Sunday, October 27, 2013

Western States Adjusts Qualification for 2015, Announces Montrail UltraCup 2014 Schedule

The Western States Endurance Run Board of Trustees recently announced modifications to their qualification process for 2015, and it may be good or bad news depending on how you look at it. In the announcement they also “outed” the schedule for the Montrail UltraCup for 2014, so you can find it below.

The bottom line is this – demand for competing at Western States has grown dramatically in the last few years, making the odds of winning a lottery slot slip into the single digits (7.9%) and projected to go lower (less then 5%). The annual numbers of applicants tells the story of why these changes were made, and how it took a very different turn when the race was cancelled in 2008 from fires. Look at how much it has jumped over the last few years:

2000 – 583 applicants.
2005 – 791 applicants.
2008 – 1,350 applicants. (year of the fire cancellation)
2010 – 1,695 applicants.
2011 – 1,786 applicants. (first year of the multiple tickets solution)
2012 – 1,940 applicants.
2013 – 2,295 applicants.

The Western States Endurance Run is capped at 396 entrants, and 130 entries are reserved for race administration (aid stations, trail crew, sweeps, etc.), Montrail UltraCup winners, raffle winners, overseas runners, and members of the Board of Trustees. The remaining 270 slots are drawn in early December each year, and past "losers" get one additional lottery ticket for each time they lost.

Removing the 50-mile qualifying distance will certainly cut down on these numbers, as will the fact they have chosen a very small set of 100k and 100m races that have eliminated a lot of local favorites. Be sure to check the list of 2015 qualifiers (many of which require lotteries on their own) if 2015 qualification is on your radar.

The WSER also announced the qualifying races for the 2014 Montrail UltraCup, which will hold 30 slots for top 3 runners in each of the following races:

Montrail has been slow to announce the 2013/14 Montrail UltraCup Series this year, which has cut the schedule of qualifying races significantly. But the qualifying slots now go three deep, rolling down to 4th place if one of the top 3 already have a slot. They have renewed their contract with Western States for two years, so perhaps next year will have a broader qualifier schedule.

So there you have it, folks. What do you think – better odds or worse? Given the growing interest (curse you, Karnazes, McDougall, and Jurek!), the change was inevitable. I think I hold the longest losing streak to the Western States lottery (3-time loser got me in to the 2008 race, which was cancelled, and I've lost ever since...that's NINE years), but do correct me if you've heard of someone worse.

 - SD

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New 50-mile PR at the 2013 Tussey MOUnTaiNBACK 50m

Fate steered me to the 2013 Tussey mOUnTaNBACK 50-miler in State College, PA, this year, and I had a blast joining 200+ runners for an epic journey through the autumn colored leaves of the Rothrock State Forest. Thanks to perfect weather, amazing volunteer support, and a great field of competitors, I walked away with a new 50-mile PR and a deep appreciation for Mother Nature's infinite palette.

Tussey has been on my to-do list for years now, luring me with its speedy loop course of dirt roads and praise from runners past who speak fondly of the community behind it. October is a beautiful time of year in Pennsylvania, and tends to make for perfect cool running weather too. Add in that it was once again the USATF 50-Mile Road Championship, this was a course made for a PR, new friends, and of course, great pictures! ;-)

(Rothrock State Forest)
I met Zach Bitter, the defending champion, at the pre-race dinner as he regaled us with the training required to run 5 hours 35 minutes here (do the math - that's crazy fast!). 600-mile training months, weight training, high fat diets...Zach has this race dialed. He had his eyes on Michael Wardian's CR of 5:33, but had competition from JFK winner David Riddle, and Salomon's Matt Flaherty who was having a great season. Connie Gardner was back to defend the Women's title, and the likely competition would come from Boulder, CO's Cassie Scallon who won the Lake Sonoma 50m earlier this year. But instead of sizing up the competition, all the runners were wide-eyed for one of the relay teams called Old Men of The Mountain. This eight-person crew is led by 93-year-old George Etzweiler, who changed his usual tactic of getting the highest average age (general avg ~75 yrs old...unless he has to "cradle rob" and dip into the 60-year-olds) and invited a 10-year-old girl, creating one of the most unique mixes in the race’s history. When I asked George for advice, he said "all my friends who are runners are still running...all my friends who didn't are dead. Just keep at it.". Whoa. In so many ways, this race is a celebration of running and health, perfectly assembled by Race Director Mike Casper.

