Thursday, December 24, 2015

Running with Lance Armstrong at the 2015 Woodside Ramble 35k

(Me, Eric Byrnes, and Lance Armstrong at the start of the Woodside 35k)
[paraphrased text exchange a few days before the race]

Lance (Armstrong): Dude, I'm in your neighborhood this up for a long run on Sunday? 

Scott: Absolutely! Likely raining cats and dogs, so how about some Woodside trails?

Lance: Sounds good. I am craving a fast run, maybe 20 miles. Cool? 

Scott: Hellzya. Want to do a local race then? Inside Trail Racing is super fun, and the Woodside Ramble is right in my backyard on Sunday. Pretty close to the same route I would take us on. 

Lance: Are you sure that's cool with the RD? 

Scott: I'll check...yup, they would love to have you. See you at 8am on Sunday!


That was it. No master plan, no conspiracy to infiltrate the trail running community, no proactive lobby on the state of doping in trail running...just a friend wanting to go for a long run, and it just so happened Inside Trail Racing (ITR) had a race that fit the bill.

You wouldn't think that 24 hours later, when the megaphones of trail running took to the Interwebs in a barrage of opinions, then articles about opinions, and then opinions about articles about opinions, all building faster than a storm-enhanced 80-foot wave at Mavericks. Should Lance be allowed to run? What about doping in the ultra community? All the voices were there - Joe, Sage, Ethan, Roche, Mario, Ian, Ken, Schranz, John, Vanessa, Sam, Sarah, Burton (funniest by far), Trail Running Magazine, Competitor Magazine, Runners World, and literally thousands more comments and posts behind that.  I understand that Lance is a polarizing figure (no matter what he does these days), but WOW. Everybody grab a soapbox and shout!

For what it's worth, I would like to share a little bit about what actually happened when Lance toed the line on Dec 13th at the Woodside Ramble 35k, in all its glorious honesty. Mostly because the day was a ton of fun, and for every person I spoke to at the event, having Lance there made it better. But I would also like to share the facts because I find it strange that none of the people listed above actually reached out to understand the facts beforehand (David Roche being the one exception). Which is fine, btw...this is America after all. Nobody has to defend their right to defend their passions, and let's face it, it feels good to shout from the rafters. But just to clear the air, and in case it makes a difference to anyone, here's what actually happened.

Per Lance's suggestion, I checked with Tim Stahler and Will Gotthardt (ITR Race Directors) a few days before the race, and they had no hesitation to have Lance come join the fun. As far as they were concerned, he was just another outdoor lover looking to challenge himself (Tim and Tanya Stahler would later eloquently explain this philosophy more thoroughly on Facebook). They did warn me that the weather was forecast to be insane - wind, heavy rain, and no sign of a break. It would be epic.

"Dude, new twist," said Lance in a call an hour before the race, "I played golf with my friend Eric (former Major League Baseball player and now commentator Eric Byrnes) yesterday, and he's joining us for the 35k. We have a gentleman's bet carrying over from our battle on the golf I have to beat him by 30 minutes in the 35k. So get ready to crush it."

Oh, FUDGE! Except I didn't say FUDGE (per the movie/play, The Christmas Story, which I had tickets to see at noon on race day, requiring me to stop at 10:30am no matter where I was on the course). Instead I said the worst, mother of all F-dash-dash-dash swear words. Thirty minutes is a HUGE fudging spread for 35k. Lance is a solid runner, if not a permanent demigod of aerobic capacity, but who is this Eric guy? Please tell me he has put on the Barry Bonds poundage. Please tell me his knees are totally fudged from squatting behind the plate. Please tell me he's got three ex-wives and a 90th percentile alcohol intake like so many former Bay Area pro athletes. Oh, Lord, give us something!

