Sunday, December 26, 2004

King of the Trail Racers (Half Moon Bay Review)

The folks at the Half Moon Bay Review wrote this nice article on me. Thanks, Mark!

King of the Trail Racers

By Mark Foyer, Half Moon Bay Review, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004

In a few years, Scott Dunlap went from the rat race to the trail race. In doing so, he has become one of the top trail runners in the nation.

He was named by Trail Runner magazine as the overall champion for the "Non Ultra" distance (marathon and shorter) of their 2004 Trailing Running Trophy Series. It's the largest trail running series in North America.

The running he does now is vastly different from the running around he did more than three years ago. Living in Mountain View, he was working for a software marketing company. Life hurtled by at a million miles per hour. In July of 2001, he started to make some changes in his life. He and his wife left Mountain View, to buy a house in Woodside, near Kings Mountain. The break-neck speed slowed considerably.

But it wasn't until he quit his job on Sept. 8, 2001, a few months later that everything changed. If he had remained on the job three days longer, he would have been in New York, where he had scheduled a meeting at the World Trade Centers. The two people he was supposed to meet that morning perished in the day's events. One died in Tower No. 2. The other was killed on United Flight 93, the highjacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

That day helped change Dunlap's priorities. Instead of running from one interview to another, he would run in the hills and along the trails near his house. Instead of dealing with so many people, he would be running with his dog, a pug named Rocket.

Dunlap had never run before, but it all came very easily. One weekend morning, while out on a leisurely run, Dunlap ran into a group of runners.

"One of them said I run pretty fast and should join them," Dunlap said.

Dunlap didn't have any idea what it meant to run fast. Born in Chicago and raised in Eugene, Ore., Dunlap did not participate in high school sports. Yet, he did well in his first trail race.

"I'm not a runner," Dunlap said. "My dog is not supposed to be a runner either. But we both love to run trails really, really fast."

As Dunlap continued to race, he was starting to make a name for himself. In Colorado, where there are plenty of trails to run on for either fun or races, Dunlap is a minor celebrity in the trail running community.

"They are world class runners, and it's flattering when they buy me drinks," Dunlap said.

The races in Colorado are some of the more difficult races in the country. One race starts at an elevation of 11,800. It goes up 1,000 feet before dropping down 3,000 feet.

"I was dizzy before the race even begun," Dunlap said.

Of course, not all trail runners are impressed with what Dunlap has accomplished. There are some, known as "ultra runners", who run 50-mile and 100-mile races in the mountains. They say running a marathon (26 miles, 385 yards) is just a nice warm up.

"I don't have a concept of what it means to run 50 or 100 miles," Dunlap said, "it's a whole different ballgame at that distance."

Racing has taken him throughout North America. He has run two races in Colorado, as well as in Washington, Oregon, Texas, New York and Maryland. He has also raced in British Columbia.

He's gone back into the software marketing industry. It's almost like it was before he left, but with a change.

"Before when I traveled, I would just see the downtown, the hotel and the airport," Dunlap said. "Now, I spend the weekend visiting the trails also."

While he won the Trophy Series, he didn't actually get a trophy. Instead, he got an array of gear, including clothing and watches.

"It has made Christmas shopping easy this year," Dunlap said.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Best iPod Playlist for Running an Ultra Marathon

Trail running is one of the few sports that allows (even encourages) the use of iPods or other personal music devices. But how do you choose the optimal playlist for a long trail run? I had some questions/comments about this from earlier posts, so I thought I would share my tactics.

(Photo for purchase from the amazing Don Charles Lundell)

Before I talk iPod, let me first say that my #1 choice of soundtrack for a trail run is nature itself. There are few things in life as peaceful as getting deep into the wilderness, left only with your breath, footsteps, and the scurrying of resident animals as you 'round the corner. Chill. Relax. Ooohhhmmm. Connect with nature.

Okay, back to the blog. ;oP Although nature's soundtrack is wonderful, it's not really the best pacing ally. Sometimes it's helpful to have some tunes to pull you along, particularly for the 20+ milers. But the choice of music is very important - you would be surprised at how much it can affect your pace, for good or bad. I've tried a few strategies in the last couple of months, and here are my tips. Please do comment if you have others.

1) Know what motivates you for each type of terrain. What kind of music puts a smile on your face? Helps you relax? Gets you pumped? In a long trail run, there's a spot for each. For climbs, I've found there's nothing like some agro rock (Metallica, Prodigy, Filter, Boom Boom Satellites, Soundgarden, etc.) to help pump you up and "attack" the hills (very t-zone, I admit). For the downhills, something a bit less edgy is good (REM, Beastie Boys, Seal), and preferrably with a melody now that you can sing along. For the flat stuff, I've found a good beat count can help you pace right, such as electronica or breakbeat funk (Tricky, Freq Nasty, ILS, Madonna, etc.). ILS Soul Trader is my "most played", so it must be a good one. Sometimes the right lyrics can get you going too - I've been surprised by how uplifting Michael Jackson "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" can be when you need a pick me up.

