Friday, June 29, 2007

Lon Freeman's Western States 100 Experience

Lon Freeman (interviewed here) was kind enough to let me post his write-up of his Western States experience below. As he said in his e-mail, "I would like to share my experiences in hopes that others can learn from them...that's the great thing about this sport - we're all in this together". Thanks, Lon!

(Lon rounds the corner at Michigan Bluff, photo courtesy of Terry Rice)

Friends -

It was an awesome day for most of the day. Justine (girlfriend), Dave (crew chief), Terry (pacer), Mark (pacer), and Granger (Terry's friend) did a terrific job crewing and pacing and despite the really LONG day, it was a lot of fun. The course was perfect, there was no snow, and the weather hasn't been that cool in quite a few years on Western States day.

Before I go any further, I should say that I'm healthy and did not have to drop due to injury. If you want the punch line, at the end of this email are the main things that contributed to the drop. But, first a blow by blow of the race from my perspective.

5am – The start is very cool since it is barely daylight and 400 people charge up a ski slope out of Squaw Valley . We climb from 6200 ft to 8700 ft in the first 3.5 miles, which is an "interesting" way to start the day. My fears of getting boxed in were quickly dismissed when about 20 people separated from the large group about 100 yards up the first fire road. By the top of the climb, there were 5 of us who were out front by about 50 yards.

From here, we started a long rocky descent to the first aid station. The eventual winner, Hal, took off, never to be seen again. This guy is tall and has some serious downhill skills. Next were the guy from Korea , a guy from Switzerland , and me. After going through Lyon Ridge at M10.5, I knew we were all running a little fast for that early. Korean Dude took off and Swiss Dude stayed about 100 yards ahead of me.

Swiss Dude and I left the next aid station together and I basically got about 5 yards behind him and enjoyed his pace. We came into Duncan Canyon at M23.8. I got to see Justine and Dave for the first time (and got to change into my cropped shirt to keep cool) and that was a great mental boost since it had been over 3.5 hrs, and we were all wondering/hoping they wouldn't have car trouble.

(Lon at Robinson Flat, complete with gladiator top; photo courtesy of Terry Rice)

Once again, Swiss Dude and I left close to each other and I was surprised when we ran up to Korean Dude. The three of us stayed within 25 yards of each other for the next hour to Robinson Flat. This was incredibly fun for me because I very rarely run with other folks on training runs, and since none of knew the other's native language, we didn't have to get out of breath talking about where we were from or how we were doing.

Robinson Flat is the first major at M29.7. Terry, Granger, and Mark were waiting for me at this station, and since Swiss Dude and Korean Dude did not have a crew here, they took a few extra minutes getting aid while I was able to grab fresh bottles and go. I felt really comfortable at the point because I was within 3 minutes of my projected time for this aid station and I had run the next 70 miles in two separate training runs earlier in June. I mean, I was basically in the home stretch at this point!

By the time I reached Justine and Dave a little over an hour later at Dusty Corner's, I was starting to have some cautionary thoughts. My quads were beginning to act up and say "Hold on, are you sure we agreed to do this?" I attributed the bad thoughts to altitude and counted on feeling better once I got down below 5,000 ft. After Dusty Corner's at M38, the course starts into a series of three difficult canyons. I was feeling quite good for the next hour because much of the trail was in the shade and slightly downhill. On the way into the bottom of the first canyon, it's kind of like running down steps with gravel on them…for a little over a mile.

Devil's Thumb is a 25% grade climb for close to 2 miles to get out of the canyon. It is gorgeous, but it is also very hot, and there were at least 10 photographers at various stages of the climb. It's when you're starting to overheat from the climb and trying to stay cool and you start thinking, "Great, I'm SO glad this is all being documented, I look just terrific right now". At the top of the climb, I took a good three minutes trying to cool off, pouring ice water over my head.

(Lon cools off in the river crossing;
photo courtesy of Luis Escobar - be sure to see all of his amazing WS photos here)

I also started drinking Pepsi (the caffeinated drink offered by the aid stations this year). The caffeine gave me a good boost, but it was really early to start using it at only 7hrs 40 minutes into the day. The next 8 miles involve a 5 mile descent as if you're running down an overpass with switchbacks and steep edges, for 5 miles. The 3 mile climb out of El Dorado Canyon is shaded and very difficult, but easier than Devil's Thumb, and thankfully had fewer photographers!

Coming into Michigan Bluff at M55.7 was great. Having been at this aid station 3 different times on race day as a crew member for other runners, I had always wanted to be running into the aid station to meet my crew. And, to be in second at that point in the day was icing on the cake.

(photo courtesy of Tom Riley, from the great photo journey he kept of his brother, Jeff, getting M9 this year)

I felt surprisingly good coming out of the canyon and getting to see everyone after 3 hours of being out of contact with them gave me a sense of "okay, we're moving into the afternoon now, but, we're still feeling good and the worst of the climbs are over".

Between Michigan Bluff and Foresthill, something that has NEVER happened to me during a trail run, let alone a race…I was moving along enjoying some shade and saw a folded $10 bill on the trail. What? I stopped and got it, why not. Not 50 yards later, there was a folded $5 bill. Huh? I got that one, too. We later joked that Hal, the lead runner, had dropped these and was tipping aid station volunteers as he went along.

Foresthill at M62 is by far the biggest aid station because you can easily drive right up to it. Dave and Granger had fresh bottles and socks waiting for me and Justine, Terry, and Mark got to run with me for about a mile going into the aid station. It was so much fun being able to hear about their day so far and getting all these thoughts out of my head that had been piling up. It was like "Oh, I haven't seen you guys for so long, I have so much to tell you". I dunked my head in our water cooler and Justine, Terry, and Mark ran with us for another half mile until Terry and I left the main road.

