Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Family That Goes The Distance - An Interview with Beverley Anderson-Abbs and Alan Abbs

It’s always nice when a husband and wife share a passion for sport, particularly one that incurs the long training hours of ultra running. Take this to the extreme, and you have the Abbs family - two powerhouse endurance athletes from Red Bluff, CA, who excel in ultra runs of all distances, multi-day races, and adventure racing. Both are sponsored by Sunsweet Growers (

(Alan Abbs at the American River 50 Mile)

Alan is a regular top finisher in ultras of all lengths, with impressive finishes at Run On The Sly (1st), Western States (21:39), the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica (5th), finishing 5th overall in the 2004 Fuel Belt series, as well as top 3 finishes in a slew of Adventure Races (Cal Eco Series, Big Blue, and Eco-Challenge among others), duathlons, and triathlons. By day, he’s a manager for the local waste management/recycling authority.

(Bev Abbs at the Miwok 100k)

“Bev” is no stranger to the podium herself. After finishing a “perfect set” for the 2004 Fuel Belt series (5 wins in 5 races), she raced the Eco-Challenge, placed 2nd female at the 2005 Western States 100 (her first 100-miler in 19:16)), won the USATF Master’s Championships for 50k and 50 miles, and won first overall at the Coastal Challenge, a seven-day stage race in Costa Rica. She has been named one of the top female ultra runners by both Ultrarunning magazine and the USATF, is currently leading the Trail Runner Magazine Ultra series, and it seems her endurance career is only beginning. She recently returned to school for a second graduate degree and began a job as an environmental scientist with a Sacramento River Conservation Group.

I caught up with the Abbs on one of their rare “down weekends”.

First, congratulations on a fabulous ’04 and ’05 season! It’s amazing you have both been able to pack in such a variety of endurance events. How do you go about choosing among them?

(Bev) Thanks Scott. The past few years have been pretty full for us. We did a lot of adventure races from 2000 thru 2003, but we’ve consistently been running 50Ks as training for the big adventure races. For those years we just tried to get in as many adventure races as we could get to, which can be difficult with both of us working full time- we’ve had to choose events that we could get to after work on Friday. Once we had filled in our schedule with adventure races we just started adding running events to the empty weekends. There were some months when we didn’t spend a single weekend at home! Last year was a little different as we really focused on two major adventure races, so more weekends got filled up with running. This year, we just tried to fill up the year with running. We still have the occasional time management issues- I just started a new job in January and immediately went to Costa Rica for The Coastal Challenge so there aren’t a lot of vacation days to draw on yet. My boss let me call my days off for Western States “sick days” since he thought they fit just as well in that category.

(Wife and husband team, Bev and Alan - now that's what I call team bonding!)

Can you tell us a bit about your Eco-Challenge experience and how that compares to ultra running? Do you think that being a husband/wife team helped?

(Bev) Eco-Challenge seems a little like ancient history now- we did Eco-Challenge Borneo in 2000. Although we have done several other expedition races since, including Primal Quest, Raid the North Extreme, and Eco-Challenge North America, nothing quite compares to Borneo. Since it was our first expedition race, our training amounted to racing with our team as much as possible to get used to each other and find out strengths and weaknesses. Adventure racing is really different from ultra-running in a lot of ways. The team aspect of it makes it interesting. You’re never completely relying on yourself, but you also always have to be prepared to help someone else. I think it’s easier to give up and slow down in an ultra when you’re alone out there. But if you know a team has put in a huge amount of training and money to get to one race, it’s a little harder to just sit down and hang out in a transition area if you don’t feel well. The multi-sport training helps keep you a little fresher through the year, and it makes it a little more interesting. For training, we used to just pull out a topo map of the nearby forest, pick a few points and go… run, walk, crawl…whatever. One time we decided to do the Whiskeytown 50k course backwards, in the snow. We ended up stumbling down a mountain beside a creek, switching between snowshoes and post holing in the dark. It took us about 12 hours, which we had been unprepared for, so we had headlights with low batteries and our poor dog. Every time we stopped to check the map she’d curl up in a snowshoe indentation and sleep until we were ready to go again. I’ve never seen her so happy to get to a road before.

(Shasta Abbs back at home)

(Alan) I think the husband/wife aspect in adventure racing is an overall positive. Two people are half of a team, and so we know at least half of us have the same training, equipment, and mental state. We also know when it’s okay to be a little bit mean to each other in order to get to the finish line faster!

One thing I do miss about adventure racing is the feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere, and you’re relying only on your teammates and what you have in your backpack, and you’re just plugging along hour by hour, day by day. There’s something kind of peaceful about fast-walking all night in the dark, and as the sun’s coming up you check your landmarks and realize you’re almost exactly where you thought you were. On the flip side, when you realize you have no idea where you are, that’s kind of a bummer…

How did you meet each other? Were you crazy endurance athletes before getting married?

(Bev) We were actually pretty sane road bike racers living in San Diego at the time. We both happened to take a track racing class to work on sprint speed and started chatting. It turned out that Alan knew my brother, a bike racer in Baltimore at the time, and that opened the doors. He gave me a ride home after the track class and we started going to rides and races together. It was pretty amazing, really. Our first real date was a criterium- pretty romantic, right?

How did each of you get into trail running, and how long have you been at it?

(Bev) Alan kind of pushed me into trail running and longer distance runs. I had been a runner in Junior High and High School, but had hurt my knees pretty badly toward the end of grade 12. I tried everything else through university, settling on body building for quite a while, and then switching to cycling. When Alan and I met, he convinced me to start doing some running races, 5ks, 10ks, nothing too serious. When we moved up to Red Bluff we’d go to some of the local runs and Alan would run the marathon while I would run the 5 or 10k associated with it. When we started doing adventure races, he convinced me that I had better be able to run longer distances, so I did a ½ marathon, a 50k, and a marathon all within about a month. After that was Eco-Challenge Borneo, and as we did more adventure races it became obvious that the good teams ran whenever they could. In 2003/04 we filled in non-adventure race weekends with 50k events as training. This is the first year we’ve really focused on ultra running, and we’re still trying to optimize our training.

Bev, you had an outstanding debut at the Western States 100. Were you expecting to do so well? Alan, you also had a great race - was that your first States as well?

(Bev) Thanks, Scott. I really had no idea what to expect going into Western States. I didn’t think I had trained properly for it, especially after talking to some people who have done it multiple times and hearing how many miles they were putting in each week. I finally decided that with my adventure racing background I would be able to at least finish it, even if I wasn’t completely ready, and I’d just go out to have fun. As I said to my friend Royce just before WS100, “my training will get me about half way, then my stubbornness will have to kick in”. I have to say, I had a blast on the snow at the beginning. It felt more like an adventure race and I was chatting about that with some of the guys I was near. When I found out I was running with Dean Karnazes and Tim Tweitmeyer I started wondering what I was getting myself into. I felt pretty good for the first half but, unfortunately, I got pretty sick after Foresthill and spent the next few hours being sick and sobbing. I learned the importance of a pacer during that time; I don’t think I’d have continued if Trevor hadn’t been with me coaxing me on. (He told me several weeks later he hadn’t thought I was capable of looking so bad…thanks Trev!)
(Alan)- I felt pretty good about Western States - I thought I could break 22 hours, and I came in at 21:39, pretty good for a first attempt. I had a blast in the canyons and passed quite a few people, and I had delusions of a sub 21. But things got a little rough in the last 20 miles once I got down to the river. Matt Simms, my pacer, kept me moving forward and saved the day. He didn’t let me throw up until after the finish line!

I bet recovery day at the Abbs household was pretty scary after that.

(Alan) To be honest, I don’t remember much following WS. I guess we worked our way home and slept. It seems it was hard to keep food in the house for the next little while! Folks around town know that if we’re walking slow or are wearing sandals it’s probably because we just did something crazy. Then Sunsweet asked us to go out and find Dave Horton on his Pacific Crest trail record attempt as he came through Lassen National Park the following weekend, so we did two 40 mile days the following weekend, loaded with water and goodies.

I get “chicked” at ultras all the time (ie, when a woman beats me, usually by a very large margin). Alan, do you ever feel bad about getting “chicked” by your own spouse?

(Alan) If I felt bad every time Bev beat me in a running race, I’d probably have quit by now. It does give me an excuse to make her drive home from the races- she’s been finished longer and has had more recovery time.

(Bev Abbs sets the pace at the Way Too Cool 50k)

If both of you race, who the heck crews for you?!?

(Bev) Good question. This has been a problem for us with both adventure racing and ultra-running. We don’t have that built-in crew that a lot of other married people have so we’ve had to become pretty self-reliant. For adventure racing, we were at a point where we only chose races where crew wasn’t required, unless another team member could supply someone. Last year when we did PrimalQuest, we made a joke to our friend, Royce, about how much fun he’d have roughing it in a U-Haul while we raced through Washington for two weeks, and an hour later he told us that he’d cleared his schedule for 2 and half weeks! Something like that is a rarity, and we’ll never be able to repay him for that.

