and two gentlemen I had just caught up with  commented that it would be difficult to complete this course in that time. I put my head down and pressed on up the paved park road for the second time. This time I arrived at the start/finish aid station a little behind when I had hoped, but still looking like I could get to the 8 hour goal… maybe.

I turned around and headed back out in the reverse direction just as the two young male runners arrived. They got out of the aid station quickly and caught me on the first climb. The trail markings looked decidedly different in the opposite direction and I found myself questioning my choices and taking some slightly longer paths up the same hills I had just come down. I was trying to catch Lily and Shauna, who were now a little ahead of my and stay ahead of George and Walter, who were now on my tail. Once I got to the road I was moving fairly well on the general downhill to the aid station. There Troy told me that if I wanted to complete the 50k I needed to leave the start/finish area by 3:30. Having a cutoff announced at mile 22 of a 50k was a curveball I didn’t know if I could hit, but I didn’t have time to think about it. I picked up the pace and followed the orange/pink/red/orange/pink ribbons back to the start finish area. Just before the aid station I saw Lilly and Shauna coming the other way for the for the final 5k. It was here that a female runner caught me moving very fast. I had last seen her on the road as I was approaching the mid loop aid station for the final time and she was heading the opposite direction, before doing her return loop, with her father (I heard?) on a bicycle. She surprised me and immediately offered her garmin as proof that she had run enough distance, claiming she had run the 5k (she added “actually the 10k”) first and then proceeded to the remaining loops. She claimed victory as the 1st female runner to complete the course, but no one saw her anywehere else on the course and she is not present on the results list.

I arrived at the start/finish area and asked the time. It was 3:37. I was told that going back out was my choice. I was determined to get all the miles in and mentioned that, if we had started on time, it wouldn’t be 3:30 yet. George and Walter came in just after me and George stopped while Walter continued. He was suddenly running much faster and soon went by me on his way to complete the last 5k loop. I was determined to catch Lilly and Shauna and pressed on. I caught a glimpse of Carina, Veronica, and Sheng coming in on the orange trail as I went out on the pink in search of yellow. Just when Walter caught me we saw the sweep coming towards us on a mountain bike. He had pulled all of the ribbons and wiped out the course markings. We continued, hoping we would recognize the hard right turn where the yellow ribbons were supposed to be. I saw a singl yellow ribbon and made the hard right, but instead of climbing up the steep hill I was expecting, I was on a trail the soon returned me to the lower trail that I had just come out on. Shortly after this I crossed paths with Shauna and Lily and we ran the last mile or so together. They had not seen Walter. Our watches had matching miles, so the best I can figure is that I was on a parallel trail, again. We started hiking up the road to the final finish, but decided to sprint to the finish where everyone else was cheering us on. Three loops ended up being very close to a marathon, so that distance was added to the results list for those who stopped then. We waited for Walter, who must have missed the turn and run some bonus miles of his own.

Truth be told, 8:32 is not what I was hoping for, but I learned what I needed and I felt good the entire race. There was a lot of ups nd down and at elevation to begin with, so it should prepare me for Loco in June, but I’m a long way from being prepared for 100k with a 16:30 cutoff.

If you’re looking for a small race with minimal but adequate support and organization, where you don’t need t-shirts, chip timing, or awards, Troy’s Californian Trail Runs may be for you. It’s more like a group of friends going for a trail run than a race. And that’s ok.

Senior Project 2017 – Teaching Self-Empowerment and Significance

Seniors at Sheldon High School are required to complete a senior project. They can choose any project, but it needs to be challenging, take at least 15 hours to complete, and be something they have never done before. After completing the project, they present it to a board of teachers and community members and talk about what they did, why it was challenging for them, how Sheldon prepared them for such a task, and what changes they would make if they were to do it again. It should be an exciting and challenging culmination of their high school experience. For many it is.

In recent years students have become aware of my love of running and have asked me to mentor them in a running project for their senior project. I welcome the opportunity to introduce them to the trails and try to encourage them to run on dirt when possible.I take this very seriously.

