Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gift Suggestion - The Trail Running Calendar

In case you're looking for a feel-good gift to give to your fellow trail runner, Seattle-based photographer and ultrarunner Glenn Tachiyama put together a trail running calendar that looks great. It includes all the big ultras on the calendar, and some of Glenn's fabulous photo work. Last year, Glenn (and friends) raised $3,600 for the Washington Trails Association thanks to the popularity of the calendar.

You can view the photos and purchase the calendar here on

Cheers, SD

Monday, November 27, 2006

Climbing the Quad Dipsea

Last Saturday, I joined 240 ultrarunners for the 24th running of the Quad Dipsea in Mill Valley, CA. This double out-and-back of the famed Dipsea trail is a challenging 28-miler full of steps, hills, and breathtaking views of the Pacific. Although it is “short” for an ultra, it makes up for it with almost 10,000 feet of vertical. The race was a perfect conclusion to the Thanksgiving weekend – not only could I work off my turkey and stuffing from the previous two days, but I could run with friends and appreciate some of Mother Nature’s finest handywork.

(Staying warm in the redwood canopy of Old Mill Park)

The starting area was a brisk 38 degrees at 7:30 am, as the sun futilely tried to sneak through the towering redwoods of Old Mill Park. But Race Director John Medinger let us know that beyond the redwood canopy (which would we reach in about 230 stair steps) was a crystal clear day, so no need to pack too much. I selected a long sleeve shirt, wool gloves, and a visor, then packed the rest in a drop bag just in case. I fired up my new toy (yes, ANOTHER new toy…I can’t help myself), the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch, and made my way to the starting line.

The crowd at the start was one of the most diverse I had ever seen at an ultra. Mill Valley locals were everywhere, sharing stories of Darrell Schlee, for whom this race was dedicated (he had done 17 Quad Dipseas before passing from cancer in October, 2006). There were teenagers, Ironman triathletes, hikers, road runners, and more. A few of them were doing the Dipsea trifecta – the legendary Dipsea (one way), the Double Dipsea (out and back), and the Quad. Many elite runners were also present, including a half dozen racers from the Vasque Ultra Team, former winners Roy Rivers and Kim Holak, 3-time Helen Klein 50m champ Michael Buchanan, Tahoe Ultra winner Sean Messiner, Fuel Belt Champion Mark Tanaka, and 2:30-marathoner Jean Pommier. Pacific Coast Trail Run RD’s Wendell and Sarah were also here to run, as were The Zombies, the ever-smiling Catra Corbett, Rick Gaston, and more. Everyone was ready to hit the hills and have some fun, and most of them were concluding a long ultra season. I didn’t have enough time to wish everyone luck, but I knew I would see them all out there.

(Ready to climb at the start)

As the gun went off, the Vasque Team jumped up front and set the pace up the stairs. There isn’t much of a warm up on this course – you go about 200 feet before you climb, climb, climb up the insanely small and odd-shaped Dipsea stairs. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the front runners set a moderate pace, allowing everyone to get on the stairs without injury. The stairs were interspersed with sections of road that allowed faster people to get around when needed. Locals with coffee cups and bathrobes cheered us on as they took out the trash and got the paper. I guess when you live on the Dipsea Trail, you get used to races in your backyard!

(The Dipsea steps are narrow and steep, but locals take them fast!)

We peaked the first hill around mile 2, navigated a few hundred yards of single track, then spread out on a road section to sprint down. The sky was clear, and I saw the front runners about ¼ mile ahead. Roy Rivers was up front showing everyone why he is the master of the Dipsea (even at age 49), effortlessly leaping off the road onto stairs like a gazelle at full speed. The sun warmed the few parts left of me that hadn’t been warmed by the steep stairs, and I was feeling great. Judging by the ear-to-ear smiles around me, I wasn’t the only one.

As we started up Cardiac Hill, I slowed down to a fast walk. I remembered from the Double Dipsea that this hill goes on for a while, plus I wanted to suck in the Narnia-like lush forest. I paced with Jamie Berns, who was holding second place for the Women's division, as we hopped and skipped up the roots and rocks. 55-year old Jamie was running with determination and setting a fast pace. No surprise - women have been running fast on this course since 1915, long before women competed in the Olympics. Jamie dropped me with her steady pace as soon as we broke out of the forest, inspiring me to pick up the pace and run the remaining way to Cardiac Hill.

