Monday, September 24, 2007

The Accidental 60-miler at the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run

Last Saturday, I joined 150 runners for the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run (Double Marathon) and Rio del Lago 100-miler near Auburn, CA. We had fantastic weather, and despite some navigational errors that cost me the race, I had a fantastic time getting to know the other runners/volunteers and returning to the American River Canyon.

The SNER was my first race back after injuring my leg/knee at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler, and I was as giddy as a school girl pinning a race number on for the first time in months. I knew it was possible that I wouldn’t make it to the finish on this 53.6 mile, 10,000 vertical foot run – it was too important to keep my health, so I made a deal with myself that I would drop at the first sign of trouble. But I hadn’t done this course yet and was still in the running for the Series, so I figured I should at least try. I also had some new gear to try out – the Nathan lightweight HPL running vest (of Krissy Moehl fame), and a couple of big gun 26 oz water bottles for the longer stretches.

(Norm tells us how it's going to be)

The weather forecast was darn near perfect – low 50’s with a slight chance of rain – which opened the door for some really fast times. Race Director Norm Klein gathered us into the Cavitt School gymnasium, letting us know that registration was up 40% this year! I did see a lot of new faces, as well as the familiar smiling mugs of Jon Olsen (winner of the Rio 100 the last two years and course record holder), Mark Tanaka (2nd the last two years at the Rio 100), Chihping Fu, Peter Lubbers, Paul Charteris, and many others. I was cracking up hearing people say “I’m only doing the sprint today” – that’s still 53 miles! Only in the ultra community…

(All smiles at the start)

At the 6am start, it was still pitch black outside, but the 100-milers were happy to share their lights as we all headed out 2x2. Jon Olsen broke from the pack right away, and in an instant, he had disappeared into the dark. I paced along with Mark Tanaka and Julie Fingar, who were going super-fast for their 100-mile adventure. Julie knew the course by heart, and helped Mark and I navigate some tricky trail changes in the first few miles.

We hit the first aid station (mile 4), just as the daylight lit up the foggy clouds. They said we were #2, 3, and 4, but before we could get too excited, a pack of five others went flying by led by Tom Riley. Julie and Mark were too experienced to get caught up in it, and they still had 96 miles to go. After a quick bite, we were mule-training down the trail again and caught up to the others.

Mark took the lead in the pack, and before too long he had gapped us. I found a comfortable pace with Suzie Lister, whose name I recognized from years of results at Western States, but was meeting in person for the first time. Suzie had just returned to States this year after an 8 year break to have two kids (5 and 7), and beat her former PR by 10 minutes to finish in 21:35! I love to hear it when people come back and run faster as a Master. Given her pace at SNER, she was going to be an overall contender here for sure. It was great to chat with her and hear about the 15-odd years she has been involved with States, whether volunteering, pacing Graham Cooper to his 2006 win, or kicking ass herself.

(Suzie Lister poses for a pic on a beautiful section of the course)

The rain threatened, but held back for the most part as we hit the 12-mile aid station. I felt like I was holding back more than I should, and bid Suzie farewell until the turnaround. So far my legs were feeling strong…a little too strong actually. Given my heart rate and pace, I was running much faster than usual. I decided to turn it up a little, but keep some reserves for the return trip.

(Cruising through the trees as the rain comes down)

The horse trails along the American River are wonderful to run – they zig in and out, climbing here and there, alternating between technical rocky sections and fast, flat stretches through the grass. Some of the trail crossings weren’t marked very well, but usually you could just head “upstream” with the river and not get too lost. I gave a few minutes chasing down the wrong ribbons, but always kept the trail in sight.

After another quick aid stop (potatoes and m&m’s), I focused on Cardiac Hill, the long climb up to the Auburn Dam Lookout. 2007 100k Masters Champion Mark Lantz was out crewing for friends, and let me know that Jon Olsen was about 15 minutes ahead and Mark Tanaka was 2 minutes up…and then it was me! I guess I was leading the 53-milers, although it was sobering to know the two guys ahead of me were going twice as far. ;-)

Cardiac was a beast, reducing me to a fast walk for nearly all of it. I was glad I brought the 26 oz bottles, since I had drained them both in the 7 mile section between aid stations. With a quick refill at the top and shot of flat Coke, I headed down the backside towards No Hands bridge. Tim Tweitmeyer and friends were out for a fun run, and shouted support as I came down the switchbacks.

