Monday, September 27, 2010

Masters Win at the Flagline 50k/USATF 50k Trail Championships

This Saturday, I had the great pleasure of joining 100 ultrarunners for the inaugural Flagline 50k in Bend, OR, which was the 2010 USATF 50k Trail National Championship. Thanks to perfect weather, a wonderful course, and great support from volunteers and other runners, I managed to come back from a low point and pick up my first Masters National Championship. As excited as I am for this result, it does not compare to the pride I felt for being a part of the ultrarunner community after witnessing the camaraderie and honor among the front runners at the finish line when dealing with a race mishap. Now THAT will be a story I will tell for years to come.

The Race

The 7:30am morning sun barely cut into the 40-degree mountain air as we all made our way to the starting line just outside of the Mt. Bachelor Main Lodge entrance. It was predicted to be in the low 80's by the afternoon, but pre-sunrise the nip in the air is mountain crisp. A perfect day for racing…let’s get going!

Max King hitches a ride to the start
I was stoked to catch up with a couple of Inov-8 teammates at the starting line, two of many last minute entries from wicked fast trail runners. Yassine Diboun, who has been ripping it up all over the Pacific Northwest this year, took a break from his new 1-month old daughter to bring his amazing descending skills to the race. David James, the 14-hour 100-miler, also came up all the way from school in the Caribbean to get a taste of trails at 6,000 feet. All of us shared congrats and good-lucks with other potential front runners, including 2009 100k National Champion Eric Skaggs, Jen Shelton, 2x Western States 100 champion Hal Koerner (fresh off his RD duties at the weather-beaten Pine to Palm 100), Max King (double victory at the XTerra Nationals and Bigfoot 10k last weekend), 50k and 100k world champion Kami Semick, Tahoe Rim Trail 50k multiple winner Julie Young, Super Master William Emerson, Derek Schultz (from PA!), 70+ superstar Don Hildebrand, and the usual gang of ridiculously fit Oregonians. At 8am, Race Director Super Dave and USATF guru Richard Bolt sent us off to chase the sun.

Yassine Diboun is all smiles
70+ Racer Don Hildebrand going the full 50k today
Jen Shelton, Eric Skaggs, Max King, and David James
Derek Schultz and Me
The pace was slow at first, which gave me the rare chance to run just behind Skaggs, King, Diboun, James, Koerner, and a handful of others. Their strides were effortless, taking advantage of the slight downhill on the fire roads to leap in unison like a pack of deer. It was quite a site! Let’s face it – the raw talent of these guys puts them in a league of their own. When we hit the single track, Skaggs kicked into high gear and they all put on the chase and disappeared into the pines.

And we're off! Photo courtesy of Bend Bulletin
I ran with Derek (in his day-glow Brooks jersey), who was pulling us along at a fast 6:30 min/mile clip, not a whole lot slower than what we ran at the 14-mile XTerra Nationals the week before. Derek shared that he only began running 50k’s this year, and was still figuring out how to “race” them rather than “run” them. But he looked comfortable and was still aerobic in his effort, so even this fast pace looked right on. We refueled at the first aid station (mile 8), and headed up the first long climb of the race.

Derek pulls a line of runners
Following Derek through the pines
The trails were super-fast, and Derek and I felt all alone for miles romping through pockets of warm sun and 40-degree shade. Before too long we caught up with another Brooks runner (also in a day-glow jersey), and I smiled at how much the two outfits stood out among the miles of green and brown of mountain pines. Guess what, mountain critter residents, humans coming through!

Derek and I catch up to Headphone Guy
About two-thirds the way up (mile 12), local Jason Moyer went by us while Derek pulled over saying his rhythm wasn’t feeling right. I wished Derek well, knowing I would see him again before too long. I caught up to the other Brooks runner and asked if I could pass, but he was wearing headphones and wasn’t budging. Headphones? Guess that’s both good news and bad news. Headphone Guy appeared to be the only other “grey hair” in the front 10, so I knew I had to keep him in sight. But headphones are also illegal in USATF Championship races, so this guy wasn’t going to be a contender for the national title. I had seen this before – folks that like to just run the race their way, and not caring much for USATF stuff, cruising with tunes and fine with having an “open class” non-Championship finish. When we crested the hill, he turned and saw me and plunged the downhill with incredible speed. I cheered loudly for him (not that he heard it), applauding his prowess at the single track descent. Phew! I’m glad I don’t have to try and keep up with that.

