Monday, March 30, 2009

200 Take On Their First 50-Miler at AR50 This Saturday

Race Director Julie Fingar sent out the race-prep e-mail for the American River 50-miler this weekend. 650 runners (all-time high) with 200 first-time 50-mile runners. The sport is growing!

I love that Gloria Takagishi (going after finish #30!) will be donning bib #1. Sorry, Skaden...

- SD

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Does It Take to Win Gold In the 90 and Over Age Group at USATF Nationals?

The astounding 93-year-old Leland McPhie could tell you, after picking up gold medals in the high jump, discus, and shot put at the USATF West Region Masters Championships in Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. That's 200+ gold medals for this 1937 collegiate champion.

A fun article on Leland here at the San Diego Times. He sounds like quite a character! I can only hope to be this active when I hit my 90's.

- SD

[props to Brian Sabin for pointing me to this]

Sunday, March 22, 2009

When One Car Accident Changes Everything (aka, Another Reason To Stay On Trails)

Jamie Thompson of The Dallas Morning News writes a chilling story of three runners struck by a car after the Dallas Half Marathon. It's a harrowing recall of the accident, the storm of emotions, and the road back to recovery. Read the full story here.

When I hear about these incidents, I am so thankful to be able to run trails regularly. I might get a few scrapes and bruises, but I never have 3,000 lb steel monsters jumping at me from behind.

- SD

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fast Fun at the Way Too Cool 50k

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of joining 500 runners for the 20th running of the Way Too Cool 50k in Cool, CA. This sold-out race is a favorite for elite and first-time runners alike, and is a great venue to catch up with the ultra gang and kick off the new season. The weather was perfect for running, paving the way for a few Bay Area locals to claim the top prizes for the day. All in all, a well run event and spectacular day on the trails.

I headed up early on Saturday morning, with no goals other than to have a good time and try and beat my time from 2006 (4:36 on a course that was 1.5 miles shorter). It’s easy to sandbag at WTC because (1) it’s so early in the season, and (2) the field is so INSANELY stacked with folks like speed demon Dan Olmstead, 2007 winner Lewis Taylor, Eric Grossman, Karl Meltzer, Eric Skaden, Paul Dewitt, Rod Bien, 2006 winner Phil Kochik, Meghan Arbogast, Bev Anderson-Abbs, Joell Vaught, and Devon Crosby-Helms. Throw in some top notch locals like Victor Ballesteros, Michael Buchanan, Jean Pommier, Mark Lantz, Leor Pantilat, Caitlin Smith, and Caren Spore, and there’s gonna be a show-down for sure. Three other elements would also contribute to a fast pace – the added 1.5 miles to make it an honest 50k for the first time ever, the absence of defending champions Todd Braje and Suzannah Beck, and the fact that this is one of the few races remaining in the Montrail Ultra Cup which is now paying out cash-ola for their grand prizes.

The winter fog rolled in and smeared out the morning sun just as we collected ourselves at the start, cooling the air to a run-perfect 40 degrees. Anyone worried about the chilly air need only reach into their goody bag for frog-designed Moeben sleeves and one of two shirts. I opted for a tank top, sleeves, my Sugoi gloves and handband, and two water bottles; perhaps a little overkill, but always better to be safe. The starter chute was packed with eager runners, with two rows of logo-filled shirts up front. At 8am, Race Director Julie Fingar gave the signal and we were off!

(Sunrise at the start)
(500 runners rarin' to go!)

The added 1.5 miles were all up front, giving us a 2+ mile stretch of downhill paved road to get the blood going before hitting the single track. Craig Thornley and Andy Jones-Wilkins kept a hilarious comic banter going, particularly as we hit the first mile marker in under 7 minutes (AJ said it was “the fastest mile he has run in the last six months”) and second mile marker in 13 minutes and change (“the second fastest mile in the last six months”). We took a short section of single track to a fire road and headed towards the Hwy 49 crossing.

(Craig Thornley keeps us laughing down the first stretch)

(AJ takes us down the fireroads)

(Cruising the speedy trails to Hwy 49)

The trails were wide and fast with a few sections of mud and creeks to keep us honest. By the time we hit the first aid station (mile 6), my legs were splattered and soaked from running so close to others. The mudcake soon dried, shedding away my day-to-day stressors like a molten shell. How simple life can be that all it takes is a morning of romping through the wild to set your soul at ease.