I take this very seriously. I have created a training plan that is a combination of Couch to 5k, Hal Higdon’s 50k training plan, and a plan designed for me by a mentor and coach that has helped me tremendously. I talk about nutrition, both during the race and leading up to it. I teach them about hydration and how to plan for that. I introduce them to Strava and follow them on the app so I can encourage them. I offer them group runs so we can get out on the trails they will be running on during the race. This is also accompanied by a lesson in recognizing poison oak and avoiding rattlesnakes.

This year I had 6 students planning for a 35k. A few years ago it was rightly decided that half marathons are not enough of a challenge and the minimum distance was raised to a marathon. I lobbied to allow a trail 35k (only 3 miles short of a marathon and on trails). 4 seniors ran this race a couple of years ago and tore it up. This year none of these seniors had any running experience. I gave them a plan that would take them from walking a couple times each week to running a weekly distance just over the race distance. I also had a student running a marathon and I had him on approximately the same program. Another student was training for a Tough Mudder. His program included weights and upper body work for the obstacles.

Everyone was enthusiastic for a while. Things got sloppy pretty fast.

My Tough Mudder was using a different APP and did not check in with me again. Because of the nature of Tough Mudder (it’s possible to skip any and all obstacles and still “complete” the course) the distance is not enough to be a real challenge.

My marathon runner had his race canceled and, instead of coming to me, his “mentor,” he went to the head of senior projects and, somehow, convinced her to allow two half marathons to satisfy the requirement. In my opinion, unless he ran them both the same day, that is not the same.

I watched the others as their training diminished and they fell further and further behind. I offered to take them to run the course a couple weeks before the race, but not one took me up on it… or even responded.

Race day came and I was entered in the 50k on the same course. The guys took off with youthful enthusiasm and soon discovered the difficulties of running on trails, of running in the heat, of running 22 miles when you have only run a total of about 30 in preparing over 15 weeks. Two of them missed a turn because they didn’t see the sign and did some “bonus” miles.

The advantage of being 17/18 years old, is that you can go out and hike/jog/run all day and still get it done… even without proper training.

As a teacher/coach/mentor, there is little as frustrating as having those you are trying to teach dismiss your expertise and then watch them suffer the consequences of their poor planning.

Truth be told, I’ve been that kid. Sometimes, I’m still that kid. I’d like to help these students learn that lesson from my experience, but some lessons have to be learned the hard way. I may get discourages sometimes, but when I do I think about the other students who have worked hard, followed the training, and accomplished great things.

Last year a young man trained hard and completed a 50k for his project. He came in 2nd in his age group in 5:34. Not bad for a first ultra. He still runs and is currently serving our country in the Marines National Guard.

The year before, a young lady completed a half marathon. She was not in very good shape when she started and, even though she slacked on the training, it motivated her to keep conditioning and recently posted a very confident picture in a sun dress. The confidence she now has in herself, she told me, has a lot to do with running and getting in better shape.

The first year I mentored a young lady to run a marathon. She completed it in 6 hours and raised money for charity at the same time. Afterward, she told me that if she could do that, she could do anything. A few days later she ended an abusive relationship with an older boyfriend. Confidence earned through running and facing challenges.

So, I’ll keep doing this because I love the trails, I love the kids, and the ones that truly do great things because of what they learn from me far outweigh the ones that just go through the motions, if not in number, certainly in significance.

Test Race

While many of my friends were out suffering at Canyons 100k, I chose to suffer a little less and a little closer to home at Folsom Trail Race 50k.

Inside Trail always puts on a good race. Most of their events are in and around the Bay Area, but they venture inland for this one every year and I have run the 35k before. Aid stations are always well stocked and evenly spaced. The volunteers are terrific.This year I decided to step it up. I needed a 50k this month (and another next month) to prepare for my first 100k attempt in June. I also chose this race because I have been mentoring a group of seniors at Sheldon High School to run the 35k for their senior projects. You can read more on that here.

I have realized that the key for a slow runner, such as myself, winning an age group award is in finding a race with a small and specific subset of the age group… I still have not yet found that race. With only 8 in my AG and most of their Ultra Sign up rankings similar to mine, I started the day believing I may be able to earn a place by finishing in the middle of the pack.