2) Map your playlist to your course. Check out the altitude map for your run, and do your best to organize your tunes based on the course layout. This can also help you pace the sections (ie, "I must be going fast since I've reached the hill and Enya is still playing" or "Michael Bolton is playing and I still haven't killed myself...something must be wrong"...just kidding).

3) Don't start too strong. If you're doing an ultra, one of the worst things you can do is go out too strong. In the Woodside 50k, I thought I should "pump myself up" with a little Prodigy to start, and covered the first 2 miles in 13 minutes....oops, so much for those 250 needed calories. Best to ease into your playlist if you can.

4) Reward yourself with some funny songs. It's great to throw in a non-pace song every hour or so, especially if they can get a good laugh. Tenacious D is perfect for this kind of thing, or perhaps a old ABBA favorite or clip of Chris Rock. It will raise your spirits. I see a lot of trail runners do this with food too, like stashing a Snickers to reward yourself for being half-way done.

5) Easy on the Echoplex near the end of your run. If you're ending your five hour run with songs full of reverb, echos, and Leslie rotating speakers, you are tempting fate, my friend. Jimi Hendrix "Are You Experienced?" and The Beatle's "Revolution #9" are nothing short of suicide-by-face-plant in the final miles.

6) Stop air guitaring when you see the cameraman. My fellow racers have found great humor in my subconscience antics. Just don't let it get captured on film. ;oP

Let me know if you have other tips or favorite songs. I would be happy to post my 5-hour playlist from the Woodside 50k if you're interested.



[Note - On 2/15/05, I posted my 8-hour playlist here]

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The 50k - a long marathon, or a short ultra?

The 50k is an odd distance. At 31.25 miles, it technically qualifies as an "ultra marathon", but it's really just a few miles longer than the 26.2 miles (and change) that us marathoners do. So is it really an "ultra", or is it just a marathon with a few miles added?

(Photo for purchase from the amazing Don Charles Lundell)

I've spoken with some ultra-marathoners over the last year, and the race they describe doesn't quite match up to the short course stuff I'm used to. They talk about "mental walls", "slow pacing", "walk/running", and "being able to take in thousands of calories". Although I definitely think about those things, I wouldn't say they are critical to a good 20 mile run. And walking? Fugghetaboutit. So clearly at some distance, the race strategy shifts to more of long endurance event. I have no doubt that a 50 miler should be run this way, but a 50k?

I figured the only way to find out was to sign up for a 50k and see if I could run my marathon pace through the whole race. As a marathoner, I usually have enough juice at the end to kick hard for the last two miles - would it be the same after 30 miles?

I picked the Woodside 50k, a beautiful trail run put on by Pacific Coast Trails in the northern Santa Cruz Mountains. These are my home trails, and I've clocked 20-26 miles here before without too much trouble. This course incorporated four parks/preserves (the Phleger Estate, Huddart Park, Bear Gulch Open Space Preserve, and Wunderlich Park), with about 4,600' vertical. The last four miles were mostly downhill too, which I thought would be convenient in case the "no man's land" of those final miles proved to be too much.

As I set up for the race, I began to realize that the 50k was going to be more akin to a Half Ironman than a marathon. Given the hilly course, I thought it might take me 4:45-5:00 hours to complete. I prepared four water bottles of G3 drink, three packs of Sharkies, two packs of Power Bites, four Gu gels, and an iPod with a 5 hour playlist. This was going to take the better part of the day.

I lined up at the starting line with about 30 others (four other first timer ultra marathoners - nice work you guys!), and we cut through the cold valleys of Huddart Park and began the first 1500' foot climb. The pace was brisk along the flat part of the course, but everyone slowed substantially once the hills started. I felt frustrated by the slow pace and pulled out in front - let the rookie moves begin!

At the first aid station at mile 8, about three of us were cruising along at about a 7:15 mile pace. Given the vertical we just did, this was a pretty brisk pace. The other two stopped at the aid station to get a bite to eat, refill their water bottles, and take a breather. They gave me a funny look as I kept going, but soon caught up to me again. So far, so good.

About 13 miles in, Troy Limb (one of the three) took the lead and began pacing up the second set of hills. Judging by the size of his quads and his "Silver State 50 Miler" t-shirt, I got the impression he was no stranger to ultras. His pace was just slightly slower than my pace (around a 7:30 mile), but I also noticed he would slow to a very fast walk if his heart rate picked up too much (note, however, that his fast walk is faster than I have ever walked). He carried one water bottle in each hand, one filled with water, the other with some sort of fuel mix, and always stopped for a minute or so at the aid stations. As we occasionally switched off the lead, Troy always had nothing but words of encouragement, atta-boys, and "you go, brother"s. He was clearly in his element, and was happy to share the experience.