For ultras, WS100 is the only race we’ve used crews in- it has become noticeable, and a little frustrating, when I’ve been very close to another runner with a crew and I see how much time they save in each aid station. I’ve spent a lot of time doing the math to determine how much I’ve lost on a runner with a crew. For WS100, I had some friends out crewing, one was the second place finisher from the Coastal Challenge, she flew out from New York to help crew and then pace me the final 20 miles. Alan’s crew was a couple from Sunsweet who live near us. They have been great friends and have helped out in several of the races we have put on.

Do you train with a running club, or have a group of other ultrarunners you train with?

(Alan) We do belong to the SWEAT running club out of Redding, but we don’t run with them very often. Time is usually pretty tight, and an hour of driving to go for a run is often not feasible when we’re home, especially with all the home chores we have to make up for. We do run with Luanne Park from Montrail and Trevor Nelson from Vasque quite a bit- they both live in Redding. We usually just run together and we have a great dog, our beautiful Dalmatian, Shasta, who has been running with us for years.

I’ve been to Red Bluff, CA, and it seems like a wonderful area. Have you both been there long? Where did you each grow up?

(Bev) We’ve lived here in Red Bluff for 8 years and are still exploring the area. Red Bluff is a great area for outdoor activities. We have a wonderful open space area within a 10 minute drive where we go to run and mountain bike, and we’ve put on a couple of short adventure races there. Within 40 minutes or so we have Whiskeytown NRA and Lassen National Park and Forest. Both fantastic places for trail running, mountain biking, paddling… just about anything. And, on top of it all, we have the Sacramento River running through the middle of town! You can’t beat it. Things can get a bit hot and dry in the summer though- most of July and August this year was above 100 degrees.

I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a great city with the Rocky Mountains an hour away, but miserably cold in the winter. Alan’s from Northern Virginia, and he claims running there is like breathing water.

What/who inspires you to race?

(Alan) One of the great things about running for Sunsweet, besides the dried plums, is the feeling that you’re running on behalf of all the people that grow and package Sunsweet dried fruit. Tehama County, where we live, and many of the counties in the Central Valley of California provide a significant amount of fruit for Sunsweet, so it’s not uncommon to run into folks wearing Sunsweet hats or shirts, or displaying signs in front of their fields. It makes it harder to rationalize slowing down when you know that so many folks are going to ask you how you’ve done racing! Not only that, Sunsweet has been really excited about running and ultrarunning as a sport- this year they sponsored the Montrail Cup, as well as numerous local races. We appreciate all the support they’ve given us, and the running community.
It’s also nice to know that we’re having a positive effect on others that are interested in running. My niece, Dillyn, who’s 7, just ran her first 10K- for her minutes per mile pace, she’ll be a future Western States champion! Bev also has a little girl here in town that idolizes her named Jackie Hollmer, and she recently won her first elementary school cross country race, breaking away from a pack of 65 to emerge from the woods with a huge lead wearing a shirt Bev had given her. They could be Sunsweet runners in 2020.

What are some of your favorite races/locations?

(Bev) I couldn’t possibly say enough about the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. I loved it there. The race itself had way too much running on beaches, but the areas we were in were beautiful. Once we got into the jungle trails…what a joy! Gawking at monkeys hanging in the trees, the birds, everything…that was what running should be, enjoying the area you’re traveling through. Locally, it’s hard to pick a favorite area for a race as they are all put on in spectacular places, but I enjoy Purisima Creek 50k and Rucky Chucky Roundabout 50k. They are early in the season when the weather is pretty much perfect and they are very well managed races, low key and a lot of fun.

(Alan) The Where’s Waldo 100K is an outstanding race in a beautiful location (SW of Eugene, OR), directed by one of your recent interviewees and great guy, Craig Thornley. We’ve been heading up there a lot lately to train, and we’ve only scratched the surface of all the trails in the area. In his interview with you, Craig said (in jest, I think) “Don’t come to Oregon,” but we like the area so much, we’re planning a trail running festival in late July 2006- a 5M hill climb, a 5M downhill, a flattish 10 miler, and a 50K. Hopefully we’ll attract some long distance and shorter distance runners looking to see what trail running is all about…

Since Bev already mentioned Rucky Chucky, I’ll put in a plug for one of our local races, the Whiskeytown 50K just outside of Redding in late October. John Luaces, if you’re reading this, let’s go back to the original course where we climb Shasta Bally!

Lastly, a few training questions. What’s a typical training week look like for you? How many miles? Is it the same in preparing for adventure races, stage races, and ultras?

(Alan)- Our training has really varied the last few years based on what have been the most important races of the year. Prior to 2005, it was always a long adventure race, and so we’d split training time between biking, running, kayaking, and weightlifting. Since we’ve focused on running this year, we’ve cut back a bit on the biking, and a lot on the kayaking. Generally, our runs during the week never last longer than 90 minutes, and on the weekends we’re able to go longer. We probably run a lot less than we should- we’re lucky to get 60 to 70 miles a week. Embarrassingly enough, we also don’t do much in the way of intervals or specific hill work, and I think that’s where we’ll really need to focus if we want to improve for 2006.

For 2006, we’re thinking about trying the Grand Slam, and throwing in the Hurt 100 as well, so we’ll have to get a bit more serious about getting in the long miles over the winter.

(Bev)- I’d like to point out that I have tried to get Alan to do intervals and hill training but he can be a little stubborn. I did find that sticking to the 50k distance, I could get away with not much specific training. With the much longer races we’ve done this year, I seem to be getting more injuries than I’m used to. I enjoyed training for adventure races because it was always something different. One of my favorite days was driving up river 15 miles, kayaking down to a park about a mile from home where we’d attach wheels to the kayaks and roll them to our house. Then we’d drive back to a place about 12 miles from the original put in and trail run back to the start. It was a great all day event!

What are your favorite foods/race snacks?

(Bev) I typically don’t eat much when I’m racing. My system pretty much shuts down so I just force down Clif Shots. I know I need the calories so for me that’s what it’s all about. I’ve tried to eat “real food”, but I have a hard time chewing and swallowing. That’s what made me so ill at Western States, my crew tried to force feed me. Of course Sunsweet dries plums, have been great. They’re easy to chew and swallow, and have excellent levels of sugars and potassium. They saved me in The Coastal Challenge, when one of the aid stations didn’t have water and all I had was a couple of packets of Sunsweet plums to get to the next aid.

(Alan) My stomach can handle food a bit better than Bev, but for long races I usually end up eating fruit (dried and fresh), and gels. Obviously, the only dried fruit is Sunsweet- I’m partial to orange essence dried plums, dates, and mangos. You read a lot about the need for antioxidants in exercising to aid recovery and prevent inflammation, and dried plums kick serious butt when it comes to antioxidants. Blueberries, raisins, strawberries- all posers!

And while I’m on my soapbox- look for Sunsweet stuff in your local grocery store. :-)

A lot of the blog readers love to hear about “lessons learned” (ie, things that didn’t go right that perhaps they could avoid). Any you would like to pass on?

(Alan) A long time ago, I thought to myself “Hey, I think I’ll run a marathon.” So I came up with this plan that for the 8 weeks leading up to it, every Thursday I’d do a long run where I’d go for 15 minutes longer than the week before. I got up to about 2:15. Of course, on marathon day I was feeling like a champ until right about the 2:15 mark, and the last few miles we’re pretty miserable- I think it was just a mental block because I’d never run that far. The lesson- It’s always easier to do something when you’ve done it before. That’s probably pretty obvious to your readers. I’ll bet most ultrarunners could log off their computers, lace up their shoes, grab some food and run a marathon or 50K or 50M, without even thinking about it or otherwise preparing for it. For people that haven’t done that distance before, believing they can do it is half the battle.

(Bev) Have fun. I’ve seen too many people who tie themselves to a rigid training schedule and forget why they do this in the first place. We had an opportunity to meet a group of friends at the Grand Canyon this spring and run rim to rim to rim a few weeks before Western States. We just went there, ran it, and came home. What a blast that was, and we’re already trying to figure out an epic place to do something similar for 2006. But some friends we asked to join us wouldn’t go because it wasn’t on their training calendar- their loss...

On the stage races and adventure races, it seems there isn’t much time to recover. Any recovery tips/secrets you would like to share?

(Bev) Regular massage and chiropractic seem to do a lot for us in working out the day to day pains. We have a great friend who is a massage therapist and has been taking care of us for several years (she made me cry when she was working on my quad pull from Where’s Waldo). She also set us up with a sponsorship from Kremer Chiropractic in Red Bluff. We’ve been seeing Scott Kremer 2 or 3 times a week for a year and half now. I don’t know if I could do the distances I do without that.