(Heading up Cardiac Hill in the lush forest)

The Cardiac Hill aid station was a party in progress, as volunteers, friends, and family members cheered on runners while enjoying the sunny day. I refilled my water bottle, ate a PB&J square, and dropped my gloves. The Garmin Forerunner 305 was tracking well so far, which was a pleasant surprise. I had received the Forerunner 201 as a holiday gift last year, and had so much trouble with it tracking a GPS signal in the trees and hills, that I was lucky to get one mile recorded on a 15 mile run. Peter Lubbers was right – this new unit with a new chip is much better. I sprinted down a section of trail to see how fast I could get the pace monitor up (4:45 min/mile!), then got back to the nature.

(Soaking in the sun as head down from Cardiac Hill)

Four miles in, the trail led us back into the woods. The stairs were narrow and slippery, which slowed down all but the Dipsea regulars (magically taking the stairs 2-3 at a time). Just after I crossed the bridge, the front pack was heading back. Jasper Helekas and Roy Rivers were leading, with Greg Nacco, Jean Pommier, and Michael Buchanan all within 20 seconds. Another four runners, including Sean Messiner, were within two minutes. Only one minute separated the women’s division as well, with Kim Holak and Jamie Berns trading off the lead well ahead of the pack. So far, a very close race.

I refilled at the turnaround at Stinson Beach and ate some m&m’s while drawing in the salty sea air (I wonder, does breathing salty air help keep my electrolytes in balance? ;-) ). I had done the first leg in 1:10. As I headed back up the hill, I paced with Chris Stephenson from Seattle, WA. He had just relocated to Seattle, WA, but had come down to “do the Quad” just like old times. Despite his worries that his training was suffering from a new job/city, he was doing great.

(Heading down to Stinson Beach)

As we ran/walked up the steep steps on our first pass back, we got to see all the other runners pacing right behind us. I typically prefer point-to-point races, but I must say, it is very cool to see so many smiling faces on each passing. It sounds crazy, but a double out-and-back is even more fun than an out-and-back! I even got to give Kate Morejohn a hug, which gave me an energy boost to drop Chris and charge the hill. This section of stairs is the toughest on the course (I think), so I’ll take any boost I can get. Let’s not forget we have one more lap too!

(The last climb to Cardiac Hill, where the food awaits)

I found my way up to Cardiac Hill again, and had another PB&J square with some flat Coke. The volunteers asked how my feet were holding up, and they were ready with tape just in case. I could see how this course could be a toe-masher for the unprepared, but my Injinji tsoks and Inov-8 RocLite 315’s love this terrain, so I was good to go. I sprinted down the hill in a Coke-fueled frenzy, catching a few runners along the way.

I saw the front-runners again as I was coming up the last hill to head down into Mill Valley (~mile 11.5). Roy Rivers had put about 30 seconds on Jasper Halekas (most likely on the stairs), and about 90 seconds on Michael Buchanan, Jean Pommier, and Greg Nacco. However, they all looked pretty fresh. I lost a few positions as I took the stairs slowly, but got to see the crab-like sidestepping that the locals were doing to get down the stairs. It’s a definitely a practiced skill that gives an advantage; I wonder if it’s enough for Roy to hold off the other elites?

(Jasper Halekas in hot pursuit on the second lap)

I filled up again at the turnaround, had more m&m’s, and decided to continue with my existing attire. The temperature was a perfect 54 degrees, so as long as I kept moving I would be plenty warm. My Forerunner said I did the way back in 1:14. I headed back up the mountain of stairs, still having enough energy to take them two at a time.

I popped some Clif Shots at the bottom of Cardiac Hill and prepared to climb. This was the first point in the whole race where I couldn’t see anyone in front of me or behind me, but it didn’t last long. Two women came flying down the hill screaming “Bees! Bees!”, which instinctively triggered my sprint reflex. Alas, I wasn’t fast enough and one of them got me square on the back. These little devils have it out for me this year!

I did my best to run/walk the course the same way I had the first lap, and found myself at Cardiac Hill just 4 minutes slower than the first time, largely from walking the very last section. The volunteers had some tougher cases this time around, and every seat was full with runners. I took another shot of flat Coke and pranced down the trail, letting gravity pull me as much as possible. I was running alone again, but was bound to meet somebody soon. It turned out to be Redwood Trails RD Eric Gould, out taking pictures of runners and giving encouragement.

