Friday, September 26, 2008

What’s Next? – An Interview with Erik Skaden and Graham Cooper

When the forest fires canceled the 2008 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, it was a tough break for many. It was especially difficult for runners like perennial top finisher Erik Skaden and 2006 winner Graham Cooper, who were running faster than ever this year and eager for the showdown. Would this have been Skaden’s year after finishing 2nd in 2007? Would Cooper get the kind of hot day that leaves him all alone in the front? Or would they both have to work together just to not get smoked by the rookies and road runners?

(Erik Skaden and Graham Cooper)

Both managed to quickly refocus their goal races to take advantage of their Beijing-level fitness, with Skaden co-winning the 2008 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 to claim his first USATF 100-mile National Championship, and Cooper smoking the 2008 Ironman Canada course in 9:39 to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October. I caught up with both of them on e-mail to get their thoughts.

(1) First, congratulations on your respective top notch finishes! I’m sure you were both looking forward to the heavy line up at States this year. How did it feel to have it canceled when you were in such good shape, and how did you get refocused?

ES: Wayne Miles is quoted in the 2008 WS Participant’s Guide as saying: "Running Western States hurts for a few days. The ride from an aid station to the finish hurts all year." The cancellation though disappointing, does not reach the level of disappointment Wayne acknowledges. To refocus, I began the planning process for WS 2009. For me, this involved at least completing the 100 mile distance on foot as quickly as possible, therefore, Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). Then, I wanted to reset my clock. This involved a vacation from running for the balance of the summer. The running vacation is now over and I am refocused.

GC: After Western States got canceled, I drove out to the Foresthill Bridge, tied a rock around my ankle and was about to end it all. Just as I started to heave the rock over the bridge, guess who ran by. That’s right, Skaden. He said “Don’t do it Graham. You’ve got too much to live for. In fact, I hereby challenge you to a face-off at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. If you’re anything close to a real man, you’ll untie that rock and accept my challenge.” So, not wanting to concede my manhood, I untied the rock. But then I went home, had a six pack of beer and few bowls of pralines & cream ice cream. And TRT didn’t hold quite the same allure as Western States, so I decided to start training for Ironman Canada. Skaden will have to wait until 2009 for that face-off.

(2) I know you have occasionally raced together, such as when you shared the win at the Diablo 50-miler, and Skaden even shared his TRT100 title this year. When is it better to work with another runner, or is it always best to go head to head?

GC: It is never better to tie. Unless it’s a race you don’t care about. I only tied with Erik at Diablo because he has a funny little picture of me that I’d rather not talk about, and he threatened to post it to the Ultra List if I beat him. Actually, that was more of a training run for both of us, and we had a great time up until the point at which I yard-saled coming down the mountain toward the end. He was cool to stick around and make sure I didn’t get dragged away by a cougar or a bear. I don’t know why he tied TRT. Maybe he was afraid.

ES: I prefer always to go head to head. At Diablo, Graham and I had a lot of catching up to do so we ended up talking the entire day, and since Graham and I were both way out in front running more than fast enough for a training run anyway, why not just run together. We managed to keep each other entertained throughout the day. How many 50’s can you run hard in a seven day period anyway? For me that was AR50 the weekend prior. TRT involved a unique set of circumstances. Given that no pacers are allowed in the event, and that running alone all day and night does not appeal to me anymore, I enjoyed the company on the trail and getting across the finish line with a respectable time. Plus, without Graham in the race, I did not have any motivation.

(Graham Cooper and Erik Skaden at the Diablo 50)

(3) You guys are friends but fierce competitors. How would you size up each other’s strengths and weaknesses? What does it take to beat them?

ES: First, now knowing a Graham Cooper exists in the world I can point to him when defending myself that I am not crazy to train so hard. His strengths – he is driven for success, is methodical, has a large dose of pride and determination, and knows how to execute a strategy that gets himself across the finish line ahead of me at Western States as he did in 2006. With that said, now knowing a Graham Cooper exists in the world, I have benefited from our friendship to leverage to a greater degree, these strengths in my own training. To beat Graham you have to be better prepared than Graham, execute a flawless race strategy, and have more of all of the above strengths. I learned these lessons at the Rucky Chucky crossing in 2006 when Graham pasted me on the climb to Green Gate.

