Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Thursday, July 7, 2011
My first Western States in 2009 really shook me up. It made me question my ability at the 100 mile distance and even my relationship with ultra-running in general. I’m not going to take anything for granted, but 2011 Western States was an amazing journey and has slayed just about all of those past demons. However this race didn’t feel like some sort of “triumph over adversity” but was more an expression of my enjoyment of running. My best races always are rooted in joy, and this was probably one of my best.
Western States is a big deal in the ultra-running community and of the utmost importance among my training partners. Because of my adventures in 2009, this race had even more significance to me. However, I was strangely calm in the days leading up to the “big dance”.
We arrived in Squaw on Thursday before race day and caught up with a few friends before heading over to the Montrail dinner. Friday was an easy three-mile run with friends, crews and pacers and at the medical check after, I weighed in at 136.6 pounds—about average for the past few months. Dave Mackey, volunteering at the check in, measured my heart rate at 48 beats per minute. He informed me this was the low for the day—another indicator of my strangely calm pre-race demeanor. My goals going into the race were: · Finish on the track in Auburn and not the hospital · Arrive in Forest Hill in good shape and finish in under 24 hours · Hold 2nd place in the Montrail Ultra-cup · Enjoy the experience and run my own race
Except for the Montrail cup, these were fairly low key and mundane goals. I didn’t care—2009 really, really, really sucked and I was not going to let that happen again. I was genuinely looking forward to an awesome day on the trails and not much more. At 5:00 am on Saturday, June 25, we were off! I used a mix of fast hiking and mostly slow running to climb the Escarpment. Every now and then I glanced up the hill to see the race developing. Folks were grouped tightly and proceeded at a surprisingly reasonable pace for the start of a 100-mile race. Maybe this wouldn’t be the hammer fest it was in 2009.
At the Escarpment I topped off my bottle, and grabbed two PB&J quarters. Shortly after the PB&J I worked my way through a Cliff bar. The next aid station was approximately 12 miles away and the snow conditions were proving to be a real test of my foot work—technical running is always more taxing than I realize. Visions of gentle plunging, stepping and sliding down the far side were not to be. Skinned knees, bruised hands, lost water bottles, and dropped GU’s were all a testament to the difficulty of the icy terrain which included large tree wells, subsurface rivers, and hidden logs.
The Talbot Aid Station was a welcome sight after our cross-country trek. I topped off my bottles, grabbed some Coke, helped myself to a hot ham and cheese sandwich and headed out. The snow tapered off and soon we were running on gravel roads. I had promised myself I wouldn’t run too fast to make up time, but I felt strong and comfortable and in elite company, running with Glen Redpath (M7, 2010). I just hoped we weren’t overdoing it.
The next aid station was Poppy, mile 20.0 at French Meadows Reservoir. Another sandwich, more Coke and a banana chunk—the food theme for the day. From Poppy to the next aid station at Duncan Canyon, mile 23.5, we were at last on a single track, weaving in and out along the reservoir. I lost a little momentum in this area. At first I slowed just enough to get the sandwich down, but the easier pace persisted for awhile— I was still concerned I’d hit the roads too hard earlier and several runners passed me. As the trail pulled away from the reservoir and we started climbing up to Duncan Canyon, the sun shone down in earnest and I donned my sunglasses.
At Duncan Canyon, mile 23.5, it was exciting to know we were, at least momentarily, on the traditional route. Normally we would have headed north out to Robinson Flat, but due to snow we proceeded down into canyon and then climbed back up to the Mosquito Ridge aid station. At the aid station it was more Coke and another PB&J. I lost AJW and Glen on the descent, but caught them on the climb to Mosquito Ridge, despite fighting some cramping. Mosquito Ridge, at mile 31, was the first weigh-in; I was down 4 pounds from the start. Seeing this, plus feeling the cramps, confirmed I needed to increase my sodium intake. I grabbed more Coke, and… more ham and cheese this time in a wrap! Miller’s Defeat was the next stop and we would be back on the original course. Heading out onto the normal course was incredibly comforting: I knew what to expect and how to run the rest of the race.
Intermittent snow peppered our route to Miller’s Defeat. Pucker Point Trail led us to Dusty Corners at mile 38 with some beautiful views of the forks of the American River. More dirt roads found us at mile 43 and the Last Chance aid station. At this point, the front group was fairly spread out and this was really the start of running alone for the next 50+ miles. I needed to forget about the race, find my groove, and prepare for the canyons.