(Perfect weather for running)

I stayed in the tailwind of Brian Wyatt, who expertly pulled me through the technical single track to the bank of the American River. We passed Michael Fink, whom like the Ferrari that he is, was inching down the single track only to explode in speed once he found the flats.

Sean Lang caught up to us as we weaved along the river bank, and Brian and I did our best to stay on his tail. Sean was moving quickly on the flats and smiling ear to ear (per usual), but not so much that he couldn’t chat us up. He was glowing when he talked about how his wife had recently caught the distance running bug and had already graduated from the Big Sur Marathon to the upcoming Skyline to the Sea 50k. The more he talked about her, the faster he went! The indisputable power of love.

(Sean and Jady head down the Western States trail)

We climbed to the Western States trail, and started picking our way through the runners. I could see specs of white and bright colors snaking up the canyon ahead of us, and hear the ongoing slapstick of Craig and AJ behind us (something about a “who can eat the most S! Caps” competition). The sun broke out as we crossed the footbridge, giving us a view of the valley below. I couldn’t help but think this trail was going to feel very different in June at the Western States 100, where I likely would be alone in the dark and whimpering like a baby. ;-)

(Brian Wyatt moving through the lush trails)

The creeks were full, but there were usually ways to get across fairly dry if you didn’t mind slowing to strategize. I slipped on a rock and soaked my left foot, providing a step-squish-step-squish rhythm. I wasn’t sure what the right strategy was for the next creek crossing – lead with the left foot because it’s already wet, or lead with the right to even out the soakage and get a more symmetric squish-squish beat? Fate would soon decide!

We caught Jady Palko, who kicked it up a notch to pace with us all the way to Auburn Lakes (mile 15.7). My watch said 1:58, so we seemed to be right on target Sean’s goal pace for a 4:10-4:15 finish (and I would be slowing, natch). I refilled my bottles while bottle-less Jady went for his “one cup of water for every mile between aid stations” hydration strategy. Sean spent little time at the aid station and sprinted up the hills. I climbed up to the next flat section and caught up to Oregon-speedster Meghan Arbogast and British Columbia’s Nicola Gildersleeve, who were running 4th and 5th in the Women’s race. Both were “quiet” runners in that they wasted almost no energy and seemed to glide along the trail. Meghan was setting the pace for all of us.

(Chris Taylor refuels on his way down the Western States trail)

We crossed the creek, passing Rob Evans (nursing his IT band) and Thomas Reiss (still hacking from the flu). Meghan continued to lead, turning up the pace anytime she found a downhill stretch. I stopped to tie my wet shoelace (again), and that’s the last I saw of Meghan and Nicola. I thought I might catch them at the hill known as Ball Bearing, but I only caught a glimpse of them at the top as I took my first few steps. Soon I was being caught by Brian Wyatt and a few other runners who were vaulting up the hill much faster than my speed-hike. I drained the last of my water bottles and ate another pack of Jelly Belly’s (one pack or gel every 30 minutes). We all approached the aid station (mile 21), where Brian cramped just as he reached out to get some salt and water. I guess if you’re going to cramp, that’s the place to do it!

(On your right!)

(Movin' fast on the Western States trail)

The next few miles had some shared single track where we got to see the smiling faces of runners coming the other way. I wanted to tell them how much fun lay ahead, but they would experience it soon enough! I fired off about 50 pictures, then tucked it away to squish-squish my way down the open trail (yes, I had inadvertently plunked my right foot into a creek).

(Angela del Ponte slows for no one)

Jon Kroll and Jed Tukman came up behind me right near the footbridge, and we all refueled before tackling the wicked-steep Goat Hill. Jon and Jed were moving faster, so I stepped aside. I arrived at the aid station (mile 26), took an extra few seconds to say Happy Birthday to Norm Klein, emptied my pockets of all but one gel, and set my sites on catching Jon.

(Jon and Jed tackle Goat Hill with me)

I ate the gel about a mile later, but puked it up within five seconds. It seemed weird to vomit since I wasn’t feeling ill at all. In fact, the race was going quite smoothly. I guess my body was just letting me know that the gel-limit had been reached at mile 28, so get rid of it. ;-) I kept seeing Jon a few steps ahead, but he was charging the uphills. When I crossed Hwy 49 (mile 29.5), Jon had a minute on me and showed no signs of slowing.

