Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mother Nature Is My Coach

It recently occurred to me on a long run (80 minutes in, right when the runner’s high kicks in per usual) that although I train solo most of the time, I have taken a lot of tips from the runners around me. And when I mean “the runners around me”, I mean the deer, bobcat, coyotes, fox, etc., who live in the Open Space Preserves and parks I am fortunate to call my home trails. The wildlife run and bound across the forest floor with a grace only known to wild, four-legged creatures that live every day in the wild. I have learned a great deal about trail running by watching each animal closely. Perhaps it is time for me to admit that Mother Nature is my coach.

The Bobcat – “Run Quietly”

Bobcats are the masters of “running quietly”. Every part of their body is moving deliberately, no energy wasted, no sound. Running quiet is an essential skill to a bobcat, quite simply because they kill their breakfast every morning. But it also has a lesson for trail runners too - running quietly means running efficiently.

When you try to minimize the impact (and thus the sound) that you make with each foot strike, you will find that you naturally shift your body position forward and recruit more leg muscles. Each foot strike reaches out to softly touch the ground mid-foot, thereby engaging more foot and calf muscles for strength and stabilization. I also find my core gets more engaged to keep my center of gravity moving forward at a constant rate. I’m not sure if it’s any faster, but it sure feels effortless. Plus it’s an added weapon in your arsenal should you need the element of surprise when passing somebody.

The polar opposite of “running quietly” is running with an iPod. If you’ve ever had an iPod-wearing trail runner cruise by you, then you know this (I am also guilty as charged). If you have an iPod, you’re going to need to turn it off for a while to get the feel for it. I mean, you’ve never seen a bobcat go running by with earphones on his big fuzzy ears, right?

The Deer – “Be Confident and Leap”

Deer are fascinating to watch when they bound down the hillside, especially when you give them a good scare (see previous note on iPods). When watched closely, you can see that deer “leap”, propelling their full weight forward in one motion, with only a rough idea of where they plan to land. I think trail runners can gain two insights into this. First, take a leap of faith that your skills are better than you think and stride with confidence. Second, use this confidence to throw yourself down the hill a little farther than comfortable.

If you’ve done your training, you likely can run downhill much faster than you think you can. Try leaning forward just until you can feel gravity pulling you down the hill. and allow yourself to leap a little farther down the hill with each stride. This takes practice, but can take some serious time off your descents. Plus it’s a lot of fun when you get in the groove. This is also a great match to “running quietly”.

The Fox – “Have Fun”

We have this crazy fox that moves into the neighboring forest every winter. I call him Loki (the Norse god of mischief), because he loves distracting me from my workout with a game of chase. Loki is all about having fun. He jumps out in front of me about 40 feet ahead on the trail, gets low and playfully jumps side to side, and then takes off at blinding speed while looking back at me. I pursue in full sprint, futilely trying to keep his huge tail in sight. He loses me every time, but will usually pop up on the trail 10-20 minutes later, taunting me with more yips and jumps.

Loki definitely has the right mindset for trail running. If you can’t have fun, why do it at all? And if you’re grumpy, try throwing in some sprints or a game of chase to get you back in the mood. There is nothing quite like a smile rooted in pure adrenaline.

Thank you for your wisdom, bobcat, deer, and fox. You show us that Mother Nature has plenty of coaching to share if we just open our minds to it. I will run quietly, leap downhill, and do it all with a smile on my face as instructed!

See you on the trails.


(bobcat photo courtesy of Bay Nature magazine; deer photo courtesy of; fox photo courtesy of gdargaud)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Yes, Running Can Make You High (NY Times)

Gina Kolata from the New York Times wrote an article about the runner's high, and some recent studies coming out of Germany that have linked it to a rush of endorphins in the brain. See, I knew I wasn't crazy!

Some snippets:
Researchers in Germany, using advances in neuroscience, report in the current issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex that the folk belief is true: Running does elicit a flood of endorphins in the brain. The endorphins are associated with mood changes, and the more endorphins a runner’s body pumps out, the greater the effect.