GC: Erik is a great runner and a nice guy. He and I have become good friends over the past year and have developed a healthy respect for one another. Erik trains super hard and he’s physically resilient. He puts in long miles, has generally avoided injury and somehow maintained motivation. He races with a clear head, and does not get swept into a fast early pace. As a result, he usually finishes strong. I hate running with him behind me.

Having said that, I have to tell the story of him passing me at Western States in 2006, around Last Chance (mile 42). He was talking smack about all these sponsored runners wilting in the heat. This was only my second Western States, so I was feeling a little more circumspect, especially as the mercury rose. I stuck to my game plan, and worked through the canyons patiently. When I passed him at the river crossing (mile 78), he had the distinct look of a wilted flower.

He got his revenge in 2007. After the 2006 experience, I kept thinking that I might catch him on my way down to the river. I was pushing hard, but I just couldn’t close the gap. Over the last 20 miles, he extended his lead on me and actually put some time on Hal. This was a gutsy performance which resulted in a great time. I didn’t do anything wrong; I just didn’t have the legs to catch him.

In terms of beating him in 09, I plan to hire Jeff Gillooly to help me out a couple days before the race.

(4) Had WS100 happened this year with dry and hot weather, what would you have predicted for the Top 3?

GC: I think Erik and I would have been there. He had a good chance to win. He was in good shape. I will never discount Hal again either.

ES: I believe it was going to be Graham and I cresting Robie Point in with one of us getting the win. Graham and I were both ready to run a low 16 hour race potentially even going under 16. The possibility did exist of someone else being in the mix and having a surprise performance. That individual will forever be unknown since the race was canceled.

(5) Graham, you’re heading off to Kona in a few weeks for Ironman Hawaii. Do either of you have any big ultras planned for the remainder of the year? Will the focus be back on States for 2009?

GC: Kona is it for me. Then it’s time to get re-acquainted with my family. Yes, I will be back to Western States in 2009.

ES: Most likely I will participate in the California International Marathon in December. I will save ultra running for the spring of 2009. And yes, in 2009 the focus will be back on Western States.

(6) What would you recommend the other focus on for 2009 WS100?

ES: Graham knows what he is doing. I can’t say that about many other top tier ultra runners competing today. I do hope Graham and I will have the opportunity to coordinate a few training runs at Foresthill next spring. I believe these runs would be mutually beneficial since we can train together in our workouts. Plus, we can each leverage from one another those strengths in (3).

GC: It is obvious from his performances that Erik knows how to peak for Western States. He knows when to push, how hard to push, when to back off and when to taper. I think pretty much everybody, Erik included, can benefit from cross-training, especially cycling. If nothing else, it provides a little variety and reduces the risk of injury. I think a lot about longevity too.

I expect that he’ll come back even stronger next year and be in the mix at Western States in 2009. Until then, our face-off will have to wait.

Thanks for the interview! Hope to see you both on the trails.

- SD

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Skyline to the Sea 50k - California Dreamin'

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining 220 ultrarunners for the sold out Skyline to the Sea 50k in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California. This new race put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs has plenty of beautiful single track through the redwoods of Big Basin State Park before taking a long descent along the waterfalls and sprinting to the ocean. In 50 fast k’s, we would feast on a smorgasbord of California trails from mountains to beach and have the smile line tans on our faces to prove it. Throw in some great weather and fantastic volunteers, and the day was nothing short of magical.

At 8:00am, the buses arrived at the start and spilled out eager ultrarunners to the foggy starting line. Over 1/3 of the crowd were running their first ultra, and we gave them a big cheer as we lined up at the start. I was deeply inspired to see that many first-timers strapping on the water bottles and going for it. Once you do a few ultras you know what you’re in for, but that first one requires a serious sense of adventure (and temporary lapse of judgment). I couldn’t be more proud of them for toeing the line!