Starting out, I was moving pretty easily. My pace was on target of what I had planned and I was only a little concerned that I had gone out too fast and would feel it later. I felt good though and just kept moving. My focus for this race was supposed to be consistency and cadence. At Brown’s Ravine I got through the aid station and started on the single track that borders the lake.

There is a little more climbing to the Planeta AS and, although my place had slowed a little, I was still in the range I had hoped to be. I know I’m going to slow down as the race continues, but I was hoping to conserve some strength and finish strong. From Planeta to NY Creek I found myself kicking a lot of rocks, twigs, roots, holes… I think I found all of them. At NY Creek I was still in the middle of my AG pack and feeling good. I had taken too long at the aid station, so I thanked the volunteers and said goodbye to two of my students that had arrived there about the same time. I took a left while they headed right.

I began feeling the wear and tear from here to Salmon Falls. I was slowing down more than I wanted to and beginning to question my running plan for the upcoming months. There are some climbs that are not too incredibly intense, but at this point in the race, they were taking a toll and I was feeling it. I was running low on calories and approaching bonk status, but I knew I could make it to Salmon Falls and the turn-around point. I spent way too much time there filling up on food and mixing some Hammer Recoverite in one of my Orange Mud bottles for the trip back. The temperature was starting to rise and I needed to get moving.

The course, on paper, was a slight increase in elevation on the way out, making it a slight decline on the way back. If there had been 20′ of snow, it could easily have been my father’s route to school that I heard about growing up. You know, 20 miles, uphill both ways.

The back of my AG pack had caught me and I moved past them at aid stations while they caught me on the uphills. I changed my goal from “age group podium” to “finish upright” and ran with them for several miles. My focus switched to my form so I would, hopefully, stop kicking rocks. At NY Creek I was 20 minutes ahead of cutoff. At Planeta I was 20 minutes ahead of cutoff. At Brown’s I was 20 minutes ahead of cutoff. Running with my new AG friends had stopped the bleeding. I was no longer falling further behind. Nor was I gaining any. The last 3 miles were a gut check and I pushed through. Coming across the levee I remembered what my 12-year-old daughter had said; “Daddy, you have to go faster at the end of the race.” I pushed as hard as I could just to maintain, but it felt like an all out sprint for that mile. I finished 20 minutes ahead of cutoff. Another DFL!

Truth be told, I am done with running… except that I have another 50k in two weeks and my first 100k in 5 weeks. If this race was a test, I give myself a D. I didn’t quit. I beat the cutoff. I didn’t plan my nutrition very well, but the hydration was fine. My push at the end, with my daughter in my head as motivation, moved me from a D- to a D. It reminded me to not take any distance or course for granted and to better plan out my nutrition and pace… and to stick to the plan. I still have a long way to go in 5 weeks to get ready for a 100k. I am so in awe of my friends running Canyons 100k. Congratulations to all those toed the line, who finished, and, especially, earned their WSER qualifier. You all inspire and motivate me. I guess I’ll keep running for a while.

Shelby

Let me tell you about Shelby.

Shelby came to join our family in July and left us too soon.

Last July our 12 year old daughter convinced us that she needed her own dog. We went to the shelter shortly after July 4th, kowing that many dogs get lost and scared by the fireworks. After touring the shelter, Gabriela fell in love with a little female German Shephard mix. The feeling was immediately mutual. I tried to not let Gabriela get her hopes up because the dog was not yet available and we hoped the owner was looking for her and she would find her family.

We came back to visit and check on her. Gabriela had already named her, so we were hoping she was still there. When she saw Gabriela the tail started going and she started jumping on the gate and barking. She was so excited to see her. I didn’t understand the connection, but I knew I had to do whatever I could to get this dog for my daughter. It was not going to be clear shot, however.

On our third visit (the day Shelby was to be available) she was not there. Checking at the adoption desk, we were told that she had been sent to UC Davis to be spayed. She should be back in two days. We arrived before the shelter opened and waited. We rushed in and found her still not there. It seems that UC Davis has a commune of dogs they keep for blood donations and other such purposes. Apparently someone at UC Davis had decided they wanted our Shelby and they have the ability to jump the line and avoid the adoption process by selecting a dog for the commune and keeping her there for a year. After the year, the dog is then available for adoption by someone working at UC Davis. I filed a complaint with the head of the shelter and, it seems, I was not the only one.