I hit No Hands Bridge in about 4 hours, just as the clouds broke into rain. I chatted with the volunteers, commenting that the 100-milers were outpacing the 53-milers! I asked where to go next, and they pointed me up towards Cool, CA for a “short loop”. I thought I had heard in the morning briefing that the turnaround was at No Hands, but perhaps I misheard – these guys were pretty insistent that I should see if I could catch Tanaka, just a few minutes ahead.

(View from K2)

The loop up to Cool was brutal, by way of Training Hill Trail, also known as “K2” by the locals. It was so steep I had to alternate walking up backwards and forwards, and even made mini-switchbacks of my own. This must be a tough stretch for the 100-milers! It took about 45 minutes for me to reach the peak, and I quickly made it to the Cool aid station. The faces of the volunteers were morose, and I worried that somebody had an accident. Instead, they came up to me and said “we have made a terrible mistake; they were supposed to turn you around at No Hands…we are so sorry”. On top of that, I was 3.5 miles away from the turnaround. Just like that, the wind was sucked from my sails. I hadn’t just lost the race, I just lost the Series, all for a simple mistake.

I tried to keep my cool (in Cool), but was very frustrated. The volunteers were great at keeping me calm. How could that happen? It was a simple mistake. I told them I was a 53-miler! They assumed you knew the course. Why didn’t they send someone after me? You were going too fast. What are my options? You can opt into the 100-miler (probably not the best thing to do after an injury), get a ride back to No Hands (although I was way too far behind to regain the lead), or just keep running. I just shook my head. They told me to “talk to Norm, he will give you extra credit and figure something out for the Series – it was an honest mistake”. True, mistakes do happen. In fact, the mistake was largely mine for not studying the course in advance of the race and knowing which way to go.

So I pressed on. I ran like a banshee, swearing under my breath. I couldn’t believe how angry I was! Not so much at others, but at myself. I barely even said hi to Julie as she went the other way. Then the inevitable happened – I face planted on a steep descent because I wasn’t watching my steps. I wasn’t hurt, but I didn’t want to get up. So I just laid there.

Then it dawned on me. How did I go from “enjoying a long run” to “being furious about my results”? I’ve always prided the fact that I didn’t worry too much about my place/time. On top of it all, now I’m mad at volunteers for something that I could have avoided with better preparation? Geez, Scott, if it wasn’t for volunteers, there wouldn’t even BE a race. Somewhere in the excitement of leading and the news of the mistake, I completely lost my head game. So I took out a Snickers bar, sat on the muddy trail, and focused on getting my mind back on track. It didn’t take much – it was still a gorgeous day to run, my legs were holding up wonderfully, and I would still have run every race in the Series this year even if there wasn’t a Series. I just looked around and sucked in Mother Nature on that quiet section of the trail. Time to just chalk this one up to experience, and make it a 60 mile day.

With a belly full of chocolate and a big smile, I cruised along at a comfortable pace. I ran into Michael Kanning, the 15-year-old phenom attempting his first 100-miler, and he was in great spirits along with the other runners who were enjoying the day. The volunteers at No Hands were apologetic for the situation and helped me load up for the return run, and we all agreed it was no big deal for one runner to get off course. If that was the only thing that went wrong today, it was a super-good day for race directors/volunteers! I loaded up the water bottles and headed back.

(No Hands, as viewed from the WRONG TRAIL! ;-) )

You always see the biggest smiles of an ultra in the mid-pack, and every one of them lifted my spirits. Rajeev and Anil were no exception, and came by in their usual aura of eternal optimism, as did four or five first-timers that were having a blast. All the volunteers along the way knew of my predicament – apparently there was some frantic calling over the walkie-talkies about “#110 who got off course” – and were very pleased to see I was still out running. Jon Olsen was keeping his crazy pace as I hit the Auburn Dam Overlook again (the 100-milers had one more additional loop, so this meant Jon was probably 50 minutes ahead of me), well on his way to a record finish.