From Last Chance, we began the first major descent to the swinging bridge. I repeated a mantra Craig had given me at camp: “Preserve the vessel!” The descent went well and my quads felt strong. I was greeted at the bridge—also the start of the Devils Thumb climb—by Scott Dunlap in a devil costume. I gave him a hearty “Arrgh!” I suppose that’s really more of a pirate yell, but I’m not sure what a devil sounds like. I speed hiked almost the entire Devil’s Thumb climb. Near the top, Graham Cooper and another international runner passed me.
At the Devils Thumb aid station I weighed in at 140 pounds. Cramping was no longer a problem and since my weight was up, I decided to back off of the sodium. I had another good “preserving the vessel” descent into the El Dorado canyon and a solid climb back up to Michigan Bluff. This time I did quite a bit more running as the climb up to Michigan Buff is longer but much less steep than the Devil’s Thumb climb. By this time the day had warmed up and while it wasn’t super-hot, I was taking care to douse myself at the creek crossings.
I arrived in Michigan Bluff around 2:00 pm, which was about an hour faster than 2009, and much faster than I expected to arrive this year. More importantly, I was feeling good. Courtney greeted me and after the weigh-in—136 pounds and back on track—guided me over to where the Sunsweet folks were camped out. I picked up new bottles, an ice-filled handkerchief, and a turkey-avocado sandwich. John Ticer walked out with me while I finished my sandwich. The Volcano canyon section went well and I ran up nearly all of Bath Road.I arrived into Forest Hill at mile 62 in 13th place. I felt great, my weight was good, and I was looking forward to some solid running along the 18-mile Cal Street section, unlike in 2009 when I dreaded the downhill at this point. I was also an hour ahead of what I thought was possible. In all, I was still enjoying the whole experience and was actually glad it wasn’t going to end too soon.
The station passed in a blur—my parents were present volunteering, I met my pacer John Coulliard, and we ran along, buoyed by the energy of friends, spectators and volunteers. I felt very comfortable at a quick pace, soon caught two other runners, and then passed Hal sitting on the elevator shaft with blown-out quads. This put me into 10th place. I lost a little momentum at the river bottom but I arrived at the boat crossing at mile 78 still feeling good. At the crossing, I picked up Joe Palubeski who would pace me into the finish. I ate some fruit, but I was mostly done with solid foods, grateful for a small bottle of chocolate milk Courtney offered. She informed me AJW was not far ahead and that I was reeling in some of the other front runners.
Joe and I had a good hike and run up to Green Gate, mile 80, and I was once again eager to roll the flat trails through ALT to Brown’s Bar at mile 90. My pace on these flat sections was really good and felt comfortable, but it was taking less and less of a hill to give me an excuse to walk. I was ready to be done. At about 15 miles to go I really started my count down. I arrived at Highway 49, mile 93.5, still in 10th place with daylight to spare. Highway 49 had special significance—it’s where I dropped in 2009 and took an ambulance ride to the Auburn hospital. I was pretty tired, but I was running an amazing time and would definitely be finishing the race. I was so happy with how the race had gone I found it really hard to push through the fatigue and stay competitive.
On the decent down to No-Hands Bridge, I slowed to put on my head lamp. As I fumbled with the straps, Ian Sharman and his pacer flew past me. I knew part of that was for show—that’s how you pass people late in a race—but I knew there was no way I was going to stay with him. I was out of the top ten, but considering how well the day had gone, I found it difficult to stay disappointed. I had a fairly slow section from Highway 49 to the track, but I got it done and had a nice kick into the finish.
During my training runs, I often thought about the last mile from Robie Point to the finish, expecting the final minutes of the race to be overwhelming, emotional, joyful and bittersweet. I pictured hugs and tears and perhaps even an elated collapse. But, at that point, every part of my race came together—hydration, nutrition, pacing—and I found myself focused on just getting the job done, pushing myself to the final steps on the track. Western States was not some obstacle to triumph over, but an amazing day of running that I had experienced to the fullest.
In the end, I met all my goals and exceeded even my best expectations. I really couldn’t be any happier and I would probably count Western States 2011 as one of the best races of my life. Thank you to all my friends and family for your support and confidence. Most of all, thank you to my training partners who make this sport so much fun.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
The Miwok 100K was a great time all around. I traveled down with Sunsweet teammate and friend Meghan Arbogast, We stayed with Rob Cain in Ashland, and Tim and Diana Fitzpatric in California. I have heard so many great things about Miwok over the years and I have always wanted to be a part of it. I really lucked out getting into the race given how popular it is.
