Sunday, January 30, 2005

How To Plan for the 2005 Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series

March is approaching, thus kicking off the second year of the 6-month Trail Runner Magazine (TRM) Trophy Series, the largest trail running competition in the world. Some changes have been made, including new a new competition (most races run) complete with a new big prize (trip to Italy to race with the US Mountain Running Team), but also a shortened list of participating races. Many of you have asked me to compare to last year, and speculate on what it might take to win this year, so here it is, uncensored. You can also see what 2005 races I am heading to by watching the list to the right -->.




How the TRM Trophy Series Works

TRM has partnered with race directors in the U.S. and Canada to create a six month series of races (go here for calendar), and you can race as many as you like. The TRM Trophy Series has two classes of races again, the Marathon-and-Under (for races 26.2 miles or shorter) and the Ultra category (50k’s, 50 milers, 100 milers, and 24-hour races). Points are received in your category for each mile raced, plus a multiplier for placing well in your ten year age group (go here for official rules; they promise to update the site soon). Once the points are tallied up in Oct, age group and overall champions are crowned (and prize packages shipped, hopefully with actual trophies this year), as well as the lucky soul who ran the most races getting their trip to Italy.

But before you pick your races and start booking your hotels, I should note a few things about the TRM Trophy Series calendar.

First, just because a race is on there does not guarantee that you will get points in the Series. It is each race director’s responsibility to provide TRM with the results in a timely fashion in order for them to count, and unfortunately, sometimes they flake. If you are counting on points, I would suggest you contact the race director in advance to make sure they intend to submit them. You can also check the list of the race directors who DID manage to send their races in last year - they are certainly good bets for 2005.

Second, the schedule is open to change. TRM reserves the right to add or remove races at any time. This can be a good thing – it means if you have a race you wish to be on there, you can still ask the race director to submit it to TRM for consideration. But it can make it difficult to track what your competition is doing – last year some races were submitted for points that were never on the Web version of the calendar. [Note comment below - for 2005, TRM has said they will "lock down" the schedule on March 1st, so this point is no longer valid - SD, added 2/3]

Lastly, you most likely will not know your official standings at many points in the season. TRM does not update their site weekly, and are often at the mercy of the race directors to submit results. In 2004, there was a month or two between updates on the TRM site, and many races weren’t tallied up until the very end of the season. I only say this because if you’re thinking “I’ll do three races and see where I am”, the latter could be tough to come by.

Comparing the 2004 and 2005 TRM Series

The biggest change to the 2005 Series (aside from the big new prize) is that the number of races has been reduced from about 130 down to 80. From what I hear from race directors, they were only allowed to submit three races from any local series (such as the popular DINO, Five Peaks, and Redwood Trails series). I believe they are also trying to keep it a manageable size – 2004 produced over 20,000 racers, and that’s a lot of tallying.

Some regions are going to have an easier time to compete than others in each of the categories, but it’s a bit different for each.

Colorado has the advantage in the Marathon-and-Under category, with 11 races in Colorado, 4 in Wyoming, and another 4 in Utah for a total of 19. Colorado is also “back loaded” in the sense that most of the races are at the tail end of the season (given the aspens that time of year, it should be no surprise). The Pacific Northwest (6 in BC, 2 in WA, 2 in OR for a total of 10) and California (6 in CA, 2 in OR for a total of 8) would be next.

In the Ultra category, things change quite a bit – The Pacific Northwest and California each have a large advantage (at least 9), with another strong play in the east (2 in Virginia, 2 in West Virginia, 1 in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Vermont for 7), while the Colorado area has only 1.

And if you’re in NV, AK, or one of those other trail running hot beds that don’t have a single race, sorry pal, you got the short straw in '05. Stay tuned – maybe some will get added!

So, What Does It Take To Win?

Let me preface by saying I have no idea what it will take to win any of the categories outside of a really strong and consistent season. But I’m willing to speculate in case it helps with your planning. Also be sure to take into consideration that you’re racing for the whole season on this one – if you sign up for 15 races, you should race that first one like you have 14 more to follow. This is what made the Trophy Series so fun last year - when do you go hard, and when do you just go?

Marathon-and-Under – Last year we had some crazies like Michael Robbert who traveled to 20 races, local racers who had no idea they had won (Kimberly Eytel who did 8 races in Colorado), and age group racers winning with as little as 170 points. For the 30-39 and 40-49 age groups, my guess is you would need to target at least 6-8 races to be in the running to win your age group, and placing in your age group at races a good chunk of the time. For the rest, it looks 200 points might do it – if you win your age group in a marathon early in the season, sign up for another race or two and roll the dice! For the overall, I suspect you would need 500 points to be a contender, with the likelihood that a few racers might have very consistent seasons again and hit ~700 points.

Ultra – Some of the greatest names in ultra-running find themselves in the top ranks here regularly, so if you’re unlucky enough to be in the same age group as Eric Grossman (raced and won 8 TRM Series ultras), William Emerson (17 ultra wins in 2004 alone, a world record), or Monica Scholz (Canadian 24-hour record holder, finished third overall at the Western State 100 and the Badwater Ultra in 2004), you better bring your “A” game. But you never know. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, a solid 4-5 race season with some age group top 3’s may well put you on the podium.

Most Races – How to get to Italy? Very hard to predict. If you want to win this one, you should be ready to travel, and I imagine having at least 15 races. Remember, Michael Robbert did 20 last year, and that was BEFORE there was a trip to Italy at stake. Also note that you don’t need to finish well in this category – you could just walk them all and get your slot. As much as I’m rooting for Michael to pull it off, I also secretly hope a recently-retired trail junkie with an RV will school us youngin’s by doing some 30 races. Wouldn’t that be a great year of retirement?!?