(Jon Olsen on his way to his 3rd win at the Rio 100)

Most of the next 10 miles were running solo, listening to the birds and going at a comfortable pace. Mark Tanaka caught me about 10 miles from the finish, and we chatted a bit before he sped ahead. He and Jon had very different support strategies – Jon probably had somebody at every aid station with food ready, pacers, etc., while Mark just had what was on his back and the company of others. Mark was super-impressed with how smart Jon was running so far, as well as how well Julie Fingar was running (she was still in third overall at that point).

(Mark Tanaka gets a quick refill at mile 57)

I cruised in to the finish (11:09, probably near last), and immediately hit the buffet line for turkey, stuffing, and brownies. Some of the other racers asked what happened, and when I shared the story, they called over Norm to see if I could get extra credit for the miles. I told him that I felt the volunteers accidentally sent me the wrong way, compounded by the fact that I was unfamiliar with the course. Norm was uncharacteristically stern with me – What is your problem? How much more clear could I be? Turn around at No Hands, the sign says 26.5 miles! Then he “peshawed” me and walked away. The other racers were stunned... “dude, you just got screwed”.

Well, it is what it is. It was still a great day, and I was extremely pleased that my legs felt so good throughout the 60+ miles. This meant I had plenty of races ahead of me, and most likely a few more race series to try out. I checked the leader board, and Peter Lubbers had won the overall in 9:54! Suzie Lister was less than two minutes behind – I bet Peter was looking over his shoulder a few times. A few more 100-milers checked in as I hit the showers and headed home. I would later find out that Jon Olsen won the 100-miler in 15:31, Mark Tanaka came in second in 18:22, and Julie Fingar won the Women's division in 20:36.

As I drove into the sunset, I couldn’t help but feel like I had passed some sort of life test. I felt no regret about the situation (aside from I should better prepare myself before a race), and could only think about the faces and places that had shared a wonderful day. In fact, I had gotten some great “bonus miles” and saw some of the trail that I missed by not starting at 12 Hours of Cool. Deep inside, I knew I was still running for the right reasons, and felt fortunate that my mind and spirit were along for the fun. I was already looking forward to the next one!


  1. Think of it this way you didn't have to pay extra for those 7 miles! As a regular volunteer let me say thanks for keeping your Cool. It's never fun when somebody goes crazy on you. Kyle

  2. GREAT that you can run again, Scott- what a blessing!!! So happy for you, that you did it with no leg problems!!!!

  3. Way to go Scott

    I was pretty sure they were experienced local runners at No Hands Bridge so I really do not know why they insisted you carry on up K2. At the same time, the sick and twisted sadist in me is glad that you got to do the whole K2 experience up-close and personal.

    I cringed when someone called Norm over to tell him about your extra miles. Already, Norm had a gutsfull hearing about runners getting lost (some locals were removing ribbons from the course – which did not help matters). You got off lightly. At about midnight I saw him give a fullblown lecture to a Rio del Lago runner about the stupidity of chatting with your pacer when you should be paying attention to the course and not getting lost.

    Enjoy your Eagle Trophy!!

    My race report is here:

    Cheers, Paul

  4. Wow Scott, I didn't realize you had healed enough for a 50+ miler, that's awesome!
    Bummer about missing the win, but your attitude is great, and it's good to hear you finished and enjoyed the run regardless. BTW I ran on the Lake of the Sky course this weekend and got snowed on all day, brr!! Hoping for better conditions in October.
    Take care, and watch the mileage on that injury!

  5. Glad to hear you didn't experience any problems with your legs and knees during the race. That, I am sure, is the best thing that came out of the day.

    But way to turn adversity into advantage, too. Not an easy thing to do in that situation. Great story.

  6. Glad to see you're healed up and running races again :) Sorry that you had the mix up, but it's great that you got to experience new trails! I always have this sense of longing when I do a race with a longer option and 'miss out' on some part of trails not traveled. And it sounds like your bonus miles were nice and challenging :) Way to regroup after a huge frustration!