A couple of days later my friend, Joel, who volunteers at the shelter, called me and told me that my dog was back at the shelter. I hightailed it over to the shelter and arrived third in line before they opened. Joel let me in to visit with her and Sean held our place in line. I met Shelby up close and personal and fell in love with her as well. As it turned out, the person two behind me was also there for Shelby. She had called UC Davis and filed her own complaint. It also turned out that she had not been spayed, so we had to wait two more days to bring her home.

Once home, and after a short adjustment, Shelby fit right in. She and Stout and, especially Sasha, became the closest of friends. They became partners in crime and destroyed their share of furniture, dug up the garden, and tore holes in the fence to play with the neighbors’ puppy. She loved to lay with Sasha and look out the window or play a three-way tug with Sasha and Stout. Mostly, she loved to run. Put the harness on her and attach her to the waist leash and she pulled like a sled dog. She hated when we took one of the other dogs and, once, escaped to chase after Alessandra and Sasha when they went for a run. She tried to catch up to them but didn’t know which way they had gone. She loved everyone and instantly became everyone’s favorite. Start to pet her and she would not let you stop. Unless Gabriela called her. She never left any doubt as to whose dog she was. She and Gabriela had an intimate connection and Shelby would be at Gabriela’s side if it was at all possible. Bedtime was always welcomed and she would run to Gabriela’s room and sleep with her, cuddled together, every night.

Spring break was a busy week with a lot of projects to do. Gabriela was applying her organizational sills to my garage while I was working in the yard. When Alessandra came out to check on me, all three dogs ran out the door and into the garage. Stout came back to me and I thought the other two had gone in with Gabriela. No one knew for 10 minutes that Shelby and Sasha had run straight past Gabriela to go for a run. When Gabriela came and asked me where they were we knew they had too much of a head start to go after them on foot. We grabbed the keys and only got to the end of the street when we saw Sasha coming back towards us. We got her into the truck and continued around the corner. Stopping at the light and hoping to see her running towards home, we waited for a couple of minutes. We made a left turn and headed in the direction we last took her running, but I flipped a U-turn and headed back. Less than two minutes after we had been at the same intersection, we were back there, but this time Gabriela said: “is that her?”

Shelby lay in the intersection and I parked the truck. Telling Gabriela to stay in the truck with Sasha, I went out to check on her, knowing what I would find, but not prepared. Shelby saw me coming towards her and tried to get up, but couldn’t move. She pawed my direction, helpless to do anything but look at me and wish I could take away her hurt. I said “Oh Shelby, you crazy stupid dog” and picked up her broken body in my arms. I could smell the blood and hear her gurgling attempts at her last breaths. She was still looking at me with what seemed like sorrow for running off and hope that I could somehow make it better. I could not. I had failed in my duty to take care of her and now I had to face my heartbroken daughter.

“Will she be OK daddy?” She was now out of the truck and opened the back for me.

“No, sweetie, I don’t think she will make it.” I placed her in the truck and petted her and kissed her. Gabriela did the same. She would say later that she didn’t get to say goodbye, but she did. We took Sasha home and told Alessandra what had happened. We went to the emergency vet, but Shelby was gone before we started the drive.

Truth be told, this has been devastating for me. Some of you may think I am taking the loss of a dog too hard. Our dogs are family to us. The last few days have been filled with sorrow, with trying to comfort Gabriela and trying to deal with the unexpected loss of my own. I went for a long run and had tears streaming down my face for most of the time. I broke down and sobbed on Friday evening. I watched my other dogs (especially Sasha) deal with the loss of their friend in their own way. The first two days they were visibly sad. If you’ve ever seen a sad dog, you know what I mean. The third day they changed and started being more affectionate towards us. Dogs have a unique ability to sense what their pack needs and provide it. I know the pain of this sudden loss and the guilt of my failure to protect will not last forever, but it’s not going away anytime soon either.