(Getting ready to start in the dark)
It was a chilly 43 degrees at the 7am start, and the sun just began peeking through the trees as we shot off the starting line. Zach Bitter, Flaherty, Riddle, Joshua Finger (6:11 here last year), and Jason Bryant (2013 50-Mile Trail Masters Champ) soon set a wicked pace up the first 3-mile gradual climb, while I settled into the second pack with Cassie Scallon, triathlete Jason Baer from Vermont, and a few others. Cassie dropped us on the first descent, well on a course record pace, but we could keep her in sight thanks to the long straight stretches of road.

(Fall in Penn, photo courtesy of CDT Photo)
(Sun is coming up...maybe I can get a decent photo now!)
(Hard not to smile when it's so pretty!)
Jason Baer and I soon figured out we are both Internet e-commerce dudes, and the miles went by quickly as we swapped stories and SEO/ad optimization tricks (getting our NERD ON, baby!). In order to spare the runners around us, we also shared the joys of raising two-year-olds and the fun of mixing up triathlon and running goal races. Jason was the better climber for sure, and I was faster on the downhills, so we made a great match.

We caught Cassie around mile 18 on the longest climb of the day, and the three of us stuck together for  most of the next five miles. The sun lit up the gold and red leaves around us, creating a canopy of color. Maybe I'm just too used to the always-green redwoods, but HOLY COW it's pretty here! The pictures just don't do it justice.
(Cassey tops the big climb of the day)
I crossed through the marathon mark in 3:08, and the 50k in 3:50, before I started slowing on the climbs and had to let Cassie and Jason go. David Riddle had a nagging ankle injury and had to drop, as did Jason Bryant who was still nursing a sore back. Between starting in the dark and all these drops, I had no idea where I was placed in the race, so I just focused on staying under an 8 min/mile the best I could. The support cars that would go by every 8-10 minutes were at first a little annoying, but I soon learned it was signaling to me that Joshua Finger was slowing down in front of me, and Matthew Smith was on my tail a mile or so back. Plus they were all super courteous and giving lots of enthusiastic shouts, so I soon looked forward to them coming by.

(Canopy of gold - it was like this for miles)
As I pulled into the aid station at mile 38, I saw Joshua Finger walking with his crew and catching his breath so I sped up to run with him. He said the lead Master was 10 minutes ahead of us, then couldn't stop himself from laughing when I eased up. He soon confessed that we were the first two Masters, and saying the lead was too far ahead was one of his favorite dirty tactics. Too funny! The only reason Josh was 30 minutes behind his usual pace was because he just got over the flu a few weeks back. I confessed that any pace faster than a 6:30 min/mile was flaring up my cracked rib injury, so may the best hobbler win! Josh was gracious with his 4-time knowledge of the course, and did give me a lot of great tips for the final miles. He's really a solid dude.

(Joshua Finger cruising the farmland)
Josh's wife was crewing for him, and he got through the aid station at mile 42 so fast that he gapped me by nearly two minutes by the time I had my bottles refilled and mixed with Vitargo. I kept him in sight, using the downhills to gain ground, and could see him peeking back before hitting the last big climb. He was running the whole climb, so I did too, and blew up within a few hundred yards and had to walk to keep from passing out. At that point, he was out of sight.

(Getting it done!)
I refilled at the last aid station (mile 46) and leaned hard into the last downhill sections. I finally caught sight of Josh...just as he was crossing the finish line. Alas! But a lot of fun to play cat-and-mouse in the final miles. He shook my hand at the finish and pointed to the time clock...6:35:11, a PR by 24 minutes, and good enough for 6th overall and 2nd Master. Couldn't be happier! Well, until he told me there was beer, a stone pizza oven, and a live band just down the hill. ;-) It turned out that he pushed so hard on the last climb that he hobbled through cramps on the last downhill a minute per mile slower than me. Had it been a 51-mile championship, it could have been different!

(There's that finish line! And a new PR!)
Matt Flaherty had crushed the race for the win (5:28, CR), with Zach Bitter also beating the previous course record (5:32) and both were very pleased with their performances. Cassie Scallon had kicked hard for 3rd overall (6:24, CR), absolutely dominating the Women's division, and Jason Baer took 4th (6:31), and Josh Finger taking 5th and the Masters win (6:33). Connie Gardner won the Women's Masters crown (7:46), despite having run a 100-miler last weekend. (all results)

(Cassie Scallon becomes the USATF 50-Mile Road Champion with a blazing course record)
(New 50-Mile National Champion Matt Flaherty wins in a stunning 5:28! Makes it look good with the mustache, too. ;-)  )
As we sipped beer and enjoyed the fabulous food and music, I couldn't stop telling people how amazing the Fall colors were along the whole course. My face was still sore from smiling! A truly fantastic race all around.
(93-year-old George Etzweiler chats with 50-Mile Road Masters Champion Connie Gardner)
(Joshua Finger, Cassie Scallon, and Zach Bitter share some beers and stories)
(Mike Acer had an outstanding 50-mile debut with a sub-9 hour finish)
(Team Rolling Rock gets their green on)
My thanks to RD Mike Casper and his amazing crew and volunteers for putting on a great race, raising tons of cash for the House of Care, and giving me an excuse to see this beautiful part of the world. Highly recommended!

