I AM Steve Avilla! (and How I PR’d Without Getting Faster)

stevebibIt was an honor to be one of many running for my good friend Steve Avilla at this year’s Way Too Cool. I had many opportunities to talk to runners along the way who were also wearing his bib, but did not know him. I would ask how they knew Steve and they would respond that they didn’t, but they were happy to join in supporting him and his family/ I would tell them that I knew him and that I had often run with him and take the moment to tell them what a great guy he was. I love the way the trail running community supports one another, encourages each other, and comes together for and with each other.



Way Too Cool is a combination of many of my favorite trails and a race I look forward to every year for 3 years now. I DNF’d my first year and finished last year (my second 50K distance) and, although I have struggled with injury and training schedules for the past year, I set my sights on a PR.

For a back-of-the-packer, like me, and being in my 50’s now, PR’s are getting harder to come by and injuries take longer to heal. I am hoping to keep up with Steve’s actual bib, which is running relay style to complete the race he loved. That would mean a PR by over an hour and, although I doubt my ability to do that, the math seems to work out and I can see that it might be possible.

I have a plan: My good friend and running mentor (I have a lot of runners I look up to and consider mentors), Sean Ranney, offered to help me prepare for this race (and AR50, coming up) and I was happy to accept. I have a plan, but that doesn’t mean I follow it very well. Still, having a plan helps me in several ways. Even though I am not following the plan very well, I am aware of where I am. I know what I am lacking and my workouts have more purpose than they would otherwise. I include some tempo runs, some intervals, and some specific hill work. I am well short of my great plan that my coach gave me, but I am still far ahead of where I would be without a plan.

Pre-race nutrition: I try to eat healthy(ish) most of the time anyway, but I have been focusing on less sugar and less fat, unless I crave it. I find that most of my cravings come from my body actually needing something. It’s not that way for everyone, nor for me all the time, but once I learned to pay attention to my body, I find I can tell the difference between a nutrition need and a waste of calories. I usually do the traditional carb-load thing the night before the race, but this time I hit the carbs all week. I try to get more sleep and make sure I am at the race earlier than usual.

Turn pace-breakers into pace-makers:

1) Run more, walk less. Seems obvious, but in an ultra, you walk. I try to do it less. Even a slow shuffle maintains better momentum than a walk.

2) Walk strong. Like I said, I’m going to walk some. I avoid putting my hands on my hips. I swing my arms almost as if I am running, but always in an exaggerated fashion.

3) Run up. Short inclines I run up… faster. I can increase my pace for a few steps. The top of longer hills that I walk, I run the last few steps. This gives me momentum as I crest the hill and leads me into the flat or down.

4) Glide down. I let gravity do the work. I run as fast as I can down hill without breaking form. This carries me into the flats and I maintain a faster pace for longer.

5) Don’t stop! This is the biggest one for me. I walk through aid stations. I keep moving when I am tired. Nothing kills a pace like not moving.

My strategywith the frog for the race is to keep moving. Starting with friends and trying to maintain an even pace (not too fast, not too slow) for the 8 mile Olmstead Loop, I’m feeling really good. I know I’m going to need my traditional porta-potty stop at some point and I’m hoping to make it 8 miles (I didn’t, but trees are as good as porta-potties if you come prepared). This is something that always kills my pace, so I try to be ahead of pace a little.

This is my favorite trail and I am looking secrettrailforward to crossing Knickerbocker and the Secret Trail. Many faster runners refer to this as the “conga line” because of the single track so early in the race that gets pretty crowded. This year, I find myself in the line running a pace just slightly faster than I am comfortable, but not out of reach. This pushes me to hold my pace better and I get back to the firehouse averaging under 11 minutes per mile.

A cute kid helping at the aid station hands me a Gu and I take it, along with some electrolytes, salt, and some coke. I fill up my water and move through. I do not stop for more than a minute at any aid stations (they are aid stations, not rest AmCanyon creekstops) and this probably makes the biggest difference in my finish time. At the next aid station, I catch my friends with Steve’s bib and run with them for a while. I hope to carry the bib for a few miles.

I always seem to make one big mistake and here it is: the second fruit flavored Gu. They always make me sick, but the one the kid gave me seemed OK and so I took a second one. Within a mile I was sick! I was hoping to throw up and get it out of my system, but it kept passing and then reoccurring for the next several miles. alt trailWhen I stagger into the Alt aid station I go back to real food (peanut butter sandwich, fruit, potatoes) and immediately start to feel better. I am now considerably behind my friends, and my planned pace, from being sick on a relatively easy part of the coarse. On to Goat Hill.


My time has greatly suffered from being sick, but I am feeling better now and determined to get back on pace. I climb Goat Hill and find the day has gotten much hotter out in the sun. I refuel (soup and fruit, no GU) and fill up my water and head out. Doing the math in my head, I realize that I cannot catch my friends. I am not going to get the time I am hoping for, but I might still be able to beat last years’ time. Keep moving!

Coming down from Goat Hill and to the last aid,canyon trees I am wondering if I can make last years time or not. It’s beginning to seem unlikely. There is a 1.5 mile climb that seems steeper now that I have run 28 miles. Cresting it, I am catching a few of the runners that passed me while I was feeling sick and I check my watch when I reach the last half mile sign. I am next to another runner now and I might, typically, just run it in with her, but I see that I am close to my time from last yearmust do and really want to beat that. So, I apologize and tell her that I’m really close to a PR and push hard the last half mile. I come in about 1:30 faster than last year. I was hoping to take an hour off of my time, but I’ll take a minute.

Truth be told, I really just wanted to give Steve my best race and I did that.

Steve eagleWTCfinish

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