Scott’s Plan

My strategy for 2004 is similar to 2005 - find great races in awesome new places, and go long. I try to divide my season in two halves – if the first half goes well, then I keep an aggressive schedule for the second half. If not, then I rest a bit more and feel free to select races outside of TRM Trophy Series, do a triathlon, or something new. I also have some non-TRM races already on the schedule (Boston Marathon, Tahoe 50k), and would like to try a 50-miler sometime if my body is up for it.

My wife, Christi, casts her vote by picking locations that she would like to visit (such as Deadwood, ND, and Aspen, CO), and making sure I have plenty of weekends to not race and hang out in Tahoe. Lucky for me her wildlife photography often aligns our outdoor cravings. It’s much more fun when she comes, especially if Rocky the Pug can make it too.

So that’s my strategy - post a comment if you have any questions, thoughts, hypotheses, plan of your own, etc.. If you race the TRM Trophy Series, I wish you a safe and happy season and I will see you on the trails!

Thanks,

SD

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Rocket J - The Fastest Pug This Side of the Mississip'

The Pug Rescue of Sacramento (PROS/Bays to the Border) wrote up a story on Rocky and me in their newsletter (pdf). For those of you who don’t know, Rocky the Pug (or "Rocket J" as we call him on the trails) was a huge influence on me getting started in trail running. We got him as a puppy, and he just loved to run…averaging 6-7 miles a stint at a sub-8 minute pace! Not your typical pug, I found out. Together we explored up and down the Santa Cruz Mountains, and before I knew it, I had built up a good base for trail running from chasing him through the hills.


(Photo by Christi Dunlap)

Although he has slowed down a bit in his middle age, he does still love to hit the trails (as a matter of fact, he's pawing at me to go out right now). If you're looking for a new companion, please do check out the PROS web site and see if there's a pug personality for you. The folks at PROS are great - if you like the site but don't feel like taking one home quite yet, feel free to donate. It's amazing how far they can stretch $20.

Thanks, SD

Bay Area Trail Runner Wins International Running Title...with PROS Alumni Rocky

In November 2004, Trail Runner magazine
named Scott Dunlap as the Overall Champion
for the "Non Ultra" distance (marathon and
shorter) of their 2004 Trail Running Trophy
Series, the largest trail running series in North
America. Dunlap competed with over 18,000
other trail runners for the international title.

The 2004 Trail Runner Trophy Series incorporated
over 200 trail running events from
March 1st to September 30th, taking place
in state and county parks, open space preserves,
and mountain trails throughout North
America. The off-road nature of trail running,
including steep hills, trails, river crossings,
and plenty of switchbacks, creates a
more "extreme" environment than the more
common road races and marathons. Trail running
is also one of the nation’s fastest growing
sports with 40.2 million active participants,
according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
Dunlap competed in 15 trail running
events (including three marathons) in
California, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado, with
three overall wins and top five finishes in 12
of the events to claim the #1 ranking.

"It’s an honor to be the Overall Champion,"
said Dunlap, "Trail running is a fabulous sport
with fun people, and a great excuse to get
outdoors."

Dunlap, a 35 year old software marketing executive
for Avolent, Inc., is no stranger to
the trails since he and his wife, Christi, relocated
in 2001 to a home in the Kings Mountain
area of Woodside, CA, adjacent to 70+
miles of trails in Huddart Park, Purisima Creek
Open Space Preserve, and various parks on
Skyline Boulevard. Dunlap trains by running
and biking in the Santa Cruz Mountains as
well as the Lake Tahoe area, and has logged
over 1 million vertical feet in the last year.

"Some of the most beautiful trails in the
world are right here in the Bay Area," said
Dunlap, "and it’s one of the few places where
you can reach mountains, beaches, lakes, and
trails in a 10 minute drive. I had lived in the
Bay Area for years before realizing that."

Dunlap literally fell into trail running in 2001,
after four years of 80-hour weeks in the Silicon
Valley start up world, a close brush with
the 9/11 tragedy, and a pug named Rocky
got him on the trails.

"I came to Silicon Valley in 1998 to join the
technology boom, and was lucky enough to
work with some fabulous entrepreneurs to
start some great software companies," said
Dunlap. After a brief stint at Netscape Com-
munications, Dunlap went on to be a marketing
executive at E.piphany Software
(EPNY) which had the 9th most successful IPO
less than two years later in 1999. He resigned
on the IPO day
to join Ben Horowitz to start
Loudcloud (now Opsware, OPSW) which went
public less than two years later.

"The pace was frenetic since the opportunity
was huge," said Dunlap, "but soon I was
burning out from the 80-hour weeks. I resigned
on September 7th, 2001…which
changed my life forever." Dunlap canceled
his last trip to New York City, where he had
planned to meet two business associates on
September 11, 2001. Within hours of the terrorist
attacks, he had found out that both of
his business associates had been killed.

"I was staring at my Palm Pilot, and there was the
meeting booked for World Trade Center 9
which was burning in front of me on the television.
When the calls came to tell me they
had been killed, I was in shock. And I couldn’t
just bury myself in work to avoid thinking
about it like I usually do – the rest of my
calendar was blank."

After days of moping around the house, his
wife, Christi, had an idea. She located a dog
from the Pug Rescue of Sacramento/Bay to
the Borders (PROS)
who had been rescued
from the streets of Oakland, and brought him
home.

"At first he wasn’t so sure," said Mrs. Dunlap,
"here was this football-sized dog following
him around and who needed to be walked
and fed every day. But within weeks, they
were inseparable."