Shelby, we love you.

ar50…. not

Starting my 3rd AR50 mile race, knowing I had not trained enough and that, specifically, my miles are significantly under what I should have run to this point in preparation for a 50-mile race. Last year I was in the middle of a long break and had dropped to the 25-mile distance and then did not start that, but this year I have been building up and decided to toe the line anyway. Recently I completed Fourmidable 50k (albeit after the cutoff) and sweeping half of Ruck-a-Chucky and my endurance is feeling good. My calf and plantar fascia is another story.

A week before the race I did a lake loop without any problem. This is a big deal because the pavement n the bike trail is what bothers my calf/foot the most. Although I had some discomfort, I am confident I can run 50 miles and, maybe, in about 12:30, which would be a 30 minute PR from my last finish of this race. I am carb-loaded, tapered, and ready to go.

The plan is to run with my buddy, Dave. We have run together off and on since he got me into this crazy sport and we plan on running the whole 50 miles together and chose not to have pacers. I pick Dave up at his place at 3 am and make the drive to the finish in Auburn (all trails lead to Auburn) and catch the bus back to the start. We are lucky enough to meet up with some other friends (some volunteering and some running) at the start and find a car to sit in to keep warm until race time.

We don’t have long to race time and, although it seems cold, it’s not bad for 6 am and I decide to run in shorts, short sleeves with arm warmers and a throwaway jacket, had and Hoo-Rag. Right before the start Dave and I get separated and I’m thinking that the whole “run it all together” plan is probably a bust.

We run, en masse, up the Brown’s Ravine road in the dark until we turn onto the dirt trail that takes us around the lake. The poison oak is abundant this year and my main focus at this time is the ladies in front of me that, clearly, don’t have a clue about it. I’m pretty sure they hit every poison oak vine that was growing into the trail. I kind of wonder how they are fairing now.

By the time the sun comes up I am already warm enough to lose the jacket. Right before the first aid station, I make a pitstop at the smelly potty at Folsom Point. Dave and I reconnect here and drop our jackets at the aid station. I could put my headlamp in the box and pick it up at the finish, but I opt to leave it hanging from my spibelt. It’s a little annoying to have bouncing from my waist, but I figure I can deal with it until I get to Beals, where I will see my wife.

We come out of Folsom Point onto the road and my pace is right where I want/hope/plan to be. I am trying to push the pace a little to build some time in the bank for the tough terrain later. This is a fast part of the course as it is on road and mostly downhill to the bike path.

Heading onto the Bike Trail and then across the footbridge to the south side of Lake Natomas, we are making pretty good time to the Willow Creek Aid Station. 

My calf starting tightening up and I start thinking about my lack of preparation and other mistakes.My pace is slowing a little, but I am still in range of my goal pace and on track to get to Beals within a few minutes either side of 11:30. My compression socks keep sliding down and are not offering the compression I need on my upper calf. I later discover that I had grabbed my wife’s socks by mistake and they don’t fit. I’m feeling a little warm now and I removed my Hoo-Rag and slide my sleeves down to my wrists. I keep in my headphones, but, since I am running with Dave, I don’t play music. I just use them to keep the wind out of my ears and avoid the nagging earache that is brought on by that. The pavement is beginning to wear on my legs and I am looking forward to the trails on the other side of the lake.

We somehow missed the fact that the aid station at Main Ave. is no longer there and our plan to use a single handheld water bottle for the first half of the race begins to look like a poor choice. Somehow we stagger into Negro Bar aid station, both out of water, but I am feeling pretty good and gaining some confidence back.

The last 3 miles have been slow, however, and we will need to pick it back up to make Beals on our scheduled pace.

Dave is feeling some spasms in his lower back and my calf is pulling enough that my PF is making itself know. We have 4 more miles of uphill pavement and about 40 minutes to get there.

I have my share of DNFs. None of them are fun. All of them are frustrating. This one feels different. Worse!

My first DNF was my first ultra attempt. Way Too Cool. I had an injured knee and made it 21 miles before taking a ride back to the start. Euchre Bar Massacre is a Barkley style event in which I got lost and completes 32 miles of a 25-mile course and added an extra 10,000 feet of vert. I missed a book. Similarly, MeOw marathons is another Barkley modeled non-course during which I missed a turn and wondered into a checkpoint from the wrong direction and began to develop my reputation for bonus miles and alternate courses. My first attempt at Folsom Lake Ultra Trail I missed a cutoff and had to drop at the halfway point. My first attempt at Fourmidable, I dropped because I had a date with my wife that night and I needed to get home. It wasn’t my A-race, so I cut it short.