In an adventure race you are typically going straight through so recovery isn’t really an issue. You try not to stop because that’s when you stiffen up and have to get moving again. For a stage race, recovery is really not an option. In a race like The Coastal Challenge, if you’re going for it every day you recognize that you will hurt for the first 30 minutes to an hour each day. The best thing I found was to try to force myself into a “normal” form as quickly as possible, the longer you let yourself limp or protect the sore muscles, the longer it will take for them to stretch out and put up with what you are doing. Day three was really bad for me in that race, and I’ve talked to other stage racers who have said that’s pretty common. If you can force yourself past day 3 you’re pretty good for the rest of the time. It’s tough though. You have to train yourself to go day after day, even if it does hurt, to prepare for stage racing. Oh…and eat! This is where I usually blow it. When I finish a race I usually don’t feel like eating, although I know I should right away, so I’ll often wait around for Alan so I can eat with him, but then he doesn’t want to right away either. There have been some races I’ve finished and not eaten for more than 2 hours after. This is absolutely not good for recovery.

Any tips you would like to pass on to somebody trying their first ultra? How about a first stage race, or a first adventure race?

(Alan) It seems a lot of people have a misconception that you have to “run” an entire ultra, and so they’re afraid to give it a shot, because they don’t think they can run longer than a marathon. Take it from me- it’s o.k. to walk sometimes!

If you’re looking to do your first adventure race, come up to Red Bluff in late April and do the Sunsweet Tehama Extreme Adventure Race! In two years, we’ve had a 99% finishing rate, and when you’re doing something for the first time, nothing beats being able to cross the finish line. You’ll get dirty, wet, sweaty, tired and you’ll have lots of fun. Best of all, proceeds go to charity for college scholarships for future farmers.

What’s next on the race/run agenda?

(Alan) We’re taking a bit of time off, but October and November will be busy. We’re both doing the Whiskeytown 50K and Helen Klein 50 on back-to-back weekends, and then I’m heading east to run with my sister in her first marathon (Richmond Marathon). For both of us, I think that’ll put us at around 15 races for the year. After that, we’ll be putting in miles for 2006. The Hurt 100 kicks off the year in January.

Anything else you’d like to add?

(Bev) I’d like to say thank you to the ultra runners I’ve met and raced with the past few years. Everyone in the ultra running community has been so supportive and has had a lot more confidence in me than I’ve had coming into this sport. I’m always amazed when people know who I am and the cheers and comments on the trail go a long way toward keeping me moving. The race directors, volunteers, and racers give so much to the sport and we are hoping to be able to give some back by putting on races ourselves. We’ve put on a couple of adventure races and 5 and 10k races in the past and we are planning a two day trail running festival in Oregon for July 2006. We hope that we can give back to the racers who have been so great to us. Look for information about the Sunsweet Trail Running festival in Oakridge, Oregon.

Thanks for a great interview!

- SD

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Product Idea - Ankle Brush Guards

Thanks to everyone who responded to the iPod T-shirt idea. Hopefully Mountain Hardwear will make it!

Here's the next entry in "Products I Would Like To See". This idea actually comes from Marty Hoffman, an ultrarunner from the Sacramento, CA area. He was telling me that in preparing for the Rio De Lago 100-miler, he wasn't looking forward to the many brush scrapes he would get on his shins after running some of the tougher parts of the Western States Trail. But soccer shin guards just get too sweaty. So how about some lightweight brush guards made for trail running?!?

Product Idea - The Montrail© Lightweight Ankle Brush Guards

So here's the idea. A lightweight plastic plate, held off the skin by two 1/2" strips of firm foam, and breathable straps that hold the brush guard onto the shin. The key here is "lightweight" - if you can keep it less than 1/2 lb, it should be fairly unnoticeable. It wouldn't be made for rocks or branches, but just for the annoyingly sharp brush and star thistle.

Okay, okay, my Photoshop skills need some work. But you get the idea. ;-) What makes these different from soccer shin guards is that the 1/2 inch of air between your shin and the guard (bridged by the foam strip) allows air to pass through more easily.

For a vendor, I think Montrail© is probably the best bet. They would most likely re-brand a shin guard from Champion or Lotto, but Montrail would have the best distribution to crazy runners who would need these. If you need a tester, talk to Marty Hoffman before Rio and he will be happy to give them a shot.

- SD

Monday, September 26, 2005

Being a Race Director - "Guest Race Directing" at the San Pablo Marathon

Last Sunday, I had a chance to be a “guest race director” for the San Pablo Marathon in San Rafael, CA, put on by Redwood Trails. I’ve always been curious about how much work goes into a trail run, particularly for the events that seem to execute flawlessly. Eric Gould, the Race Director for Redwood Trails, was happy to have an intern on-board, and told me to bring my running shoes, bike, coffee, and smiling face to San Pablo at 6am.

(China Camp Park at San Pablo)

As we walked around in our headlights to get ready for race day, it was clear a ton of prep work had already been done. Park permits had been secured, insurance purchased, trophies and awards ordered, t-shirts and bib numbers printed, volunteers committed, event marketing completed, food and drinks ordered, timing systems developed, first aid kits replenished, EMT’s scheduled, mile markers created, trail maps printed, and neighbors notified. Whew! That’s a lot of work. And somehow he found time to scout out this course in the first place. It was clear my “guest” role was largely ceremonial (good thing).

Around 6:20am, a few more volunteers showed up and Eric and David Dreyfuss (his right hand man) began setting up the tables and supplies for each aid station. Eric rattled off his to-do list – get the check-in area ready, assign the volunteers to aid stations and send them on their way, get the finishing chute ready, etc. – with only two hours until the race started, there was a lot of work to be done. I didn’t quite get to my coffee before Eric called me aside and gave me my first task – to race the whole course and make sure the course markings were clear. “Really?”, I said, “do race directors actually run the course, or is this just because I’m a runner?”. “Oh, yes,” he said, “in small races, most race directors clock 2-3x more mileage than racers before the day is done.” Hmmm, perhaps that is why so many race directors are former racers!

As I got my bike ready to roll through the course, the volunteers began to arrive. I hadn’t realized that most volunteers clock a full day to help out with a race, starting long before you get here, and leaving only after the last runner has finished. It makes sense now that I see it in action. And to think these are the same people who manage to cheer every person on throughout the day! The heart of trail running truly lies with the volunteers. As they arrived and introduced the friends they had convinced to spend early Saturday morning cutting bananas and filling Dixie cups, Eric and David organized them to talk about the race.

I rode my bike through the course with a backpack full of ribbon and orange cones. I had run the course the day before as well, and had met David putting up the mile markers using his highly accurate methods. But he also shared some horror stories of “bandits” remarking the trails or stealing signs after he had marked the course. Some bandits spend hours remarking a course to send runners into wildly different directions, often risking their safety. This is why somebody always has to ride the trail right before a race. I did my best to put a few too many markers just in case, and plenty of “wrong way” signs (those seem to be very effective for me).

As I rode the ½ marathon loop course, I met the volunteers building the aid stations along the way. They had taken short cuts to their locations, with a few of them using a fire road and car to get large amounts of water up. There were a few first-timers among the aid station volunteers, and they were eager for the runners to come. They shared a sense of excitement for the race and a love of the outdoors very similar to the racers. When a few communicated they already needed reserve supplies, I began to understand how difficult it is to communicate amongst the volunteers. Cell phones don’t work in this area and walkie-talkies don’t have the range, so you have to rely on runners or other volunteers to relay messages. Now that I had a few messages, it was time for me to hustle back to the starting line.

About 90 minutes later, I got back to the start and delivered my messages, which sent other volunteers scurrying up the hill with supplies. The park ranger was there, and I asked him what he does for these races. “If they are done right, absolutely nothing”, he said, “I love Redwood Trails because the trails are spotless afterwards.” Eric had already addressed the runners to tell them about the course, sing the national anthem, and what to do in case of emergency. I made it just in time for the race start. “Don’t get off that bike,” Eric said, “we need you to lead them out.” I caught my breath, and lead out the lead pack of ½ marathoners.

Once the racers were off, I sat down to enjoy some coffee….well, I tried anyway. Eric already had a list of other things that needed to get done. First, the finishing chute needed to be built and staffed. Second, I needed to jump in my car and drive to the 4-mile aid station to see if she needed anything. Third, a large number of people had shown up on race day to register, so there was a lot of data entry that needed to happen BEFORE they finished the 10k. Eric worked on the finishing chute, David started entering data, and I jumped in the car.

Arriving at the aid station, there were already two bloodied runners getting patched up (yes! At mile 4!), and Stephanie (the volunteer) said that runners were communicating about a third runner that looked pretty bad up the trail. I helped Stephanie crack into the first aid kit, and put on my running shoes to go find our injured runner. I didn’t have to go far to spot the crimson knees of our culprit staggering down the hill. One look at the gash in his knee, and it was clear his day would end with a trip to the Emergency Room. We cleaned him up and threw him in my car so I could drive him back to meet his wife. As we drove back, he mentioned it was one of his first trail runs and he was trying to get used to the rocks and roots. The poor guy!