"Every day, Rocky would look at me like he
was saying ‘are we going out today? I would
really like to go out today’," said Dunlap,
"so I got off the couch each morning, picked
up the trail maps, packed some food and
water and we began running the trails. We
went everywhere in the Bay Area – Castle
Rock, Stevens Creek, Mt. Diablo, Marin Headlands,
Mt. Tam, China Camp, etc. I had hoped
to walk the trails, but Rocky wanted to run.
Hikers would tell me ‘you aren’t supposed
to run a pug like that’, but I would just have
to respond ‘you better tell him…he’s been
going for nine miles and has no signs of stopping’."

One day, Dunlap and his four-legged companion
came upon a trail running race in
progress. The lead pack of racers encouraged
him to sign up for the next race, where
Dunlap placed third.

"My running style was unlike the others, and
thanks to having to keep up with Rocky, I had
adapted to moving quickly through
switchbacks and rough terrain," said Dunlap,
"when I set my sites on winning the biggest
Series in trail running, I first thought ‘amateurs
don’t win these kinds of competitions’.
Yeah, and pugs aren’t supposed to be runners
either."

So Dunlap began targeting the
Trail Runner Trophy Series in 2004 to complement
his work travel schedule as the VP,
Marketing at Avolent, Inc.

"When you travel for work, usually you just
see ‘downtown and a hotel’," said Dunlap,
"with the trail runs, I could see more of the
character and beauty of nature behind the
cities. With every race, I thought I had found
the most amazing wilderness in North
America…and then the next race would be
even more amazing. It was an enlightening year."

Monday, January 24, 2005

Sensing The Trail In Front Of You – An Interview with Sharlene Wills, Blind Trail Runner

If you have completed trail races west of the Rockies in the last three years, you’ve probably run with Sharlene Wills of Southern California. She’s 5’1”, in her mid-50’s, and oh yeah…the only blind woman on the trail. But that hasn’t stopped her from completing over 40 marathons, a dozen trail runs, and most recently the Helen Klein 50 miler. Trail runs are challenging enough for someone who can see, so if you’re probably asking the same questions I did when I heard she finished the Bizz-Johnson Marathon with all smiles – What? Why? HOW?!?

Sharlene was nice enough to give us some insight.

1) Your story is amazing. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found trail running.

SW: I’ve always been one to seek out new experiences, and running was something I started in the early 90’s after successfully walking the L.A. Marathon. About three years ago, I started trail running to get more into nature. I’ve done the Catalina Trail Marathon, Lone Pine, Ridge Crest, the Bulldog 30k, two attempts at Pike’s Peak, the Bizz-Johnson Marathon and recently completed the Helen Klein 50 miler. Trail running has been a wonderful experience, and the people are great. I plan to keep doing it as long as I can.

2) For most runners, trail running is largely a visual experience - how would you describe your trail running experience?

SW: It’s amazing! There’s nothing like being out in nature and feeling all the sensations. You can smell the flowers, pine, and eucalyptus. As you climb out of the canyon, the sound of the river dissipates and you get this sense of majesty and awe. As you descend again, it all rushes back to you. When you can’t see, you have to go a bit slower since your next step could be anything from flat path to stone or four inches of muck. But when you have to go a bit slower, like me, you really get the full sensory experience. You really can commune with your surroundings, and understand you’re out in the wild.

3) After reading your story, I went for a night run to see if I could simulate the experience. I made it about 20 yards before taking a digger. How in the world do you keep from falling on every rock and turn?

SW: There are three things that help me along – guides, tethers, and trekking poles. First, I always have a guide. I’ve been lucky to have raced with some great guides, and we have learned to communicate well about what is coming up on the trail. I can also steer myself by listening closely to the sounds of the guide in front of me, and the terrain around me. Sometimes I tether to a guide with a short rope and two carabineers, and that gives me a good sense of their direction, particularly on the single trail. But I don’t like to tether if I can go it alone. I’ve found the trekking poles to be very helpful on the rugged terrain since I can “feel” in front of me for steps, creeks, and rocks.

But don’t think that I don’t fall – I certainly get my fair share of that. I prefer to use the Helen Klein 50m mantra – “if the bone ain’t showing, keep on going”. Still, my biggest injuries aren’t from falling, it’s from all the odd foot placement. My feet can take weeks to heel from blisters after a tough marathon.

4) What are the most useful ways your guides describe the trail in front of you?

SW: Brevity is key. You can’t do a long description or else I’ll be on top of it before you finish. Short statements like “rock in the middle” and “stay to the right” are more helpful than “wide step” or “three inch gulley”. Inches don’t mean the same thing to a blind person. “Duck” is a good one - very clear, very short. I also like descriptions of texture, such as gravel, pebbles, and waist-high boulders on your right. But I’m 5’1”, so make sure you’re talking about “my right” and “my waist”!

I also get a good sense from the non-verbal cues. For example, when you approach a log, I can feel and hear how my guide steps over that log, and that gives me a good sense of what I need to do. And as long as they face forward when they talk and don’t stop, I can get a sense of where they are going too.

5) How about creeks, river crossings, and that sort of thing?

SW: I’ve learned it’s much easier to walk through a creek than try to boulder hop. Plus it feels nice on the feet.

6) Are there any races you feel you couldn’t do?

SW: There’s no terrain I couldn’t do, but it is difficult for me to hit time cut-off’s like at Pike’s Peak (especially since I also can’t use trekking poles). But it’s such a beautiful run, I keep going back. Weather can be tough, but not impossible – in 2004, we did the Catalina Marathon in rain, wind, and hail without falling, even though it was like a Slip-and-Slide all day. I would love to do the Leadville 100 or Western States 100, but it would take me well over 48 hours. Maybe someday.