I saw the front-runners one last time, and the top five players remained close. Jasper Halekas had taken the lead from Roy Rivers, with Jean Pommier, Michael Buchanan, and Victor Ballesteros each running solo less than a minute behind. Jasper was going harder this time, and Roy was heads down to keep up. Michael Buchanan actually yawned as he went by me – I suspect this 5:45 50-mile runner hasn’t played his final cards yet! The women’s division continued to be a race of two, with Jamie Berns right on the tail of Kim Holak.

(Me heading down to Stinson Beach; photo courtesy of Keturah Morejohn)

The wind picked up a bit as I made my way down to Stinson Beach one more time. Cross-town traffic on the stairs was heavier this time, and I lost a few minutes waiting for runners and hikers (then again, if I’m taking pictures I probably shouldn’t worry about a few minutes here and there). I hit the turnaround, finishing the section in 1:19, nine minutes slower than the first pass. Was that good? I had no idea, but I felt good. I ate one more PB&J square, and headed back up.

(Heading back from Stinson Beach, photo courtesy of Eric Gould)

This time, there was not going to be any “two stairs at once”. Each step was methodical, burning up my hamstrings, yet still pushing my heart rate to the high 160’s. I guess this is where the rubber meets the trail, so to speak. I kept moving forward, focusing on breathing in as much oxygen-rich air as I could. I had to keep it to a fast walking pace until we broke out of trees at mile 23. One last stop at Cardiac Hill for flat Coke and Jelly Belly’s, and I could cruise the last two hills to the finish.

(Another happy finisher!)

Similar to the first lap, I lost a few more positions as the stair-friendly locals whizzed by. But I finished in 5:10, good enough for 33rd. Jean Pommier caught me up on front pack racing as I polished off some chili and beer. Apparently Victor Ballesteros and Michael Buchanan kicked into overdrive after Cardiac Hill and flew by the leaders like they were standing still. Michael Buchanan held on to win in 4:14, with Ballesteros in 2nd (4:16), Roy Rivers in 3rd (4:19), and Jasper Helekas and Jean Pommier sprinting neck-and-neck down the stairs to finish 4th and 5th (4:20). In the Women’s division, Jamie Berns pulled ahead of Kim Holak on the final climb to take the win in 4:48, becoming the oldest overall Women champion ever to have won the Quad. Get this - it was Jamie's first ultra! We all shared stories of the race as we cheered the remaining finishers.

(Jamie Berns on her way to a Quad Dipsea win; photo courtesy of Eric Gould)

My thanks to John and the Tamalpais Runners for putting on a great race. Darrell Schlee most certainly would have been proud. I feel tremendous gratitude to all the RD’s, runners, and volunteers for a fabulous year of running, and can’t think of a better way to cap the season. Now I’ll head home and polish off those leftovers. ;-)

(Sean Messiner, Mark Tanaka, and me at the finish; photo courtesy of Rick Gaston)

- SD

Friday, November 24, 2006

2006 Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series Winners

Lots of New Faces in 2006 TRM Trophy Series Results

Trail Runner Magazine (TRM) announced the winners of the 2006 TRM Trophy Series, the largest trail running series in the world. Once again, the women dominated the Ultra division, with Washington's Van Phan scoring an incredible 1462 points (500 more than 2nd place Tracy Thomas, and double the points of Nikki Kimball). Krissy Moehl placed 5th in this highly competitive group. Graham Cooper used his win at the Western States 100 to eke out a Series win for the men, with perennial ultra favorite Eric Grossman getting second.

(TRM Trophy Series winner Van Phan, photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

In the Marathon-and-Under division, two runners from Tell City, Indiana battled all year for the top spot - Hugh Davis held on to win the competition, with Brian Beckort coming in second and winning his age group. Annette Van Balen won the Women's Division, heading a list of fresh new names as age group winners. The one exception - speed demon Tania Pacev, who chalks up her third age group TRM Series win.

It's unclear if TRM is giving away a trip to Italy like they did last year (the 2006 rules web page says "2005 rules" and indicates a Grand Prize). If so, Adam Blum of Los Gatos, CA raced 18 races in the Series and would win the package.

Result Completeness Still a Factor, But Getting Better

One of the quirky things about the TRM Series is that some races that are listed in the Series are not counted in the final tally. This is a unique issue among North American trail running series. TRM depends on Race Directors to send in result information with complete contact info for each runner (this is, after all, largely a marketing program for TRM), and sometimes it just doesn't happen. In the previous two years of the Series, uncounted races determined who made (or didn't make) the final podium for age group and overall winners.