The big difference today is that I know I can finish this race, maybe even meet my target time, but I’m not going to.

In the 24 hours that follow, I go through a gambit of emotions that closely resemble the stages of grief. First, I try convincing myself that I would have been missing cutoffs and not finish anyway. Then, as I see results posted and people who finished that I am able to keep up with, I get angry with myself for quitting. I go from giving up on running altogether, to lowering my expectations, and, finally, to determination.

I dust off a training plan prepared for me by my friend Sean Ranney. This is him at this year’s Barkley (yellow shirt). He is everything I want to be as a runner and he offered to create a plan for me a couple years ago. I did a lousy job following it and still cut 30 minutes off my 50-mile time. It’s been in the back of my mind since then to see what I could do if I actually followed the plan he spent so much time creating for me. The only way I can truly show my gratitude is to utilize it and give it my best shot.

Truth be told, every DNF has lessons in it. The lesson of knowing that you didn’t give it your best is a hard one to learn. I could have finished, but I didn’t. I could have trained better, but I didn’t. I have a lot of miles left in me. The challenge is to take those lessons, recover mentally and physically, and tackle the next challenge.

Don’t Fear The Sweeper

I don’t usually write “race reports” for races I volunteer at. It occurred to me that I am usually back near the sweepers anyway, so a race report for this race is not that different from a race in which I was entered – except that I only ran half of it, but that was my assignment.

Ruck A Chuck is a tribute race to the old Rucky Chucky that was run on the same part of the course. The entire race is run on a portion of the Western States trail and it is a part I had not been on before. When my friend Paulo posted that he needed sweepers for the race, I jumped at it. Helen put together the volunteers and made sure that every section of the course was covered with sweepers, safety patrol, and aid station volunteers. Having run a few ultras in the last 5 years, I have come to greatly appreciate the volunteers that make everything work. I try to volunteer regularly to provide for others what so many have provided for me.

fire damage from last may

For those that don’t know, aid stations are placed intermittently along the trail to provide hydration, food, and encouragement to the runners as they go through. Aid stations are generally every 2 – 10 miles, depending on terrain, heat, and access. Ultra runners make the best aid station volunteers because they speak the language of runners; they know what runners need and want, and how to encourage them on their way. An out and back course like this one provides the advantage of seeing each aid station twice. Volunteers say things like “see you on your way back,” and ” you’ll be back here in a couple hours.”

Safety patrol run with the runners, somewhere in the middle of the pack. They try to prevent the bonus miles created by wrong turns, provide encouragement to runners, and are there in case someone gets injured or sick.

Sweepers follow behind the last runner. They make sure all the runners stay ahead of the cutoff time, let the aid stations know when the last runner has gone through, and pick up the flags and ribbons that mark the course. I’m usually back there anyway, so sweeping is a prefect responsibility for me.

Single Track Running has become my favorite race company. Paulo and his crew are ultra runners and they know what runners need during a race and when. Paulo is a race director who thinks like a runner, because he is one. Everyone on his team understands ultra running, from the elites to, well, me. Every event is well planned, challenging, and fun. Ruck A Chuck is no exception.

The race starts at the Ruck a Chucky trail head and heads down into the canyon on fire road. The first 3 miles go by pretty fast, since it is all downhill. I remember thinking that I didn’t envy the runners who would be running back up this hill to the finish of their 31 mile race. I was moving easily at about 12 minute mile pace (mile 1 in 9 minutes – downhill) with the last couple of runners. One of those was Eileen Sanchez (married to my friend Ray Sanchez of Badwater and other 135 mile races fame). We hadn’t seen each other for a while and stuck together until the first aid station, talking about running, racing, and how slow we are. Right about here my Orange Mud Dual Quiver Vest snapped a strap and needed emergency repairs. Unfortunately, the repairs didn’t hold and I ran the next 7 miles holding it with my left hand. There Mike helped me put it together. – Follow up: I shipped my vest to Orange Mud and they are stitching it up and reinforcing all the seems and sending it back – hopefully before my next race.