- SD

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Making Stuff: Faster - New PBS Special Explores Our Limits, Including Running

This week PBS began a new NOVA series called "Making Stuff: Faster" that I think many of you would find interesting. Host David Pogue (the talented  NY Times technology writer) speaks with experts that push the human limits of speed in a number of disciplines, including running, cycling, sailing, driving, and more. It's highly entertaining to watch him try them all.

In the segment about running, Pogue speaks with Peter Weyand, Ph.D., associate professor of applied physiology and biomechanics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, whom some of you may remember as the guy who successfully argued against the ban on double amputee Oscar Pistorius running in open competition. In the interview, Weyand explains the dynamics of force and how it relates to sprint speed, and even gets Pogue to go all out on a treadmill.

You can stream the special at PBS Online, or check your local listings for the Wednesday shows.

Now get out there and apply some force!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Frederik Van Lierde and Miranda Carfrae Crowned 2013 Ironman World Champions

Belgian Frederik Van Lierde and Australian Miranda Carfrae were crowned the 2014 Ironman World Champions in Kailua-Kona, HI, just a few minutes ago. Madam Pele presented fast conditions this year, and it was the fast bike/runners that took advantage to bring it home.

(Miranda Carfrae wins the 2014 Ironman World Championship in a new course record, photo by chicrunner)
Miranda Carfrae wins her 2nd Ironman world title, this time in a course record 8:52:14 (she also scored a marathon course record of 2:50:39, beating all but two of the male pros). She used a personal best bike split here and an amazing run to hold off the UK's Rachel Joyce, and Liz Blatchford who sprinted in a very close race for 3rd. Carfrae's fiancee, Tim O'Donnell, took 5th in the Men's.

(Frederik Van Lierde takes the win at the Ironman World Championship, photo by chicrunner)
Frederik Van Lierde was an early favorite, and used a strong run to catch Australia's Luke McKenzie at the Energy Lab (mile 20'ish), and German Sebastian Kienle who took third.

Men's Top 10 (Finish Time, Time Back, #)
1 8:12:29 6 Frederik Van Lierde BEL
2 8:15:19 2:50 49 Luke McKenzie AUS
3 8:19:24 6:56 2 Sebastian Kienle DEU
4 8:21:46 9:18 55 James Cunnama ZAF
5 8:22:25 9:57 7 Tim O'Donnell USA
6 8:23:43 11:14 33 Ivan Rana ESP
7 8:24:09 11:40 44 Tyler Butterfield BMU
8 8:25:38 13:10 9 Bart Aernouts BEL
9 8:26:32 14:03 25 Timo Bracht DEU
10 8:31:13 18:44 15 Faris Al-Sultan DEU

Women's Top 10 (Finish Time, Time Back, #)
1 8:52:14 111 Mirinda Carfrae AUS
2 8:57:28 5:14 131 Rachel Joyce GBR
3 9:03:35 11:21 112 Liz Blatchford GBR
4 9:04:34 12:20 118 Yvonne Van Vlerken NLD
5 9:09:09 16:55 103 Caroline Steffen CHE
6 9:10:12 17:58 124 Caitlin Snow USA
7 9:10:19 18:05 108 Meredith Kessler USA
8 9:11:13 18:59 119 Michelle Vesterby DNK

It's going on live right now if you want to come check it out!

- SD

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

ITR Announces Early 2014 Races, Including New Ordnance 100k in Monterey, CA

Are you ready to plan for 2014?!? Inside Trail Racing has released the dates of their late 2013/early 2014 schedule, and there are some great ones, including the new Ordnance 100k race in the Fort Ord trails near Laguna Seca in Monterey, CA, on Feb 1st, 2014. You can even get 10% off for a limited time (until 10/12/13) when you use UltraSignUp and the coupon code "AUTUMNTRAIL13".

(Cruising through Fort Ord)
I ran the inaugural Fort Ord 50k earlier this year, and loved the winding trails of the Fort Ord National Monument on the banks of Laguna Seca. Now a 100k option is available the same day as the 50k for those who can't get enough. With the beach and Monterey Bay Aquarium nearby as well, this is a great ultra family weekend escape!

Also for those looking to add an October race, the Catra Corbett-designed "Dirty Dare 50k" will be a great tour of the Sunol Regional Wilderness in the Bay Area's East Bay. Well worth the trip to try out these awesome trails, and will happen on Oct 20th.