(Jed leads Jon up a runnable section of Goat Hill)

As I got one last refill of water, Brian Wyatt came in behind me doing a cramp-avoiding modified stride, and together with Andrew Anglemeyer we headed up the last climb. There was a line of runners behind us, but short of a speedy Graham Cooper, we kept moving fast enough to keep them at bay. I finished in 4:28, good enough for 47th place. Certainly faster than 2006, but barely cracking the top 50. I felt great though – could have easily done another 20 miles. I bitch a lot about that treadmill, but the base miles are certainly doing me some good.

(The party at the finish!)

(Booths, demos, this an ultra?)

The finish area was a party in progress, and I was happy to join in for some food, massage, and frog-faced cupcakes. I had a chance to catch up with both winners and hear how their races went. Leor Pantilat had stuck with a front group of four, taking the lead from Eric Grossman at Brown’s Bar and holding the lead to the finish in 3:39:51. He had spotted Dan Olmstead at Ball Bearing, but knew he was up by a few minutes. Leor jokingly said that his recent layoff from a law firm was the reason he did so well, but I’ve seen him clock a few sub-3:40’s on hilly courses now (Skyline to the Sea 50k, Skyline Ridge 50k, Woodside 50k, etc.) so it’s no fluke. Dan Olmstead finished second (3:42:59), just ahead of newcomer Benjamin Berkowitz (3:45:29), Eric Grossman (3:51:02, 1st Masters), and Victor Ballesteros (3:51:11). Eleven runners made it under 4 hours (results). Caitlin Smith, in only her second ultra, stuck close to Bev Abbs before making a break just after Goat Hill and hammering to the finish in 4:12:20. Bev finished 2nd (1st Women’s Master) in 4:17:15, with Joelle Vaught (4:19:41), Nicola Gildersleeve (4:21:50). Meghan Arbogast (4:23:05), and Devon Crosby-Helms (4:25:08) all coming in under four and a half hours. More details at the Sacramento Bee and Auburn Journal. A great day for La Sportiva (who sponsor both winners), and for our local runners Leor and Caitlin!

(Women's champion Caitlin Smith)

(Women's age group winners Meghan Arbogast, Devon Crosby-Helms, Joelle Vaught, Bev Abbs, and Nicola Gildersleeve at the finish)

(What do you do with a PA/USATF Ultrarunner of the Year trophy?
Eric Skaden says it makes a perfect beer stein!)

(Winner Leor Pantilat enjoys some post-race snacks)

The sun finally cut through the clouds as the finishers came rolling in and found friends, family, food and the occasional beer. Most of us were talking about Western States, and I found it interesting that both of the winners today weren’t getting caught up in it at all (despite winning a slot). Leor would gladly trade it in for a slot at AR50. It was also clear that layoffs were another frequent topic, but that most had used it as an excuse to get in more trail time. I have a lot of respect for folks who can keep their priorities straight like that, but then again, ultrarunners are known for being able to tackle adversity and keep moving forward.

Julie Fingar and her volunteers did an amazing job and are to be commended for making this big race go off without a hitch. I had a great time, and it appears everything is on track for training this season. It was good to see everyone!

- SD

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Todd Braje Joins The All-Time American Top 50-milers (An Interview)

32-year-old Todd Braje has risen quickly in the world of ultrarunning. Now thanks to his 5:30 finish at the Jed Smith 50-mile, has gone right to the ranks of the Top 50 American 50-mile performances of all time. Rumors that this 2:26 marathoner was tearing up the trails began in 2007, when he was finishing his PhD at the University of Oregon and breaking records on local 50k courses. In 2008, he won the Way Too Cool 50k in 3:32, cementing his status as one of the top ultrarunners in the country. He has now relocated to McKinleyville, CA, to teach anthropology, but shows no signs of slowing with a 5:49 at the windy 2008 Helen Klein 50-mile and his record-setting run at Jed Smith.

(Todd Braje on his way to a 5:30 finish at the 2009 Jed Smith 50-miler)

I caught up with Todd over e-mail to see what's up next.

1) First, congratulations on your finish at Jed Smith! You looked great out there. Was 5:30 your goal?

Thanks, Scott. It ended up being the perfect day to run fast. The race was exceptionally well organized and having lots of runners on the course helped to keep me motivated. A friend also sacrificed his morning to come out and crew for me, which was a huge help. Going into the race, the goal was to go after the sub-5:40 US 100k World Cup team standard. The four weeks before the race I was dealing with some injury problems, I missed some long runs, and I spent a week in the field doing some archaeology research and very little running. So I wasn’t feeling very confident on the starting line, but was hoping for the best. I wanted to give myself the chance to run fast so the plan was to run 6:30s from the gun and see how it felt. I feel like I’m still learning how to run ultras – what’s too fast or too slow at the various distances – and fortunately it worked out this time.