About 19 miles in, I noticed I was falling behind in the calorie intake. As I've learned the hard way on this, the only thing you can do is slow down and let your body catch up (or pay dearly 45 minutes later). I let Troy and the third guy pull ahead, who began pacing off each other. As I lost them, I realized how beneficial it was to have someone to pace with - following can be the easiest motivation on long runs. Perhaps this is why "pacers" are also common on the longer ultras.

About 28 miles in, I found my answer - this is DEFINITELY a different kind of race than a marathon. My body slowed to a 8:40 mile pace, and was not hearing any other requests. Fifteen seconds faster, and I was spinning harder than a fifth of Jack Daniels on an empty stomach. Fifteen seconds slower, and the runners high would kick in to the point of not remembering why I was out in the woods. But 8:40 with a quick short stride felt great. My body was sore, but I wasn't really feeling the pain. And there was a constant smile on my face from the anandamide/endorphins coursing through me.

By the time I crossed the finish line, I was giggling with delight and absolutely starving. Troy had finished some 15 minutes ahead of me, managing to keep a consistent pace through the whole race. The third guy was nowhere to be found (apparently DNF's are much more common in the ultras), leaving me with a second place finish. As I ate and stretched, I became more apparent of how tired I really was. My muscles weren't burning like a short course race, but my whole body had this dull ache right down to the bone. This felt very different than a marathon recovery.

As I swallow a handful of ibuprofen and exchange stories with the other racers (Troy congratulated nearly every racer who finished), I've concluded a few things. First, the ultra is a very different animal than the marathon and under races. One shouldn't think of it as a "marathon plus", but instead give it the respect it deserves as a full-blown endurance event. Second, I still have a lot to learn about the pacing and mental game of the ultra. The "fast walk" is a crucial skill as well, and one that should be practiced. Troy and many of the others ran a very consistent race end-to-end, and were fully aware of their capabilities along the way. I've got some practicing to do, but I have no doubt I will be trying another 50k....or maybe a 50 miler....let the addiction begin...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

World Class Runner (Eugene Register-Guard)

The Eugene, OR-based Register-Guard covered the Trophy Series Overall Champion results here.

World class runner: Former Eugenean Scott Dunlap has been named by Trail Runner magazine as the overall champion for the marathon and shorter distance of its 2004 Trail Running Trophy Series. Dunlap, 35, won in a field of 18,000 trail runners for the international title, competing in 15 events including three marathons. He won three events and finished in the top five in 12 others. Dunlap, who attended South Eugene High School and University of Oregon (1984-92), lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Scott Dunlap Wins Trophy Series (Redwood Trails newsletter)

Eric C. Gould Redwood Trails
Please see our new calendar listings -->
* Bizz Johnson Fees *
Please remember the fees for Bizz Johnson Marathon and 1/2 Marathon go up at the end of the year. To save money registrar before 12/31/04. Race is limited to just the first 1,000 people who sign-up.
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* Trail Triathlon Series *
Registration for our Trail Triathlon Series will open 1/2/05. All events are likely to sellout quickly. We will send out a special email with details before the end of the year.
* Scott Dunlap Wins Trophy Series *
Congratulations to Redwood Trails' runner Scott Dunlap on winning the Overall Champion title for the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series Marathon-and-Under Division. Please find the story of his journey - in his own words below.
A Retrospective on a Championship Trail Running Season
By Scott Dunlap
Seventeen races in six states. 231 miles of trails. 60,000 feet of climb. One Overall Champion.
What is it? It's the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series Marathon-and-Under Division.
Was it fun?
You bet-aside from losing a few toenails. And the biggest surprise was the trail-running scene in the Bay Area.
In Anacortes, Washington, it's wet and windy 11 months of the year. In Buena Vista, Colorado, every race starts at 11,000 feet, and goes up. (You can run 40 miles on rock without seeing dirt.)
After the Trophy Series, a reporter asked me to describe my favorite trails. I talked about exposed cliffs, redwoods, rushing creeks, and views to the beach. He asked which four races I was talking about. I said, That's Redwood Trails' Castle Rock race-before the half way point.
If your idea of a great Saturday morning is waking up at o-dark-thirty to get sweaty, dirty, and get blisters, get lost, and get ticks and poison oak-you're made for the trail.
But trail running in the Bay Area is special. There's a camaraderie among the trailies here that I've rarely found in other races. I've taken my fair share of face plants (usually after spending a little too long gazing at the view). But the Bay Area is the only place where the entire lead pack stopped to make sure I was okay. I'm not slamming other locations, but let's just say, the closer you get to LA, the less likely it is that that'll happen.
I'm spoiled. I've grown used to Redwood Trails' obsessive over-marking of trails, and too many aid stations, and volunteers at every turn.
I remember a trail race in Hood River, Oregon where ALL the racers were lost within the first mile. They'd marked the course AT NIGHT, with the same color ribbon the Forest Service uses to mark dead trees! There were markers everywhere, sending us scattering into the hills.
There were no maps, no volunteers, and I ran a solid 6 miles off course before some friendly backpackers turned me around. They said, Unless you plan to run to the top of Mt. Hood, you're going the wrong way.
I staggered in hungry, dehydrated and cold. Twenty runners were still lost; the organizers were on the point of sending out search parties. That was the last time I ever complained that the bananas weren't fresh at an aid station.
2004 will be remembered fondly, not just for the award but for the chance to run with thousands of other people across the US who love doing what we do - creating our own adventures, reconnecting with nature, and making new friends.
Nobody does it like the Bay Area. Thank you all, for making this such a great place to race.
* Is trail running better - your stories *
Please tell us your stories and "words of wisdom" on what makes trail running different from road races and what is needed to get more people off the road and onto the trails. Email to:
Clif Bar and Hammer Gel have donated product to all Redwood Trails 2004 events.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Trails and Tribulations of a Champion (San Francisco Chronicle)