After the gate, the trail switches to single track, heading east along the side of the South Fork of the American River. It is some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere and I almost forgot that I was in a race. The trail is mostly up hill, but has plenty of ups and downs, so I could alternate with thoughts of “I wish I was running this the other direction” and “I’m glad I don’t have to run back up this.” There are plenty of shallow water crossings and areas where the recent flooding has washed away parts of the trail.

 

 

 

 

 

After the long climb to the second aid station, runners and sweepers alike enjoy some nutrition, topping off the water bottles. I hung out a little long with Mike and Chris at the aid station, but was still ahead of cutoff and behind the last runner. Leaving Cal 2 for the first time there is a gradual rolling downhill before a quick drop to the Cal 1 aid station. I saw one injured runner walking back up to drop. I checked on him and he was OK, but decided it was better to stop before his injury became worse. Shortly after that, I saw the first place male coming up the hill at about a 9min/mile pace. From there I turned into a cheer leader as I cheered on all the runners I saw coming back and gave them the trail. I was careful to avoid poison oak (there is plenty out there, but I seemed to miss it all). I saw more and more runners coming back, indicating that I was nearing the turn around point.

There’s a slight climb from the Cal 1 aid station to the turn-around and a quick mile back to Cal 1 where I hitched a ride out with CJ. I saw the sweepers running the back half and the last two runners. No one got pulled today.

Truth be told, I think I might run this one next year, but I’ll be back one way or another, as a sweeper or a registrant.

Fourmidable, during which I verify the inequality…

It’s been some time since I published anything like a race report, but then, it’s been some time since I’ve run anything like a race. Not that what I do could ever be confused with racing, but I do register and toe the line at occasional supported events and do my best to complete them in a reasonable amount of time. My last ultra was Way Too Cool 2016. I did not write a race report for that one. Although I was very proud of my student who I had mentored for that to run his first ultra, I had struggled to finish and came in through the rain and mud to finish to my family and my student waiting for me. Then began the reset.

I was fairly certain I would never run another ultra, which was huge departure from my then recent goal of running an ultra every month for a year. Things change.

It only took a few weeks for my “no running” to turn into light running for short distances, this time with a new runnning partner; my wife. I had severely undertrained for WTC and I truly was starting over with a serious deficit of conditioning and a surplus of weight. If you have read some of my earlier posts, you may know that I had lost 30 pounds in preparing for my first marathon. About 20 of that was back and it greatly slowed me down. The focus of my running now was spending time with my wife and investing in a relationship that had been horribly neglected for several years. We ran the Dirty Secret 5 mile together and then Blood Sweat and Beers (she swears she doesn’t want to do that one again). We have volunteered together for some aid stations. We have included some mountain biking and a lot of runs in the neighborhood. We completed the Dam Run 10k and the Turkey’s Revenge 10k (with the kids). Our weekends have been filled with trail runs and rides and our evenings often include runs in the neighborhood, when soccer practice doesn’t interfere. 

New goals – My wife started encouraging me to start long runs again. I agreed if she would be involved with crewing and supporting me. I talked it over with Dave, who had trained with me for my first marathon and my first ultra. We decided we would train and run AR 50 together this year. I signed up for Fourmidable and to volunteer for Way Too Cool and Ruck a Chuck 50ks, and for AR50.

As the start for Fourmidable loomed closer, I was acutely aware that I was not prepared for the very tough 50k course. Less than a week before the event I had decided to drop it. Two days before I decide I would start and see how far I could get.

So, here I am.

 The Ultra National Championships. Toeing the line with some of the greatest ultra runners in the country and some of my running friends, whom I haven’t seen for a while, but I have truly missed hanging out with.

You can always count on Paulo and Single Track Running to make a challenging course and to run a great race. Fourmidable is no exception. It is additionally challenging due to the recent rains. We start at the Auburn Overlook, onto the road and traverse down to the base of Cardiac Hill. As we turn up Cardiac for the first of the four climbs, I am feeling good and moving faster than I had anticipated. Topping Cardiac, crossing the aqueduct, and heading to the slight downhill toward ADO, I take a second to catch my breath from the climb and pick up the pace a little. I coast in to the aid station and check my pace; still well ahead of my anticipated pace, I am starting think I might finish this thing.