(Gathering at the foggy start)

(RD Wendell Doman gives instructions)

(Newlyweds Kevin and Elizabeth Weil get a hug in before the race starts)

(Lon Freeman is ready to lead us off)

I was feeling frisky today, so I lined up near the start with a bunch of runners who were waaay out of my league. I joined Lon Freeman (2007 Miwok 100k winner), Leor Pantilat (Stanford star whom I don’t think has ever run a 50k over 4 hours), Gary Gellin (masters superstar), Kevin Weil (fresh off his honeymoon), Ray Sanchez (who was sub-24 at the Angeles Crest 100 last weekend, and will be running the Rio del Lago 100 next weekend as well), and some other fabulously fit runners. I speculated with co-RD Sarah Doman that we would certainly have a handful of sub-4 hour finishes with this pack of cheetahs. At 9am, we were off!

We plunged down single track right out of the gate, and Lon and Leor set a blistering pace up front. I thought this would be a great duel, since Lon is the master of hills, but Leor’s track speed would give him the edge on the straight stuff. Within a mile, they were long gone. I cruised along with Ray Sanchez and Dan Barger at a comfortable but fast pace. At a fork in the road, I saw ribbons in two directions and chose the wrong one, but a construction guy quickly got me back on track (and took down the ribbon). Thank goodness for nice neighbors!

The soft single track was wonderful, oscillating between fast straightaways and tight root-filled zig zags. Thanks to the net descent of 2,500 feet, there really was a downhill around every corner. The tall redwoods showered me in exquisite silence, and each step took me deeper and deeper into a magical place where whispers and shadows come to play together. This was certainly sacred ground, and I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the trail as I gazed deep into the endless forest at every turn.

(Former XTERRA champ Tim Johnston takes on the single track)

No surprise, it was right about then I took my first digger (four total today) by stepping off the side of the trail and into a grove of ferns. Gotta pay attention! It was a soft landing though, so aside from a mouthful of dirt (from being agape, perhaps?) I was fine. I got back on the trail, and soon found myself at the first aid station (10k) where they topped off my water bottles and sent me off with a smile.

(The trail draws you deeper into the forest at every turn)

The forest pixies figured out that if I would fall that easily, they could seriously mess with me with over the next few miles. They teased me at every turn – a branch grabbed my hat and pulled it up above my reach (which was pretty funny in retrospect), a bush stripped away my water bottle like an NFL linebacker, and I ate a spider and her entire day’s meal in one generously inhaled web. Darn those pixies! Cut me some slack and go pick on Lon and Leor. ;-)

(Dwight Morejohn and I exchange photos)

I climbed up to the China Grade aid station (mile 11), and Aaron Doman let me know that I was in about 9th place or so, with a front pack of four way out front and rest of us within a few minutes. It was good to know, but I figured it wasn’t worth counting places until after the steep climb (mile 15). I refilled my water bottles again, and headed down a trail that took us out of the redwoods and along some Manzanita-filled bedrock trails. The sun tore through the clouds to give a little boost.

(Dan O'Farrell tackles the climbs)

The bedrock was a lot of fun, with steps carved into the steeper sections. Unfortunately I missed a set of steps when I came over the top too quickly and landed on all fours, my water bottles spewing streams into the sky like the fountains at Bellagio in Las Vegas. Better than falling on my hands! I stood up and took inventory, and my camera was gone (it had come out of the water bottle pocket). Now most would have probably left it, but darn it, there were already some good pictures in there! I spent the next eight minutes scouring the hillside and finally found it down in the brush (where the pixies hid it, I’m sure). As I got back on the trail, Joel Shoffner from San Jose, CA, came by and made sure I was alright. We ran together for a while, saying little more than the “oohs” and “ahhs” required by the gorgeous redwoods.

(Crossing the bedrock)

(Plenty of long stretches to pick up speed)

(Coming into the Gazos Creek aid station; photo courtesy of Will Gotthardt)

The final stretch into the Gazos Creek aid station (mile 14) was super fast, and Joel gapped me as the volunteers filled me up for the big climb. I sped up to catch up to Joel, knowing that he would keep my pace honest. We jogged up a short section of road before tackling the steep single track to the exposed road on the ridge.