7) What have been the biggest highlight and lowlight of the your trail running career?

SW: The 2004 Bizz-Johnson Marathon was definitely the highlight. It’s such a fantastic race. And even though it took me a while, all the volunteers, Eric Gould (the Race Director), and Michael Fretz (the winner) were at the finish line to cheer me on. As soon as I got home, I signed up for 2005.

For lowlights, it’s probably not finishing Pike’s Peak. I made it as far as Bar Camp last time, which was an improvement, so perhaps I can finish it someday.

Would you mind if I ask you a few training questions?

SW: Sure.

1) Do you train mostly indoor or outdoor?

SW: Outdoor as much as I can.

2) Do you try and target a finishing time or pace?

SW: For races on fire roads, I can target a time. For Bizz-Johnson Marathon, I targeted 6.5 hours and came very close. It’s easier to run for speed on the road runs. Most of the time I’m just hoping to finish.

3) Can you tell us about your race nutrition strategy?

SW: My nutrition strategy is similar to that of any trail runner, and I eat well at the aid stations, particularly for the longer runs. I’m a bit of a junk food junkie, on and off the trail. My favorites are potatoes, gummy bears, nuts, and anything with caffeine. I would drink coffee if they served it! The Helen Klein 50 had peanut butter and jelly – that was great. The night before a race can be tricky for me. I get really nervous thinking about the unknowns in tomorrow’s race, so it’s best not to eat after 5pm.

4) What’s next for 2005?

SW: Bizz-Johnson Marathon for sure. It’s such a beautiful race. Maybe Red Rocks if I can do it with my dog, but he’s not so sure about the cones. And I would really love to try the Catalina 50 Mile sometime. I’m hoping to do the Dipsea 7-miler, which is great fun for me except for those stone steps down to Stinson Beach which can take longer than the rest of the race, or the Way Too Cool 50k. Off the trails, the San Diego Rock 'n Roll looks like a good one. Often many of my races come up because someone will ask if they can guide for me…and my answer is often “yes”!

5) Any advice you would give to trail runners, or other blind athletes looking to try the trails?

SW: Don’t forget to enjoy nature while you’re out there. I know many of you are fast and want to go quickly, but trail running is such a great experience with all the sensations and great people on the trails, you should be sure to enjoy it. It's always good to start with a smooth trail, like Ridgecrest or the Valley Crest. There's a great first time race called the Angeles Crest, which is great because he puts in a time handicap that allows us slower runners to compete directly with the rabbits.

For blind athletes I would say “you never know until you try”. You would be hard-pressed to find a more supportive environment or group of people. The aid station volunteers are always great, and even the elite runners are always patting me on the shoulder or stopping to help people along the way. It’s consistently like that at every race, and it makes it fun.If you would like to experience what it’s like to “run blind”, we’re always looking for guides. It’s a wonderful challenge all by itself, and there’s no experience required!

Thanks, Sharlene...I'll be looking for you on the trails!

- SD



Friday, January 21, 2005

New NoCal Mountain Bike Triathlon Series for 2005

Redwood Trails is putting on a new mountain bike triathlon series this year. These look to be very cool - limited to 200 racers each, short and beautiful courses, trophies and goodies abound, and get this - $150 for all four!

One XTERRA race is ~$125. These are a crazy good deal.

See links below...

- SD

--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Eric Gould Redwood Trails http://www.redwoodtrails.com 650-364-8256
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Redwood Trails Update:
- Redwood Trails to stage four Mountain Bike Triathlons
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* Redwood Trails to stage four Mountain Bike Triathlons *
Redwood Trails, the country's fastest growing provider of off-road, multisport events, has announced its 2005 mountain bike triathlon lineup. The four-race series begins with April's Lake Del Valle MTB Triathlon, continues with two July races, the Angel Island MTB Triathlon and the High Sierra MTB Triathlon at Donner Lake, and rounds out the season with September's Whiskeytown Lake MTB Triathlon. Limited to two hundred participants each, the series features scenic swims with the option of wetsuits, and an assortment of picturesque trails for the running and mountain biking sections. At each event, Redwood Trails will raffle off two Apple iPod Shuffles to participants.
Participants can sign up for a season's series pass for all four events for only $150 until the end of January, 2005 by going to any of the events online listings:
Calendar--> http://redwoodtrails.com/final/calendar.html
In addition, Redwood Trails has announced that the four races will count toward a season-long points competition. Northern California Mountain Bike Triathlon Championship trophies will go to both male and female winners of each age group overall points leader from the Redwood Trails Series. With narrow five-year age groups, there will be a lot of hardware at stake, as well as bragging rights and the opportunity for more fun in 2006: each of the winners also get free entries to all events the following year.
Fresh off the winter snowmelts, Bay Area racers will find April 9th's Lake Del Valle MTB Triathlon in their back yard‹just ten miles south of Livermore, this race presents a half-mile swim in Lake Del Valle, flanked by the fast, open trails on which the fifteen-mile mountain bike leg and a 3.1-mile run take place.
The summer will be Redwood Trails' busiest off-road triathlon season, as July will host the Angel Island MTB Triathlon and the High Sierra MTB Triathlon at Donner Lake.
Referred to as the Jewel of the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island has never (until last year's inaugural Redwood Trails event) hosted a triathlon. On July 16th, a ferry will pilot participants from Tiburon to Angel Island, where competitors will start with a half-mile swim within the protected Ayala Cove and circle the island twice on the 10-mile mountain bike leg before concluding the event with a 3.1-mile trail run that offers panoramic views.
A week later, the High Sierra MTB Triathlon at Donner Lake kicks off with half-mile swim along the lake's China Cove. The twelve-mile mountain biking leg and the four-mile running leg consist of classic Sierra trail features: a variety of surfaces and rideable creek crossings mark the bike route, while a shoreline trail contours along the lake's perimeter.
Come fall, the Whiskeytown Lake MTB Triathlon concludes the Redwood Trails triathlon season. Near Redding, this event poses a course designed around a pristine setting with an abundance of wildlife. Under watchful eyes of bald eagles and osprey, the swim begins at the lake's Brandy Creek Beach and concludes at the base of Forest Service roads marking the ascent section of the eight-mile mountain bike leg. The descent heads down single-track trails with a quick pass by Brandy Creek Waterfalls, leading to a four-mile run along the gorgeous Davis Gulch trail that will conclude the event.
Redwood Trails' Shasta Lake MTB Triathlon will return in 2006 after the Clickapudi trail heals from the extensive fire damage it received in the fall of 2004.
Based in Redwood City, California, Redwood Trails conducts a hugely popular trail running series, including the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon, with 16 trail races throughout Northern California and Nevada, including runs in Palo Alto, Big Basin, San Francisco, Angel Island and Point Reyes.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Eric Gould Redwood Trails http://www.redwoodtrails.com 650-364-8256
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--