This year, 14 of the ~170 races did not get counted. Although 8% of races not counting may sound like a lot, it is an improvement over the last two years, where uncounted races averaged ~12%. A quick check of the results of uncounted races indicate that this year the results would stand even if they had been counted (in fact, Van Phan would have another 400 points for her win at the Lost Soul Ultra in Canada). So congrats everyone!

Great job to all who competed this year. I hope you had a great time!

- SD

(official press release)

Off-Roaders Rage
Trail Runner announces Trophy Series Winners

NOVEMBER 10, 2006, CARBONDALE, COLORADO—The third annual Trail Runner Trophy Series, sponsored by LaSportiva and GoLite, included 107 races ranging from five kilometers to 100 miles, and 20,000 dirt-loving runners who talled points in their quest for trail-running greatness over seven months.

In the Ultramarathon category, which had 4222 competitors, women outscored the men, claiming the top seven positions in the overall standings. Van Phan, 35, of Maple Valley, Washington, participated in 14 races, earning 1462.2 points, far ahead of second-place winner Tracy Thomas, 45, of Champaign, Illinois, with 901.8 points. Third was Western Sates 100 Mile Endurance Run champion Nikki Kimball, 35, of Bozeman, Montana, with 772 points.

Only a dozen points separated the top three point-earners in the men’s Ultramarathon category. Graham Cooper, 36, of Oakland, California, came in first with 574 points, largely due to his win at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Second was last year’s ultra champion, Eric Grossman, 38, of Emory, Virginia, with 572 points, and third was 63-year-old Rainer Schulz of Roy, Washington, with 562 points.

In the Marathon and Shorter category, Hugh Davis, 42, from Tell City, Indiana, took the overall lead in May and held onto top spot all season, finishing with 518.5 points. Second overall was Brian Beckort, 33 years old, also of Tell City, Indiana, with 401.9 points. Adam Blum, 42, from Los Gatos, California, ran the most Trophy Series events in 2006, with 18 finishes earning him 334.3 points for third spot.

Two women from Laramie, Wyoming topped the women’s field in the Marathon and Shorter category. Annette Van Baalen, 38, was first with 351.3 points and Gail Leedy was second (231.8 points). Rounding out the field was last year’s overall winner, Tania Pacev, 47, of Littleton, Colorado, with 209.6 points.

Young marathoners turned on the heat in the 10-19 year old age groups, as five young men scored the same number of points for doing one marathon each, but top honors went to Vito Fazzio for having the fastest time, 3:47:46, at the Haulin Aspen Marathon in Bend, Oregon, in August. Three girls in the 10-19 age category tied at 104.8 points each for completing a marathon, but Allison Stockstell, from Hamburg, Iowa, came out ahead wth her 4:35:16 finishing time at the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon in Deadwood, South Dakota on June 4th.

Eighteen prize packages including diverse goodies from Trophy Series sponsors are awarded to the top three male and female winners in the Ultra category and each top age group placer in the Marathon and shorter category. Plus, two lucky Trophy Series participants will receive prize packages through a random drawing. The packages include products from GoLite, LaSportiva, DeFeet, Julbo, Spenco, Injinji, Salomon, Protech, Pro Tech Athletics, Nathan, Mont Bell, Kahtoola, Honey Stinger and Bad to the Bone.

Participants can visit for full results on the 2006 Trail Runner Trophy Series. Profiles of the top men and women will appear in the special Trophy Series race issue of Trail Runner magazine, to be released in February, 2007.

Plans for the 2007 Trophy Series is already underway. Interested race directors interesting in being a Trophy Series race should apply online before December 1, 2006 at:


Top Ultramarathon Women

  1. Van Phan, Maple Valley, WA, 35, 1462.2 points
  2. Tracy Thomas, Champaign IL, 45, 901.8 points
  3. Nikki Kimball, Bozeman MT, 35, 772 points

Top Ultramarathon Men

  1. Graham Cooper, Oakland CA, 36, 574 points
  2. Eric Grossman, Emory WA, 38, 572 points
  3. Rainer Schulz, Roy WA, 63, 562 points