The data showed that, indeed, endorphins were produced during running and were attaching themselves to areas of the brain associated with emotions, in particular the limbic and prefrontal areas.The limbic and prefrontal areas, Dr. Boecker said, are activated when people are involved in romantic love affairs or, he said, “when you hear music that gives you a chill of euphoria, like Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.” The greater the euphoria the runners reported, the more endorphins in their brain.

“Some people have these really extreme experiences with very long or intensive training,” said Dr. Boecker, a casual runner and cyclist, who said he feels completely relaxed and his head is clearer after a run.
Read the full article here.


(Thanks to JR Atwood for the tip)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Return to the Rucky Chucky 50k

Last Saturday, I gleefully joined 125 trail runners for the return of the Rucky Chucky 50k in Foresthill, CA. Trail access issues had put this hilly out-and-back course on the sidelines the last two years, but now it was back! Such a perfect way to greet Spring and get in some good miles on the Western States trail with friends.

It was nothing short of a miracle that I made it to the start line on time. Just 12 hours earlier, I was skidding down a frozen highway outside of Chicago, IL, braving a snowstorm in a cheap rental car to get to O’Hare Airport in hopes to catch ANY flight back home from a business trip. A foot of snowfall coming in sideways and blowing down everything in its path - no wonder the runners from the Midwest are so tough! As luck would have it, United got me back to SF in time for a few hours sleep and the drive to Foresthill. I pulled up to the High School, packed my wool hat and scarf away, and put on shorts and t-shirt for a Spring run in the 70 degree canyons. I was really tired and wondered if it might be best to skip the race (and joined Catherine and the other volunteers), but I really, really wanted to do it. It was only three years ago I ran the Rucky Chucky 50k as my first ultra ever – now some 30 ultras later (zoiks!), I was ready to revisit the trails that started this crazy love affair and see how my perspective had changed.

(Robert Mathis leads us off)

There were many familiar faces, as is always the case at an event. Mark Tanaka (also no stranger to running on no sleep) and Bev Abbs were dressed in gold, as if to project their final finish times. Peter Lubbers, Paul Sweeney, Diana Fitzpatrick, David Dean, Bree Lambert, Brad Lael, Jady Palko, Mike Savage, Mike and Karyn Hoffman, Ray Sanchez, Rena Schumann, Claire Gilles, Tony Overbay, and more – it was like an ultrafamily reunion with new and old members alike! At my first Rucky Chucky, I had that weird feeling that I was crashing somebody else’s party, although it quickly subsided when they all pounced on the new guy. I did my best to return the favor to the new faces I saw this time around!

(Bev in gold, ready to roll!)

At 8am, Robert Mathis gave us the last minute instructions before sending us off. There was one big modification that he hoped everyone heard – due to muddy access trails, one aid station was missing and we would have to do a 13.5 mile stretch with no aid EACH way. This explained the high number of hydration packs and extra bottles that made the starting line look like the kick off of the Eco-Challenge. There seemed to be three strategies among the front-runners to address the long, aidless stretch. First, carry all the water you can and quit yer bitchin’. Second, carry a bit too much and stash a bottle or two along the way for the return. Lastly, trust the creeks are full and bring one bottle and some iodine tablets (“old school” as Bev puts it…then again she likes the Plain 100 where the first aid station is at mile 60).

I went for the first strategy (carry as much as you can), which gave me a chance to test out the Inov-8 Race Pro 18 hydration pack I got a few weeks earlier. This was a “try new things” race for me anyway, so was glad the occasion called for something new. I hadn’t trained much with this pack (or any pack for that matter), but the two liter water pouch seemed like the right call for the warm day. I was also trying the Inov-8 RocLite 295 shoes (soft and flexible, lets you “feel” the trail), and the Vespa CV-25 Sport Supplement that Paul Charteris had recommended. I had tried each of these items separately in training runs, and they held up great. So today, I would throw them all together for a race.