Terry would pace me down to the River. And, the next 16 miles are essentially the make or break point in the race. They're primarily down hill and if your quads are sore, it hurts. But, if you can hold things together and get to the River crossing without too much damage, then things are looking good.

It was at this point that I started to hear my quads talking even louder. This was not a good sign. There are three aid stations on the descent, and the first one is run by a running club from Davis , CA (where I went to grad school) and there were a couple of familiar triathletes from the Davis Mad Cows Triathlon team working the aid station. It was a great surprise to see people I knew. I dunked my head in their sponge bucket and we headed out.

I felt like I was starting to overheat, so we slowed down quite a bit and at this point, I realized that my strategy of a liquid diet for the entire day was beginning to have, how should I put this, "ramifications". My stomach was slowly shutting down and nothing tasted good. Two runners went by and at the next aid station, we spent a good 5 minutes drinking more Pepsi and cooling off.

(Lon tackles the downhill, photo courtesy of Tom Riley)

There is a steep 2 mile downhill stretch next and it's easier to run it hard than to gingerly step through it to avoid hurting the quads. Terry and I ran down very fast, but by the bottom of it, my quads were at Defcon 1 and I was beginning to question this "fun day" on the trails.

We made it to the river, after being passed by 2 more runners. I was slowly settling into a shuffle at this point and I was really looking forward to the River crossing which is a highlight of the race. The water felt great and I was really dreaming about doing a sprint triathlon right then, instead of going another 22 miles through the remaining canyons. On the climb up to Green Gate, the last bit of life oozed out of my quads. I took in about 24 oz of Mountain Dew on the 25 minute walk up the hill, but by the top, deep down, I knew things were bad.

However, in the spirit of this race, things get bad, and they usually get better, so it's best to ride out the bad patches. Mark took over pacing duties and told some great stories. Despite his best efforts to keep me cool and keep me moving, I was falling more and more behind on my calories and my stomach was almost locked up. I wasn't bloated, just not open for business. It was 5.4 miles to the next station and about midway, I started to feel really light headed.

(Lon up close, photo courtesy of Luis Escobar)

Again, Mark was great telling me to keep moving and this would pass and we could re-evaluate everything and take some time at ALT. But, with about a mile to go, the last fumes were burned and I was starting to have visions of passing out and Mark having to carry me to ALT and that's just not fun at all.

So, back to my three goals, 1. Stay Healthy, 2. Have Fun, and 3. a top ten finish. With my place goal now out of reach and with the fun factor completely gone, I wasn't messing around with the stay healthy goal. It was a very easy decision to be totally done. The medics checked my blood pressure, pulse, and blood sugar and said basically, "Oh, you're fine, you just need to eat" OH, REALLY?!?

Fortunately, there was a massage therapist here that set up his table and worked on my quads for about 20 minutes while I got my blood sugar up and then we got a ride up to Cool where Justine, Dave, Terry, and Granger were waiting to head back to the finish line.

Overall, I'm not disappointed at all. I knew there was a significant chance this would happen given my very deep and strong effort output at Mi-Wok seven weeks ago. Basically, two major things came into play.

I race only with liquid nutrition whether it's fluid replacement drink, energy gels, or liquid meal replacement. But, in a 100 mile run at the intensity of Saturday's pace, some solid food would have been a good idea. At some point in the day, my system was full of liquid and stopped processing everything as efficiently. I had to slow down my intake, but kept my output at the same level. This put me at even greater risk of running out of gas….more a question of "when" instead of "if".

Training all spring, tapering, and peaking specifically for Mi-Wok (which was only a 62 mile race), and then racing as fast as I did there took a huge toll on my system. It was rather foolish to think I could hold up to that standard of running over 100 miles only 7 weeks later. However, running that fast at Mi-Wok was the only way to get into Western States, so there was not much choice. This put a substantial risk on running out of gas at WS.

So, the good news is that we all had a great time and I have no regrets about the way I raced or dropping at ALT. I learned much more by racing the way I like to than by holding back to the point of being overly conservative and not competitive. And, it only took about 12 hours to start the "…hmm, next year, I think we could do blah blah blah differently". That's a good sign.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

History of Injinji (The Paramus Post)

The Paramus Post has a fun article about Randuz and Joaquin Romay, the founders of Injinji, my favorite trail running sock company. If you've ever wondered if the roots of the Injinji tsoks were connected to those rainbow colored socks of the 70's, you now know it's true!

It also gets to the root of the Injinji name:

"Randuz Romay said he had a chance, 10-minute meeting with a woman who was a musician. She was learning to play percussion instruments from a master African drummer. Randuz plays percussion instruments as well.

The master instructor told the woman that drummers like to achieve a certain level of performance he called injinji.

Said Randuz: "It's that pinnacle moment of a traditional drum circle where the dancers and the rhythm of the music become one. Like a trance or acrescendo. You're not thinking. You're in the moment."
Sweet. Now they just need to embrace the nut-tsak product idea, and sales will really fly!

- SD

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Should Dean Karnazes Win an ESPY Award?

Dean Karnazes was nominated for the ESPN ESPY Award for "Best Outdoor Athlete". If you're a Dean fan, you can go vote for him here. Just scroll down and select "Best Outdoor Athlete" to see the list.