Marathon and Shorter Age Group Winners, Women

  • 10-19 years old--Allison Stockstell, Hamburg, IA, 19, 104.8 points
  • 20-29 years old--Rachel Lynn Post, Plymouth, MI, 26, 183.4 points
  • 30-39 years old--Annette Van Baalen, Laramie, WY, 38, 351.3 points
  • 40-49 years old--Tania Pacev, Littleton, CO, 47, 200 points
  • 50 and over--Gail Leedy, Laramie WY, 52, 231.8 points

Marathon and Shorter Age Group Winners, Men

  • 10-19 years old--Vito Fazzio, Vancouver WA, 16, 104.8 points,
  • 20-29 years old--Nathan Brown, Littleton CO, 27, 175.3 points
  • 30-39 years old--Brian Beckort, Tell City, IN, 33, 401.9 points
  • 40-49 years old--Hugh Davis, Tell City, IN, 42, 518.5 points
  • 50 and over--Heath Hibbard, Montrose, CO, 53, 185.4 points

Trail Runner is the country’s leading magazine for off-road running enthusiasts and athletes. In-depth editorial and compelling photography informs, entertains and inspires readers of all ages and abilities to enjoy the outdoors and to improve their health and fitness through the sport of trail running.

For nearly 80 years, La Sportiva has been leading in technical outdoor-footwear innovation and design. We do this because we believe. We believe your trail-running shoes should never come between you and the planet—they should ground you to it. La Sportiva is always inventing, always rethinking, always dreaming. Trail runners ourselves, we recognize the thin line between dream and belief. And then we erase it by designing the best shoes on the planet.

GoLite sparked a lightweight revolution in 1999 when it introduced a full range of ultra-lite equipment and clothing for backpacking and other active outdoor adventures that rocked the outdoor sports world. Today the company sponsors more than 50 professional athletes in trail running, adventuring racing, mountain biking, fast-packing and thru-hiking and regularly shares fast + lite techniques in outreach seminars around the world. For more information on GoLite products, athletes, and outreach programs, visit or call 888-5-GoLite toll-free within the U.S.

Trail Runner is the country’s leading magazine for off-road running enthusiasts and athletes. In-depth editorial and compelling photography informs, entertains and inspires readers of all ages and abilities to enjoy the outdoors and to improve their health and fitness through the sport of trail running.

For nearly 80 years, La Sportiva has been leading in technical outdoor-footwear innovation and design. We do this because we believe. We believe your trail-running shoes should never come between you and the planet—they should ground you to it. La Sportiva is always inventing, always rethinking, always dreaming. Trail runners ourselves, we recognize the thin line between dream and belief. And then we erase it by designing the best shoes on the planet.

GoLite sparked a lightweight revolution in 1999 when it introduced a full range of ultra-lite equipment and clothing for backpacking and other active outdoor adventures that rocked the outdoor sports world. Today the company sponsors more than 50 professional athletes in trail running, adventuring racing, mountain biking, fast-packing and thru-hiking and regularly shares fast + lite techniques in outreach seminars around the world. For more information on GoLite products, athletes, and outreach programs, visit or call 888-5-GoLite toll-free within the U.S.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Inside Dirt" Calls It Quits After One Year

After one short year, Trail Runner Magazine is shutting down the "Inside Dirt" e-zine.

Subscribers to the e-mail magazine got the following notification this weekend:

"Dear Inside Dirt Reader :

We hope you have been enjoying our monthly digital newsletter "Inside Dirt." We are sorry to announce that we are only publishing one more issue. Your last copy of Inside Dirt will be emailed on December 15.
We have decided to better serve you and our Trail Runner readers by putting more energy into the magazine and enhancing our website (

The website will feature a brand-spanking-new look very soon, and include more fresh content and a deeper archive well.
With Issue 43 (December-January), we’ve also given the magazine a facelift, with a cleaner design. We hope you enjoy these changes.

Happy trails!

The staff at Trail Running Magazine"

Rumor has it that Inside Dirt got less than 200 subscribers at the $1/month fee. It appears this wasn't enough to keep it going, even though their content was free (since it was provided by readers). Too bad - I thought the reader-provided content was a nice alternative to the glossy TRM magazine. Perhaps we will find those contributors in the blogosphere soon enough.

On a side note, TRM is also running a new contest to give away two entries to the Costa Rica Coastal Challenge in San Jose, Costa Rica (entries only - you pay for flights). If interested, you can enter online here.

- SD

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mike Pierce Training for an Antarctica 100k...In a Freezer!