The race started off fast as we cut through a cul de sac onto the Western States trail. Jady Palko, Bev Abbs, and Mark Tanaka set the pace, although we quickly found ourselves behind the “real” front runners after Jady stopped to pee, Bev instinctually followed the Western States 100 trail off course, and the rest of us followed like lemmings. We only lost a few hundred feet though. ;-)

(Hiking up one of the steep pitches)

The single track was fast, and everyone used the cool shadows to go as quickly as possible. I was noticing one thing about the full hydration packs – the weight was definitely holding us back from our usual pace. One forgets that two liters of water is pretty heavy! But I was glad to be erring on “too much”, and the conversational pace allowed me to catch up with Paul Sweeney (about to go for his 9th Miwok 100k), Peter Lubbers (prepping for an attempt at the Tahoe Rim Trail speed record this summer), and the many faces preparing for their first Western States 100.

Most of this trail is quite runnable, but every once in a while it would pitch up or down the canyon face and we would all be reduced to a hike or shuffle. I liked the fact that the long hikes gave me a chance to see who was ahead and who was behind. I still had the front pack in sight, although they were climbing and descending faster than I was. I did my best to pick up the pace on the flats, which I’m now beginning to realize is where I make up all my time. I’m still not sure how this happened, but this season I seem to be able to hold a fast turnover pace on the flat stuff that helps me gain some ground at a 6:50 min/mile aerobic pace. I have some work to do on the ascents/descents though.

(Feel the burn!)

At mile 7, a bunch of water jugs were tied together where the aid station would have stood. Thank you, trail angel! I was still plenty full in my pack, so I kept moving on. But I was sure a return runner was going to be very appreciative that some anonymous supporter had lugged a few gallons down.

Around mile 10, I considered letting some of the water out of my pack. It was doing a good job of distributing the weight, but there was just too much and my hips were beginning to gripe when I charged downhill. I couldn’t dump it on my head (unless one of you knows a trick with the hydra pack hose), so I did the “suck and spit” routine for about 10 minutes. I got pretty good at hitting the flowers on the way too!

(Bree Lambert enjoying the sun at mile 14)

As I came along the American River about mile 11, I slowed down and filled my lungs with the moist air. Butterflies were everywhere, dancing among the purple and yellow flowers that shot up from the river banks. It felt like Spring was turned up to 11, perhaps due to the fact that I was out on the Midwest tundra the day before. I seriously considered taking a break and sitting on the river bank just to suck it all in, but snapped out of it when Jeff Beuche, Eric Johnson, and Erin Luthy went flying by. Oh, yeah – we’re in a race! ;-)

(The awesome volunteers at the Klein aid station)

We all came upon the first aid station (mile 13.5), where Norm and Helen Klein led a band of cheery volunteers to help us load up on goodies. Helen was fresh off her world record setting marathon at the Napa Marathon a few weeks ago (her second world record in less than a year, natch) and you wouldn’t have even known it. A shot of flat Coke later, I was heading down the access road again.

(Mark Tanaka is literally flying down the hill in 1st place)

It didn’t take long before Mark Tanaka came blazing back, a good 90 seconds up on the second place runner. He was running smoothly, with no indication he spent the previous day snowboarding with his family. Bev Abbs was in third place, with a hungry pack of runners within 60 seconds of her. I hit the turnaround in sixth place, somewhere around 2:10 into the race. If I could keep it up, I might be able to clock a sub-5 hour time! That would be considerably faster than my last Rucky Chucky. I figured I would keep charging, hoping that the lack of sleep wouldn’t come up and bite me.

It was about this time it dawned on me that I hadn’t had to deal with any blood sugar spikes for nearly 16 miles. I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but it was similar to the previous time I had tried the Vespa CV-25 supplement. The package has all kinds of marketeze about bee propolis/enzymes/etc., and I didn’t understand much of it. But it was hard to argue that it wasn’t working its magic to make my energy level smooth out a bit (thanks, Paul!).