2) How did you get so fast? Have you always been a runner?

I’ve been a runner since eighth grade when I began running a two mile Saturday cross country race once a week, with no training in between. I only started to do that after my older brother went out for the high school cross country team. Being from Indiana, I wanted to be a basketball player in the worst way, but I was only 5’3 and a buck ten (soaking wet) as a freshman. I had some success on the cross country and track teams my first few years of high school, made some friends, and decided to stick with it. From there I competed at a small D3 school in Wisconsin, Beloit College, and for various club teams after school.

Through my entire running career, I’ve never felt that I was very fast. I never qualified for the state meet in high school, I never qualified for nationals in college, and I was never the fastest guy on my club team. When I moved to Eugene in 2003, I joined Team Eugene, a now defunct elite club team coached by ultrarunner Matt Lonergan (husband and coach to two-time Olympian Marla Runyan). I was always getting destroyed in workouts with the team. I think what keep me going through high school and beyond as this belief that if I worked a little harder, I would accomplish some of these goals, win state titles, qualify for national races, etc. I finally figured out, however, that I needed to enjoy the process and not worry about the results. I enjoy running fast and having success at races, but more important are the daily training runs that keep me balanced and happy.

I also have a daily reminder that fast is relative in my wife (Sopagna Eap). She is the fast runner in the family. She’s a 2:40 marathoner, finished 22nd at the 2008 US Olympic marathon trails, and flies around the country to different marathons and US championship road races. Plus, she just finished her PhD in psychology. She’s exceptionally talented and hardworking and I am just trying to keep up with her!

3) I know you've earned a slot for Western States this year. Is that on the schedule? What else will you be tackling?

Western States is on the schedule for this year, however, it is only eight days after the 100k World Cup. If I’m selected for the World Cup team, I might put Western States on hold for a year and try to get another Montrail Cup qualifier for 2010. I honestly have no idea whether or not I’ll be selected. From what I understand, the committee takes individuals with 100k qualifiers before they consider any 50 mile qualifiers, regardless of the relative strength of the performances. There are a number of people with the 100k time, so it’s possible that I will not be selected. Also, there are some solid 50 mile times that were run on courses that are much more difficult than Jed Smith, so it might depend on how the committee ranks these performances.

After June, I’m considering the Where’s Waldo 100k. Other than that, I usually play it by ear and try to get to races that were recommended by friends or if I’m invited. I’m always excited to run new courses and try out new races.

(Todd tackles the McDonald Forest 50k)

4) What draws you to ultrarunning? Do you like the trails or the road best?

I’ve always enjoyed running on trails more than the roads or track. I also think that my talents lie in the distances from the marathon to 50 miles; I’m still trying to figure out the 100-miler. I certainly prefer running on trails, but I would much rather run a non-technical trail where you can get in a groove. Overall, I enjoy ultrarunning’s more relaxed, friendly, less crowded atmosphere. Our sport places more emphasis on individual accomplishment and improvement rather than wins and losses. Certainly this is not true across the board and there are exceptions. But, I try hard to keep my running and ultramarathoning in perspective, if you could make a living doing this sport I would not be winning races. I enjoy running along beautiful trails, going for a run with my wife, and relaxing after a race and meeting people.

5) How is training in McKinleyville vs Eugene, the track capital?

The Eureka/Arcata/McKinleyville area has some nice trails and low-key road races. Right out my office door is a beautiful, hilly 10 mile loop through a second growth redwood forest. I have enjoyed my first seven months here, but it’s impossible to compare any city to Eugene for running. I absolutely loved Eugene, the trails, the atmosphere, the weather, it’s hard to beat. I especially miss all the great training partners I had in Eugene, I rarely went three or four days without running with someone – this made long runs and workouts much more enjoyable. I also learned a lot about utlramarathons and trail racing from Craig Thornley and the other ultrarunners in town.

6) Can you tell us a bit about your training? What does a typical week look like?

My weeks vary considerably depending on the time of the year, the type of race I’m training for, and how my body is feeling. But when I’m focused on a build up for a big race and I’m in the heart of my training cycle, I typically run between 90-110 miles in singles, alternating between two workouts and a long run and one workout and back-to-back long runs. Since I have been focused on 50ks and 50 milers, I keep my long runs under 35 miles. I’ve learned the hard way (seven stress fractures in my right and left tibias) that I would rather be cautious and make it to the starting line. I try to adjust my goals, workouts, and long runs based on how I’m feeling. This sounds like it should be easy but, as we all know, it’s a fine line between not pushing yourself hard enough and pushing too hard.