(Climbing up the steep loop)

(Keeping on Joel's tail)

Joel didn’t slow down for a second, grinding right to the top and pulling me with him. He saved enough to charge the downhill and was soon out of sight.

The bottom of this loop shared the same fast section coming into the Gazos Creek aid station, which allowed me to catch up with Beatrice Song and a few others. They let me know that bees had been a problem, with a few runners getting stung a dozen times or more. Yikes! I think I would rather have the trail pixies.

(Bee pandamonium! Photo courtesy of Dwight Morejohn)

(Back into the lush canopy)

The Gazos Creek aid station (mile 19) loaded me up in a NASCAR-like 5 seconds, and I went chasing after Joel again. This section of the course was one I knew well, so I hunkered down and ran the last big climb to the ridge in hopes to catch site of Joel. No luck – he must be hauling ass. I reached the top, took a short bio break, and headed down the Skyline to the Sea trail towards Berryessa Falls.

(Warning! It's gonna get steep...)

This section of the course was absolutely mesmerizing. The redwood canopy burst with long sunstreaks slicing across an endless forest. It reminded me of the ancient Celtic tradition of “thin places”, those mystical places on the earth that blend the worlds of spirit and matter, and humans can fully experience the divine. I tipped my hat to the Doman’s for a perfect course design – this glorious section came at mile 22, just when my ego has been beaten to a pancake, my senses are wide open, and the pain would sear in the memory for good.

I thought I was moving fast, but Rick Gaston soon went by in a flash of red, humming along with his iPod and his trademark ear-to-ear smile. How does he do that? I reached for my camera, but with one or two big leaps he disappeared into the gulch. Amazing! The last section of the descent was pretty technical, with lots of steps and distracting views of the near-dry waterfall. At the last wooden bridge, I slipped and took fall #3 which resembled a swan dive into a pool with no water. Nice! I checked under the bridge for trolls…nope…this one was all me. I laughed it off, pulled the moss out of my hair and mouth (tasty, and probably nutritious in some macrobiotic way) and my wrists thanking me again for the dual water bottles. Soon the benefit of the fall caught up to me – that adrenaline rush – and I was able to pick up the pace as the course opened up onto fire trails.

About a mile in, I reeled in Joel. He was still doing great, particularly given the fact that he wasn’t carrying any water bottles. Another half mile later, I caught Rick coming up a short set of switchbacks. He joked that he had a feeling some road marathoners might catch him on the flat stuff. I did get him in sight, but every section of downhill allowed him to gain a few more yards. We came into the last aid station (mile 29) together, where Kevin Weil was nursing cramps. I filled my water bottle and headed off the trail ahead of Rick.

(Where are you, Daddy?)

The last two miles were sunny, long fire roads with the fresh breeze of ocean air beckoning us to the finish. On the long stretches, I looked back for Rick, but never saw him. I turned into the last 500 yards of single track, and caught a toe for digger #4. My cheeks went red in anticipation of the laughter from the finish line spectators, but lucky for me the thicket offered plenty of protection. I heard the familiar voice of Sophie saying “Go, Daddy, Go!” and jumped back up to finish in 7th place (4:24:10). Rick finished about 30 seconds behind me, and Joel just a few minutes after that.

(Me and Rick, who gets faster with every race! I'm sporting the awesome race shirt)

(Paul Taylor clocks a sub-5 finish in 4:53)

We grabbed some refreshments and caught up with the winners. Leor had set the pace off the front, building a gap of 2-3 minutes for most of the race before Lon charged the hills and caught him around mile 25. They worked together to reach the finish in 3:38:33, setting a solid course record for this new race (and two new PR’s!). Chris Ratliff (3rd, 3:49:10) and Gary Gellin (4th, 1st Masters, 3:52:23, his first ultra) also finished under four hours, soon followed by Tim Johnston (5th, 4:12:34) and Dan Barger (6th, 4:15:09). Kelly Cronin, all the way from Yosemite Valley, won the Women’s division in 4:37:45 (13th overall), with Cari Martin (4:54:26, 20th) and PCTrails Series leader Juliet Morgan (4:59:49, 23rd) completing the podium. All in all, 178 found the finish line in the warm afternoon sun (results here), with plenty of time to enjoy snacks, chili, and soup.