(Spring was sprouting everywhere along the river)

At the Klein aid station (mile 16.7), Norm helped me load up the Pro Pack. As much as I like the way the Pro Pack holds the water around your hips (instead of the middle of your back), I will say it is a bit more challenging to fill at the aid station. With a little assembly we got it filled, and I hit the trail with Chris Rowe. Chris is a local from Auburn, and is also training for his first Western States this year. He’s no stranger to ultras, having done the Tahoe 72-mile loop last year. We swapped some stories and tips, and quickly made our way to the climbs at mile 18. The heat was now a factor, as it was warming up to around 70 degrees.

(How can we not smile on this great day?)

I pulled out my iPod and summoned the help of Sevendust and the Foo Fighters to take on the climbs. I was slurping down water like crazy, especially while charging the switchbacks. I kept catching this nasty smell of recycled air and peanuts, and it took me a while to realize what it was…it was me! The lingering road warrior scents were weeping from my pores. Dee-sgusting! I would much rather smell of sweat and dirt any day.

I hit the marathon mark in just under four hours, so I was still on track for a sub-5. But a few steps later I heard that dreadful “slurp” of my last drop of water. Could it be? Could I have already consumed two liters in less than two hours?!? Too bad, ‘cause I will still awfully thirsty (also not a good sign). Perhaps if I had a fluid intake monitor, I would have see the “E” light go off. It didn’t take long before my stomach started to get uneasy, and my calves got that nervous pre-cramp twitching. I thought perhaps a Hammer Gel could tide me over at mile 28, but I puked it right up in a cloud of tunnel vision. The vomit was bone dry too – I was definitely dehydrated.

(Oh yes, there was a lot of uphill on the way back)

This oh-too-familiar place. How did we get here again, Scott? No water, no food, and a few dizzy miles to go. Immediately retrospect, there were plenty of things I could have done to avoid it like stashing some water, being smarter about consumption, etc.. Fortunately/unfortunately, I have found myself in this situation enough times not to worry. In fact, somewhere inside I was giddy knowing that I was stripped down to the most ancient of human conditions – nothing but your will, two legs, and fortitude to get you to the finish. I often wonder if we all have a secret desire for this to happen on occasion, just to prove to ourselves we can do it without all these fancy gadgets and aid. Live life to have good stories, no?

As I walked the last two mile climb, David Dean and Diana Fitzpatrick passed me, each of them kindly slowing down to make sure I was okay. Everyone was out of water, but we all knew Linda Mathis’ vegi chili, scalloped potatoes, and plenty of drinks lie ahead. When I hit the pavement (mile 30), I rallied enough energy to shuffle up the hill and cross the finish line in 5:17 for 11th place. Mark Tanaka had held on for first place in 4:43, while Bev Abbs set a Women’s course record 4:50 for 3rd overall. The Masters rule the day! I was pretty impressed with all the finish times given the long stretch without aid.

A quart of Gatorade later, I felt normal again (although ready for a nap!). As we caught up on hydration and stuffed our faces with homemade food, we all assessed the new gear options. I liked the Inov-8 Pro Pack 18, but definitely learned that just because you CAN fill it to the top doesn’t mean you should at every aid station. I also need to be more careful with monitoring my fluid intake when I can’t see it. The Inov-8 295’s were also a great minimalist shoe that did well on these trails with long runnable sections. The top is so flexible it feels like a sock, and I felt like I got a good workout of all my foot muscles. I would want something stiffer for a more technical trail, however. The Vespa CV-25 worked for me, although it’s a mystery why. I will have to keep experimenting with that.

My thanks to the RD’s and volunteers for putting on a great race. It’s a perfect place for your first or thirty-first race!

Next up, the Diablo 50m (shudder!).