We got him taken care of, and the EMT’s told me that most of the injuries occur with newer racers the shorter distances. It makes sense, and also points out the kind of liability that race directors face. I sat down to sip my coffee, but David asked if I could help enter the last few paper entries since 10k finishers were already coming in. We frantically got through them and unpacked the box of awards.

Now, I finally got to do one of the fun parts – hand out awards! We started with the 5k finishers, many of whom were very young (such as Arden Neff, the first 0-5 age group winner I have ever met). Everyone cheered out loud as each kid picked up an award, dressed in a t-shirt that draped them like pajamas. The parents who had won awards would sneak me their medals and ask me to “announce so-and-so as the winner of the female 7-8 age group and use my award!”. I realized I had never seen the 5k award ceremony before, since I’m always out on the course. It was really fun! Not to mention all of these kids were having a great experience outdoors.

By the time we got the 10k awards, it looked like many 10k finishers were already heading home. “Pancakes”, one finisher told me, “why wait for a trophy when there are pancakes just 10 minutes away?”. True, we each have our motivation. And pancakes did sound pretty darn good. But I did manage to get awards to winner Lee Loughnane, female winner Heidi Wiesel, and many others.

The ½ marathoner awards went out in a more relaxed form, with wicked-fast Butch Wilson (1:23), Jose Ochoa (1:25), and Christopher Gustafson (1:25) rounding out the top three, and Henrike Siemen (1:41), Valerie Herzog (1:44), and Ann Will (1:44) claiming the female division. Some confusion arose when I announced Mary Wong as the first place female, and she had said “1:29 isn’t fast enough to win”. I begged to differ and showed her up there as #4 overall, before she pointed out to me that she had done the 10k. Oops! I guess that’s what happens when you whip through the manual registrations.

With the awards out and the last few marathoners coming in, I finally reached for my now-cold-coffee, but Eric asked for some help on a few other matters first. A volunteer had unlocked a gate to drive up and save themselves a hike and the park ranger wasn’t too excited about it, there was a significant amount of trash in an area about four miles up the hill (unclear if it was even race related), there seemed to be a marathoner still out on the course somewhere, and we had run short of 1st place age group awards. Oh yeah, we still needed to take down all the course markings. I thought the proverbial poo was hitting the fan, but judging by the look on Eric’s face, it was all in a days work. Never a dull moment in race directing!

I grabbed two garbage bags, hopped on my bike, and started a two-hour tour through the course again to pick up the course markings. Within a couple of miles, I understood why many race directors go for “minimal” markings since it takes a long time to pick them all up. And I will never, ever toss a Dixie cup to the side of the trail in a race again – those things are impossible to pick up and find! Much of the trash hadn’t been race related, but hey, it’s clear the park ranger loves the extra effort. By the time I finished, I was hauling two full garbage bags full of trash.

As I pulled up to the race start, everyone but David and a few volunteers had left. The campground was spotless, short of one full coffee cup sitting next to my car. I looked at my watch – 3:30pm, and I hadn’t sat down once since 6am. Race directors may be the ultimate endurance athletes.

Now more than ever, I appreciate the work of race directors and volunteers and I thank them for their tireless effort. It’s really fun to volunteer if you haven’t tried it. You will get a whole new perspective on racing!

- SD

Friday, September 23, 2005

Product Idea - T-shirt with iPod Headphone Cord Guides

Have you ever made "mods" to products you have purchased? Like sewing in a key pocket on your favorite running hat? Or maybe adding soft rubber to the ends of your sunglasses so they stay in place? It seems like I'm always making some sort of modification to my favorite shirts, shoes, etc. Not that the products are bad, mind you - it most cases they fit like a glove, and I understand a lot of design work went into making that happen. But often the product seems to be missing that one extra thing.

I'm going to add some entries to the blog called "Products I Would Like to See", in hopes that by sharing some field-tested ideas, some forward-thinking company will PLEASE MAKE THESE PRODUCTS! So Nike, Adidas, New Balance, North Face, Mountain Hardwear, and the rest of you, listen up - this is free customer feedback (and probably worth every cent you paid for it)!

So here goes...

Product Idea - The Mountain Hardwear© T-Shirt with iPod Headphone Cord Guides

You guys know I'm a huge fan of the iPod for trail running. Trail running is one of the few sports that encourages the use of an iPod, even during events. I just have one problem - the headphone cord that seems to magically grab itself on every passing branch, causing an instant "ear-ectomy". Not to mention that one out of three times your headphones get a yank like that, they don't work for crap afterwards. So I'm looking to a cheaper part of the ensemble - the t-shirt - to help out.

The idea is to have two mods to the back of your favorite t-shirt. First, a velcro loop right below the neckline that can quickly secure your headphone cord behind you. This would make sure you have enough "slack" to turn your head, but not so much slack that your cord is whipping around. By keeping it close to the center of your back, the cord has less of a chance of getting caught on passing branches.

The second addition would be a "sleeve" that runs down the arm to wear most people wear their iPod when exercising. This would keep the cord close to the body, and be a super-cool fashion statement. Well, to fellow running geeks anyway. ;-) A similar sleeve could run down the center of the back for those who carry their iPods in a fanny pack, belt, or shorts pocket.

I've tried the velcro attachment (yes, dudes can sew!) and it worked pretty well. It had the added feature of holding my headphones when I wasn't using them (I just took off my headphones, reached behind me, then gave the cord a tug, like a wetsuit zipper leash). Total weight - 2 grams. Total cost - 20 cents, plus 30 minutes of labor.

My suggested vendor for this product idea is Mountain Hardwear.

I have a lot of t-shirts (don't we all?), but always seem to reach for the form-fitting Mountain Hardwear shirts when it comes time to race. Plus Mountain Hardwear has limited offerings on iPod-related products.

There are alternatives to the hiding the headphone cord, but they have limitations. Logitech makes a wireless headphone for iPod, but the headphones are pretty bulky for running, and cost ($149) as much as the iPod itself. There are also t-shirts with pockets for your iPod, such as the ShuffleShirt or ScotteVest, but I will tell you, it's hard to run if your iPod is loosely dangling in your sleeve. It's better to have it snug against your body somehow. Perhaps the iPod Nano is small enough that the weight isn't an issue, but to date, none of the shirt-with-iPod-pockets have worked for me when running.

So that's the idea. If you have other mod ideas, let me know and link to them! I'm sure the product designers at our favorite co's would love it.

- SD

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Gorgeous Golden Leaf Half Marathon

Last weekend, I returned to Aspen to run the 27th Annual Golden Leaf Half Marathon, one of my favorite races in the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series. Last year I ran it as part of a double-header weekend of ½ marathons, but I spent so much time racing I didn’t have a chance to enjoy the town. This time I convinced my wife, Christi, and her parents to come along so we could make a long weekend out of it. We called it “acclimating for the race”, although I’m not sure if real acclimating involves that much beer.

(The not-quite-yet-golden aspens of Aspen, photo courtesy of Christi Dunlap)

The Golden Leaf Half Marathon is part of a jam-packed weekend in Aspen on Sept 16-17 that includes a mountain bike race, trail run, hot air balloon festival, and Ruggerfest, a big rugby tournament. This weekend had optimal weather for all events, so we decided to check out as much as we could.

A Weekend In Aspen

Aspen is a gorgeous mountain town, and much to the surprise of many, is not all full-length furs and Learjets (although you do see them). There is plenty to do, and much of it can be done cheaply.

First on the agenda for us was the hot air balloon festival (not one of the cheap activities, but still fun). Through our hotel (the comfortable and spacious Residence Hotel right downtown, where owner Terry and her dog, Max, were happy to help), we arranged to have the Unicorn Balloon Company fly us as close to the festival as possible so we could “join” the other balloon pilots in their distance competition. It turned out to be a spectacular way to see Snowmass, as we gently used the frigid morning breeze to work our way down the valley (note to future balloonists – you can’t possible wear too much wool). John, our pilot, was well versed in the stories behind dozens of $10+ million homes we flew over, turning it into a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” tour. It was also fun to see all the other balloon pilots racing each other down the valley.

(View of Snowmass from the balloon, photo courtesy of Christi Dunlap)

Over the next couple of days of “acclimating”, we enjoyed window shopping, driving up to Independence Pass, the Saturday market, and lots of great food that made use of local cooking styles and ingredients. If you don’t mind dropping a few bucks on meals, I recommend Montagna (French/American, and the only restaurant I know that serves a cotton candy course), Cache Cache (classic French bistro), and Syzygy (unique and tasty American/Asian Fusion). For something a bit easier on the checkbook, Poppycocks (breakfast), The Bookstore (amazing vegetarian food in a quaint bookstore setting), and NY Pizza (by the slice!) were all great. At each one of these places, our meals were so tasty we cleaned our plates to the very last crumb. Maybe it’s the altitude?

I should note that Aspen is a SERIOUS dog town. If you have a pooch, bring him or her, and you will pleasantly surprised at how accommodating the local restaurants, hotels, and bars are to our four-legged friends. We probably saw 30 dogs at the Saturday market. Next time, Rocky gets to go!