Mike Pierce has a unique way to train for the Antarctic 100k - he runs in a commercial freezer twice a week, doing 44 out-and-backs for each mile. But Mike has already done the Antarctica Marathon (7 hours, 10 minutes), so he knows one must prepare for the extreme temperature (-10 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit) and 20+ mph winds. This year he is training hard for his first ultra - the Antarctic 100k.

(Mike Pierce trains in a commerical freezer)

I asked Mike a few questions over e-mail to see how his training was going:

For God’s sake, why run your first ultra in Antarctica?

First and foremost, I am a big fan of antarctic history. As a (motivational) speaker, I use the historical exploration stories from the antarctic to illustrate principles of success, goal setting, dealing w/obstacles beyond your control, sudden and unexpected change, marketing yourself to stand out from competitors and other business related issues in my speaking engagements. A marathon last January and an ultramarathon this December for me are my way of sharing in the same struggles physically, emotionally and mentally that the early Antarctic pioneers faced. I then can help engage people better in the stories and experiences, thus they learn far more. That is why I am doing this.

Have you run ultramarathons before?

No, never an ultra.

What sort of endurance training have you done to date?

Runs, cycling and swimming ranging from 1-2 hours all the way to running full length marathons in training runs and a 24 hour spin cycle event in the freezer.

Can you describe the conditions you are expecting? What is your target water/food intake?

Conditions will be windy and dry. Water and food intake will be continuous, about every 20 min I will eat something. I will have gels, powerbars, protein/carbo powder that I chase w/water, and almonds for fat content. The footing is like running in thick sand, as the snow is very dry, cold and granular. Course is for the most part flat and very, very monotonous.

What has it been like training in a commercial freezer? Claustrophobic at all?

I love the freezer. I have been going there for the last 1.5 years, multiple times per week. I go there w/no training partner, no ipod, no nothing. Just me and the crates of chickens, pizzas and who knows what. Not claustrophobic, just monotonous but I know that if I can run circles around the same crates of food for hours, the real race is much easier, and that was the case in Jan when I did the two marathons in the Antarctic.

Will you have to use special shoes/equipment, or does your existing stuff stand up to the challenge?

Just trail shoes lined in gore-tex w/2 good wool sox. I wear Duofold base layer, fleece mid layer and a 3-ply gore-tex XCR on the outer, neoprene face guards and goggles. That is it.

Ever thought about doing the other extreme, like the Badwater Ultra?

No hot weather stuff or any main stream racing interests me. My next event I want to do, after a huge needed rest for a few months, will be a mountain run in Colorado at a very high altitude in a snow storm, possibly along the cat tracks of the ski area A-Basin, the highest ski area in North America. I want to do a full length marathon there, probably by myself. I also want to race in the Arctic, either at the North Pole or along the Arctic Sea somewhere.

Thanks for the interview, Mike, and good luck with your race next month!

- SD

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dean Karnazes IS Forrest Gump!

Dean Karnazes has decided to jog home after his last marathon. Good way to cool down? Sure, unless of course your last marathon was in New York, and your home is in San Francisco.

Yup, that's right. Krazy Karno has decided to cap off his 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days by running across the country to get home. He really IS Forrest Gump! He's made it to Philadelphia, PA so far (you can track his progress on the Runner's World site here). I wish him the best of luck - it's going to get damn cold in the Rockies, that's for sure.

Below is the YouTube link to the Epilogue of his 50-50-50 adventure. I know not all ultrarunners like his self-promotion, but he's clearly inspiring a lot of people to run. I've met a lot of first-time ultrarunners who signed up because of his book, and I know some of them will stick with it forever. Totally cool.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Smooth Running at the 2006 Helen Klein 50-miler

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of joining 288 runners for the 11th annual Helen Klein 50m/50k/30k (HK). This flat out-and-back course runs along a bike trail aside the American River (those who ran the American River 50 will find the scenery familiar), and is an ideal course for PR's, first timers, and anyone trying to squeeze out a Western States qualifying time. I ran HK last year, and enjoyed it so much I had to come back for more!

(Norm Klein addresses a packed house at the start;
click on any image for full size photo from Flickr)

I met up with Jean Pommier at 3:30am to carpool up to the race in Granite Bay, CA. 3am wake ups are nothing new to me these days (thank you, baby Sophie), but I was pleased to have some company for the drive. Jean, a 42 year old French road marathoner, was running his 2nd 50-miler after his spectacular debut at the Dick Collins Fire Trails 50 just two weeks before (3rd place in 7:25). He was hoping his road marathon experience might eke out a even faster time on a paved course, while I was hoping to get under 7 hours if all went well. In the end, however, we were both here to have a good time and enjoy the ideal weather.