And if you're not a Dean fan, perhaps you could be convinced that Dean winning an ESPY is better than having it go to a bass fisherman or musher? ;-)

- SD

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ultrarunning Video by CNN - Ultra-running: A step beyond

CNN International's Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Maggie Lake covered "ultrarunning" in this story/video this weekend by

<-- (photo courtesy of CNN)

focusing on the Sri Chimnoy 6 & 10 day Transcendence Run in New York. It is the world's longest IAU recognized footrace at 3,100 miles - definitely one of the more extreme ultras! The story is worth a read, and the video has some good interviews.

My favorite quote was:

"At one level its admirable, at another it's ridiculous," says Phillip Hodson, Fellow of the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy.

Yup, that's about right. ;-) Enjoy!


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hal Koerner and Nikki Kimball Win 2007 Western States

31-year-old Hal Koerner from Ashland, OR, led from the start to win the 2007 Western States in 16:12:16 this evening in unusually optimal weather. Eric Skaden was second (second year in a row) in 16:36:11, and last year's winner Graham Cooper finished third in 17:11:41. Andy Jones-Wilkins was just a few minutes behind to finish fourth in 17:20:29. Glen Redpath from Brooklyn, NY, won the Master's Division with his 6th place finish (18:05:33), earning yet another top 10 return invitation.

Nikki Kimball from Bozeman, MT, added another States win to her roster by finishing in 18:12:38.

Some of the top contenders had a tough day. Brian Morrison dropped at Dusty Corners (mile 38), Greg Crowther dropped at Foresthill (mile 62), and Korea's Jae-duk Sim slipped out of the top 10 after being in the top 6 for most of the race. I guess you never know...

The race is still going at the time of this post (keep going everyone!), but I've got to hit the sack. You can get the latest updates at the WS100 Webcast here, and soon after can get video at the YouTube site here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Weather Looks Good for 2007 Western States

Best of luck to everyone running Western States tomorrow. It looks like the weather will be good (predicted 40 degrees in Squaw Valley, 83-92 in Auburn) and the field will be stacked according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

For those wanting to follow along, you can catch the live Webcast here. I'll be checking in around 8pm to see catch the finish!

- SD

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rod Bien Gets Super Fast! (An Interview)

Bend, OR’s Rod Bien has always been fast, often placing in the top 5 of nearly every ultra he has entered. But lately, he’s been getting REALLY fast in some of the world’s most competitive races. In 2007, Rod has battled with the elites at Miwok 100k (8:43:17, 4th overall), Way Too Cool 50k (3:53:15, 7th overall), and the Peterson Ridge Rumble 60k (4:42, 1st overall by nearly 30 minutes). In nearly all of these, the few folks who could out-kick Rod reads like the who’s who of ultrarunning (50k/100k national champ Greg Crowther, Lon Freeman, sometimes Eric Skaden, but not Scott Jurek, Andy Jones Wilkins, and a long list of others). His results are showing that his impressive run at the 2006 Tahoe Rim Trail 100m (21:30, 2nd overall), only his fifth 100-miler, was not a fluke and that we can expect even more from this 34-year-old Hawaii transplant.

(Rod Bien on his way to a 4th place finish at the 2007 Miwok 100k;
photo courtesy of Tyson Purdue)

Rod is tapering down for Western States this week, so I caught with him to see if he had some insight to share on how he has brought his “A” game for this season.

1) First, congratulations on such a tremendous season so far! Have you been happy with your performances to date?

Thanks so much, Scott! Yes, I’ve been really excited about my season so far. I’ve really tried to pick up both the mileage and the intensity of my workouts this year so it has been rewarding to have some stronger results. I will say, it has been a bit intimidating to run with some of the guys at the front of the pack who I have looked up to for a long time, but very gratifying as well.

2) You have picked some competitive races to prove your mettle, and I understand Western States is coming up. What else do you have on the agenda for this year?

Yes, I really like to run the races where the best runners are going to be there. For me, it actually helps me to relax knowing that I am really a “nobody” in the running world and that I can just worry about competing with the goals I have for myself and not having to stress about what place I am in. Running in a lot of the “big” ultras also allows me not to put too much emphasis on just one race. For instance, if I didn’t have a perfect race at States, I would be very comforted looking back at my performances at Way Too Cool, Peterson Ridge, and Miwok and still be really excited about my season.

As far as for the rest of the season, I will really plan it after I run Western States. I will probably run Leadville later in the summer. I say probably because if I do hit my “goal time” for Western States, I may just take the majority of the summer off and play with my two kids, Fisher and Ava, and get some gardening in. Other than that, Sean Meissner and I are going to try and get a few long adventure runs in as well.

3) In your opinion, what have been the contributing elements to you having such a stellar season? Have you made any dramatic training changes?

As far as training goes, I just seem to find a few building blocks to improve on each year. I have been running ultras for a little while now since my first (McDonald Forest in 2000). I came from not having a running background AT ALL. When I started running I weighed 180 pounds and was thrilled to just run in the top half of races I entered. Each year I have gotten more comfortable with the distances and have been able to really race the events rather than just finish.

This year, I think the biggest changes that I have made fall into several categories. First, I definitely increased the mileage. I used to peak my mileage at about 80 miles per week. Now, I try to get my mileage in the 80-110 miles per week range. Secondly, I really increased the intensity of my workouts. I never do “time on my feet” training. I try and always push when I am out. I think it is especially important on longer runs. I just feel like you will race how you train. If on all your long runs, you are used to a mellow pace; that is either how you will race or you will be semi-shocked going into race mode. I have very little leg speed so I just try and get used to running a fairly hard pace for me all the time. I also do one treadmill workout per week where I run 7 miles at a 6 min/mile pace. Though, admittedly not very exciting, it does help on my turnover. I have about 8 running videos that help me through this torture. And, by the way, I still get teary about 9 out of every 10 times that the woman doesn’t get her buckle at the end of the “Race for the Soul” video!