The Race

On Sunday morning, I grabbed a shuttle to SnoMass for the race. I was surprised to see many of the people I met on the bus last year among the 400 participants, including Ross Moody from Austin, TX, Bob MacCloskey from Wilmington, DE, and Colorado-local Tania Pacev. Like many, the wide range of Aspen colors from last year drew us back for more. This year, the aspens were turning a bit later so the colors were more “lime” and “yellow”, but it was still gorgeous.

The weather was clear and already hitting the 60’s as I lined up at the start. I recognized Bernie Boettcher, last year’s winner, lined up right next to TRM Series leaders Dale Reicheneder and Michael Robbert. And per usual in Colorado, a whole bunch of 20'ish speed demons were also ready to roll.

The course quickly separates the “flatlanders” from the “hill people” by starting at 8200 ft elevation and going up 1500 more feet over the first two miles. Within a few minutes, I was gasping and struggling to find a rhythm (maybe two days of beer wasn’t such a good way to acclimate). As I looked down the trail, it was easy to pick out the rest of the flatlanders – we’re the ones weaving back and forth on the trail wheezing like asthmatics. By mile 2, Bernie and four others were already six minutes ahead of me. Amazing!

At the top of the first hill, it flattened out and we all got our bearings. The single track was very technical and had lots of quick turns, so one had to stay on one's toes. I was wearing my short-course trail runners (a pair of inov-8 Mudroc 290’s that a British racer had brought me from the UK) which worked well for accelerating out of the corners. I passed a few people and ended up pacing with Michael Robbert and Lisa Gonzales-Gile. Lisa is one of those uber-tan, uber-toned 40-something Colorado women that don’t even train for races like this and still kick ass. We all traded off the lead as we crossed the many streams and hiked the steep ascents of the course.

(Racers tackling the Goverment Trail single track, photo courtesy of Ute Mountaineer)

At mile 5, the trails began to get less technical as we crossed the barren ski slopes of Buttermilk. Given some room to stretch my stride, I pulled away from Michael and Lisa to try and make up some time from those first two miles. I quickly found myself behind Ernesto Grain, who was pretty close to my pace. But every time I asked to pass, he wouldn’t move! And as if to rub it in, he kept looking back to see where I was. “How rude!”, I thought. That is, until he finally turned around and said, “You look great! Tap me on the shoulder when you’re ready to pass…I have a hearing aid so I can’t always hear from behind”. Hmmm…is there a “biggest jerk” award for this race?

Ernesto and I hung tough through the next 6 miles, with Ernesto setting the pace. The scenery quickly shifted from the white and yellow of deep aspen groves, to the golden grass of the open hills. Although the colors weren’t as rich as last year, there was also considerably less leaves on the trail so you could see what you were stepping on. We passed a few injured runners, reminding us not to do too much sightseeing along the way or pay the consequences. Even when we did pay attention, every five minutes or so one of us would veer off the trail or flail our arms around to try to get balanced again. This was a challenging course!

In the final two miles the trail flattened out, as we crossed a large bridge and headed into the town of Aspen. There were volunteers at every corner, so there was no chance to get lost. My lungs felt sandblasted at this point, but I tried to keep my pace up. I finished in 1:49:08, about 36th place or so. Ernesto, Lisa, Dale were within a few minutes behind me, while Michael Robbert nursed a twisted ankle and came in about 15 minutes later (Michael reports a bad sprain requiring a splint, but is already quick on the recovery). Ross Moody came in just under 2 hours, cutting nearly 10 minutes off of last year’s time (nice work, fellow flatlander!). As I caught up with the other finishers, it was clear there were plenty of crashes along the way. Bernie had taken a full-speed tumble, and was dirty and bleeding at the knees (and in typical Bernie fashion, he still got 3rd overall in 1:29:57, just two minutes off winner Ryan Padilla, who is half his age), and another woman was getting her lip stitched back together. But everyone was smiling and having a good time.

(Cruisin' to the finish - note the free doggy poo bag stands that are everywhere!
Or maybe those are for runners? Photo courtesy of Christi Dunlap)

As I packed up and headed out, one racer came up and said “congrats on being the second lowlander” and she pointed out that Greg Rhoades from Bloomington, IN, was the only non-CO runner to finish ahead of me. Dale (who would be the 3rd lowlander) and I chuckled, but lightheartedly admitted we were outclassed by the insanely fast highlanders of Colorado. Still, it won’t stop me from coming back again next year.

My thanks to Ute Mountaineer, the volunteers of Aspen, and my fellow racers for a great race!

- SD

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Race Report from the Masters World Mountain Running Championships (Guest Blogger, Bernie Boettcher)

Guest blogger Bernie Boettcher sends in this report from racing with Masters World Mountain Running Championships in Keswick, England. Great job, Bernie!

- SD

Masters World Mountain Running Championships

Hello everyone,

Many of you have expressed an interest in the England race, so I thought I'd send along the account of the race I gave to sponsors, just for grins.

As some of you know, I ended up 20th in the Masters 40 - 44 at Worlds. I was the 25th runner to the top of the hill, and had the 16th fastest downhill time. Of all the Masters there in all the age brackets, I was 26th Overall. I was 38th overall going up, and 19th overall going down.

The weather was good, high 60's, breezy, intermitent clouds, but mostly sunny for the race. Heavy rains the day before made things humid. The course was a true test of mountain running skills. 11.5K looped course to the top of a mountain and back. About 2250 feet of elevation gain and loss.

(The 65-and-over mass start at Fitz Park, photo courtesy of

After a quick start across a soccer park (the leaders went out like maniacs!), we funneled into a sheep pasture. A gradual climb in the beginning through the pastures quickly turned dramatic as we entered a steep and narrow trail. There was a bit of elbowing going on as runners grappled for position on the rocky trail. One had to watch out for descending runners coming down the same trail as well. (Slower runners from previous races.) As we neared the halfway mark of the uphill, the course opened up into a marvellous sheep pasture flanked with stone fences. The view was spectacular! We ran on a choice of short grass, or stone trail and climbed over a rolling meadow to a gentle, short descent. That ended when we crossed a stream. From there, the trail climbed rather quickly on a dirt road 'til we'd gone about a quarter mile. Then it got serious.

The course took a hard left and traversed through a sheep pasture, up through a field of heather and high grasses. The trail had been wet from hard rains in previous days and some sections were a bit muddy. It got really steep! And then we took a right hand turn straight up the fall line and it got even steeper!!! To pass anyone, you had to bushwhack through calf high grass and tough heather plants that blanketed the slope, or just maintain your pace and try to hold your footing on the narrow, barely visible trail. It was hard to determine foot placement as the grass was very adept at hiding buried rocks or rooted mounds of grass. Ankles were a turning. As we neared the summit I was in 25th position and there was a line of about 10 runners spread out single file across 100 yards of hill in front of me. They were all walking.

Though I had passed about 10 people on the way up through the grasses from the dirt road, my lungs were at capacity and I struggled as well. At the top, we had to plug our computer chips into a hole to collect our times. It was a funky system, but it went quicker than I thought. From there, we crested the summit of Lonscale Fell and entered another sheep pasture on the back side of the mountain through a muddy, slick, winding trail that followed a marvellous stone fence row. At the bottom of that, we took a hard left and plunged down an off-camber slope on a grassy/muddy trail where the footing resembled a field of wet grass covered with tennis balls.

And did I mention it was steep!?

Well, it was...and then it got steeper!!! We rolled out onto a stone covered 4-wheeler trail that went virtually straight down the hill. The rocks were a mixture of small flat chunks of slate on the sides, combined with marble sized round ball-bearings in the middle, interspersed with embedded granite-like cantalopes throughout, and random piles of each of these anywhere, anytime. It was as steep as the steepest sections on the Imogene Pass Run for at least a mile long. (Over 20% grade in some places.)

My liver and bladder hammered their way into my left and right shoe by the time I got down.
At the very bottom of this, when your calves and hamstrings and quads were screaming with pain and the blisters on your heels had grown to the size of silver dollars and were ready to pop, they put in a short, albeit steep, little uphill to slow you down a bit.

I passed 7 runners on the hairy descent, but by the time we crested the little uphill, one was hot on my heels. We ran back down across a cow pasture along another stone fence row on flat ground, and he slipped past as my right heel blister popped. The burning sensation lit me up like matchsticks but I tried to hang on. There were five runners hot on my tail as we descended a steep and narrow winding trail. I was trying to maximize every turn by cutting hard to the inside as I entered, and powering out the far side as I came out. This worked well, except the sides of the trails were covered with thorny bushes. My legs were bloody with thorny wounds. Fortunately, so many other things were hurting worse that I barely noticed.

At the bottom of this section, we crossed a highway overpass. That little hill about killed me. Everything started to lock up. I could hear one runner right behind me and as we dropped over the other side for a short street section, he was right on my shoulder. I tried to hold on as we wiggled down a skinny footpath, but then we entered an open park for a short climb up a grassy hill and he passed me.