Cheers, SD

(Goofing off at Easter the next day)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Important Note for Rucky Chucky 50k Runners

For those of you running the Rucky Chucky 50k this Saturday, RD Robert Mathis sent out the following important update last weekend. Be prepared to stock some food/water for the 13.9 mile stretch between aid stations!
Hi all,

I have some urgent news that everyone needs to know. Norm Klein(Cal 2 Aid Station Captain) talked with Greg Soderlund(who talked to the owner of the property on the way to Cal 2) late yesterday and we found out there is no vehicle access due to mud and 12-24 inch ruts in the road. We cannot get aid down there due to this. This unfortunately means there will be no Cal 2 aid station. This also means there will be no aid for the first 13.9 miles(as well as the last 13.9 miles) until Sandy Bottoms. All runners will need to carry 3 bottles(or camel back) to stay properly(and safely) hydrated. Please plan to load up on beverages and food at Sandy Bottoms aid station. I am sorry for the inconvenience but the above normal rainfall has caused this issue.
I need everyone to reply back that they have received this email as I want to make sure everyone knows. I will be calling all runners without email addresses or ones that don't reply. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to email or call me.

Thanks again for your understanding and see you next week,

Robert Mathis
Race Director
robert (at)

Sounds wet, muddy, and adventurous! It's going to be great.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Yiannis Kouros - Ultrarunning's Penultimate Elite/Elitist(?)

Few would argue that Greek runner Yiannis Kouros isn't one of the most phenomenal endurance athletes the world has ever seen. His world records (particularly the multi-day records) are so staggering, they stretch the mind about what is humanly possible. But read his blog/Web site lately, and it feels like he is crossing the line from "elite" to "elitist". Mr. Kouros and his Racing Manager are the latest to jump in on the Dean-bashing (Karnazes, that is), and in doing so, have taken the elitism to a level I have never seen before.

Before I say anything else, I should note that I've never met Mr. Kouros. I've only read his blog, and of all people I should be sensitive to drawing conclusions about somebody based on their blog entries alone. ;-) But take a look at some of the latest blog entries on his site and you'll see what I mean. Something has happened between ESPN and Dean Karnazes that have put Kouros and his Racing Manager in a flaming fury. Take a look at this entry for starters:
A proposal from Yiannis Kouros' racing manager:

To whom it may concern, I represent Mr Yiannis Kouros, as his racing manager. Because too much and foolish noise has been made from one self-made “ultra-marathonner” and from the deceived and/or paid media, I propose the following:
Because athletes gain their value with performances in competitive events and not through self made events or self-advertisements, I propose a race of 1000km or a 6-day where the top ladies of the sport should be invited to run as well with the “fittest man”, starting with him. He has to win in order to qualify. If he comes behind even from one of the ladies he is not qualified. If he is successful, then he could continue for the next step to race with Yiannis Kouros, who is accepting to give him (to the “fittest man”), a 6 hour front start. Even if Y. Kouros belongs to a much older age group category, he is giving the other runner an equal opportunity in terms of age, on top of the 6-hour front start. The race should follow all the other internationally set regulations. Thus, it could be proven if the people are deceived by unofficial claims or not.

The Yiannis Kouros racing manager, I. Tsimplis
Yowza! Then cap it off with his most recent entry, which starts with a quote from the bible:
Mat 24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

An announcement-statement from Y. Kouros manager, addressed to Journalists who approach or bother Y. Kouros:
Just by thinking of the “self-promoted ultra-marathonner”, who has not even a national record, who claims unofficial solo runs as his credit, which, anyway, thousands of people can do, they shouldn’t even approach Mr Kouros. Real Ultra-runners, like Mr Kouros feel sorry for those journalists and, because of them, the American public that are so easily deceived and cannot grasp something very obvious: A number of claims that do not have any value and a book with many lies...
"Real ultrarunners"? "American public that are so easily deceived and cannot grasp something very obvious"? Are you kidding me?!? I checked out the ESPN article, and I'm not sure what he's so pissed about. But holy cow!