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Michael Robbert - Running Wild Again

For those who followed the 2004 Trail Runner Trophy Series, you know that the Marathon-and-Under division quickly came down to two runners – myself and Michael Robbert – and was decided by less than two points (rounding error). I’m glad to see Michael getting written up (see below), for he is a phenomenal athlete. Most don’t know that he ran far more races than I did, slotting in 10k’s nearly twice a week. How he was able to recover from so many short course runs is beyond me.

With the 2005 competition adding a “most races” award, I suspect Michael will have another phenomenal year capped by a trip to Italy. Have no doubt that he is the man to beat, and we will be seeing a lot more of him (and Kasey) in years to come.

- SD

Running wild again

West Ottawa graduate fares well in trail running series

By ERIC GAERTNER Assistant sports editor

When Michael Robbert was a West Ottawa High School cross country runner in the early 1990s, he enjoyed running on the various courses around the area. The West Ottawa three-sport athlete has taken his passion for trail running to a whole new level locations these days.

(Michael Robbert, 2004)


Robbert, 29, of Littleton, Colo., competes in the Trail Runner Trophy Series, a relatively new series of 200 trail races held throughout the United States and Canada.


"It's kind of the culture out here," Robbert said of picking up the desire to run the trails. "I'd been living in Ohio for three years and I'd become a couch potato. It only took me three weeks living here (in Colorado) and looking at the mountains everyday to decide to start running again."


In addition to enjoying the mountain scenery, Robbert's running took on a competitive nature. The former high school cross country runner, track athlete and diver said his competitive personality eventually forced him to compete against others.


So far, Robbert has fared well.


Robbert finished second overall last season in the non-ultra male division, which features races ranging in distance from 6.2 miles to 26 miles, of the series that ran from March 1 to Sept. 30. Scott Dunlap, 35, of Woodside, Calif., edged Robbert by less than two points in the series.


"Michael had an absolute phenomenal season," said Garett Graubins, senior editor of Trail Runner magazine which runs the series. "He's certainly a major talent in the sport.


"He gave it his all. I heard stories of Mike rolling into town the night before the race, competing in the race, then rolling out of town to the next race."


The Trail Runner Trophy Series uses a scoring system that gives runner one point for each mile he or she completed at each race and a bonus for placing in the top three in his or her age division.


Robbert, the son of Jim and Millie Robbert of West Olive, ran in 22 races last season. He won his age division five times. During the season, Robbert and Dunlap ran in the same event twice with each finishing ahead of the other once.


"(Competitive trail runners) need to be obviously a fast runner, but also a good uphill runner and be able to go downhill real hard," Graubins said. "They also need quick feet for difficult trails.


"Michael's definitely a jack of all trades and a master of some."


Robbert credits his wife for making it possible for him to compete in many races.


"I never would have made it through this last season of racing without the help and support of my wife Kasey," Robbert said. "She drove me to most of the races and more importantly she provided my with praise when things were going well and encouragement when things weren't so well.


The 2005 Trail Runner Trophy Series will feature a similar format and an added grand prize to the runner who races in the most series events. The winner will receive a trip for two and be able to compete in the trail running event in Italy. Robbert would have won the prize if it would have been in effect last season.


Contact Eric Gaertner at eric.gaertner@hollandsentinel.com or (616) 546-4276.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Are you hasher material?

The Eugene, OR-based Register-Guard wrote a great story on the Eugene Hashers here.





January 16, 2005

With half a brain and old shoes, you could be a hasher

By Lewis Taylor, The Register-Guard

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a motley crew of runners could be seen darting across four lanes of traffic at the top of the 30th Avenue hill. The group drew some funny looks from passing cars but, this being Eugene, nobody seemed overly concerned by the sight of a dozen mildly inebriated, mud-spattered joggers following a trail of baking flour into the woods.

One by one, the runners dove into a mess of blackberry brambles, blowing whistles and shouting coded commands all the way.

"Are you?" boomed the voice of a man wearing dirty sweat pants and a fanny pack.

"On-on" yelled a runner on the other side of the nasty thicket.

Feeling bored with your fitness routine? If so, this might be the group for you.

Meet the Eugene Hash House Harriers, a cult of gonzo runners packing 22-ounce beers and 10-pound sacks of flour. Or, as they put it, "a drinking club with a running problem."