At the top, I could see the finish line and the hundreds of spectators lining the course on either side. My legs were done, as if barbed ropes were limiting their movement. They gave us a fast descent into the field and the people were cheering...for the guys behind me! I grimaced with every inch of my being and sprinted for the line, fully expecting to get passed. I didn't. I held for 20th. Two runners tied for 21st just 4 seconds back. I heard some lady at the finish line say, "My, he really looks like he's suffering, doesn't he?"

I had a good race. It was not one of those great days for me, but I had a good day in which I don't think I could've run any faster than I did. I think I ran the technical sections of the downhill as fast as I've ever run downhill before, and the rest of the race was solid for me. I never quit trying to pass people.

That being said, two Masters runners from Scotland, one from Ireland, one from Gibraltar, one from Italy (the winner), and 14 runners from England beat me. 14 from England!!! (27 countries entered.) In the USA, trail running is pitifully far behind. These guys (and girls) love to run downhill...and uphill. The depth of good runners was remarkable to see. They have more running clubs than we have runners. It's kind of amazing.

They have awesome terrain to run on over there, but so do we. It's a shame we don't take advantage of it.

Curious note: No one wears hats. I was the only one in my race with a hat on. Also, no one wears sunglasses. I was also the only one with sunglasses on, even though it was sunny out.

It was fun.

Gotta run,

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Volunteers needed to maintain the Appalachian Trail

Here's a chance to see a ton of the Appalachian Trail. Looking for volunteers!

- SD

Volunteers needed to maintain the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is looking for volunteers to work and play in the backcountry on its Mid-Atlantic Trail Crew! The crew tackles projects involving trail reconstruction and rock work between the New York-Connecticut border and Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. The program runs Wednesday to Monday evenings every week until October 24th, and is headquartered in Carlisle, PA.

Trail Crew volunteers enjoy great scenery, food, transportation, lodging, tools, equipment and the opportunity for lots of fun. No experience necessary, only the willingness to work hard and get dirty. You will meet people of all ages, from all walks of life, from all over the country and around the world.

The September and October volunteer projects include great opportunities for volunteers to work and have fun. There are treadway rehabilitation projects scheduled at two locations in Pennsylvania, CCC-era cribwall reconstruction slated for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and a raised boardwalk to be constructed in Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley. The crew will be staying at a variety of sites in the field - a National Park Service cabin in Shenandoah National Park, ATC's base camp facility in Pennsylvania and a primitive campsite in New Jersey

Trail work is hard, physical labor. Trail construction involves working with hand tools; getting dirty is guaranteed. Crews work eight-hour days, rain or shine, hot or cold. Trail Crews may set up and live in a primitive backcountry campsite near the project site. With this said, it can be a lot of fun and a great way to gain experience working in the backcountry.

Everyone 18 or older, of all backgrounds is welcome. Enthusiasm, good health, physical vigor, and adaptability are vital.

Spots on these crews are still available. To become a part of the action, call (717) 258-5771 or email today. You can find us on the web at

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is the only organization that has sole responsibility for protecting and promoting the A.T. experience. Established in 1925, the ATC celebrates 80 years of caring for the world's most famous long-distance hiking trail. Running 2,175 miles from Maine to Georgia, the A.T. is the nation's longest and most accessible unit of the National Park System. ATC coordinates its management and protection in conjunction with the National Park Service and the United States Forest.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Beautiful Lake Views of the Run On The Sly 50k

Last weekend, I snuck away at 0-dark-thirty on Sunday morning to join 300 runners at the Run On The Sly 20 mile/50k/50 mile. Located near Pollock Pines, CA (about 90 minutes southwest of Lake Tahoe), the Run On The Sly course promised a mix of pristine lakes, Yosemite-like mountains, and the fun atmosphere one can always find at the Tahoe location races (much in thanks to all the local volunteers). This race had also been recommended to me by many of the ultrarunners pursuing the Fuel Belt series.

When I mentioned to Christi, my wife, that I wanted to try another 50k, she just shook her head in disbelief. She’s very supportive of my various trail endeavors, but I often forget how crazy ultrarunning can sound to a non-runner. Like many rookies at the sport, I refer to things like severe dehydration, sunburns, and head-to-toe poison oak as “learning experiences”. The reality of these experiences is much more concrete to the friend/spouse who scoops you up from the finish line each time. But consequences be damned, I had some new theories to try out!

(The early arrival in Pollock Pines...hmmm, should I have brought a headlight? Photo courtesy of DURT)

As I pulled in to the parking lot at 5:45am, the 50k/50 mile runners were warming up for their 6:15am start (8- and 20-milers to start an hour later). The dark had a few of us concerned, but the race directors ensured us the sun would arrive as promised. I loaded up my iPod (the new Black Eyed Peas, Def Leppard’s Pyromania, and Foo Fighters), filled my water bottles (no sports mix this time – that’s the new theory), and spread on the sunscreen as I walked to the race start. I saw a lot of familiar smiling faces, although most of them I have yet to meet. Ultras are funny that way in that I’ll not meet many of these folks, but will end up knowing one or two really well as we clock the miles together. One woman asked if I had done the race before, and at that moment I realized I had never really looked at the map. “No worries,” she said, “these guys obsess about course markings.” At 6:13am, the sun peeked over the mountains as promised. At 6:15am, we were off.

Five runners took off right away, and I recognized Troy Limb, Marty Hoffman, and Mark Lantz in that pack. No surprise since these guys are always near the front no matter what the distance. The course began to climb from the very first step, and I settled into a slightly slower pace with David Horner from Naples, NC. David he was telling me how he had paced Chris Bergland at Badwater, and had decided that he was going to do Badwater himself in ’06. This was to be his first solo 50-mile training race, and so far he was looking pretty good. I asked him how he had chosen this race, particularly given how far he traveled, and he mentioned that he was a Seventh Day Adventist and it was tough to find ultra races that were on Sunday (race directors take note!).

As we hit mile 6, the course began to flatten out and soon we were cruising down towards Jenkinson Lake. We passed a few of the early start runners, and commented on how we love the fact that there are so many ways to do a 50k – hike, walk, run, race – all of them equally challenging in their own ways. As we approached the lake, the smell of campfire bacon and coffee filled the campgrounds, and the campers cheered us on.

My co-starter was right about the course markings – it was going to be tough to get lost with so many ribbons. So I turned on the tunes and picked up the pace, leaving David to his 50-mile adventure. The five runners ahead of us had gapped us considerably after mile 4, so I had some solo running ahead of me. I kept on the water bottles, taking all my calories/electrolytes in pills, Hammer gels, and the occasional flat Coke or banana. In the past 50k’s, I would get caught up in the vicious cycle of nausea hits/drink mix doesn’t tastes good/so you don’t drink/more nausea. So it was only water in the bottles this time. But this meant I had to be very careful about taking my electrolyte pills on time.

I ran solo until mile 15, when I caught up with Troy Limb and a few other early starters. Troy was on a fast pace for the 50 mile, but said Mark Lantz (doing the 50 mile) and Marty Hoffman (doing the 50k) were leading the way about 15 minutes ahead of me. Troy said, “I know you can go faster…get on it!”. He was right. I was on track for hydration and calories, so it was time to pick up the pace.

I hammered through the next 10 miles, slapping high fives with the 20-milers who were now coming down the first loop. The temperature had reached a perfect 60 degrees and as I looked across the lake to the other racers on the lake rim trail, it was clear everyone was having a blast. The aid stations were models of efficiency, filling my water bottles and recapping them before I could catch my breath (darn!). As the Foo Fighters kicked in with “No Way Back From Here”, I started up the last steep climb at mile 26.

(South Fork of the nearby American River, photo courtesy of Kay Blom)

At least I thought it was the last climb. Turns out there was more rolling hills at the end then I remember from going out (isn’t that always the case?). Still, I was feeling good and enjoying the beautiful scenery as I chugged through the last few hills. The last ½ mile of steep downhill made it easy to cruise in feeling like a champ, finishing in 4:39, just a few minutes behind Marty Hoffman. The volunteers loaded me up with goodies (a shirt for registering, my raffle winnings, a sweatshirt for finishing the ultra, a hat for winning my age group, and a cool homemade 2nd place medallion – the mother lode!) and sat me down with a beer so I could soak my feet in the cool tubs (brilliant idea, natch). Already soaking were Kevin Mckimken (Alameda, CA) and Eric Nichol (Sacramento, CA), who finished 1-2 in the 20-miler, and Jenny Hitchings (Sacramento, CA) who had won first female. They chugged their Olympia beer, and let me know that Bruce Aldrich (Sacramento, CA) and Placerville-local Erin Hunter had won the 8-mile race. One racer came up and asked if I was the “blog guy”, and told me to hurry up and write something on the series (I’m on it).

In thinking about the "all water" theory, it certainly was easier for me to keep up with my hydration. But it seemed like I was popping a pill or Gu every five minutes throughout the race. After a dozen or so, it was tough to keep track. But my stomach was a-okay the whole race (a first), and for that, it's worth counting a few pills. I'm going to keep experimenting, but I think diluting the drinks well below the recommended dose is a must for me, as long as I make up for the electrolytes in pills.