The race was everything I had pictured, views of the golden gate and city, open meadows plunging down to the ocean, redwood forests, a well-marked course with great volunteers. Miwok still has the feel of well used local ultra, but has attracted some of the best talent in the nation.
My race shaped up well in the end. I stayed with the lead pack up to the 33 mile turn around. I was feeling within my comfort zone and a little surprised to be with such talented runners so far into the race. Things changed quickly at the turnaround however. I was probably working harder than I realized. I had been taking gel about every 20 min. and a total of maybe 6-7 S! Caps. At the Randall Trail aid station I grabbed a bit of banana, potatoes & salt. I thought I was doing a good job of taking care of myself but soon I was feeling dizzy and lagging behind the pack. I didn’t want to mess around with trying to push through the dizziness so shut down the race for a while. I decided to stop with the gel because it didn’t sound good any longer and for some reason it became my prime suspect. Other than some coke at Bolinas ridge (mile 41.1) I didn’t take any calories in for about 2 hours. I did a fair amount of walking needless to say. When I got into Pan Toll (mile 47.8) I decided I was going to just sit down and get myself straight before continuing on. After a nice picnic with one of the aid station volunteers, 6 cups of coke, a whole PB&J, two granola bars, and two handfuls of chips I was feeling much better. Sometime during the granola bars Scott Jamie passed through followed shortly by Yassien. I was off again, this time feeling much better. I think I may have taken only one more gel between 47.8 and the finish, so I was bonking pretty good again by the end. I also took 3 S! Caps to fight off some minor cramping that was starting to creek up. With 2 miles to go, I saw my folks waiting to cheer for me. Mom and Dad (Carol & Jeff) live in Sunnyvale where I grew up so this was not to long of a drive for them. They had other obligations so I didn’t think I’d see them but there they were with a big sign that said “DAN RUN FOR FUN! Love Mom & Dad”. I finished 7th with a time of 8:48.
On the drive home I was swimming in the tide of emotions that always floods in after a big day of racing. At the end of a strong day, I’m a mountain. I love everyone, and no problem in my life seems like it should take longer than an afternoon to sort out. When things don’t work out and I’m reduced to a puddle, my entire ego vanishes and I feel deeply connected to everyone supporting me and sharing in the experience. As far as post-race emotions go, they are both wonderful. I got a little of both from Miwok.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Say you have a 50K race on a Saturday and a 40 mile race the following week on a Sunday. When you put them on your calendar it sort of appears as though you have a weekend rest in between. I know it sounds strange, but what appears to be a rest weekend is actually the Sunday of the 50K weekend and the Saturday of the 40 mile weekend. Oops. Anyway, I didn’t feel like the April 2 Shotgun 50K set me back too much so I was feeling ready to take on the Peterson Ridge Rumble on April 10.
The Rumble promised to be much more competitive with the defending champion (also new dad and my most favorite positive-energy runner) Yassine Diboun along with several other fast folks. The Rumble is normally about 60K but race director Sean Meissner opted to move it up to an even 40 miles this year. I ran the Rumble a few years ago and it’s a fairly fast course with about 2000 feet of climbing total and nice forgiving mixture of trails and gravel roads. The drier landscape east of the Cascades was also a welcome change from the rain and mud of Eugene.
From the gun, Yassine took off, hitting a 6:15 pace… way too fast for my liking! I settled into a chase pack of four other guys. I led the charge up the first single track until I missed a strange detour that took us off the trail and up and over a short rock outcropping. I fell back behind the group as we resumed our pursuit of Yassine. Eventually, I could feel the group start to move into a true ultra pace which was nice, but I was not quite ready to let Yassine say out of our sights for too much longer. I pulled back up to lead the group and sped up to just below our comfort level. Soon enough, we could see Yassine and I knew we would get a little rest once we re-joined him. Jace Ives went with me and Nick Triolo was not far back. Once Jace and I joined Yassine we settled a bit as we chatted and started passing the 20 mile runners.