(Women's winner Kelly Cronin enjoys a brew at the finish)

I enjoyed a beer and inhaled the salty sea air, sitting with Sophie and Rick (both enjoying milk) while four-legged spectator Wookie the 9-week old Mastiff puppy helped rid me of excess salt. I didn’t want to leave the finish area in fear that the glorious day would begin to fade too soon. But as we all know, experiences like this become a part of us, and in doing so cannot be forgotten. Remember that day when we stood on top of a mountain and ran all the way to the ocean’s edge? Yes, yes. Like it was yesterday.

(Hangin' with my crew in the shade)

(Wookie makes the rounds)

My thanks to the Doman’s and their fabulous volunteers for putting on a fantastic race. This new course is “must” in my book, and I am already looking to the rumored 100k version for next year.

- SD

(Watching the wave at Pigeon Point after the race)

[Gear role call - Inov-8 320 shoes, Inov-8 debris gaiters, Sugoi XPosure shirt, Sugoi 42k shorts, Nathan shoulder harness and water bottle holsters, Nuun water bottles and tablets, S! Caps, Vespa energy supplement, and Firestone Pale Ale. ]

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ultramarathoners to hit the hills in Hell (Detroit Free Press)

Heather Newman of the Detroit Free Press wrote a great article about ultrarunning for the local Dances with Dirt 50m/50k in Hell, MI last weekend. It features four profiles of runners who used ultras to come back from health issues and get a new perspective on life. A few of my favorite quotes:
"Because the events are a little smaller, you get to know people better," he said. "It's a whole 'nuther world. It's not about winning the race. You show up at an ultra, and people are laughing and patting each other on the back. You're taking a journey together."

And it's not just the events that keep her running. The long training days, timed around her job as a third and fourth-grade math and science teacher at Daycroft Montessori in Ann Arbor, Mich., keep her mind clear, too. "I use the parks as my Zen, my mental playground," she said. "I give my cares over to the world. It's entrancing when you get into the woods. You lose the moments. You lose the time. You're just out there."

"I think about everything. What my life is, and why I'm doing what I'm doing. Things kind of evaporate, and you're left with just the things that matter to you. You get very, very focused on just one thing at a time," Bourque said. "You have to pick and choose things to dream about at the finish line. I think about the kids with wheelchairs, and diseases and I just keep pushing myself for those that can't. I'm truly grateful to have a fully functioning body, and I want to push it as far as I can."
You can read the full article here.

BTW, the costumes for the Dances with Dirt Team competition are AWESOME. Check out the video below.

- SD

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hal Koerner, Prudence L-Heureux Win 2008 Angeles Crest 100

Oregonians dominated the Angeles Crest 100 this year, with Hal Koerner (18:29) and Prudence L'Heureux (22:13) taking top honors. Ultrarunning Online had the following recap:

Hal Koerner of Ashland, Oregon won the 21st annual Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run, which finished here today. Koerner, who also won here in 2006, ran with three-time winner Jorge Pacheco of Los Angeles for much of the first 40 miles before forging a small lead. By Chilao, at mile 52.8, Koerner had established a 15-minute lead, and slowly extended that over the next several checkpoints. Pacheco dropped out at Chantry Flats, mile 74.9. Troy Howard of Walnut Creek, California finished second, and Justin Angle of Seattle was third. Koerner's time was the second fastest ever recorded, behind only Jim O'Brien's 1989 course record 17:35:48.

Prudence L'Heureux of Bend, Oregon was the women's winner. She took the lead by Islip Saddle (mile 25.9) and led the rest of the way. Ashley Nordell of nearby Mt. Baldy, California was second. L'Heureux's time is only 13 minutes outside Suzanna Bon's 2007 course record and is the third fastest women's performance in race history.

The 100.53-mile-long race starts in the high desert town of Wrightwood and follow rugged hiking trails across the San Gabriel Mountains, finishing in Pasadena. There is a cumulative 21,000 vertical feet of climbing and 26,000 vertical feet of descent. The highest point on the course is Mt. Baden-Powell at 9399 feet above sea level.