I keep moving, knowing that I will slow down later and I can’t afford to chew up time at aid stations. I have my dual quiver Orange Mud with one bottle filled with water and the other filled with Recoverite. I fill up the water and grab a cookie and move through. The run from ADO to No Hands Bridge is mostly down with a couple of short climbs. The trail has been wet thus far, but heading down to the road along the river the trail is interrupted by a mud bog that is virtually impassable. There is a runner stuck up to his knee, searching desperately fot his shoe that is somewhere beneath the surface. The trail is completely destroyed and the area to either side has been trampled by runners trying to navigate the carnage. The best choice seems to be to use the fallen trees and trampled brush to stay on top of the mud.it’s slow going, but I am back on the road towards No Hands and I make the aid station well ahead of cutoff.

I top off my water and grab a peanut butter sandwich and head up K2. This is the second major climb and, I think, the most daunting.

The climb takes a lot out of me and I can feel my pace slipping away. I finally reach the top and head toward Aid Station for the first time. I am now about 30 seconds past cutoff and I fill up both bottles and head back out to the bottom of the Dam Hill. What goes down must go back up, so I head up the switchbacks that is climb #3. Although my pace has dropped dramatically and, honestly, I’m feeling done, I somehow get back to the Knickerbocker AS 10 minutes ahead of cutoff. My friend, Joel, tells me that I should be able to make up time in the next few miles and I eagerly head down to Knickerbocker crossing. 

Judy, someone who I greatly admire, has caught up with me and I am happy to share the trail with her the rest of the way. Knickerbocker is high and fast and cold, but we get across and continue on towards the firehouse in Cool. The trail has been pulverized by so many ahead of us and the going is difficult. We slip and slide and try to keep our shoes on our feet as they stick in the mud. The slow going eats away at the time we were hoping to gain and what is supposed to be a fast part of the course is extra slow. Judy is 75 years old and running her 76th (and last) ultra. She is determined to finish and she adds to my desire to finish as well. At the Cool firehouse aid station we learn that we are just past cutoff and we have 50 minutes to go 3.5 miles to the hard cutoff at No Hands. This is a downhill section and, usually, pretty fast, but, again, the mud and water have turned the single track trails into muddy streams. We are beyond caring about getting wet and just hoping to make the cutoff at No Hands. With only on the trail and one on the clack, we press on to the last aid station. 

3:50! Cutoff is 3:40. It may not seem like much, but the last 4 miles has two climbs (one is the last of THE 4) and the mud bog people got stuck in on the way out. We are officially out of the race. It crosses my mind to just stay there and help my friends pack up the aid station and hitch a ride back. But that’s not what I choose.

When I left the house this morning my wife told me she was proud of me. I couldn’t go home without finishing this course and accomplishing what I set out to do. Otherwise, I couldn’t feel like I had earned her admiration. 

I am planning on running AR50 in April and my first 100k in June. I need to know where I am and how much work I need to do to reach my goals. 

Judy is determined to complete her last ultra, even if it’s after cutoff. I can’t let her run the last 4 miles alone. It’s starting to cool off and the clouds are coming in as fast as the sun is going down. We better get moving. The last 4 miles were more walking and slower running. The race was officially over and the last climb loomed ahead. The ADO climb is particularly brutal after running 30.5 miles, but that’s where the finish line is. 

Those last 4 miles (and some of the 8 prior to that) I had the pleasure and honor of talking to Judy and listening to her stories about running, about her life, about her husband and the life they had together. Although I did not get a medal, nor a finishers jacket, the prize I earned by spending those hours on the trail with such a kind and generous runner was worth way more.

Truth be told, I have spent much of my alone time in this race asking God how I could possibly honor Him with my running when I am so bad at it. The answer came to me clearly. Whatever you do, do it with honor and integrity. Care for those around you and leave them knowing that they are loved. I hope I will do an increasingly better job of this, and I hope I can inspire others to do the same.

Oh! The “inequality” in case you were wondering….

DFL>DNF>DNS

I’m glad I got up and ran today. I’m glad I finished. Even if it was dead last and unofficial.