I was experimenting with Hammer gel in a flask, completely annoying at first as it bounced around in my shorts pocket. Eventually I got used to it and overall it worked fairly well, except I needed to do a better job of tracking how much I was getting in my mouth. Hammer gel is a little thick so I don’t think each squeeze I took was not quite a “serving” size. I was also experimenting with Gu2O which is the drink they will have at Western States. Using the 3 scoops per bottle recommended was way too sweet and my stomach would have protested. I topped the drink off with water a few times. I started taking S!Caps about 30-40 into the run and took them about every 30-40 minutes after that. It was a cool day and I wasn’t sweating a great deal. Overall my hydration, electrolytes, and fluid were good the whole day. I feel like I’m getting much better as this part of the race, which I think has been my biggest weakness. (My wife is very glad to hear this.)
On the way back down the first loop, Yassine and Jace started to crank it up again and we rolled down to the flat gravel road near the start at a good clip. Once we hit the gravel road Yassine upped the pace again and I started to fall off a bit. Jace worked to keep up but as we turned up for the second loop he to started to fall off. Yassine was making a decisive move and continued to press the pace all the way up to the top of the second loop. Soon I started to lose sight of him even though we were on fairly open roads. Jace started to have stomach issues about half way up and as I passed him, I thought I heard some burbling sounds. Uh, oh. At the top of the long climb there was an aid station around mile 30. I topped off my bottle grabbed a few gels and as I left one of the volunteers encouraged me: “He’s about a minute up on you… It’s a RACE!”
When you are watching the leader pull away and you’re working really hard, you start to reassess your game plan. I hadn’t given up, but hearing the aid station worker’s words really helped. One minute isn’t very much over 10 miles and I was still feeling strong and I knew that Yassine’s last surge might have cost him something. So, I went, and eventually with what I thought was 3 or 4 miles to go I caught him. He said he was having some cramping. I offered some S! Caps but he said he had just taken two.
I kept the pace quick and was feeling good. I didn’t know how much further we had exactly but I felt I could keep the heat up for at least another 30 minutes. The finish came faster than either of us expected and soon I was rounding the track. Feeling the rush of winning, I decided to take the hurdle at the end, which seemed like a good idea until I was halfway over. Luckily, I cleared it and finished in a time of 4:26:26 with Yassine just shy of a minute behind me. 4:26:26 is about 6:39 pace. We were definitely fast but I’m not sure we were that fast. I think the course may have been closer to 39 miles, but hard to say for sure.What an awesome day! The Rumble was just that. Only a few times did I feel like I was just out doing a 40 mile run. Most of the time I was really racing. Thank you to Yassine, Jace and Nick for pushing us all, and helping me celebrate my birthday week-end.
Well it sure felt good to race again. I missed running Hagg Lake 50K in Feburary due to an illness, so I haven’t done a race since early January. When I was sick I didn’t run for a solid 2 weeks, so I had some catching up to do anyway. By the time the Shotgun Trail Blast 50K rolled around on April 2nd, I was really ready try out my winter training.
The Shotgun Trail Blast was another small local race put on by the Eclectic Edge folks and was held about 30 minutes east of Eugene. The course was two 25K loops, each with about 2000 feet of climbing, maybe 5-6 miles of trails and 10 miles of logging roads. There were only 9 of us in the race as most of the folks were running the 25K. The aid stations had water and Gatorade a few snacks. They also had radios and took our splits at the start/finish and out on the course. I brought my own gels.
Mid-way through the first loop, I realized that Cameron Hanes, a talented ultra-runner and extreme hunter was only a short distance behind me. That kept my pace honest. I came through the first loop in 1:57:20 and I spent a little time at my car getting some more gels & fluid before heading out for the second loop. I felt like I had run the first loop fairly solid, but was still feeling strong. I ran the second loop in 1:55:41, an overall time of 3:53, average pace of 7:31, first place, and a nice negative split.
I enjoyed the course, the route was well marked, and there were just enough volunteers to make it all come together. I felt grateful to have a 50K race so close to home, and it was fun to chat with everyone after the race.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Bandera was a wonderful time with friends and a great race.
Goals: I was hoping to keep my time as close to the leader as possible for earning Montrail points, possibly place in the top 3 take home a little prize money, and most importantly - enjoy a full day of supported running in a new and beautiful landscape. There were some big names in the race and at least on paper, a top 5 place let alone a top 3 looked out of the question. But things never go according to plan in these events. Being that this was really only my third race over 50 miles, I also was hoping to build some additional confidence at these longer events.