Check out the Kouros Web site and perhaps you will do what I did - read it over and over, shocked that someone of Kouros' stature (or any ultrarunner for that matter) would say such things. Maybe his world of ultrarunning is way different than mine. For me the community, the friendship, and the respect for anyone who can do the distance defines what is best about this sport no matter how they taut themselves or make a living. But apparently we're not "real ultrarunners"...?

Kouros may be the most elite ultrarunner of our time. Based on what I've read, I think he may be the most elitist as well.

Somebody please tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you know the guy and this ain't him. Please, please give me something other than his insensitive Web site to draw a conclusion. And if Kouros is reading this, please let me do an interview with you here to set the record straight, and I will print it word for word what you write with no editing.

Okay, my rant is done. I'm going to go for a long, solo run with a big ass smile on my face. You can call me whatever you want, it's still going to be fun. ;-)


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Ultrarunning Podcast From Endurance Planet

In case you haven't heard, the gang at Endurance Planet has begun a new podcast series on ultrarunning. Each podcast has an hour of professionally produced ultrarunning stories, and there will be a new one each month available on for $3.95.

Check out the link here, and you can download the first one for free to give it a try. I have really enjoyed listening to these on my commute - well worth the bucks, if you ask me.

Also, if you want to see a video of a "Chariots of Fire" moment, be sure to watch Minnesota's Heather Dorniden fall in the 600m at the Big Ten Women's Track and Field Championship, then get up and win the heat. You can check it out here (about 30 seconds in) - amazing!


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Ridge Running at The Skyline 50k

On Saturday I had the pleasure of joining 200 runners for a sold out race at PCTR’s Skyline 12k/20k/37k/50k in the hills of Palo Alto, CA. This course romps through the Santa Cruz Mountains in a two loop format full of hills, views, and 5,000’ vertical feet of single track and fire roads. The weather was great for running, the competition was fierce, and we all had a stellar day in the mountains.

I caught up with friends and new faces in the chilly parking lot, and found out I wasn’t the only one who had caught the nasty sinus-plugging, hacking virus that Sophie brought home for us last week. I tell you, it would not surprise me at all if we found out the ebola virus originated from a neighborhood day care. I shook the worst of it a few days before, but wanted to be careful not to push myself to the limit today and lose another precious week or two of training. This could all be a convenient excuse, however, since I knew that there would be some fast runners in the 50k here today. PCTR speedsters Kevin Weil, Tom Clarke, and Ryan Commons were going to be joined by Jon Olsen (2x Rio del Lago 100 winner) and Mark Tanaka (Kettle Moraine 100 champion), and all of them were fast enough to put pressure on Chikara Omine’s seemingly untouchable 3:55 course record.

(Kevin Weil and Elizabeth McCleneghan before the race)

As I caught up with Kevin Weil (and letting him know how much I enjoy the PicLens plug-in his company released – well worth it for you picture junkies) and his fiancée Elizabeth McCleneghan, we were joined by Kelly Bennett and her training partner Sean. Kelly came up from Las Vegas, NV, to tackle her first 50k, and she was sucking in any last minute advice we could dish out. The three of us grinned and happily share the mountains of advice we garnered through mistakes of our own – “put your ego aside and walk often”, “carry a water bottle at all times”, “eat at aid stations and take something to go”, “don’t worry about your splits”, etc. But we could tell from her optimism and multiple 3:15 marathon times that she was going to be just fine. Sean was tackling the 23k as a warm up for an upcoming marathon of his own, and would crew for the remainder of the day.

(Gathering at the start)

(Jon Olsen, Mark Tanaka and others are ready to get going!)