(Helen and Norm Klein)

We arrived to a packed Cavitt School gymnasium just as Race Director Norm Klein was telling everyone that there are 40% more runners this year than last (with half signing up for the 50-miler). With all his repeat visits to the local Safeway to buy supplies for aid stations, he was becoming quite a celebrity! Norm took some time to recognize some of the everyday heroes in the audience, such as Barbara Elia, running her 326th ultra (it was 300th last year, so she's still going strong!), HK course record holder Michael Buchanan, Rena Schumann (presented with a 10-year belt buckle for her 10 runs at the Sierra Nevada double marathon), Mark Tanaka (harassed for making a 37 minute phone call to his wife during the Rio del Lago 100-miler and still getting 2nd place), and of course Helen Klein, who at age 82 was in her running gear and ready to defend her 80+ age group title in the 30k. Norm and his volunteers do an amazing job making everyone feel welcome and celebrated even before the race starts. Perhaps it is this sense of community that keeps everyone coming back, and more signing up each year.

Although hugs did abound, it didn't mean there wasn't a healthy sense of competition in the air. HK doubles as the final race in the Series and the 2nd to final race in the PA/USATF Grand Prix, so there were plenty of folks ready to go hard. Jon Olsen and Mark Tanaka were neck and neck in the Series, so every minute would count for both of them. PA/USATF Grand Prix contenders Mark Lantz, John Mintz, Molly Pelton (also a leader in the Series), and Eric Skaden were also among the crowd of runners lining the front of the pack. The Buffalo Chips running club was EVERYWHERE, and were going to be contenders in every distance for sure.

Norm sent off the runners about 4 minutes early, leaving 50 of us scrambling to the start (note to self - next year, FOLLOW Norm to the starting line!). Starting from the back has its advantage though - I got to say "hi" and "good luck" to a lot of familiar faces.

(All smiles as we head off down the trail)

I settled into a 7-min/mile pace with Jeff Barbier and Lee McKinley, as we took advantage of the early downhills. We quickly realized we had all been at the Tahoe Rim Trail race, where Jeff had done 50k++ (the 50k course plus an unexpected extra Red House loop) and Lee had done the 50k as training for his 9-day fastpack of the John Muir Trail last month. Jeff was trying his first 50-miler, while Lee was in the lead pack for the 30k runners. We slowed down to an 8 min/mile as the path flattened out, and within the first hour, it felt like we were the only ones out there. Lee was itching to speed up, so he wished us luck and kicked into overdrive.

The first nine miles went quickly, and we saw the 30k runners coming back. Frank Capello and Frank Mariscal were up front, with Lee 30 seconds behind running smooth and confident (Lee would later win the 30k in 2:16). Jeff and I talked about our pace, which was still pretty fast, and well ahead of what Jeff would need for his target 7:30-8 hour time. As we each took pit stops, hit aid stations, etc., we managed to keep catching up to each other. I was wearing my hydration pack (not needed for this course, but I really enjoyed running with it all week so what the heck), so the aid station stops were brief. It's so easy to make friends with so much time to kill!

(The sun warms our backs as we head down the bike trail)

I spent a few miles running with Peter Lubbers, who had won the Tahoe "Super Triple" last month (that's two marathons in two days, followed by a 72-mile lap of Lake Tahoe on day 3 - whoa!). He gave me the blow-by-blow on the race, which sounded like a true survival of the fittest. At 14 miles, Michael Carlson of Boise, ID, went SCREAMING by to lead the 50k runners. About 5 minutes behind was Eric Skaden, running a casual pace (for him anyway). Jeff caught up with us again, and we gave our high fives to Peter as he turned around in pursuit.

(The pros show us how it's done - on the dirt!)

Jeff is from nearby Rancho Cordova, so he knew the same trick that I did about this trail - use the dirt path on each side of the pavement as soon as possible to save your knees. The dirt also offered some variability to our leg muscles, which was critical for making sure we had some kick at the end of the race. We cruised by the 19-mile aid station with no problem, and quickly found ourselves at the 22-mile aid station just in time to see Michael Buchanan heading back. He was out front all by himself, running about a 5:55 race pace.