7) What do you think is your most important workout?

I try not to get too excited or disappointed about any one workout. When I ran my marathon PR, I never ran a tempo run 10 miles or longer faster than 5:40 pace but ended up running 5:36 pace in the marathon. I focus on the cumulative effects of solid mileage and workouts, and trust that my workouts are not a good indicator of fitness because my body’s fatigued from training. If I can put together a 12 week build up of three high weeks, one low week, I am usually pretty confident going into a race, no matter my workout splits. Because of this, I rarely (anymore) run on the track or along a measured route. I try to do the workout that my body will allow on any given day and I always try to leave feeling like I could have finished one more repeat or another mile of the tempo run. That said, I do have a trail loop that I think is about a mile. I like to do an 8 x 1 mile with 60 seconds rest or a 3 x 3 mile with 3 minutes rest a few weeks before a big race. I also try to get in a series of tempo runs of 8, 10, 12, and 15 miles.

8) Any favorite foods/drinks/gels/gear?

During races and training, I’ve tended to stick with gels. That will change when I run more 100s, but I’ve had some success with Roctane GU, which Greg Soderlund introduced me to during last year’s Western States training camp. A friend also introduced me to Vitargo, an energy drink, which seems to work well. As for gear, I never race or do a long run without a pair of Moeben sleeves. Hot or cold weather, they’ve been great and each pocket holds up to two gels.

(Todd running in the shadows of the McKenzie River 50k)

9) What tips would you give other track/road speed demons getting into ultras?

I would say go for it, but be patient. It takes a couple of 50 mile or 100k races before your body adapts to the distance. I imagine the same can be said for 100s. Also, get some advice on how to approach an ultra both in training and in a race. Moving over to the trails and to the ultra distances requires that you let some things go – like the importance of mile splits, not pausing at aid stations, and never walking.

10) Where will we see you running next?

I just finished the Old Pueblo 50 miler in Sonoita, AZ. It was a beautiful race and a wonderful event. I was happy with my race, but missed a turn and added about 2.5 miles to the course right before the half way mark. It was disappointing to miss out on the course record, which, I think, would have fallen if not for the detour. Nevertheless, I was happy that I composed myself and battled my way back. It was a nice learning experience, especially since so much of ultras are mental, and my metal state was severely deteriorated after I realized I was lost and no longer in front.

Right now, my body is pretty beat up so the plan is to rest and recover for a couple of weeks, after which I should know whether I am running the World Cup 100k or Western States. Either way, I’ll gear my training for one of these events. I may run a local 50k in April or May, but the plan is to go into one of these races as healthy and fit as possible. Both races should be exciting and very competitive.

Thanks, and best of luck!

- SD

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Epic Story of Jason McElwain

Perhaps y'all have seen this video from 2006 about Jason McElwain, an autistic kid who got a shot to play one game for his high school basketball team and KILLED IT. It's quite the heart-warmer.

I hope everyone is enjoying a little extra afternoon sunlight on the trails thanks to daylight savings. I got a 12-miler in on the Grizzly Flat Trail in Stevens Creek Park, which was wonderful. Looks like I'm ready to roll for Way Too Cool on Sat. Looking forward to seeing everyone!

- SD

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sharing My Backyard at the Woodside Half Marathon

Sometimes you find races, and sometimes they find you. Yesterday I headed out for a long run (w/cruise intervals) in Huddart Park and saw the familiar pattern of ribbons marking the trail near my driveway. There must be a race! I followed the ribbons down to the start of the 19th running of the Envirosports Woodside Half Marathon and 5-mile Trail Run. I made it just in time to sign up! A perfect way to keep honest on my speedwork.

(Contrast of the winter canopy in a cloudy grey sky)

The crisp winter morning didn't hold back nearly 300 runners and hikers who where here to tackle the 5-mile and Half Marathon distances of this up-and-back course. I signed up for half marathon, which would run me right up Crystal Springs and the Chinquapin Trails to my driveway and back (and then run back home again!). It would be a pleasant double-trip up my favorite hill, with a 13.1 mile cruise interval in the middle.