Hard to go wrong with the Woodside Ramble 50k if you're looking for some nice redwood-lined climbs - ITR has both a Winter and Spring version.

Here's the full schedule - get yourself committed!

Upcoming 2013 Events
Oct 20
Dirty Dare10K, 25K, 50KSunol Regional WildernessSunol, CA
Nov 2
Folsom Lake10K, Half Marathon,
35K, 50K
Folsom PointFolsom, CA
Nov 16
Mt. Tam Trail Run10K, Half Marathon,
30K, 50K
Mt. Tamalpais State ParkStinson Beach, CA
Dec 15
Woodside Ramble10K, Half Marathon,
35K, 50K
Huddart County ParkWoodside, CA

Upcoming 2014 Events
Jan 18
Pacifica Foothills10K, Half, 30K,
Marathon, 50K
San Pedro Valley ParkPacifica, CA
Feb 1
Ordnance 100K100KFort Ord National MonumentMonterey, CA
Feb 1
Fort Ord10K, Half Marathon,
35K, 50K
Fort Ord National MonumentMonterey, CA
Feb 22
Chabot Trail Run10K, Half Marathon,
30K, 50K
Lake Chabot Regional ParkCastro Valley, CA
Mar 15
Marin Ultra Challenge10K, Half Marathon,
50K, 50 Mile
Marin Headlands & Mt. TamMarin County, CA
Mar 22
Knickerbocker Canyon10K, Half Marathon,
Auburn S.R.A.Cool, CA
Apr 13
Woodside Ramble10K, Half Marathon,
35K, 50K
Huddart County ParkWoodside, CA
Apr 26
Folsom Lake10K, Half Marathon,
35K, 50K
Folsom S.R.A.Folsom, CA
May 10
May 24
China Camp5K, 10K, Half, 35KChina Camp S.P.San Rafael, CA

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Elites at The North Face Endurance Challenge SF for 2013

Earlier this week, I started asking some local elites about the remainder of their 2013 race schedule. Seeing how Kilian has tied up the Skyrunning competitions again, UROC was quite a showdown, and the 2013/14 Montrail UltraCup is still a mystery, what's left for big races/prize purses that can attract the uber-ultra-elites into some head-to-head madness? Usually there is one big one left - The North Face Challenge - San Francisco, the grand finale of TNF's year-long global competition, which often boasts a $10k winning prize. So I asked around and guess who is coming?

[Ed. Note - TNFEC-SF is now accepting elite athlete applications - if you are interested elite, please send e-mail to endurancechallenge [at]]

So far, I can't find anyone.

From what I can tell, the elite invites that attracted 100+ from around the globe last year is mysteriously gone. The press I contacted have no info, and I didn't get a response from the race organizers. Could it be that the TNF Series has headed the route that took with their Rock n' Roll series, and have ended their outreach/prizes to elites? Given all the longer distances of the race are sold out for TNFC-SF, it's not like they need it to draw attention to the race. Still, that would be a bummer. It was so great to see all the international athletes in SF last year, even when the weather forced last minute course changes.

We all know that VFC, the holding company for The North Face, makes tons more money selling jackets and backpacks to everyday folks. But I've always been impressed with their use of elite runners to promote an iconism that is inspiring, and their willingness to put some money on the table to draw the greats into competition. Let's face it, there were one of a few sponsors willing to do so, and it helped pull us into the golden age of trail running. But when the financiers at the Competitor Group did the math, they felt the price of drawing elites wasn't as good as say, another rock band on the course (I mean, why draw the line at one per mile?).

Let's hope this isn't an early signal of where the TNF brand is going.

[Note - per the sleuthing of commenters below, it appears the $30k in prize money is indeed intact, and there are some elites rumored to be coming including the defending champion, Miguel Heras.]

- SD

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Jon Olsen Sets New 100-Mile American Record - 11:59:23!

How many people do you know that have broken 12 hours for the 100-mile? Well, if you know Modesto, CA's Jon Olsen, you know one! The 39-year-old teachers recent North American record was set last weekend at the Sri Chimnoy Ultra Classic 24-hour race, and his write up is well worth the read (poop cans and all). He took down a nearly 30-year-old record and broke an incredible psychological sub-12 barrier. Congrats fellow Injinji and Vespa teammate!
(Jon Olsen with wife/crew Denise)
Also want to give a shout out to JB Benna who recently set a new unsupported FKT for the Tahoe Rim Trail (140+ miles) of 58 hrs, 43 minutes.

And one last shout out to Canadian Robert Grant who found and returned the camera I lost at Ironman Lake Tahoe! Gracias, my man!

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