    And 60 miles sounds much better than 53.whatever anyways :)

  7. Hi Scott,
    Sorry to hear about your "bonus miles." We were all wondering what happened to you. I knew something was up when I hit No-Hands and had not seen you on the way back yet.
    Glad to hear your knee held up so well, even with the extra mileage!
    Take care,

  8. Congrats on healing up and having a good time during the race. Overcoming an injury is always very refreshing. Nice going!

  9. I'm glad you're feeling better! I was thinking about you when I was on my swim this morning...glad to hear you're back at racing and being a general bright spot on the trails.

    I've seen people lose their minds and curse out volunteers after getting lost in races...I'm so happy you aren't one of them. Too bad about the RD getting so hot under the collar about it, though.

    anyhoo. I admire your attitude and will think of how you handled it next time I get lost (not if...when).

  10. Very sorry to hear that you ran into such a situation. Ran extra mile by other's mistake and lost the possible winning of the run!

    On my way to No Hands from Auburn, I was eager to meet fast 53 mile runners, in particular, you and Pete (Run Lake Tahoe). With all my stuff in one hand (running w/o drop bags), I had my camera ready for shots (070922 Rio Del Lago 100M). I would like to take a picture of you, the father of ultra/trail photos. This is my way to say hello and thank you! I was wondering why I did not see you. I did spot you at pre-race briefing. Could it be your injury that you hold back a little? But shouldn't be that much as I've run pretty slow so far (not fully recovered from Wasatch two weeks ago). Still did not know why!

    Indeed, along the way, I heard a lot about the course marking. I personally got lost for a mile or so twice. I and a few others even made a wrong turn and did an extra loop right after leaving the school at mile 68. I knew a fast 100 miler who could be at top 10 but had to drop at Hazel Bluff (mile 90) after over 10 miles of getting lost, including climbing to AR50 finish and back to climb Cardiac hill. Me and others frustrated, but this is part of the run. In real life, I have to admit that there are always such things happening once in a while.

    Nevertheless, similar to your feeling waving like steep up/down K2 hills, as I read your story, I was very glad that you turned it into a positive mood and finished the run without body issues. It's like us running a 100 miler how we fully recover from totally breakdown and make it to the finish.

    Rest well and enjoy the idea of running 60 miles. I like your idea of relating the extra miles to DNS at Cool Night :-) Yes, you need to show up to finish the rest of miles at Cool and the other 32 miles in the 100 miler if you come back next year!

    See you soon,


  11. Great job recovering your attitude after a setback. We should all learn from you.

  12. A trail runner's worst nightmare, but truly trailrunning is training for life, just like yoga, meditation and other "mindfulness"-type activities. It's all about awareness, and you quickly turned a "charged" situation into a "calm" learning experience. There is so much we cannot control, all we can control is our reactions. You tuned in to your angry feelings and transformed them into something very positive. Great job coming back from injury and great job with the Jedi mind control.

  13. Scott, in order: yes, congratulation on a pain free run, and a fast one to boot - leading the race for half the time, you would have won it hands down! Also, it is quite normal to get frustrated with what had happened, and way to snap out of it! I had never gotten lost for more than 2 miles, and all of it was my fault, so I couldn't blame anyone, bummer that volunteers made a mistake, and gracious of you to not be mad at them (eventually). Having volunteered over a dozen of times myself, it's a hard job, yet rewarding indeed, and I hope not to ever make same mistake when I do in the future. RDL is known for vandalism on course marking (although your detour was for a different reason) and I can understand Norm somewhat. But where I am leading with it is that I am very much surprised and taken aback by his response to your story. Not even that he didn't give you some kind of credit, but that he actually yelled at you instead of weird. At this point we can just all put it behind, I guess, or try to. Stay healthy and happy.

  14. Hi Scott,
    I enjoyed running with you early in the day and was wondering where you went when you did not come back at the turn around!
    I know that had to be frustrating...but you got in some great training miles. :-)
    Stay healthy and I will look for you at future runs,
    Take care,

  15. Scott,

    Glad to hear that you are back to full strength! That didn't take you long at all.