Each week, the group sets out on a four- to five-mile course of flour laid out by a "hare." Along the way, there are "false trails," "true trails," "shiggy" (mud) and "beer checks," not to mention swamps, barbed-wire fences, steep inclines, paved descents and, on this particular run, a meth lab dump site.

"An ideal hash should go through streams, brambles, mud," says the hare for this race, a runner who identifies himself only as Coco-Roo. "The idea is to run into as much stuff as possible."

At the final beer check, members of the Eugene Hash House Harriers put on gloves and get ready to run the last leg of a hash in southeast Eugene.

If hashing sounds dangerous, it isn't, but there are risks involved. Earlier this month, an Arizona hasher died when he uncovered a nest of killer bees inside Saguaro National Park. Still, hashing deaths are highly uncommon. Sprained ankles and other minor injuries do happen, and cuts and bruises are considered part of the game.

"You sick bastard," a hasher yells, after snagging himself on a cluster of blackberry thorns. He's referring to Coco-Roo, the hare, and in his own way, he's paying a compliment. In this game, says hasher Todd Bosworth, easy courses are frowned upon.

"In our terms, good is bad and bad is good," says Bosworth. "The nastier the better."

Bosworth is the founder of the Eugene group, which is by no means the only hashing club. Based on the English game hare and hounds (also known as the Paper Chase), hashing started in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1938 and takes its name from a mess hall that was not-so-fondly known as the Hash House.

The pastime has since branched out into more than 1,200 chapters in more than 130 countries.
Portland, Bend, Ashland and Corvallis all boast their own hashing clubs. A group in Boston hashes every year two days before the Boston marathon. The London hashers are known for running through hotel lobbies and the Kuwait chapter is famous for holding a hash two days after the country was invaded by Iraq.

"For many of the hashers (in other cities), drinking is by far the most important aspect," says a 69-year-old woman who has hashed in London and Bangkok and goes by the name of Disc Go. "This hash (in Eugene) has lots of good runners in it."

The Eugene chapter has been together for roughly 13 years, and you can find them in the White Pages (last name "Hasher," first name "Eugene"). There are drinkers and teetotalers, young members and old members, students and stock brokers. Dogs are welcome, too.

Each year, during the Eugene Celebration, the group runs in red dresses or togas. They can be seen painting the town white on Halloween night, too. There's also a clown hash, a tighty-whitey underwear hash and a Super Bowl hash.

"I think most of us are in it for the camaraderie," says Larry Wikander, 39, a hasher of eight years. "That and the game. It's a fun game."

With all the talk of drinking, boozing is not really the main focus of the Eugene hashers. If the group has an identity, members say, it's that of a laid-back club filled with serious and not-so-serious runners, some of whom have been known to take a drink or two.

"You need to bring a sense of humor and a pair of old running shoes," Wikander says. "It's not about who's faster, so bragging about your latest race won't win you any points."

Learning hash guidelines (technically, there are no rules) and decoding the lingo is the first challenge for beginning hashers. Wearing new shoes will earn you a demerit (drink a beer from your shoe or pour it on your head), and matching running outfits are frowned upon. In hash-speak, "alcohol abuse" means spilling a beer, FRB stands for front running bastard (aka, the leader) and DFL translates to Dead Freaking Last. "Are you?" means "Are you on the trail?" and "On-On" is the universal cry of the hasher - a shout-out to the other members of the group to let them know they're on the right track.

"It only takes half a brain to be a hasher," says Tim Hyatt, parroting another favorite hasher slogan.

Most hashers have nicknames, but it takes a couple of runs before it's earned. According to hasher regulations, a runner cannot assign himself or herself a nickname. Bosworth, the founder of the Eugene group, christened himself Hugh Mungus, but who can blame him when you see some of the titles the other hashers are stuck with. There's Mystery Meat, Try Anything and Fed Sex. Some of the names provide a clue as to a hasher's personality or profession. Phil McCracken is a dentist by day, and Rock Hard works as a geologist. Wikander goes by the name Barely ManBelow, because he's a former rugby player who knows lots of songs.

For some, hashing is a means of staying in shape, for others, it's a social outlet. One hasher of 10 years who moved to Eugene from San Francisco, and whose hasher moniker includes the name Queen, met her husband on a hash. She says runners can easily join hashes in other states or countries. All that's required is a little "hash cash" to pay for expenses.

"You can hash all over the world," she says. "It's a way to meet people other than going to bars."
The telltale sign that a hash is either in progress or recently was in progress is the flour. You can find small puffs of it thrown onto streets and trails in dots, arrows and plus signs.

It doesn't always work like it's supposed to - cows have eaten the flour, homeless campers have snuffed out the markers and, in one instance following the Anthrax scare, a hazmat crew came to investigate. But even when hashers get hopelessly lost ("Dead on Trail"), they usually do get found.

When a hash finally does come to an end, runners arrive at the "on-in," where they are greeted with food, M&M's (aka "hasher vitamins") and, of course, more cheap beer. A short ceremony generally follows, replete with dirty jokes, lewd songs and a "sacred vessel" filled with "nectar of the gods."

Then the hashers all go back to their regular lives, which must seem terribly boring after what they've just been through.

To learn more about the Eugene Hash House Harriers, call the club hot line at (541) 344-6933.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Vote for the race composition of the Utah Grand Slam

I'm passing on this e-mail from the Wasatch Running Center, the new directors for the Utah Grand Slam. If any of you are thinking of doing some of the fantastic Utah races that make up the Grand Slam, please send in your vote by Jan 22nd to wasatchrunning@gmail.com.