(Dave Horning holds court)

Longtime Race Director Dave Horning stepped up on a rock and gathered the runners for some instructions, tips on getting titanium knee replacements (he has had two), and tales from their race in Death Valley last week (it rained 1.9" during the race, nearly the annual rainfall of the area). Dave introduced Jim Harrison, going strong at 83 years of age and here to tackle the 5-mile.

(83-year-old Dr. Jim Harrison, who clocked a 1:30 for the 5-mile)

(Assembling at the start)

(280 runners, only 18 pairs of trail running shoes - I sense a market opportunity!)

The excitement of the pack was familiar, but something about it felt different. Wait a minute - I didn't know anyone! Well, a few faces maybe. But many were road runners, track athletes, triathletes, and first-time trail runners that I don't usually see in the ultra crowd. They all shared a passion to come play outside, and I knew my home trails would dish out more than enough to stoke the soul and push the red line. The mud pit right before the aid station at the top would certainly leave no runner clean. ;-) I'm always excited to see so many people out on the trails.

Dave gave us the countdown, and we headed down Richards Road at full tilt. I hung on the back of a pack of 12 runners who pulled off the front. It was amazing how completely different the trails felt at this speed, shoulder to shoulder in a pack. By the time we hit the climb at mile 2, the front runners were already a good minute ahead, led by James Wanjiru (a 25-year-old student from Kenya) and Dan Feder (a 45-year-old new Woodside resident, enjoying the weather reprieve from his hometown of Princeton, NJ). Anthony Pelosi from Folsom, CA, was right behind them and his t-shirt flickered through the trees like the white tail of a leaping deer.

I parked my heart rate around my anaerobic threshold (~160'ish) and tore into the hills with a short but fast turnover. My Inov-8 xTalon's were a good choice for the day, and the flexible sole grabbed tons of dirt and mud with every step. It only took a mile for most to slow down, and soon William Newsem, Anthony Laglia and I were picking our way through the front pack. I was impressed with how these guys were charging the climbs but really making the most time on the flats and downhills. By the time we reached the base of the Chinquapin Trail (mile 3.5), we could see the only three ahead of us all within a minute.

(Heading up Chinquapin Trail with William and Anthony - this was a blurry picture, but the "colored pencil" digital effect was able to salvage it in an artistic way)

As we reached the peak and hit the final stretch to the mud, James Wanjiru and Dan Feder were on their way back. By my calculations, they were still a minute up but it was clear they were moving faster than I was. James was really flying, quickly in a league all by himself. We trudged through the mud, and I got a refill on my bottle before heading back down. Bye-bye house, so you in a bit!

(Dan Feder flies by; another bad picture semi-rescued with some overexposure to show the gotta love PhotoShop!)

The descent was fast and everyone was gracious enough to give us room to slide by on the single track. I worked on leaning forward and running as fast as I could without braking (if my toes are hitting the ends of my shoes, then I'm putting on the brakes). My footing slipped on one of the mossy bridges and I went down in the mud, but quickly got back up thanks to the soft landing. Anthony was right behind me, so there was no time to dilly dally!

(Accidental photo, but good plug for my sponsor ;-) )

I did my best to keep my heart rate up on the descents (it's tough!) and used my knowledge of the course to get through the switchbacks quickly. By the time we caught the tail end of the 5-mile runners, I glanced up the hill to see that I had put about 40 seconds on Anthony and that Greg Hales was with him. The trail flattened out on Richards Road, and I couldn't see anyone in front of me within striking distance. I checked my heart rate one more time, coming in as fast as 160 bpm would allow.

I finished in 4th in 1:26:18, behind winner James Wanjiru (1:19:23), Dan Feder (1:24:20), and Anthony Pelosi (1:24:52). Greg Hales and Anthony Laglia came in within 40 seconds behind me. Jackson, CA's Erin Devlin won the Women's division in 1:37:14, about 90 seconds ahead of the 2nd Woman (and Masters winner) Virginia Landin Nelson from Berkeley, CA. In the 5-mile, it was Ralph Lewis (34:12) and Beckie Palm (34:39) who were victorious. 15-year-old Kristina Solvik from Alamo, CA, made an impressive trail running debut with her 37:45 for 2nd Woman and 7th overall.

I loaded up on pretzels and popped a Nuun in my bottle for the 2nd trip up, cheering on the finishers as they sprinted by. The sun cooked the muddy trail, making it new once more for the return climb. Four trips on the same trail, and four very different experiences. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze.

My thanks to the Envirosports volunteers and fellow runners. Please come back again soon!

- SD