    I would be a lot more angry than you are about the situation, though. Good job not getting mad at the volunteers - they likely weren't briefed well and made an honest mistake. But if an RD can't at the very least show a little compassion for a runner that has been misdirected, through no fault of their own, maybe that RD has the wrong temperament to be directing races.


  16. good to see you again scott. glad the pain is gone. were you showing off running extra miles and still finishing ahead of tons of people??? sorry, kidding. sounds like you might be healed, that is good.
    tom riley

  17. Not to worry, Scott. What comes around, goes around. Word will get out that the RD is an a$$.

  18. Hey Scott. I'm glad to see you running again so soon after your injury. Congrats on a great run on a beautiful course. I was so jealous of all you runners enjoying perfect running weather. Thanks for being honest with us about your frustrations coming down K2. All we saw was your good attitude taking it all in stride. It's good to know you were initially upset like I think we all would be. Glad you got it under control though, and put things back in perspective. K2 is a good time eh? Sometimes it's hard to tell if Norm is joking or not.


  19. Hi Scott,

    Dude, it impresses me more that you had the character to, as you said, keep your "cool", after what happened, because I know you would have won the race anyways. If the opposite had happened to me, and they turned me around at No Hands Bridge when I was doing RDL, I don't think I would be able to take it as well. Don't worry about it too much; you'll make up for it with some awesome performances at Lake of the Sky and Helen Klein coming up.

    -Michael Kanning

    P.S. You should do one of your awesome interviews with Jon Olsen, who ran a crazy fast 15:31 and won for the third year in a row!

  20. Tom Riley, Chihping Fu, Michael Kanning, Suzie Lister, and Peter Lubbers - you guys are rock stars! Nice job out there. Tom, a great 4th place finish!

    Michael, you're right about interviewing Jon - if I could only pace with him long enough to ask! ;-)


  21. Scott, sorry to hear what happens. That sucks. Anyway the thing that really matters is that you are back running healthy.

    See you out there.

  22. I'm glad you're back to running again, but what a rude way to be brought back into it!

  23. Scott,

    Congrats on finishing and keeping such a great attitude! And it's ok to be frustrated sometimes. You're only human. The occasional moment of frustration is healthy. What matters is how one handles it.


  24. Scott,

    I can put you in touch with Jon if you want to ask him about an interview. Drop me an email if you want.


  25. scott,

    great seeing you out there. nice write up. i am glad you had such healthy atittude on the extra mileage especially when you were winning the race. look forward to see you at other races.



  26. Scott,
    Wow, your amazingly positive attitude about this run must be a big reason why you are such an awesome runner! I'll remember your story the next time I take a wrong turn on the trail.

  27. Scott,

    Firstly congratulatuions on a superb 60-miler! It's amazing that you ran so many miles after not running much for the past 2 months. That speaks volumes of your courage, your amazing conditioning and and your ability to heal.

    I am proudest of your ability to turn a "negative" occurrence into a wonderful run. Not many would have been able to do it. It was a test of your character and you came through with flying colors.


  28. I was suprised not to see you coming back from no hands bridge (and even more suprised to be in 1st place), but the adversity will make you stronger for the next race.


  29. Scott
    First let me say great job on both the run and your attitude .I do however have to disagree with the way it all took place at no hands .I was there and talked to you . You never asked for or received any directions from myself or any of the other volunteers. I not very happy to read that a volunteer give you wrong directions because it just isn't true. To blame this mistake on anyone else is wrong . You are a veteran runner . The course is a clear out and back. You and almost every trail runner has run the wrong way at least once in a race.
    Good luck the rest of the season
    No Hand Aid Station Captain
    Greg Young

  30. Scott,

    Sorry you lost the win, but, uh, from my selfish point of view, I got to appear in your blog with that shot you took at mile 57...

    Seriously, though, I majorly jeopardized my lead at last year's series when I got off course near the end of Lake of the Sky and added about 20-25 minutes to my time. My fault, but then the next weekend at Whiskeytown the volunteer who was directing runners at an intersection towards the 5th aid station must've been relieving himself or something, and there were no signs or ribbons, so I finished the race in 2nd place only to find that I hadn't really finished the race since I missed a whole aid station and 1.5 miles and then had to ask the RD to disqualify me. So I can sort of relate.