There was a big group of us going to the race including Craig and Laurie Thornley, Pam Smith, Meghan Arbogast, and Jeff and Laura Riley. For the most part we traveled on the same flights, rented a van together, and all stayed at the same house. Honestly, it was more of a vacation with friends than a weekend of hard racing.
Unlike last year where the temperatures were in the single digits, our weather was just right. Cool at the start, warming up in the morning, then just when it started to get a little hot the clouds moved in and cooled it down again. Just before the start I decided to ditch my hat, arm sleeves and gloves. The aid stations were all about 5 miles apart, and because it wasn’t hot most of us went with just one bottle.
From the gun there were a whole bunch of folks that took off, which always makes me a little nervous, but I knew would most likely provide a day full of passing folks, which is better than the other way around (like at JFK). Most of them came back within the first four miles. From the start to the first aid station the trail has two climbs and is difficult rocky footing. All the hill climbs are relatively short, maybe 300+ ft, but the loose rocks and grade make them difficult. Around mile four I caught up with Jason Bryant of NC and one other runner. At the first aid station “Nachos” (m5.6) I grabbed a cup of something we were out at 0:46, only a tad bit faster than the frozen leaders of last year.
The three of us ran together for the most part to the next aid station “Chapas” at (m11.4) 5 miles. The section from Nachos to Chapas was much more runnable with no major hills and less rock. I filled my bottle at Chapas and I was out at 1:26. Aside from a few long gradual rocky climbs along the powerlines, the tail remained very runnable from Chapas to the next aid station at Cross roads. Jason and I regrouped and we caught and passed Chikara Omine, who was second last year. He seemed to be running fine, just slower on the rocky climbs. Jason pulled ahead a bit but we were together as we pulled into Cross Roads (m16.9). I left Cross Roads at 2:07 and on the three sisters loop section which was rocky and hilly Jason pulled ahead for the last time. He had about a minute on me when I left Cross Roads for the second time (m 21.9 2:46) and after a porta-potty break I lost another minute. I stayed about 2 minutes behind Jason most of the rest of the race. The first half of the section between Cross Roads and Lucky Peak was runnable but then it starts to get rocky and hilly again. The trail remained difficult through Last Chance aid Station (m 26.1 3:22) and onto the finish (m 31 4:07) with the Lucky Peak, Cairn’s climb and Boyle’s Bump. Well except there were some nice fast parts along the top.
I felt like I was running very relaxed, but started to feel the distance around Last Chance aid station on the first loop. However, 4:07 seemed like a good time for the first 50K and was under the course record pace. I just had to focus on minimizing the second loop slowdown. I was 5:02 at Nachos (m36.6) and 5:52 out of Chapas (m42.0).
I suppose I’m getting better at the hydration and nutrition, but I often feel like I’m doing a lot of bad guess work. I was fighting off cramping most of the day, but never had any real serious issues. The race had Heed at the aid stations and my stomach really liked that, but it was making me feel bloated. I switched to water from Chaps to Cross roads (m 47.9 6:42) and felt tons better but after more cramping I got nervous about going without the added calories & electrolytes and switched back on the three sisters loop back to Cross Roads (m 52.9 7:31). Running into Cross Roads the second time I just caught sight of Jason leaving. Laura Riley was there to help and I switched bottles to my EFS fluid. By this time Craig had finished his 50K and told me that Bryan had seen me also and looked nervous. I was thinking maybe he would get excited and run too hard for a while and then maybe I could catch him in the last section. Unfortunately my EFS drink didn’t sit well, and I couldn’t drink or eat at all over the next section. I switched back to the Heed at Last Chance. (m 57.1 8:11) At the Last Chance aid station they told me Jason now had 3 minutes. You never know, but he seemed out of reach at this point. However, with 4.9 miles to go I had a solid chance of getting in under 9 hours. I felt better and better, and had a great last section which was only 1 minute slower than my first lap split. I felt like I was flying down the decent and the only thing keeping me from going faster was the cramping. I knew I would break 9 hours. Then at the toe of the Boyles Bump decent I saw Jason’s yellow jersey. I was gaining fast, but wasn’t going to catch him. I finished 4th just 23 seconds back in 8:57:42. Dave Mackey was 1st in 8:16 (which didn’t help me much for the Montrail points, but he took an impressive hour off the previous C.R.) I found out later that Geoff Rose had dropped out after the first 50K, Dave James was second in 8:33.