1. Hal Koerner, 32, Ashland, OR, 18:29:26
2. Troy Howard, 35, Walnut Creek, CA, 19:25:04
3. Justin Angle, 34, Seattle, WA, 20:08:03
4. Osbaldo Nava Lopez, 36, Madera, CA, 20:39:50
5. Rod Bien, 46, Bend, OR, 21:14:16

1. Prudence L'Heureux, 38, Bend, OR, 22:13:10
2. Ashley Nordell, 28, Mt. Baldy, CA, 22:55:45
3. Jannifer Heiner, 29, Pasadena, CA, 26:46:07
4. Tamara Johnson, 43, Pleasant Hill, CA, 28:28:28
5. Linda Dewees, 51, Inyokern, CA, 29:10:09

You can see the full list at the live results page (they started at 5am). Nice work, everyone!

- SD

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hot, Hot Fun at the Redwood Park 50k

“Well it’s a hot one
Like seven inches from the midday sun”

- Carlos Santana/Matchbox 20

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining 250 trail runners for the scorching hot Redwood Park 10k/20k/30/50k put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs in Oakland, CA. This multi-loop course through the Redwood Regional Park (4,500 feet of gain) would be challenging in any weather conditions, but throw in some 100+ degree heat, and it would be guaranteed suffering for all. The good kind of suffering, that is. ;-)

(The sun cooks the mountain right where we will be running!)

That “good kind of suffering” was exactly what I was hoping for. My work/life balance has been leaning to the work side lately and the 15-hour days were weighing on my soul. Imagine a see-saw with a gleeful child on one side (life), and an angry 600 lb gorilla on the other (work)…not much seeing or sawing going on, that’s for sure. When it gets like this, I turn to Mother Nature for remedy. Just sign up for a long run or race, and she will usually dish out just the prescription I need. Sometimes hours of quiet introspection, sometimes a tour of distracting beauty, and when the time calls, a good old fashion beating that gets my perspective back in line.

It was already 80 degrees by 8am, so today was definitely going to be a beating in the form of heat and hills. Runners at the start were shellacking themselves in sunscreen, putting ice in their water bottles, and sharing tips for staying cool. The course consisted of two loops, one 20k and one 10k (the 50k would do the 20k loop a second time), and the first loop had a lot of exposed sections along the ridge. Most of the locals had the same advice – drink as much as you can, and take advantage of any spigot you see. I still haven’t nailed my heat strategy (but do we ever?), but felt comfortable I could get through it if I paced well.

I saw the familiar faces of some very fast ultrarunners at the starting line, but soon found out that many of them weren’t there to race. Troy Howard was just putting in a quick 10k before the Angeles Crest 100 next weekend (along with a few others), Kevin Swisher was out on a solo 50-miler before getting married next weekend (congrats, Kevin!), and Graham Cooper was heat-training to get ready for Ironman Kona in five weeks (he qualified with a smoking 9:35 at Ironman Canada this year). Suddenly I didn’t feel so tough running a 50k. ;-)

(Larry McDaris, Luciano Zanardo, and Scott Harrison at the start)

At 8:35am, RD’s Wendell and Sarah Doman sent us off into the hills. The 20k and 50k runners started together, and we filled the fire road with dust as we charged up the first big climb of the day. I paced along with 21-year old David Jordan, who was tackling his third ultra and looking really strong. His stars and stripes bandanna made it easy to pick him out of the crowd as we crested the climb and weaved through mountain bikers, hikers, and plenty of off-leash dogs…so great to see so many people out enjoying the park!