(Michael Buchanan leads the way)

Jon Olsen was about a half mile behind, and Jean Pommier was 3rd, setting a fast pace for the Master's athletes. Mark Lantz was sticking close to Mark Tanaka for 4th and 5th. I hit the turnaround in 3:16 in 9th place, which was faster than I had expected. Jeff was right behind me, still looking strong. If we could hold on, a 7 hour finish was well within reach. I slowed down to take in some food, and Jeff led us out.

(Jon Olsen in hot pursuit)

It seems like I'm always trying to convince myself that my 50-mile time can be calculated by doubling the first half and adding 20 minutes. Does it ever work out that way? No. But do I still think it will? Of course! And the moment I do that mental math is typically right about the time when something goes wrong.

(Jean Pommier in 3rd place, too fast for my camera!)

For this race, that was at mile 29. As I was gazing over the river, I tried to hop from the bike path to the dirt trail but instead caught the edge of the pavement and "windmilled" into the park lawn as I tried to catch myself. I didn't go down, but I definitely overstretched my hip and IT band in my ungraceful attempt to stop. Once I halted, I laughed out loud. After a season of hills at Miwok, Ohlone, Tahoe, the Sunsweet Trail Festival, and Seacliff, I decide to fall on the flattest course all year?!? That's just classic.

I did my best to walk it off, but something didn't feel quite right. I had strained an already-overworked muscle, and it wasn't coming back into shape easily. Anytime I went from a jog to a run, my left IT band would hurt a little more with each step. I did a walk/run for the next mile, but couldn't get it to subside. My head started filling with excuses - "just think how much it will hurt in 20 more miles", "don't be an idiot and lose your whole season", "this is your chance to drop" - damn you, conscience! Always there to take advantage of any misfortune.

But my conscience should know this much - it's going to take a lot more than that to stop an ultra runner. Would it stop Helen Klein at age 82? Her hips probably hurt this much getting out of bed this morning. Would it stop Peter Lubbers from moving forward at the Tahoe Super Triple? Not a chance. Would Lee have bailed on his 9-day John Muir Trail hike if his hip hurt? Nyet. Would a little pain stop Jeff from crawling to finish his first 50-miler if he had to? HELL, no. Thus with the thoughts of my cohorts, I perservered. Within a few miles, I found a modified shuffle that kept the pressure off if I ran on the left side of the road. It appeared to be a 9:10/mile pace which would get me to the finish. Perhaps this is what a 100-miler feels like? I cheered on the runners coming the other way to stoke up my psychological reserves.

(Jeff Barbier on his way to his first 50-mile finish)

At mile 31, I caught up with Jeff again who was proactively slowing down after seeing he hit 50k in 4:16 or so. We ran together for a bit, but he soon found his rhythm again and was pulling ahead. It was good motivation to keep him in sight, and he pulled me through the aid stations at mile 35 and 39. When we saw the last of the 50-mile walkers, we knew it was the home stretch. That was enough motivation for Jeff to pull off into the distance for good.

I cranked up my iPod (Cake, Theivery Corporation, Ben Harper), which along with the Advil, helped me pick up the pace to an 8:45/mile. Steve Itano went by on his bike a few times and let me know I was still in the vicinity of a top 10 finish. The hills were a welcome relief that worked some new muscles, and gave me a boost of energy to cross the finish line in 7:28:12, good enough for 10th place. My hip was sore, but it couldn't dampen the joy of getting across the finish line.

(Women's division winner, Carol Rewick from Vacaville, CA)

As I chowed down on my turkey dinner, I found out that Michael Buchanan had successfully defended his title in 6:00:28, with Jon Olsen coming in 2nd (6:05:19), just enough to edge out Mark Tanaka (3rd in 6:22:36) for 2nd, but not enough to beat him in the Series. Jean Pommier was 4th and won the Master's division (6:53), with Mark Lantz right behind him (6:57). Jeff Barbier held on strong for 9th place (7:22), so I suspect we will see him in more 50-milers to come. Carol Rewick came in soon after me to win the Women's Division (12th overall, 7:32:16).

(Me at the last aid station; photo courtesy of Steve Itano)

My thanks to Norm and Helen Klein, as well as the many volunteers, for putting on a great race. I would highly recommend this one if you're looking to get started in ultras. You will get a great crowd, good weather, and (hopefully) a fast course that is not difficult to navigate. Just do Norm a favor and sign up early so he only has to make one trip to Safeway. ;-)

- SD