Lastly, figuring out nutrition has been huge for me. I have found that in ultras, it really works for me to keep it simple; Water, gels, and a little fruit and potatoes. My motto is that if I don’t normally eat it (candy, chips, etc), probably the time to put it in my system is not in a race when my body is under a lot of stress!

4) What is a typical training week for you? Any cross-training?

As I said earlier, a typical peak training week for me is around 100 miles per week. I try to run two 8-10 milers, 2 12-15 milers, 2 longer runs of 18-30 miles, and one treadmill workout. As far as cross training goes, I don’t really do much. Early in the season I do lift some weights and I am always pretty religious about going to a 30-minute abs workout class at my gym three times per week. Nothing like getting your butt (or abs) kicked by the soccer moms! I really only cross train when I am injured. I have had several smaller injuries this year and have done spin classes and the elliptical machine to keep myself from going bonkers.

(Rod gets some help from his son, Fisher, at the finish of the Peterson Ridge Rumble 60k)

5) I understand that you grew up in Hawaii. Have you always been a runner? When did you start doing ultras?

I did grow up in Hawaii! However, I was not a runner. Interestingly, my father was a Navy SEAL and an incredibly tough runner. He ran the entire Appalachian Trail completely self sufficiently and was the first person to run the entire California Costal Trail completely self sufficiently—both in his late 50’s. However, growing up, I just thought running was ridiculous. My dad would run the 15 miles to work each way over the Pali Highway. My friends would give me a hard time about it and I was quite embarrassed about it! At the time, I just wished my dad did a mainstream sport like surfing!

Later in life, my dad really became my hero as I came to admire what an amazing runner he was and how humble he was of his accomplishments. And, since I have the soapbox of your amazing blog, may I also add that my dad (who did not drink or smoke) tragically died of heart disease while out on a run a few years ago. He was only 59 years old. So, if I can get anything across to the people reading your blog, it would be this: even though we are all running lots of mileage and thinking we are very healthy, it is so important that we also are checking our hearts by having the occasional EBT heart scan and blood tests. We are not invincible and sometimes heredity is more of a factor than we would like to accept.

6) What led you to Bend, OR? It seems like it is quite a mecca for endurance training. Do you run with other ultra-elites in your area like Sean Messiner, Jeff Browning, Kami Semick, etc?

I have been living in Bend for about 10 years now. Bend is becoming quite the mecca for trail running on the west coast. The network of trails can almost be intimidating as there are so many trails and so little time! It is one of those towns where you don’t want to drink one too many beers and start spouting off. There are so many great athletes here that you never know who is on the next bar stool but they are probably elite at something!

I also feel lucky to have such a high quality of people to work out with. I am lucky enough to train with the likes of Kami Semick, Jeff Browning, Sean Meissner and Rob Edde among others. Sean Meissner is probably my main training partner and whom I admire the most among runners. He is truly a great steward to ultra running. He is supportive, modest, and really just truly loves to run. He has a great sense of being competitive but never takes himself or the sport too seriously, which is what I try to emulate.

7) Where do you work in Bend, OR?

I am fortunate enough to own a “Patagonia” concept store called Patagonia by Pandora’s Backpack. That means that we are basically a Patagonia store but I am the owner. There are only a handful of these stores in the country.

Patagonia is truly an inspiring company to be affiliated with. Both from the standpoint that they are still privately owned to their environmental influence in the world, I feel lucky and privileged to be able to work there everyday. It also allows me to surround myself with other people who are as attracted to the outdoors as I am.

(Fisher, Rod, Katie, and Ava Bien literally balancing family on a Hawaii beach)

8) What does your family think of your hobby? Is your wife an ultra-runner as well?

Man, I need to word this delicately! Luckily my wife, Katie, is a runner too. Though she has not run any ultras, she does boast a sub 3:30 marathon time and runs 40-50 miles per week. It is all a balance and running really keeps life pretty simple to me. My priorities are always: family, running, and work. I’m nothing without my family but my health really keeps my balance in the world. Without it, I wouldn’t be as good a father, husband, or as happy of a person. So, running in some ways is a very integral part of my life. I know sometimes that the traveling and training gets a bit old, but my wife and kids are good sports about it!

9) What is it that keeps you motivated to train? What do you enjoy the most about ultrarunning?

I really just love to run. I love that we can run a normal persons’ backpacking trip as a morning run. I love the mountains and I love being on sweet single track! I get a peace out there that I don’t get from anything else. I am always so excited to see a new view, a new stream, I’m always stoked out there! If I was the last person on earth, I’d still be running. And, as you say, I love to eat! I’m a huge sushi man! I love big portions and feel that I can eat large portions
and still weigh in at a wimpy 140 lbs!

10) What are your favorite distances to race? I saw you ran a 2:51 at the CIM Marathon this year. Do you have a favorite race distance?

Its probably clich√©, but I really do enjoy the challenge of all of the distances. There’s no doubt that the high (and low) I get from a 100 miler is the most powerful. I can live on the bliss from that for quite some time. But, while I’m running a 100, I always swear that I’ll never run another. Running a 100 is definitely the biggest goal of each season.

11) You have run Western States twice before (find Rod’s '04 write-up here); what goals do you have for 2007?