At 8:30am, RD’s Wendell and Sarah sent us off on the first 23k loop into the Skyline Ridge and Long Ridge Open Space Preserves. Leor Pantilat set a blistering pace for the 20k, and led us around Horseshoe Lake and into the hills. I paced along with Mark Tanaka and Ray Sanchez, catching up on life as we walked the steep uphills. Mark was nursing a sore knee, which meant he would be running with us mere mortals for a while. Ray was tackling yet another ultra, one of 30+ he would do this year. We tackled the steep hills along the tree farm and spread out on the single track in the thick oak trees.

(Tackling the climbs near the tree farm)

(Mark Tanaka blazing down the single track)

The trail soon broke lush tree cover, revealing stunning views of mountains on either side of the ridge. Hawks were soaring in the wind, searching for breakfast in the lush green fields. Runners speckled color into the ridge trails etched into the hills, bringing vibrant life to the usually still landscape. As we ran in small packs, everyone commented on the perfect cloud cover. You never know with Skyline Ridge – the last time I was here it was 30 mph winds and mud slides. This time, perfection!

(The ridge trails hug the mountain range)

(Perfect cloud cover today!)

Leor Pantilat came flying back on the trail about two minutes ahead of Jason Wolf (37k), Dave King (23k), Kevin Weil (50k), and Tom Clarke (50k). A couple of turns later, we hit the aid station (mile 6.1) and volunteers filled our water bottles as we did a short out-and-back down to Skyline Road. Mark Tanaka considered this enough “easing into it” and took off with his trademark bombing descents. Within minutes, he was just a white spec on the horizon ahead.

(Tom Clarke is right up front in the 50k race)

(David King smiles his way to a 2nd place in the 23k)

(Jason Wolf on his way to another 37k win)

(Ryan Commons chasing a 23k runner after hitting the aid station)

(Sean Lang grabs a snack on his way back from the aid station)

(Jon Olsen sets a killer pace in the lead pack of the 50k)

The return trail was filled with smiling faces enjoying the afternoon. I was impressed with how many were running the steep hills – even the short races here are tough! I caught up to Adam Blum, who was fitting in a 23k just a day before the Napa Marathon. I met Adam through the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series a few years back, and have always been impressed with his ability to double up races on the weekend. He recovers like Wolverine from the X-Men!

(Adam Blum charges the single track)

I enjoyed catching with Adam, and hearing about the Fat Ass 50k he put on earlier this year. Before we knew it, we were back at the start, 23k already finished. Good luck in Napa, Adam!

(It takes work to get to the views, but they are worth it!)

(Vladimir Gusiatnikov charges the downhill on his way to another strong 50k run)

Ryan Commons was just a few steps ahead of me at the aid station, and charged into the 14km loop through the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve (we would do this twice). I tried to pick up the pace to run with him, but he was too quick on the single track uphills. He stayed in view as we crossed the ridge trails, and he soon caught up with Sean Lang. The two of them paced about a ½ mile ahead of me, which made it easy to see what was coming up next. The beauty of the course was amazing, even overwhelming at times. We are lucky to have all of these connected Open Space Preserves that allow us to intimately experience nature.

(Racing the ridge)

At the next aid station (mile 18), Will Gotthardt and the other volunteers took care of us. They let us know that Leor had opted for 50k, and continue to set the pace up front. Kevin Weil was in second, but looking a little ragged. Tom Clarke and Jon Olsen were third and fourth, calm and collected. Mark Tanaka, Sean Lang, and Ryan Commons made up the chase pack just a few steps ahead of me.

(Runners are like specs of color along the trail)

(Long ridge trails help keep other runners in view)

As we crested the ridge, the wind picked up and required us to lean into it to stay upright. But as soon as we turned left down into the valley, the air was still and (dare I say it) warm. The single track was fun and fast, and we took the next mile and half quickly.

(Another photographer/runner and I exchange shots)

(Sean and Ryan flying down the windy Russian Ridge)

The trail soon pitched up, and I caught up to Ryan and Sean. Sean set the pace, pulling us up the warm ridge. As I passed Ryan, we both commented that it felt like we were digging a bit too deep on this second lap and the last one would certainly hurt. We compared iPod playlists – his Goo Goo Dolls and my Prodigy – and it was clear that both of us were pulling out the big gun songs and we had a ways to go. At least Ryan was smart enough to start out with a little Pink Floyd to chill his pace early in the race.