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote up my story in the Outdoor section (D8) of the Thursday, 12/9/04 edition.

Trails and Tribulations of a Champion

Paul McHugh, Chronicle Outdoors Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2004

Woodside athlete Scott Dunlap's ascent from his former status as geek couch-potato to one of the top-ranked trail runners in the United States is about as unlikely as his first choice of mascots and trail companions.
Dunlap felt burned out from years of 80-hour workweeks in the high-tech realm of Silicon Valley, after participating in two start-ups. Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, he watched, stunned, as a building of the World Trade Center -- where he had been scheduled to meet with two associates -- collapsed, taking their lives.

Dunlap's wife Christi had an idea to help him cope with the deep depression that ensued. She brought home a dog from Pug Rescue of Sacramento. Daily, this stubby-legged orphan begged to be taken outside. Finally, Dunlap responded. Whereupon, man and dog discovered they both loved going for longer and longer runs on trails near their Kings Mountain home.

"Hikers would tell me, you're not supposed to run a pug like that," Dunlap said. "And I'd say, you'd better tell him. He's already gone nine miles, and he shows no signs of wanting to stop."

Dunlap's relative naivete about athletics made it possible for him to develop many other elements of unorthodox style.

"I never learned proper technique for running," he says. "So I developed this crazy style that actually seems to work well on trails. I kind of crouch a bit, so I can jump around over roots and rocks. And there's this thing I do that other runners seem to find pretty entertaining. I actually put my hand down on the ground and pivot around it, as I fly through switchbacks."

Always slender, Dunlap's aggressive new physical regimen made it possible for him to pack 25 pounds of new muscle on his 6-foot frame. And in three short years, he's also managed to advance to Trail Runner magazine's recently announced ranking as the nation's Overall Champion for "non-ultra" (marathon or shorter) distances. He did this by competing in 15 trail events, including three marathons, from March 1 to Sept. 30. In these, he scored three wins and a dozen finishes in the top five.

Trail running has turned into one of the nation's fastest growing sports. Dunlap has some advice for runners or joggers interested in signing on, and hopping off the pavement.

"Find a loop course of trails to run, so you get to enjoy lots of scenery, " he says. "Don't be afraid to get dirty. And always, always carry a map."

Some other top Dunlap tips:
-- Bring water by carrying a plastic bottle in your hand; that will remind you to drink and stay hydrated.
-- Stretch out from running by going for at least one long pool swim per week.
-- Avoid blisters by lubricating your toes. Dunlap uses Vaseline. He also swears by the "foot gloves" of Injinji Tetrasoks (see,

These days, Dunlap is immersed again in the world of high-tech, working as a marketer for Avolent, a financial services software firm.

"Luckily, my company is very supportive of my running career," says Dunlap. "They try to find me conferences to speak at that will be located near running events. And they don't mind if I come in wearing flip-flops, when my feet get too swollen to fit in shoes."

Looking ahead, Dunlap, 35, says he's now thinking about tackling ultra trail runs. He's signed up for the recently revived Race Across California E- venture ( and has been invited to compete in the legendary Western States 100 (

But sadly, the picturesque heyday of Rocky the pug dog as a trail companion seems to be entering eclipse.

"I've just gotten too fast," Dunlap says. "It's grown too hard for the little guy. He's got an 8-minute mile, but now I run a 51/2-minute mile. Rocky's happiest running about 6 miles, but I can push pretty hard for 20. So, my wife is looking around for a faster dog."

E-mail Paul McHugh at


Don't worry - I'm not replacing my dog, Rocky. He will always be my short course dog, but we thought we would look around for a playmate that, perhaps, could go the distance.