Well, I was quite a bit slower the last time I ran Western States so I’m hoping my time will be dramatically faster and in accord with the improvement I’ve had at other races I did in 2004. Just so I don’t jinx myself, my goal is to be “comfortably” under 20 hours. However, I’ve never put too much pressure on myself to hit a certain goal or time.

Running 100 miles is such an amazing accomplishment. Whether I run 18 or 29 hours, I will be thrilled at my accomplishment. When you lose perspective of that, you might as well go back to running marathons where every second counts!

12) Any tips you would like to share for those of us tackling the TRT 100?

Ah, the TRT. I really enjoyed that race. Probably the two biggest obstacles I would warn you of is: 1. Loop courses are tough for me. It’s hard to run 50 miles and then start over again. You need to be mentally prepared to look at the 50-mile aid station as “just another aid station” and not get bogged down by the thought of doing another lap. Get out of that aid station fast! 2. The altitude bothered me a bit more than I thought it would. Since Bend is at a bit of altitude, most of the runs I do start out at about 4,500 feet and head up. However, just being in the 7,000-9,000 range for a long time just saps some energy from you. I didn’t ever feel horrible but I never felt great. So, if you can get some time running at altitude, it definitely wouldn’t hurt! Oh, and hope that Jasper isn’t there!

13) Rumor has it that Jasper will be back, faster than ever. Alas! Last question - what else would you and Katie like to achieve in the next few years of ultrarunning?

Keep having fun! There is no real prize money (and I wouldn’t win any when there is) and I’m no poster child for ultra running. So, I just try and keep having fun out there and am trying to improve my times from previous years. I love meeting new people and making new friends on the trail. One thing I have always vowed to do is whenever I catch someone in the last mile (and they’re not completely dying) is to offer to finish with them. It’s such a cool feeling to finish a tough race with someone else. No one will ever remember who was 4th at Miwok this year (well, I might….) but they will remember someone who is just a good person. We’ll all get slow eventually and I’d like to have some great friends I’ve made on the journey of these trails rather than being thought of as just being a little fast at one point in time.

Thanks, Rod. Best of luck at States this weekend!

- SD

Brian Morrison Comments on 2007 Western States

Found this interview with Brian Morrison talking about his return to Western States this year. Quote:
"There are two ways to look at last year," Morrison, 28, says. "I should be scared to death about running the race again, or two – which is how I choose to look at things – I can look at last year's race a real confidence-builder. This year, knowing the course the way I do now and no longer being in fear of the unknown, I should be ready for a really strong run. I'm definitely thinking about winning. (A return to Western States) has definitely been the focus of my season."
He sure has been humble about his experience last year, and that says a lot about what a great person he is. I wish him the best this weekend!

- SD

Monday, June 18, 2007

Jamie Berns Wins First Ever Dipsea Triple Crown (Marin Independent Journal)

Jamie Berns won the 97th Dipsea Race last weekend, becoming the first person to even win the Dipsea Triple Crown - the Quad Dipsea, Double Dipsea, and Dipsea Race all in one year. 56-year-old Berns from Corte Madera, CA, used her 17 minute handicap advantage to hold off second place (and three-time former winner) Russ Kiernan by one minute and forty seconds. You can read the details of her journey at the Marin Independent Journal (MIJ). The MIJ also has a great audio slideshow of the 2007 Dipsea here.

(Jamie Berns wins the 97th Dipsea Race; photo courtesy of MIJ/Frankie Frost)

(Jamie on her way to a win at the 2006 Quad Dipsea; photo courtesy of Eric Gould)

Thanks to Mark Tanaka for sending this my way. Congratulations, Jamie! You are a total rock star.

- SD

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Man sets marathon world record pushing stroller (Runner's World)

I thought all of you fathers might get a kick out of this story. I also wanted to shout out a big Happy Father's Day to Greg Crowther, Mark Tanaka, Rod Bien, Peter Lubbers, Jean Pommier, Garett Graubins, Dean Karnazes, Tim Tweitmeyer, Wendell Doman, Andy Jones-Wilkins, Graham Cooper (see Jean Pommier's recent interview with Graham here), Jon Olsen, Eric Gould, and the many other trail running Dad's I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy your pancakes on Sunday!

- SD

Pram-Pushing Dad Wardian Sets World Record And Finishes Third (Runner's World)

Howling winds gusted to 35 mph at the Frederick (MD) Marathon on Sunday, but Michael Wardian's nine-month-old son Pierce didn't feel them enroute to their 2:42:20 obliteration of the Guinness World Record for a stroller marathon - good for third place overall. (The
old record was 2:49:38.) That's because a plastic shield blocked the wind for Pierce. "The only setback was that my brother's call to my cell phone woke him up at 11 miles and he was awake the rest of the way," notes Wardian. "But he was great. I talked to him while I ran and he never wanted any food. He also never needed a diaper change, although I was prepared for that." It was Wardian's first-ever marathon pushing a stroller, but his seventh marathon in nine weeks,
including an Olympic Trials-qualifying best of 2:21:37 at the Shamrock Marathon. Altogether, the 33-year-old from Arlington, VA, has run more than 80 marathons.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Running The State Street Mile with Rocky the Pug

My pug, Rocky, loves to join in on a fun run if he can, especially if there are other dogs! This year we had signed up for the Mutt Strutt 5k, but I was bummed to find out that the wedding of a close friend would cause us to miss it. So we were thrilled to find out The State Street Mile would be happening in Santa Barbara, CA, the weekend we were down, and that they had a hotly-contested person/dog division. Time for Rocky to prove he is still the fastest pug this side of the Mississippi!