As I packed up to head back to Tahoe, Caroline Barichievich (South Lake Tahoe, CA) won first female in the 50k in 5:16. Mark Lantz would later win the 50-miler in 7:48, with Troy Limb and Wayne Miles about 30 minutes behind him. Prudence L’Heureux (Santa Cruz, CA) won first female in an impressive 8:52, and David Horner hung on for 8th place in 9:07. Not bad, David! All in all a fantastic race, and one I would recommend.

My thanks to the organizers, volunteers, and fellow racers for putting on a great show!

- SD

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A thank you to my fallen 9/11 comrades

I know September 11th, 2001, was a tragic day for many. It was for me too. But I found passion in the pain by escaping for my first trail run on that fateful day. And I never could have predicted where that path would lead.

I was supposed to be in New York in Sept. 11th (read the story here). Two work friends, Danny and Richard, were planning to meet me that morning to talk about a business deal that they thought I could help on. But I messed up those plans by quitting my job, and thus canceling the trip to New York. Danny and Richard weren't so lucky - they were both killed.

As I sat and watched the horror on the TV, learning through e-mail about my fallen friends, I tried to console myself by thinking I didn't really know these guys THAT well. I just knew them from work. But that just seemed to make the 9/11 tragedy all the more senseless. Then the news channels kept telling me "how you should feel", compounding their message with endless repeats and replays from every angle. I couldn't take it any more. I had to get outside.

Outside, the media couldn't find me. Outside, I would be forced to reconcile on my own terms. At first, I ran angry. Then, I ran scared. But after 30 minutes, the rhythm of my steps helped me calm down. Each and every day after that, the trails would help me find my way. Soon my dog, Rocky, joined me and became a closer friend that I ever imagined a pet could. These days the trails are such a part of me, I'm not even sure where I end and where the trail begins.

To Danny and Richard, I thank you, and think of you often. Just thought I would let you know.

- SD

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Blazing Fast Kami Semick (An Interview)

It’s rare that a runner can excel on both the road and trails, ranging in distances from marathons to 100k’s. But that is exactly what 39-year-old Kami Semick has done in the last year, winning the female division in the Seattle Marathon (2:53:11), Miwok 100k, Where’s Waldo 100k (course record), Kettle Moraine 100k (overall winner, overall course record), McDonald Forest 50k, Hagg Lake 50k (course record), Angel Island 50k (course record), Peterson Ridge Rumble 60k (course record), and placing a close second at the White River 50-mile national championships. With her recent streak, this Bend, OR-based runner and mom finds herself in the enviable position of leading the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series hotly-contested women’s ultra division going into the last month.

(Kami Semick after winning the Where's Waldo 100k, August, 2005,
photo courtesy of Craig Thornley, Copyright All Rights Reserved)

I caught up with Kami after her come-from-behind-win at the Where’s Waldo 100k, and she graciously agreed to an interview.

First, congratulations on a great season! You’ve really posted some amazing times in the last two years. Have you been focusing on specific races this year, or just trying a bit of everything?

Thanks! My goal this year was to successfully complete a 100k race, and to build a solid base this year in order to step up to the 100 mile distance next year. I hit my 100k race goal at Miwok, and was pretty surprised at how well I ran. So, I thought, what the heck, I’d go for Montrail’s 100k Ultra Cup series. The final race in that series is the Great Eastern 100k coming up September 17.

How was Waldo for you?

Whew! Waldo was tough for me – I’ve been battling a nasty cold and now a sinus infection since White River three weeks ago. I finally gave in and got some antibiotics on Wednesday to clear up the infection. I started feeling human again yesterday, but the antibiotic/sin-u-tab cocktail I had this morning at 4 am wasn’t such a bright idea. I battled concrete legs and dizziness for the first 50 miles of this run, and then finally broke through and starting actually running! So the last twelve miles was a lot of fun.

How many races do you target per year?

Well, I didn’t really think it through this year, and I’ve been racing quite a bit. Next year when I start adding 100 milers, I’ll definitely par back the schedule.

Your time at the Seattle Marathon (2:53:11) was amazing, particularly for an ultrarunner. Do you commonly mix up road and trail racing? Which do you prefer?

Thanks, I was surprised at the marathon as well. But I typically don’t mix the two. Seattle was my second road race in about 10 years. I decided to run it on a whim. My parents live in Seattle, and it was a good way to burn off all that pumpkin pie I ate at Thanksgiving, since the marathon is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I definitely prefer longer distance races, and I love trails. In the future I may do a road marathon here and there just to work on speed.

How long have you been trail running? How did you get into the sport?

I’ve been trail running for about fifteen years. Not the distances I’m running today, but I’ve always had a passion for running in a more natural setting verses the roads. In my early twenties, I was a computer programmer, and my first assignment was with the DMV in Nashville, Tennessee. I found Percy Warner Park, which is a huge, fabulous park on the west side of town, and spent my weekends running and mountain biking on its trails.
I started running longer distances and running ‘competitively’ in the last two years. I thought it would be fun to have a goal, so I entered a 50k trail race in 2003. Then, I just became addicted!

Do you cross-train outside of running (and chasing your 3 yr old daughter)?

Baronie is pretty fast, no doubt, especially when butterflies are involved.
I’m big on cross training. Variety is the spice of life! I love all sports that get me outside – mountain biking, road biking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, hiking…love it all. In July of this year, I joined my husband on a 200+ mile one day bike ride from Seattle to Portland. Last year I did quite a bit of mountaineering. I make sure to take total cross training days two to three days a week, or more if I need to stay off my feet. I also do yoga on a regular basis.

Who crews for you at the longer races?

I haven’t really needed a crew yet. I’ll definitely look into pacers for the 100 mile distance. My husband usually has his hands full on race day with our daughter, so I’m lucky if he can manage a picture of my back crossing the finish line.

Do you train with a running club, or have a group of other ultrarunners you train with?

There are some fun ultra runners here in Bend and Sisters, but it’s definitely a challenge to coordinate schedules. We get together now and again, but I primarily run by myself.

I was recently in Bend, OR, for the Haulin’ Aspen Marathon and it’s a great town. How long have you lived in Bend? What brought you there? Where did you grow up?

Yeah, Bend is pretty great, isn’t it? We moved to Bend about three years ago from the San Francisco Bay Area. We lived in Berkeley when Baronie was born. It’s amazing how fast your priorities change once you’ve had a child. We wanted to downsize, live in a smaller community and spend more time together as a family doing fun stuff versus in the car commuting. Bend filled all of those needs.

I grew up mostly in the Pacific Northwest – Washington and Idaho.

What/who inspires you to race?

The day after Miwok, I was on a walk with my dad. We were reflecting on the race, and how well I did. I said, “Yeah, that was fun. I probably won’t go anywhere with ultrarunning, as it’s tough on Tyson (my husband) and Baronie (my daughter).” I expected my dad to agree with me, and reinforce my feelings I needed to make it easy on the family. But, he looked at me and said, “You have to go for it.” So, that’s what I’m doing. Thanks, dad. I couldn’t do this without the support of my family, and my biggest fans, my mom and dad.

(Kami charging at the Where's Waldo 100k, photo courtesy of Craig Thornley)

What are some of your favorite races/locations?

I really like to see new trails. So my favorite is the trail I haven’t yet run. Of the trails that I have run, I love the Marin Headlands, home of Miwok, and the awesome trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness outside of Bend.

Lastly, a few training questions. What’s a typical training week look like for you? How many miles? Do you mix in other sports regularly?

If I’m not recovering or resting up for a race, I try to do two long, hilly runs (3-4 hrs each), if I can, back too back. Then throw in couple of fast 10 mile runs during the week. Cross training to fill in the rest of the days.

I don’t keep a training log. I like to run according to how I feel. My guess as far as mileage goes, is that it’ll range from 40 miles a week with a lot of cross training, to maybe 90 miles, with some cross training.

Some ultrarunners have told me you have a great kick at the end of a race. Is there something in your training that helps you stay strong in the final miles?

In training runs, after warming up I work on running a consistent pace. And it’s not unusual after a long run, for me to go on a hike with the family and carry Baronie in a back pack for an hour or two. Maybe that helps. For race strategy, I try and run below the red line for the first half, so I have something left at the end. Although, that can be tough when I’m running with a pack of fast women. It’s a challenge to have the discipline to hold back.

What are your favorite foods/race snacks? Any other products?

Fig bars, potatoes and salt work when I’m not nauseated. Otherwise, I try to choke down some gels. Although I’d never drink a coke outside of a race, it sure hits the spot near the end of a long race.

As far as other products are concerned, I go as light as possible. I carry two water bottles, and I make sure to put on sunscreen before heading out to a race. Sunscreen is important to me, so I use a product called Himaya. I really like it because it lasts all day, it's sweat proof, waterproof, doesn't sting my eyes and isn't greasy.