Jason Moyer knows how to stay cool
The next aid station (mile 17) was swarming with angels in cowboy hats, who helped me locate my drop bag to shed my gloves and glasses and get a few extra gels. While I refilled the water bottle, Kami Semick went by with two other runners. The scenery was gorgeous here, with blogworthy rolling fire roads heading towards the creek beds. I leaned into the grade for about two miles, slowly reeling her in, but then started feeling a bit nauseous. It took less than 20 seconds for the light-headedness to bring me to a complete stop, where I promptly upchucked my breakfast.

The cowgirl angels take care of us
Hmmm…what’s this all about? Vomiting on the downhill? That is definitely a new one. I was on top of my hydration and electrolytes, and it wasn’t quite hot enough for heat-induced GI issues. My food was my usual food…all my usual excuses were coming up donuts. I started running again, but if felt like I was stuck in 3rd gear. Altitude, maybe? Overtrained from all the Ironman two-a-days the last month? Not that it mattered at this point. Best to just take another salt tab and keep moving.

Lush pines that go on for miles
The grind back up the hill was slower than I would have liked, but I was running most of it. The slow down did give me a chance to look around and see more of this gorgeous Oregon backcountry that seemed to know no bounds in any direction. I felt lost, but not scared. A true escape!

Stephanie Howe crushes the single track
I was soon caught by local Nordic superstar Stephanie Howe, who was also struggling with stomach issues. This was her first 50k, so she was doing her best to pace herself. Everyone we passed from the early start group were also complaining of wooziness, so I figured it was altitude-related and everyone was dealing with it. Weird how that actually gave me some comfort. Stephanie and I worked together up the hill, walking a few short climbs, and got back to the aid station (mile 22). We drank as much water and flat Coke as we could take in, and Stephanie rocketed off ahead of me.

Just point towards Mt. Bachelor and go!
It was getting warm at this point, but the fast fire roads made it easy to keep a steady pace (despite some heavy camper traffic). The Inov-8 X-Talons were definitely the right call, and I was able to turn over my legs quickly. I caught Stephanie as she was getting through another tough spot, but she was soon on my tail again. We entered the last aid station (mile 26) together, and I was feeling almost 90%. I gave myself permission to push hard again and jumped on the last section of single track.

About a mile up the trail they were re-marking the course, so I gave a quick “thanks for doing a great job with the trail markings”. They stared back at me with blank looks (I would later find out why), and I joined a chain of friendly mountain bikers to charge up the last climb. They let me know I was about a minute behind the next dude, and I wondered if it was Headphone Guy. I picked up the pace, but it wasn’t enough to hold off a charging Derek Schwartz who was back from the dead and running 6:30 min/miles again. By the time I hit the road (mile 30), Derek was a day-glow spot in the distance. I was so excited for his comeback! I watched him pick off one more runner on his way to the finish.

Derek zooms by
Last mile!
I passed Hal Koerner, who was walking in and he let me know that many of the front-runners had been directed off-course by a volunteer. “Get moving…you may have moved up eight places,” he said with his trademark smile. Oh, no! That’s not the way to have a top finish. I cruised into the finish chute in 4:28:38 in 11th place, and was immediately congratulated on being the Masters winner. Super Master William Emerson finished just a few minutes behind me, with Stephanie Howe (2nd woman) and Jen Shelton (3rd) right behind him.

Squeezing in just under 4:30
My excitement for the win was soon replaced with awe when I heard what happened ahead of us.

The Finish

Apparently, the course markings had been vandalized around mile 28 (where I had seen them re-marking the course), and the volunteers who reset the markings mistakenly sent the front-runners down the wrong trail. Eric Skaggs went first, with Max King following but realizing he was off course and taking a detour back. Unfortunately, the following six runners also went the wrong way and soon found themselves prematurely out on the road section after cutting through a confused horse camp. Max ended up out front all by himself.

What Max did next was extraordinary. Approaching the finish, he slowed to a stop and asked what happened. Upon learning of the situation, he waited 50 feet from the finish until the others caught up. They then agreed to cross the finish line as a group in the order they were at the moment the wrong turn was taken – Eric Skaggs (for the win), Max King (voluntarily taking second), Yassine Diboun, David James, Jeremy Tolman, Jason Moyer, Zach Violett, and Kami Semick (1st Woman). It turns out that Josh Nordell (10th), Derek Schultz (9th), and me were the first to approach the turn correctly marked.

Can you believe it? Stopping at the finish to get the right order? That’s an honor code right out of the Tour de France. Simply amazing. It’s hard not to gush with pride to be in a sport with champions like these.