(Rocky and me bringing it home)

The State Street Mile is a fundraiser for the local District Attorney's assistance programs, and includes age group, elite, masters, and dog categories for a one mile downhill jaunt through downtown Santa Barbara. The downhill lends to some spectacular times - you definitely would have to be sub-5 minute to win the dog group, and sub-4 to win the overall. It's been a while since Rocky was in prime running shape - I was just hoping he could run the whole thing! Given the bachelor party antics that I survived the two previous days, one mile would be a stretch for me too.

The starting line was near-calamity as excited dogs barked wildly. The announcer kept repeating "dogs, please try to keep your owners under control". We met some super-fast pooches at the start, including:

The eventual winner, clocking a 4:57:

The true "running with the big dogs" group:

A four-month old puppy ready to join the big boys:

Some of the many "adopt me" dogs from Team Dawg who had borrowed some local runners to join in on the fun:

A three-legged dog having three times the fun:

This lab, who would have given every kid a lick on the way if he could have:

And plenty of kids happy to give Rocky a hug after the race:

Rocky clocked a 7 minute mile, running the whole way. I was so proud of him! Sophie and Christi were there at the finish to congratulate him (and let him pass out in their laps). We enjoyed hanging around for the elite and fun run races too. It sure was nice to just go run a casual mile with my dog and not have to worry about hydration, splits, etc. Rocky continues to be a big inspiration!

(Rocky sneaks under 7 minutes)

- SD

Monday, June 11, 2007

The 8-year old Marathoner - How Young Is Too Young?

I've seen lots of teenagers in the marathon ranks, and a few in ultras as well (such as CA's 15 yr old Michael Kanning). But here is one I thought I would never see - Zhang Huimin, an 8-year-old, 42 lb girl from China with a marathon training schedule that would cripple most adults. The locals love her, but as the article says, "she personifies a darker side of today's China: a culture of relentless competition amplified by a media hungry for celebrities."

If you even hear of me training Sophie like this, just shoot me. You can read the full story here.

- SD

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fighting My Demons at the Mt. Diablo 50k

[Foreward: This blog entry contains some adult subject matter (the gory horror movie kind). If that’s not your thing, it would probably be best if you skipped this one, and instead caught the cheery scenes of the Bay to Breakers.]

On Saturday, I joined 250 trail runners for a hot run at the Mt.Diablo 8k/25k/50k in Clayton, CA. This monster of a 50k climbs nearly 9,000 feet in a two loop course in the dry and exposed Mt. Diablo State Park, and is considered the toughest of the races put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs. I had brought some personal demons of my own to this Devil Mountain, and they would prove harder to outrun than the fastest runners of the day. Despite the challenge (or perhaps because of it), we would all cross the line stronger than when we started.

(Looking down on the San Francisco Bay from Mt. Diablo)

I had debated all week whether it was a good idea for me to race on Saturday, due to the fact that I was emotionally not in a good place. On the previous Monday (Memorial Day weekend), I had witnessed a cycling accident devastating enough to haunt my every thought. I don't have a lot of experience with that kind of trauma up close, and it shook me pretty hard. What little sleep I had in the following days were filled with images of blood and broken bones, jerking me awake in the cold sweat every half hour. I know it’s not a good idea to race when both your emotional and physical foundation are weak, but I was desperately hoping that the trails could somehow lead me out of this state of shock, like they had led me to salvation before.

An Introduction to My Demons

The previous Memorial Day Monday had started out innocently enough. The weather was wonderful, so I decided to put in some miles on the bike and head out towards Portola Valley. As I was coming down Sand Hill Road, I heard an accident about 300 yards in front of me and looked up to see a lycra-clad body rolling to a stop in the intersection. A small truck had turned against traffic and struck a cyclist coming down the hill at full speed. I jumped off the bike to help, along with about a half dozen cyclists and drivers already on the phone to 911. I knelt beside the cyclist and quickly understood why most people were keeping their distance...she was a mess.

Her skull and face were fractured. Her arms were both broken, lying lifeless on the pavement even as her shoulders rotated up to reach out to us. Her slow gasps for breath were gurgling from blood pooling in her throat, complicated by a broken jaw. I knelt beside her and tried to hold her head still, but parts of her skull felt like broken eggshells and it was freaking me out. I tried to keep the teeth and blood clear from her mouth so she didn’t choke, but it would pool as fast I could clear it. Each breath she took was more labored and less effective. I felt myself going into shock just witnessing it, and as I got dizzy and took a few steps back to regain my composure, another person stepped in and took my place. Then I realized that most of the people standing nearby were doing the same, stepping aside long enough to get a clear head, then stepping back in to assist in any way possible. We were trying to help, but honestly I've never felt so helpless in my life.

I found a cell phone in her bike bag and randomly called speed dial numbers to try and get her name. The first number was “Annie”, who turned out to be her teenage daughter. The cyclist, Deborah, had gone out for a solo ride from Menlo Park like she had many times before. Annie could sense my panic, but all I could say was “your Mom has been in an accident”. Soon after, I handed the phone to arriving police, shared the info I had, and watched the EMT’s and Woodside Fire Department intubate Deborah and load her into the ambulance with disturbing efficiency. As they pulled away, my ears were ringing from shock. It felt like I was watching myself in a movie. I got back on my bike and rode to nearby Ladera Oaks to shower off the blood that caked my hands and legs. There I would be told that a cyclist had died on the way to the hospital, but I was still too numb to react. An hour later, I would be sobbing uncontrollably on the side of the road as the emotions caught up to me. A disturbing way to gain respect for Memorial’s Day, that’s for sure.