SD

---------------

Dear Grand Slammers -

We would like to inform you that we, the Wasatch Running Center, have taken over the responsibility of putting on the Utah Grand Slam starting this year. If you haven't heard of us, we are a new running specialty store located in Sandy. We have been open for over ten months now and look forward to staying in business for a long time. We talked with the Park City Marathon this past year and they decided that it was also in their best interest for us to take it over.

With the Salt Lake City Marathon being held last year, that has thrown a kink into the works. Some have expressed opinion of not adding the marathon to the Grand Slam while others want to include it. This is where we need your help. The decision is up to you! This email is going out to all those who have run the Grand Slam in the past. We have narrowed it to three choices and depending on your feedback, we will choose the one that most people desire.

Here are your choices for the Utah Grand Slam 2005:
- Run all six marathons in the state: Salt Lake, Ogden, Park City, Des News, Top of Utah, and St. George
- Run five marathons except for Salt Lake
- Run five marathons except for Top of Utah

Those are your choices. Now it is up to you. Please email us at this email address to let us know what you think. We are going to give everyone a chance to respond until the 22nd of January and then we will let everyone know what the schedule will be for this year's Grand Slam. Just to let everyone know, we are going to charge $40.00 for this year's Slam. We have also negotiated with Top of Utah, Park City, Ogden, and Des News and they have all agreed to give you anywhere from a $5 to $8 discount on your registration. Salt Lake will not have a discount but possibly will have a booth or some sort of special deal for Grand Slammers. Also, if you complete the entire Grand Slam up to St. George, they have given us notice that you will be guaranteed a spot into the marathon. We will ask for your entry fee into the Grand Slam following the final decision at the end of next week.

Other information is that we plan to have a booth at every marathon and at each marathon, we will raffle off a free pair of shoes for a man and a woman. We hope that all this information will help and you'll consider doing the Grand Slam this year. We hope to make it a great event.

At the same time, if you haven't visited our store yet, we invite you to. We are located at 8946 South State in Sandy right off the 90th South exit on I-15. Also as a bonus, we will give a 10% off discount to all Grand Slammers throughout the Grand Slam season. If you have any questions, you can email us here. Best of luck with your training and we look forward to hearing from you soon!

Darrell Phippen
Wasatch Running Center
8946 South State Street
Sandy, UT 84070
801-566-8786
http://www.wasatchrunningcenter.com/

Monday, January 10, 2005

And Mother Nature Laughed Back (fiction)

I yawned during my morning gear-check this Saturday, a sure sign that I brought my burdens to bed last night again and didn't get a full night of rest. I should know by now that burdens hog the covers. Now my yawn is yet more baggage for a run preferably traveled light. How dare the stress of my job invade my morning run, the one escape in my life that should be untouchable.

It was the morning before, when my boss had a joke at my expense in front of all my peers, that I had realized that I would sleep in fits and sweats. His razor wit had delivered more than a few close shaves before, but this time, it was swift and deep. I have struggled many times to understand his ill-placed sarcasm at a deeper level, left only with the simple conclusion that it wasn’t deep at all. It was shallow, dry, and direct. Leave no mystery to its aim or target, nor it's underhanded mission to remind everyone who is the Big Swinging Dick.


(Photo for purchase from the amazing Don Charles Lundell)

The yawning made the first few steps of the long run tough, but then again, the first steps are always the toughest. Eager to find a rhythm that can break out of the cold winter air, I often make mincemeat of my warm up. I’ll surge down the driveway, a mind full of deadlines, nested regrets, and honey-do lists fueling a rage that can eat through a hamstring before the first turn. But then I slow again, reminding myself that within the ritual lies relief. Take your time, Scott, find the rhythm and the joy will flow like a mountain spring full of laughter.

Not the singeing laughter of my boss, that is, but the laughter echoing through my soul as the rhythm of the run subsumes me. It is a spontaneous laugh, like a child's - an uncontrollable release that takes on a rhythm of its own. This laugh can’t be controlled, and is not open for suggestion. As long as I’m running, it thrives, and leaves my weekday burdens disappearing behind me on the trails with a thousand footprints. It's so easy it is to escape everything into the wild, one can't help but laugh.

But it doesn’t last forever. Lord knows I have tried. 20 miles, 30 miles, deeper and deeper into the wilderness, going well beyond where I should have turned around, and far beyond what my food and water would dictate. I try to escape, steal that moment of resolve and keep it forever, only to realize again that the moment is not mine to own, but only to visit. Then I understand who is really laughing. It is Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, chuckling at the insignficance of one man’s day amongst a backdrop a million years old.

You see, she knows what forever is. And that’s why Mother Nature laughs back.

- SD

[This is fiction, btw. My boss, Doug Roberts of Avolent, Inc., is actually very cool. Copyright 2005, all rights reserved.]

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Understanding the Runner's High

I’m a big fan of the runner’s high. For me, the euphoric feeling is unmistakable (and usually around mile 8), which is why I’ve always been confused by coaches and medical experts saying that the “runner’s high doesn’t exist”. If that’s true, then why are we all as giddy as school girls after our weekly long run? Is it really all in your head, or is there a chemical interaction that can explain it? I did some research on the subject just to make sure I wasn’t crazy and was surprised to find some recent studies that may have found the chemical link.

What Is The Experience of The Runner’s High?