One beer-soaked mug, one check, one Masters National Championship - a damn good haul!
As I sat with the others in the sun, sipping beer and cheering the other finishers, I saw the day-glow shirt of Headphone Guy come across the finish about an hour after my finish. After a short conversation with the RD’s, Headphone Guy (aka, Tim Monaco) explained he had also been sent off course and wanted to be “moved up” in the rankings ahead of me to claim the Masters Championship. I explained that I didn’t have a problem with examining his finishing place (although it is a bit weird to have a made-up finish time, unlike the others who accepted their actual finish times), but that running with headphones is clearly against the USATF rules for National Championships. A compromise was suggested to put Tim Monaco‘s name in 9th place (with a fictitious time), but that it wouldn’t be counted towards the USATF Championship due to the headphone infraction. In the spirit of camaraderie shown this day, it felt like a good solution.

I gave an extra pat on the back to Derek Schwartz, and congratulated him on overcoming his low spot to finish strong. Sometimes that’s the greatest gift of an ultra – getting into trouble, and then getting back out so clean you fly to the finish. It doesn't feel good when it happens, but you feel like a superhero at the finish! Had Headphone Guy been in sight, Derek would have reeled him in too. In my heart, that 9th place finish belongs to Derek. But 10th at a USATF Championship race ain’t so bad either.

I caught Max King on the way out and asked him what went through his head near the finish. He said “it was simple, really…Eric was crushing it all day, and it was not my best day. Eric was in a league of his own, and there is no question among any of us that he deserved the win today.”

Well Max, I think this may be your best finish ever. ;-)

Thanks to Super Dave and his awesome crew for putting on a great inaugural race. It took a lot of work for these guys to get a brand new race going, and get the 50k Trail Championship back on the USATF schedule. You did a great job! If you like a fast course in a beautiful place, I would highly suggest putting the Flagline 50k on your calendar for next year (rumored to be the 50k Trail Championship again). Just don’t expect Max to be waiting for you before the finish in 2011.

- SD

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fast Fun at the 2010 XTerra Trail Run National Championships

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of joining 650 trail running fanatics for the party known as the 2010 XTerra Trail Running National Championships in Bend, OR. This was the third running of the event, and was the biggest XTerra championship to date, with runners from over 30 states coming to check out the fast and furious trails up and down the Deschutes River. Bend, OR, played the perfect host, dishing out great running weather, a variety of post-race activities, and enough fast runners to keep things lively in every age group from 7 to 75+. What a fantastic time!

Sophie (my four-year-old) and I flew up to meet my Dad and step-Mom, and we were happy to hear that Dad brought his Inov-8 X-Talons, unable to resist the calling of a 13.99 mile romp through the woods. Sophie had her sights set on the kids obstacle course, as well as the Bend Fall Festival going on downtown that promised pony rides and face painting. Sophie is all about XTerra, having started a collection of kids medals and memories to last a lifetime.

(Dad and me at the start)

(Hanging with Lars)

The weather on race morning was just right - cool, cloudy, and a hint of rain to keep the dust levels low. We gathered at the start with Washington trail runner Lars Larson, local fast guy Sean Meissner, ultra world champ Kami Semick, XTerra star Derek Schultz, and Fujio Miyachi from Japan, and commented on how the number of gazelles warming up in the parking lot suggested a fast race this year. Two-time defending champ Max King was back, as was defending Women's champion (and 2010 5k national champion) Lauren Fleshman. They both had plenty of competition, known and unknown, and were here to take this seriously.

(I catch up with Sean at the start as Lauren gets her race face on)

(Max King is ready to roll!)

(Defending champion Lauren Fleshman)

I was feeling pretty good during the warm up, although a bit tired from the two-a-day Ironman training that has become the staple for the October 9th showdown in Hawaii. How do these Ironmen do it?!? In the last month, I've fallen asleep at a stoplight, woken from a swimming dream to freestyle stroke right off onto the floor, and gone up one jacket size from lats that look like I'm smuggling a manta ray. Guess it's time to see if all this cross-training helps the trail running! My Dad, Larry Dunlap, was fresh off a foot injury, but had a good base of fitness from running, hiking, and cycling through the summer like only a retired guy can do. We gave each other a good luck hug and readied for the start.

(Leaving Old Mill and heading down the river)

When the cannon went OFF, we instinctively got the hell out of there and tore through the Old Mill District to the first section of bike path. I cruised along with Sean Meissner, Fujio Miyachi, and Mike Olsen and settled into a 6 min/mile rhythm. Up ahead, there were already two packs of runners, with Max King running 5th or so in the first pack, and Lauren Fleshman tucked behind Michele Suszek like a track-trained hunter in the second pack. We crossed the bridge and hit the first section of dirt, and everyone spread out before the single track.