The Race on Mt. Diablo

So I found myself at the starting line, exhausted but glad to be among friends doing the thing I love the most. Rob Evans had car-pooled over with me, and it was good to talk to him about the previous weekend. Rob is a trained psychologist, and was able to give me a lot of insight into “acute stress disorder”. I also knew that he would be keeping an eye out for me on the trail.

(Jeff Browning and Garett Graubins prepare to do battle)

There were lots of familiar faces at the race, including Bev and Alan Abbs, Garett Graubins, Brian Wyatt, Kate and Keturah Morejohn, Wally Hessletime, Chuck Wilson, and of course, Race Directors Wendell and Sarah Doman. Everyone was looking forward to what this race could dish out. Garett was here to defend his Mt. Diablo 50k win from last year, but was the first to point out that Jeff Browning (multiple winner of the Big Horn 100, here in training for the Hardrock 100) and Western States winner Graham Cooper were going to be tough competition. Bev Abbs, in top form for States and complete with Sunsweet wingman Alan, was going to be the one to beat in the Women’s division. We all lined up at the start, and at 8:30 charged up the first of two laps to the top.

(Rob Evans and the Abbs chase down the lead pack)

Jeff, Garett, and Jason Reid (25k) set a quick pace from the start, with the Abbs and Rob Evans in a group just behind them. The pitch got steep fast, and it didn’t take long for all of us to be whittled down to a brisk walk. I was drinking my water quickly, and at our pace, it would be over 80 minutes to reach the first aid station. As the temperature climbed above 70 degrees, we all understood Mt. Diablo was dishing out a tricky day for us.

(Heading up the canyon)

Just when I thought I was suffering in the heat, Graham Cooper went by in his “heat training outfit” – black wool hat, gloves, black jacket, black shorts – with sweat pouring off of him. I guess that’s what it takes to win States! Rob Evans came by soon after him, looking strong and running the steep hills. We made it up the steepest climb and into the saddle, and were rewarded with the first aid station (mile 8.4). I was out of food and water, so I stocked up on both.

(Charging the hill)

As we headed up the next 5 miles to the observation tower at the top, I had some time to run solo. The runner’s high “clarity” kicked in, and I found myself more introspective than usual. The only distraction was the gorgeous views, and the front-runners already coming back. Jeff Browning and Garett Graubins were bombing down the hill, with Bev and Alan Abbs not too far behind.

(Rob Evans sails past me as he charges up the steepest section)

As I reached the top, I realized I was out of water again. Perhaps even worse, I could have been out of water for quite some time since my mind was so occupied. In fact, I was having trouble keeping my mind on the race at all. The “clarity” in my head was working against me, rekindling details of the Memorial Day accident that I had forgotten, or perhaps repressed. With each corner of the trail, I remembered something new – the smell of her breath, the screams of the driver, the broken hand moving on the pavement. I wasn’t over this trauma, not by a longshot...and I had no idea how much more baggage was about to fall out of my head.

I worked my way down slowly to the aid station (mile 16.7), where volunteer Mark Gilligan got me set up with salt, water, and sugar snacks. As luck would have it, I soon met up with Eric Chitwood from Galt, CA, who is also training for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Eric is a firefighter and worked for years for the San Mateo Fire Dept, and was a welcome perspective on my situation. I felt comfortable sharing the fact that I was having a hard time, and the stories he shared helped me understand that even professionals have to work through these things. “Just don’t try to shove it down and hide it,” Eric said, “you have to face it, talk about it, and know you did everything you could.” As Harry Walther joined in on our conversation, we pulled into the aid station at mile 16, halfway done.

I went through the motions at the aid station, and got back on the trail as Harry and Eric charged up the hill. Both were nice enough to offer sticking with me (which Harry graciously did for a mile), but I could tell they were both having a great race so I let them go ahead. I climbed up the hot canyon a second time, conserving water the best I could while fighting the dizziness of the heat. A few folks passed me, and I was happy to exchange even a few words. The alone time continued to take me to some scary places.

(Brian Wyatt ran a well-paced 50k at Mt. Diablo to finish 7th)

Around mile 20, Graham Cooper came by again in his sweat-inducing bank robber outfit. He sensed something was wrong, and was quick to offer up anything he had to help. That's quite a statement from a guy sweating a gallon an hour! I shared my emotional struggle with him, and he slowed a bit to talk it out with me over the next mile. I really appreciated how he listened and internalized what I said, and I could tell he knew that listening was the best help he could give. At the top of the crest, we wished each other luck and Graham charged down the hill.

(The rugged landscape)

I jogged for a few miles and realized I was out of water again. I hadn’t factored that all this fast-walking would take a half an hour longer to get to the aid station on the second lap, and it was much warmer this time around. But my thoughts were still consumed with Deborah, and the little details kept zooming through my head like butterflies. As the dehydration reached a new level, my walk became more of a stagger and it was difficult to climb the hill. My thinking was hazy, my face felt like it was on fire, and it was clear that I needed some help. My ears started ringing, and I heard the sound of the accident over and over in my head. I looked down at my hands and swore I could feel blood on them. But it wasn’t blood, it was vomit. My vomit. I don’t even remember puking, but the proof was all over my hands.

Now I was officially scared. Not only was I dehydrated, delirious, and cramping, but not being able to recall how exactly I got here meant I wasn't in the game. It’s amazing how fast that downward spiral can catch up to you when you aren’t paying attention. I found some shade and sat down to collect my thoughts. I have never DNF’d before, but was thinking it might be a good idea. I found comfort in the fact that I knew where I was, since it was the second lap. But it did point out one issue - the best place to get help was to keep going uphill another mile. I calmed down best I could, and started walking.