    Maybe Robert Mathis should consider giving you pro-rated points for the race, but I guess that's his call.

    You ran great, especially as a comeback from injury.

    Plus, your comments to miles-run ratio for a race-based posting is now 1:2 or 0.5, tops in the field!

  31. Greg -

    I apologize if I remember it differently, but you are right that it's no excuse to not know the course. I think that was part of the reason why it was easy to have a good attitude - it was my own fault for not knowing in advance where to turn around, and only I am to blame for that. I should know by now that there's no excuse for not knowing the course.

    Here's how I remember the conversation - please do clarify if you think I got it wrong:

    1) When approaching the aid station, I was asked what distance I was running and my split was marked down in the books.

    2) You guys did an awesome job filling up my water bottles and I ate some food.

    3) I asked about how far I was behind the front-runners in the 100-miler, and a gentleman noting down the times let me know that Jon Olsen was a half hour ahead and Mark Tanaka was 4 minutes ahead. I made some remarks about how amazing it was they could go so fast and be covering twice the distance, and we all joked at how insane that was.

    4) I asked "where do I go next?", and a gentleman pointed up the trail to Cool for a "short loop" and that you guys would see me again on the way back.

    Again, I don't mean this to be an excuse for not knowing the course. But that is how I remember it. I think Norm's comments to me reflected the same thing - there's really no excuse to not know the trail.


    PS - To all of you who have written up the race on your own blog, be sure to hyperlink back to your reports in your comments. It will help your Google rank!

  32. Scott - very inspiring to read about your quick & remarkable comeback from injury! I got lost in my last race due to a poorly marked course and missed setting a PR, and I fumed about it for 2 days. Thanks for the comments that will help provide perspective for me next time this happens!

  33. Thanks Scott
    This does help clear up the confusion .Jan was taking times and numbers. Larry and I were working with the runners Drinks and food needs. The Gentleman you were talking to about " the leaders" was the communications operator . The problem was you were the leader of your race so there wasn't any time between you and the "leaders" . Maybe he or someone else at the station (by stander even) pointed you in the wrong direction . I don't believe it was one of us . At this point I guess it really doesn't matter . The important thing is we all learn from it and try to make it better next year. I think we need another sign stating Sierra Nevada Turn Around and Either different color numbers or different series of numbers 100's vs 400's .What do you think would help ? By the way you were not the only Sierra Nevada runner to turn up that trail . We had to make a sign out of cardboard and keep asking each runner that went up if they were running Rio or Sierra.

    Thanks Again for your understanding

  34. Greg -

    I further confused the matter by only asking about the 100-milers. Alas!

    I think that's a great idea about the big sign, although it's hard to idiot-proof from people like me who don't read the course info thoroughly beforehand. But every bit helps I guess.

    Let me also apologize if the blog entry in any way made you or your fellow volunteers badly. I tend to write first person and put down my raw thoughts as they happen, and it took me a while to digest that I was personally at fault (ie, right around the time I face planted). It was quite clear to me from that point on that this was largely my own fault for not preparing well - a good lesson to share.

    I think the world of you guys for putting on these races and you really do an amazing job. I often wonder who works harder in an ultra, the volunteers or the runners.

    You are welcome to contact me directly at scottdunlap (at) if you feel something here needs to be corrected or would like to continue the dialog further in private. I appreciate your integrity in reaching out.

    Cheers, SD

  35. Scott,

    I understand your fruteration on getting lost. You took the picture of me running in the trees. I was running my first 100 and got lost at mile 26 for 20 minutes and mile 71 for 1 hour and 40 minutes. This really sucked because I felt great and was on a 19 hour 30 minute pace but finished in 22 19. I also talked to norm and got the same response. I ran a total between 10-12 miles. But oh well what can you do.

    Patrick McCloskey

  36. I'm not a runner, but linked through from a web article and read your entire story. I'm really impressed with your attitude adjustment mid-stream. Congrats on that and your renewed health. I trust there'll be other seasons and other races when you take home the prize.


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