The 20k runners took off in a sprint when the fire road flattened out for about a mile, and we all had some space to move about and tackle the bedrock and sand trail. A descent into the redwoods at mile 3 gave us some shade and led us to the steepest climb of the day back to the ridge. David bolted right up, but I slowed to a walk. I climbed along with Caitlin Smith from Oakland, CA, who was leading the women in the 20k race by about a minute. She set a great pace to get us up the climb and we broke into a fast run once we reached the ridge, trading off the pacing duties all the way to the aid station (mile 6). Caitlin has had a great streak of Half Marathon trail wins, and I did my best to convince her that her efficient running style and cross-training as a doula (ie, sleep deprivation and thinking on your feet) were just the kind of ingredients for a stellar ultrarunner. But as the temperature pushed to the high 90’s on the long ridge run back to base camp, I began to wonder if the 20k was the right call. We caught up with David again, and together paced down the single track to the final stretch back.

(Caitlin leads us up the climb)

I came into the aid station (mile 13) with empty water bottles and a desperate need for a sponge bath, and the awesome volunteers were happy to oblige. David Jordan and Graham Cooper (despite his head-to-toe black heat training outfit) came in right behind me. When David took a longer stop to fill his Camelpak, I figured this was the best time to break out and try and put some distance on he and Graham. The 10k loop had some steep sections, but at least most of it was safe from the sun (my kryptonite). Plus this strategy had the added advantage of going fast while I still felt good. ;-)

(Still smiling coming into the aid station)

I cranked up the tunes (Bob Marley Remixes, Beck, and The Allman Brothers), and got my climbing groove on. When the heat slowed me down, I just repeated a Norman Mailer quote – “In motion, a man has a chance.” Keep moving forward and we will find the finish. After one laughably steep push to the peak, I turned around and charged down the hill with all I had. I looked behind me on the long sections and saw nobody. When I got the bottom of the hill, I polished off the water bottles and loosened up my stride. The aid station should be right around the corner.

(Lush single track up the 10k loop)

Much to my surprise, I ran into a lot of 30k runners. But something wasn’t quite right – these folks were going much slower than I was. Shouldn’t they be putting in their final kick right now? Then the course started to look really familiar. Didn’t I just do this section? Uh, oh. Stop. Pull out the map. CRAP! I made a wrong turn at the bottom of the loop and I’m heading up the 10k loop again. Less than a half mile off course, but it still is frustrating. I ran back with that furiously fast pace that only appears when you know there’s only one person to blame for those extra miles.

It didn’t take long to pass the clearly marked section I missed and reach the aid station, and they said I was still in first place I arrived. But just as I reapplied sunscreen and chugged a Vespa, Graham Cooper came around the corner. He was still the Time Bomb (black shoes, black hat, Cadillac, yeah…the boy’s a Time Bomb). Man, how does he do that?!? I’m dying in the heat, and he’s cruising around in black wool. That guy just loves to suffer.

We headed into the last 20k loop, walking the first long climb. I tried to push the pace at the top, but anything over a 10 min/mile cooked my core temp a dizzying aura of heat waves. Soon enough, Graham’s slow and steady pace caught me just before the steep climb. He just smiled as he went by and joked that he needed to finish soon to make it to his sons 1:30pm soccer game. That is easily the best excuse I have ever heard for passing someone. ;-)

(Graham Cooper in his heat training suit)

Graham gapped me about 30 seconds on the super-steep climb, but I kept him in sight along the ridge jumping from shade to shade like a wildebeest. I saw some mountain bikers filling up at a spigot, and they were kind enough to let me jump in for a quick fill up. I so desperately wanted to cool down I got on my hands and knees and let the water run over my head. It may have been socially awkward, but it felt AWESOME. Reborn by the campground baptism , my body said “run fast” and turn on the air conditioning that comes with water evaporating on your skin. So I ran! I now know what the locals meant by “taking advantage of every spigot”.

I ran everything from here out, hoping to catch site of Graham (or another spigot). I found the aid station (mile 25), and they told me Graham had been there a few minutes earlier and dropped from the race so he could take a shortcut back and make the soccer game. Good news is you’re in first place, bad news is you just got schooled by a guy in a heat suit. ;-)

(Views from the ridge)

A few mountain bikers coming the other way warned me that the temperature was over 105 degrees, and the bedrock was hot enough to scramble eggs. I drank everything I could get my hands on while the volunteers packed my water bottles with ice, then headed into Hades for a long, slow crawl on the ridge trail. Those mountain bikers were right – the heat was coming up from the trail, and my feet felt like two big hot spots. Just get through it, I thought. A man in motion has a chance.