For those of you unfamiliar with the runner’s high, I would encourage you to seek it out as part of your training. It’s a mental state of relaxation partnered with a mild pain cessation that occurs after 60-90 minutes of steady exercise. I find it truly euphoric, setting me in a state of eternal optimism that can last hours after a run. It’s not exactly a “drunk” effect, although it does make it a bit more difficult to remember to eat/drink/take the next turn (remember – always carry a map!). I would equate it to two Red Bulls and vodka, three ibuprofen, plus a $50 winning Lotto ticket in your pocket. ;oP Definitely not to be confused with bonking (when your glycogen has been depleted due to not keeping up your calorie intake), which is more like a half bottle of Jack Daniels when you have the flu, complete with blacking out to the mantra of “oh God, please kill me now”. I didn’t experience the runner’s high until about 5-6 long runs (unlike bonking, which I hit on day two), so give it some time.

The first time you experience the runner’s high, it can be a bit alarming. At first it feels like that mild head rush I associate with going anaerobic, but instead of fading, it builds over the next 5-10 minutes. I feared this "build" the first couple of times, wondering if I my water intake, electrolytes, or calories were out of balance. After realizing it consistently faded away, I convinced myself it was just a “wall” you had to push through when you depleted your initial glycogen levels, since 1200 calories occured in about 90 minutes for me, and I thought that was an average glycogen level for somebody my age.

I noticed that when I hit this state, my tempo runs became very even, even though I was spending more time looking around than looking at my watch. Everything had a natural rhythm to it - my footsteps, the sound of the wind running past my ears...even the trees and hills around me seemed to flow together. It was a wonderful meditative state. Before I knew it, I was longing to run 8-10 miles every day to “break on through to the other side” to find that familiar state. Hello, addiction!

Science Casts It’s Vote – It’s Like Smoking Pot!

For the majority of the last two decades, scientists have struggled with defining the chemical reaction associated with the runner’s high. It was largely believed that the sensation was caused by endorphins, natural opiates in the body that are produced after trauma such as running for long periods of time. Just one problem – endorphins are too large to pass through the blood-brain barrier, making it impossible for this chemical reaction to be the sole cause. But in early 2004, Dr. Daniele Piomelli (UC Irvine) and Dr. Arne Deitrich (University of Beirut and Georgia Institute of Technology, also a marathoner) found another possibility – anandamide, a natural chemical that stimulates the brain in the same way marijuana does.

[warning – I am no PhD, so what follows is my dumbed-down version of a ton of great research done by real docs; it probably doesn't help that I've already gone on my long run this morning]

Anandamide (conveniently named after the Sanskrit word for “bliss”) is a neurotransmitter produced in our brain that activates the CB(1) receptor, the same chemical receptor that is triggered by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. Oddly enough, it was the study of the effects of marijuana that led to the discovery of the CB(1) receptor (thank you, stoners!). But one part was confusing - the body doesn’t create receptors that don’t have natural internal triggers (and marijuana being an external trigger), so there had to be a natural internal trigger somewhere. Thus the search began for the natural chemical that stimulated CB(1), which in turn led to the discovery on anandamide in 1992.

Piomelli and Deitrich, looking for the runner’s high connection, performed a study in early 2004 with two dozen college students who ran or bicycled for 40 minutes at 76 percent of their max heart rate, and then had blood samples drawn immediately after exercising. The results showed that both the runners and bicyclists had 80% more anandamide in their blood after exercising, with the greatest increase among the runners. They also reported physical feelings similar to marijuana use, such as relaxation, regulated mood, and increased appetite. Here’s the biggest kicker - tempo running produced the most anandamide of all exercise! Although more studying is required to really nail this down, it is clearly a big breakthrough on understanding the runner’s high.

On a side note, it also turns out that chocolate has small amounts of anandamide in it (Dr. Emmanuelle di Tomaso, 1996) as well as the ability to increase serotonin levels, both of which help regulate mood (ie, make you feel good). So, run every day and eat lots of chocolate to feel good? Me like!

Side Effects of Anandamide Use?

There is some supposition about whether the harmful side effects of THC (short term memory loss, low sperm count, reduced learning capabilities in youth, etc.) are also present in the natural stimulation of CB(1) from anandamide. There hasn’t been a lot of research in this area, so it’s hard to conclude anything definite. Most suggest that the heavy side effects of THC come from the fact that it is an “external agent”, causing the body to overcompensate, and that anandamide (as an internal agent) is more self-regulated. One example that is often cited is when marijuana users get a case of the “stupids” the day after smoking, whereas runners do not - with marijuana, the brain "overcompensates" to rebalance the body, and you have a different chemical effect. Running, you don't.

It's worth a bit more elaboration on the "overcompensation" effect, because it has a lot to do with why you feel "high" in the first place. The CB(1) receptor can trigger how your short-term memory works, and adjust it as needed. When the CB(1) receptor is triggered, the brain uses less “memory cache” - meaning you process feedback in little chunks and quickly move onto the next. This is a similar effect to what happens when your body goes into "fight or flight" mode - it adapts to get more data from its surroundings. This is why everything seems so new and exciting when you are “high” with marijuana. The “stupids” that marijuana users feel the next day is the body overcompensating and creating a memory cache large enough to have you staring into space for minutes at a time. The ability to trigger this memory is also one of the reasons both anandamide and THC are being investigated for use in treating Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.

Conclusion

So it looks like we’re not all crazy, and there is a scientific rationale for the runner’s high. Well, a theory anyway. It doesn't say much about that spiritual connection I feel when running through the forest (or a good piece of chocolate for that matter). But it might help explain why I REALLY feel great about 80-90 minutes into my run, and why I want to do it every day.

So go run. Eat more cholocate. And the next time you think about dissing that group of stoners smoking out in the park, remember that you have more in common with them than you think. ;o)

Isn’t research fun?

Have a good New Years, and happy running in 2005!

SD

P.S. - Be sure to also check out subsequent research I found here and here.