(Google Earth view)

Kevin Swisher (a fellow TRT100 training ultra runner) soon caught up to me, concerned after watching me stagger from behind. I told him I felt drunk and thirsty, and he walked with me until I got to the aid station. Mark Gilligan was there again, and when he asked what was wrong, all I could say was “I couldn’t fix her. She was broken, and I couldn’t fix her.” Mark didn’t skip a beat and said, “Uh, yeah. Maybe you should try some potatoes and salt, and a whole lotta Cytomax”. I took a seat and started eating and drinking everything I could get my hands on. I felt better instantly. Kevin reminded me of a spot to douse my head in water just a few hundred yards away, and headed off.

Mark has a gift for finding the bright side in any situation, and quickly pointed out to me that this might be better training for TRT100 (Mark is also doing it) than a well-run race. If I could “get back to good”, then I was probably ready for anything TRT could throw at me. After seeing the training that Graham Cooper was doing, maybe Mark was right! As I gathered my senses and set up the hill after Kevin, Jeff Browning came screaming by at full speed leading the 50k. Bev Abbs was about a minute behind, saying Alan and Garett were right on her tail. They were all suffering in the heat, drinking as much as possible, but still going hard.

(Heading down from the aid station)

With new calories, full water bottles, a mini-shower at the spigot, and a mental boost from seeing the fast folks I started walking up to the top. If I could make it to the top, I was determined to leave any demons I brought on this race there for good. Rob Evans stopped to check in on me, and he was really looking strong, as was Brian Wyatt, Chris Garcia, and Charles Stevens. Each one of them flashed a smile, and boosted my spirits just enough to take a few more steps. I climbed for what seemed like an eternity, and when I arrived at the top, I unloaded all my remaining emotional baggage in one sobbing mess.

Then I felt a hand rest on my shoulder. It was Kevin Swisher, who had also reached the top, letting me know that everything was going to be alright. I couldn't believe how much it helped to have the hand of a near-stranger on my shoulder, but it was more than enough. Kevin set me straight by saying "Let's get this done. You can do it for her. Just let me know when you're ready to finish this, and we'll head down the hill together. I've got a couple cold ones with our names on them". Kevin was absolutely right. I bet Deborah would give anything to be where we are, at the top of Mt. Diablo with our legs seizing in pain. Pain is life. Pain is good. And beer is even better.

We refilled our water bottles at the top (should have done that the first time up), and headed back down. I found a good pace for the first time in the race, sort of a fast shuffle. It was slow, but it was nice to have a rhythm. The farther we went down, the less burdened I felt, and I realized I actually did leave some emotional baggage at the top. The view from the top seemed more clear. By the time we hit the aid station, I was running again. Super-volunteer Mark applauded my recovery and filled my water bottles with ice water and my hands with Jelly Belly's. He was great all day, and I couldn't thank him enough for his help.

(The clear view from near the top)

I "downhill shuffled" through the last few miles, refusing to stop until I found the finish line in 7:01:49. By crossing the line and being welcomed by my ultrarunning friends, I felt an odd sense of closure to the day. As we cheered on the fellow finishers, I felt my spirits rise with each round of clapping. Jeff Browning had won in 5:14, with Bev Abbs coming in 4 minutes later to set a new Women's course record. Garett and Alan stayed on her tail right to the end, finishing 3rd and 4th. Rob Evans had a stellar run of 5:47 for 6th place, with Brian Wyatt running an even race to finish a few minutes behind. Everyone was depleted, but smiling. If there was going to be a day I melted down, I'm glad it was here among my "people". To each of you that were there for me, you will always have my deepest gratitude.

(Kevin Swisher brings it home)

I slept all night that night, thanks to physically and emotionally draining myself to the last drop. The next day I heard the most unbelievable news - Deborah was alive! I had been told by police officials that a cyclist had died and assumed the worst, but it appears they had likely been referring to a different cycling accident. Deborah was in critical but stable condition at Stanford Hospital. Apparently she had no spinal damage and minimal brain impact, and was already on the road to recovery. Given what I saw, that was nothing short of a miracle. I felt much better knowing that Deborah and her family still had time together.

(This wild turkey came down the finisher shute in roughly 28th place)

Life is fragile, life is resilient. The body and soul can heal beyond our wildest expectations. I've left my demons on Mt. Diablo, and as Rob Evans said "got 7 hours of therapy for a $50 entry fee". So true! But I know it was my friends along the way who really helped me get through the day, and beyond my tragedy. The ultrarunning community means more to me than I ever could have imagined, now more than ever. I am grateful for all of you.

- SD

Friday, June 01, 2007

ZombieRunner Adds Coffee to The Menu

I'm sure many of you know about ZombieRunner, one of my favorite online sites for ultrarunning gear. Where else can you buy Inov-8's, Elastikon Tape, bulk baggies, sunscreen, poison oak wipes, Sharkies, and a headlight all at the same site? Plus Don, Gillian, and team are always welcome to share advice and lessons learned to help you ramp up your next race (and between the two of them, they have done nearly every ultra in the country).

One thing you may not know about Don is that he is a coffee fanatic, and a damn good barista. He and Gillian have recently taken their coffee obsession to the next level and released four micro-roast ZombieRunner coffees. I have swung by their offices to taste them first hand, and they are delicious! (perhaps a little-known fact for locals in the Bay Area, but you can pick up your ZombieRunner orders and get a free cappucino made with their beans; be sure to try it before they figure out that I'm ordering my Jelly Belly's one pouch at a time to get a daily fix).

Have a great weekend, and run well!


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