(The backside of Russian Ridge)

I caught Sean at the top of the hill, thanked him for leading us, and we charged back down towards the end of the loop. We saw the other runners heading out for loop #3, and the order was exactly what Will had said – Leor well up front, Kevin in second, and Tom and Jon lurking just a minute behind and still looking strong. There was just one thing missing – no Mark Tanaka! That means he either took a wrong turn or had a REALLY long pottie break. Neither of those are good options. ;-)

(Kelly is still looking good at mile 20)

(Powering down the ridge trail)

We refilled and reloaded at the aid station (mile 23), and headed back out on loop #3. About a mile up the trail, Mark Tanaka came down the other way and smiling and saying something about “bonus miles”. He still looked good, so I was sure I would see him on my shoulder in no time.

As I hit Alpine Pond, Elizabeth McCleneghan was slowly staggering up to the water fountain. She mentioned she took a good spill, but was going to walk it off and perhaps cut back to a 37k. She better decide fast though – about 12 minutes behind her, first-time 50k’er Kelly was still smiling and having a great race!

(One of the many breathtaking views)

As I hit the climb up the Ancient Oak Trail, I got dizzy and felt the phlegm building up in my throat. I usually have a “wall” to get though around mile 22, but the symptoms felt more flu-like than usual. I decided to walk the uphills (another convenient excuse, perhaps?) and Ryan Commons soon passed me. He said “yup, dizzy…I know just how you feel”, but he’s a bit tougher than me and kept a solid running pace up the hill.

(Steve Ansell cranking out his 50-miler)

The wind was definitely a factor on this loop, and I could see runners in both directions swaying back and forth in the gusts. Up ahead along the ridge, Sean was still making long strides and looking great. Seeing him running fast along the ridge reminded me of that great movie On The Edge (a must for you trail runners). I looked behind me and saw the familiar fast turnover of Mark Tanaka about five minutes back. Just a matter of time, I figured. Will Gotthardt filled us up again at the aid station (mile 26), and I took an extra cup of flat Coke to try and keep Ultrinaka at bay.

The descent and climb felt much tougher this second time around, but the company made it easy to tackle in packs. Lots of 37k runners were pushing their pace and working together. Steve Ansell was doing a 50-miler today, running 9 miles to the start of the 50k and planning to head back along the same route. Suddenly I didn’t feel so tough!

One last descent, climb, and descent and I crossed the finish line in 4:32, good enough for 8th place (once again, a whopping one point towards the PCTR Series!). The finishers relayed the final standings for me – Leor Pantilat led from end to end to finish in 3:58 (only his second 50k), with Jon Olsen charging in the last lap to get second in 4:08. Tom Clarke (4:11) managed to catch a fading Kevin Weil (4:15), and they finished third and fourth. Sean Lang (4:24) and Ryan Commons (4:29) both finished under 4:30. Mark Tanaka (4:40) finished just a few minutes behind me. (full results here)

As we ate chili (except Jon, who was holding out for his In ‘n Out Burger celebration) and caught up, Elizabeth McCleneghan (5:06) cruised in to win the Women’s division, somehow back from the dead. Mark Nutall came in just ahead of her, winning the unofficial “best battle scar” award. Before too long, Kelly came in (5:27) for second Woman and looked fantastic. I suspect this won’t be her last 50k!

(Mike Nutall's battle scars)

(Kelly finishes...2nd Woman overall!)

With a few more smiles and “see you at the next one” chatter, we each headed out as more and more finishers came down the chute. The ear-to-ear grins reflected what I was feeling all morning out there – there is no place I would rather spend the day then out in nature with friends both new and old. My thanks to the volunteers and RD’s for putting on a fantastic race!

See you at the next one… ;-)


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