By the time I reached the single track back down (mile 29), my bottles were bone dry and my legs were twitching with pre-cramp spasms. But I took it easy with a few small walk breaks, and soon found myself crossing the finish line in 4:57:06. That’s good enough for first place today, so I got the coveted coffee mug! I was soon joined by Ray Sanchez, David Jordan, Glenn de Claro (in his first ultra), and Darryl Haber who all finished close together around 5:33, and Clare Abram who won the Women’s Division in 5:40. The shorter course runners did very well too - Gary Gellin (2:19) and Holly Tate (2:59) won the 30k, Larry McDaris (1:27) and Caitlin Smith (1:37) won the 20k, and Jeremy Yandell (38:54) and Robin Quarrier (54:23) won the 10k. Given the heat, I think everyone who found the finish line deserves serious kudos.

(Robert Johnston, Glenn de Claro, and Darryl Haber rest in the shade at the finish)

My prescription was filled, and the heat seared my work/life balance right back into check. Once again, the perfect remedy. Thank you Wendell, Sarah, and Aaron Doman, and your fabulous volunteers for braving the heat and putting on a great race. I’ll see ya at the next one!

- SD

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Reminder to 2008 Western States Entrants

For those of you who entered the 2008 Western States Endurance Run and wanted to have your entry applied to 2009, don't forget about the upcoming e-mail on September 15th. Here is a snippet from the official entry page:

2008 Automatic Entrant protocol:

  1. All entrants on the Official 2008 Entrant List will be given automatic entry into the 2009 Run. (Each such entrant must complete the 2009 application, pay the entry fee and complete eight hours of volunteer service.)
  2. On September 15, 2008, each Official 2008 Entrant will be contacted by E-mail and provided with a link to a confirmation page on the website. The page will ask you to enter your email address and confirm that you would like to run in 2009 or to decline participation.
  3. If you are on the 2008 Entrant List but your E-mail address has changed, please contact the Race Director immediately at For security reasons, your confirmation must match the E-mail address on file or it will not be processed.
  4. On the confirmation page, if you select "Yes, I wish to enter the 2009 Event" and provide your correct Email Address, you will receive a page containing a private link to the 2009 entry form at You should then complete the online entry form immediately.
  5. If you select "No, I do NOT wish to enter" and provide your correct Email Address, you will be removed from the eligibility list. Your response will be irrevocable.
  6. You will have until midnight, September 30, 2008, to make your confirmation and complete the application form. If you do not respond by the deadline, you will be deemed to have chosen "NO, I do not wish to enter" and will be dropped from the eligibility list.
Got it? Good! Would hate to see you lose a slot over an e-mail error.

- SD

BTW, I'm doing some test stuff for work to try and figure out a Google indexing issue. Pay no attention to the below links (unless you are in the mood to shop one of these malls, in which case go nuts):

Sun Valley Mall, Concord, CA
Rosedale Mall, Roseville, MN
Southtown Mall, Bloomington, MN
Paradise Valley Mall, Phoenix, AZ
Arizona Mills, Tempe, AZ
Arden Fair Mall, Sacramento, CA
Deerbrooke, Humble, TX
Ford City, Chicago, IL
Galleria at Sunset, Henderson, NV
Great Mall of the Bay Area, Milpitas, CA
Matteson, Matteson, IL
Memorial City Mall, Houston, TX
Mesa Mall, Grand Junction, CO
Metrocenter Mall, Phoenix, AZ
North Riverside Park, North Riverside, IL
Orland Square, Orland Park, IL
Paradise Valley Mall, Phoenix, AZ
River Oaks, Calumet City, IL
The Galleria, Houston, TX
Valley West Mall, West Des Moines, IA

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Drool-Proof Jacket

One of the many benefits of my Team Inov-8 Jacket by's drool-proof!

This is Sophie crashed out around lunch after a very busy second birthday on Monday. This year she knew it was all about her and had a great time! Happy birthday, sweetie! More on her blog.

- SD