You’ve raced a few ultras without much time to recover. Any recovery tips/secrets you would like to share?

Rest and cross training. For cross training while recovering, I really like running in the deep end a pool. For me, pool running really helps my muscles get rid of the lactic acid while allowing the tendons and ligaments to recover. I also try to eat some extra protein to help in muscle recovery. I tend toward a vegetarian diet, but have learned that protein, usually fish or lean chicken, makes a big difference for me in recovery. And a glass or two of red wine always seems to help balance running, relaxing and life.

Any tips you would like to pass on to somebody trying their first ultra?

Sure – run painfully slow in the first half, so you can fly in the second half. And make sure to talk to the people around you; it’s fun, and you might just make a good friend.

What’s next on the race/run agenda?

The Great Eastern 100k, September 17.

Thanks for a great interview!

Thank you Scott. Great blog!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

High-Altitude Living May Be the Fountain of Youth

Maybe this is why most trail runners look like they fill their water bottles from the fountain of youth. People who live in the mountains may have longer life expectancies than people living at lower altitudes, according to a recent report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The findings are based on research involving 1,150 inhabitants of three villages near Athens, Greece. One of the villages is located in a mountain region about 1,000 meters above sea level, while the other two villages are located in the lowlands.

(Photo courtesy of Gregoire LeClercq)

Researchers tracked cardiovascular health, risk factors and death rates over a 15-year period, and the results suggest that people who live in mountainous areas have better heart health than lowland dwellers. Compared with their peers living in the plains, the mountain dweller group initially showed higher coronary heart disease risk, including higher rates of circulating blood lipids and higher blood pressure. However, the mountain dwellers ultimately had a lower death rate and lower incidence of death from heart disease.

The researchers concluded that the results could most likely be attributed to other “protective” factors, such as long-term physiological changes from living at higher altitudes, and the cardiovascular benefits of walking uphill regularly on rugged terrain. Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, they said living at moderately high altitude produced long term physiological changes in the body to enable it to cope with lower levels of oxygen (hypoxia), and that this, combined with the exertion required to walk uphill regularly on rugged terrain, could give the heart a better work-out. Some reviewers also point out that in Greece, deaths from heart disease are among the lowest of any developed country, a factor which could be largely due to the Mediterranean diet most people eat.

Of course, those of us who are lowlanders and want to improve our heart condition don’t want to get too crazy. High altitude living presents risks to those who already have heart disease, and at altitudes over 3,000 meters you run the risk of Chronic Mountain Sickness (CMS). Best to ease into it.

- SD

Thursday, September 01, 2005

When Western States Is Much More Than a Race - An Interview with John Ticer

This year, 48-year-old John Ticer finished his third Western States 100 in an amazing 18:03:17, good for 6th place overall. But this victory carried much greater significance than a new PR, as evidenced by the picture of his recently-passed father pinned to his dirt- and blood-stained shirt. For he and his father are of the few who knew of the braces and body casts that this firefighter/paramedic overcame as a child to become one of the WS100’s top contenders.

(John Ticer finishes in 4:02 at the Way Too Cool 50k, 2005, photo courtesy of Sara Ticer)

I caught up with John after he recently volunteered at the Where’s Waldo 100k, and he graciously agreed to an interview.

First, congratulations on a fantastic finish at Western States. How did this compare to your previous two finishes?

In 2002, I ran States just to see if I could finish under 24 hours. I was scared to death at the start. The day before, at the medical check in, my blood pressure was 169/110 with a resting heart rate of 98. 2003 was a little better and my goal, but don’t tell him, was to see if I could better my training partner, Craig Thornley’s, time of 19:44. I ran 19:22. In 2005, I finally had the confidence to toe the line and race; that was the difference.

I understand that this was a “tribute” run to honor your father. Can you talk a little bit about him? Why did you pick this particular race?

First of all, my father was my hero and my best friend, so it would be really hard to just say a “little bit” about him. I’ll keep it short by saying that he introduced me to running, paced me at my first 50 miler in 1982 (American River), was my number one fan for the past 25 years and helped crew for me in 2002 at States. The reason I picked this race was two-fold; one because one of the last things my dad was able to say to me was, “No matter what happens, I want you to promise me you’ll run States.” The other reason I picked States was in 1958 my dad was a veterinary student at UC Davis and volunteered to do medical checks at Michigan Bluff for some crazy 100 mile horse race called the Tevis Cup. Little did he know that he would be doing a medical check on his son, 42 years later, at the same place. So you might say this race has some family history.

It sounds like the race was a family affair. Did the Ticer family help crew and give support?

My wife, Sara, has crewed and paced me from Highway 49 to the finish in all three of my Western States runs. My older brother, Jim, has been my crew chief every year and my younger brother, Joe, helped with crewing and pacing in 2002 and 2003. My sister Kathie and her husband, Jim (not the same one as her brother Jim), crewed at all three, so it does end up being a family affair which makes it all the more special.

It sounds like they are very supportive of your crazy ultrarunning hobby. How about back home in Eugene? I know Eugene is one of the track capitals of the world (Go Pre!), but is ultrarunning well-known there?

My family is very supportive. As for the Track Capital of the World.....well people that know about ultrarunning seem to be in awe of what the human body is capable of, but it really is still a relatively unknown sport, even in Eugene.

You’re a firefighter/paramedic, correct? What do those guys think of ultrarunning?

Yes, I do work as a firefighter/paramedic for the City of Eugene and the boys think I am whacked. They call me “Ethiopia Man.” (Of course, most of them are extra fluffy.) But, I am the first one they turn to if we have a high rise fire and we need to get hoses and equipment to the 18th floor via the stairwell. I also seem to get shoved through lots of small windows when we’re trying to make entry into a locked building. Secretly, I think they like me.

Do you train with a running club, or have a group of other ultrarunners you train with?

I train with an awesome group of ultrarunners. My wife, Sara, Craig Thornley, Kelly Woodke, Jeff Riley and Ed Wilson make up the core group and they are all invaluable.

Did you grow up in Eugene?

I am not sure I’ve attained the status of a grown up, but no, I was not raised in Eugene. My family moved all over the United States. I was born in San Luis Obispo, CA, and moved to Davis when I was about three so my Dad could go to Veteranarian school. Then it was on to Newhall (in So. Cal.), then Fort Collins, CO, where my Dad was getting his Masters in Nuclear Medicine. Then off to Columbia, MO, for his PhD, and back to the bay area, Berkeley, CA, where I went to High School, then off to Gainsville, FL, where my Dad was the Dean of the Vet teaching hospital. Florida didn't work for me so I moved back to the Bay Area, and eventually went to Humboldt State in Arcata, CA. I`ve been in Eugene since 1988, I am happy to no longer be moving.

I had heard that at one point in your early life, there was some doubt you would be doing sports of any sort. Can you tell us about that?

The short version is I was born with deformed legs. The first year of my life I wore full length leg casts that were changed once a week to progressively straighten them. From years 1-5, I was fitted with orthopedic leg braces. At 6 years old I learned how to walk on my own and I liked it.

At what point did you find a passion for running? How about ultrarunning?

I started running in high school to keep up with my dad, but at that point my passion was gymnastics. I kept at running and I started to progress through the distances, mainly due to bets with my karate instructor, and that got me to my first 50 miler. I won my second 50 miler by default. The weather was so foul that the entire field, except me, dropped out. Well, that did it. I was hooked.

What are some of your favorite races besides the Western States? Or do you train specifically for that one race?

When I am in Western States I tend to take the Lance Armstrong approach and use all my other races for tune ups. I do like to run some of our local Oregon Series races as well as Way Too Cool 50K, American River 50 Mile, and Miwok 100K. I usually finish the year with McKenzie 50K in September.

Lastly, a few training questions. What’s a typical training week look like for you? How many miles? Do you mix in other sports?

My typical training week includes my long run, which is usually 50 plus miles when I am training for Western States, a tempo or track workout, and lots of hill and canyon work all totaling about 110 miles a week. My cross training in the past has been working on my parents’ farm and weights.

What are your favorite foods/race snacks?

I tend towards whole foods during a race, usually almond butter and jam sandwiches, GU, GU2O, and organic food bars come into play towards the end.

Any tips you would like to pass on to somebody trying their first Western States? How about their first ultra?

I see a lot of people entering ultras ill prepared.....hello! If you are going to run longer than you ever have in your life, then TRAIN longer and harder than you ever have in your life. One more piece of advice, start out by only running one or two ultras a year. It takes time for the body to adapt to the increase in miles, both training and racing, and no whining, please! By the way, I am not a very good coach. I suffer from a sympathy deficit disorder.

What is it about ultrarunning that motivates you to put in the miles?

It’s pure. There’s nothing like it.

What’s next on the race/run agenda?

My next race will be McKenzie River 50K. Then I’ll rest up and start my build up for Western States 2006. I can hardly wait!

Good luck at the McKenzie 50k, and thanks for a great interview!

- SD

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