I remembered from last year not to get too crazy until I hit Haul Road (mile 3), so I bid adieu to Sean and the gang as they tore it up and over the roller coaster hills along the river. About a dozen more passed me in this section, but I was able to turn it up once we got to the flat section of Haul Road and pull them back in. I pulled up behind Fujio and Dylan Johnson, a wicked-fast 16-year old up from Dripping Spring, TX. They kept the pace fast - right about 5:50 min/miles - but the front packs were still putting time into us at a crazy rate.

(Indya Bull, hitting the single track)

(Enjoying the switchbacks!)

(Fujio and Dylan pace up the fire roads...)

(...then hit the single track)

Mary Colburn from Culver City, CA, joined our little pack as we peeled off the dirt roads and into some more technical single track (mile 5). Fujio and Dylan were amazing, never losing time, and the rest of us just tried to keep up as they hopped through the brush and lava rocks. Once there was a longer section, Mike Olsen, Mary, and I would let our strides open up and reel them in. The sportsmanship was top notch, and everyone was happy to trade off to keep the pace high.

(Mary Colburn leads Mike Olsen up the lava road)

(nature at it's best)

(Sean Dunlap sets the pace up front...go Team Dunlap!)

We cruised along the top of a rocky ridge (a new section from last year) before diving down a chute and heading back along the river (mile 7). Mike Olsen found a whole new gear and I swore I heard the Roadrunner "meep! meep!" as he left us in a dust cloud. Dylan and I paired up to try and keep him in sight, trading off the lead over the last climb into the lava fields. Before long, we were back on Haul Road (mile 10), covering the first 10 miles in 62 minutes. Wow! This course is seriously fast.

(Dylan races down the single track)

(The very lively aid station volunteers)

A sprinkle of rain kept us cool, as costumed volunteers handed us one last gulp of fuel to push through this fast section. I got excited about using these long straightaways to bank some time and maybe, just maybe, average a 6 min/mile pace for the whole race. I did my best to work my arms as much as I could - those manta ray lats must be good for something! I pushed it up to 5:40 min/miles to bank some time for the upcoming switchbacks, and found myself alone as I trucked down to the river.

(Rachel Edelson heads down the river)

(Max King hits the turbocharger)

(Arnauld Decarsin, in from France, cruises along the river)

I pulled in one more runner along the last, fairly flat section, and charged the last mile in 5:30. It sure felt good to go fast! I crossed the finish in 1:28:14 for 23rd, considerably faster than last year, but not nearly fast enough to get a spot on the podium. Alas! I guess XTerra is officially a place for the Fast People. No worries though - it was so much fun!

(Victory #2 for Lauren Fleshman)

I did a cool down run with Mary (who got 3rd woman overall) and Sean Meissner (18th, and easily the best trail/road rash of the day), as we contemplated the incredibly fast times of Max King (1st again in 1:15:57) and Lauren Fleshman (1st woman, 10th overall, 1:24:24) and a field that required a sub-6 minute mile pace just to crack the Top 20. If anyone thought XTerra was a secret before, it ain't a secret no more!

(Sean shows off his souvenir)

(Don Hildebrand repeats his win in the 75+ age group)

I returned to the finish to try and catch a photo of my Dad, but he was already done! His 1:52:44 was good enough to win his age group and keep up the Dunlap name (Sean Dunlap from North Carolina also had an impressive 1:33:00). As I closed in to get a photo of him on the podium, some super-master runners next to me just shook their heads, saying how the next guy was over 20 minutes back. It was so cool to say, "yep...that's my Dad!". I couldn't have been more proud, and immediately filled his heads with thoughts of the XTerra World Championship in Hawaii in December. The awards ceremony was great fun, particularly when 7-year-old Zoe Allen got up to receive a special award for finishing the whole 13.99 mile race in 3:03, exclaiming "it's so much fun!". We will certainly be seeing her on the trails again!

(Zoe Allen, -year-old rock star!)

(Dad tops the podium!)

(Fujio and Max pose with a friend)

We spent the afternoon smiling our way through the Bend Fall Festival, giving Sophie her fair share of face painting, pony rides, and petting zoos. This is such a great summer town! I headed out the next morning for a casual long run, and soon found another race in progress, the Bigfoot 10k, with many of the same faces from the day before (and Max King winning, natch). They live the good life up here, that's for sure.

(Sophie the silver kitty)

(XTerra is easily the most kid friendly race around)

A big THANKS to the XTerra family for another top notch race (you can see more photos, including many I stole for the above, here). Nobody puts on a show quite like these guys, and if you haven't tried it, I highly suggest going big and sticking Nationals or Worlds on your calendar before they become qualifier-only events. I know I will be back for sure.

- SD