Nope! Sorry, Scotty. Eric (or "Byrnesie" as everyone was calling him) showed up at the starting line, head to toe in Salomon gear and looking seriously fit. He was not only a former professional athlete, but also a multiple-time Ironman finisher who had a ticket to the 2016 Western States 100m (that he got it on his first lottery attempt). Yeah, he's 6' 3" and a decent 190 lbs, but he knows what he's doing! Darn. Drat. A 20 minute spread we could cover, but 30 minutes left little room for error. Lance would need to go right off the front, as soon as possible. FUDGE! Except I didn't' say FUDGE!!!!

I jogged the three miles to the race start, where Lance and Byrnsie were standing in the pouring rain getting their numbers on. A few folks recognized Lance, and a few recognized Byrnsie, but most were focused on the downpour that was now so big you had to raise your voice to talk to the people right next to you. T-minus ten minutes to start! We stripped down to the basics and got ready.

Quite honestly, I was a little freaked out. Two professional athletes in a "gentleman's bet" is a seriously scary thing for any amateur stuck in the middle, even if I've run these trails a thousand times. These guys can push themselves on a daily basis more than my toughest training day, and a little eye-to-eye machismo takes it to a whole new level. Make no mistake, I was thrilled to be a part of it. But there was no doubt this day was going to hurt. I guess I should have had some breakfast!

As Tim counted down the start, the three of us stepped up near the front with the 35k and 50k runners. I felt bad that we didn't have a chance to get a selfie with the RD that gave us this opportunity, but he was busy working with volunteers to keep people dry and fed. The gun went off, and so did we!

We settled in with the first six runners, with 50k racers Chris "Da-Nooch" DeNucci and Ryan Neely out front, and the rest of us in a small pack. I told Lance that most people mess up the Woodside race by going too hard in the 2,000' climb in the first six miles, so he held back a bit once he was out of sight from Byrnsie. It was conversational pace for Lance, but Strava was telling me I was setting new PR's for segments left and right. Perfect! That's what competition is for - to strive together to reach new bests. We chatted like most runners do, catching up on kids and family, and me playing tour guide for my favorite park between gasps for oxygen.

As we reached the top of Huddart Park (mile 5), one of our fellow runners, Roger Montes, realized it was Lance and came up to shake his hand. Roger was super cool, and also helped with the pacing like the former cyclist he is, and the three of us pounded through the puddles to the first aid station. The weather was far the biggest storm I have seen in years. Lance praised the volunteers for braving the mayhem, shaking hands and patting backs while gulping down a gel, and then led us out towards Wunderlich.  I pointed out that Kings Mountain is the same road he descended in the first Tour de California, and he said "yup, I remember the weather". Ha!

DeNucci and Neely were out of sight at this point (both on a 4-hour finish pace for the 50k), so the three of us traded off the lead. Lance is a phenomenal climber, and his mud skills are excellent, but Roger and I were faster on the descents. I slipped off the trail twice, trying to uselessly get around the massive puddles, but the Lance and Roger freight train kept the pace around a 7 min/mile.  It didn't take long to get our rhythm and charge to Wunderlich (mile 9), where Will Gotthardt was cinched down in Gore-Tex and smiling like the ray of sunshine he is. Lance said "let's turn and burn this aid station...I want Byrnsie to be worried when we see him on the out and back. Wow, these volunteers are seriously bad ass." With that, we charged back down the hill.

Lance gapped Roger and me by 20 seconds as the climbs began, but he was happy to slow for the runners coming the other way. Lots of high fives and atta-boys, and I could tell by the looks on a few faces that some were recognizing his famous mug. Byrnsie was running in 6th place, only 16 minutes back, and Lance quickly did the math in his head. FUDGE. We need to go FASTER. With that, Lance flew off the front and gapped me by a minute. It was fun to get the cheers from runners coming the other way - "one guy just in front of you", "don't let Lance beat you on your home turf!", "you've got Lance Armstrong in your crosshairs!". Lance Armstrong in my crosshairs? There's a phrase I never thought I would hear in my lifetime.

I gave Lance one last wave from the final aid station (my driveway) before dropping to get ready for my theater commitment at mile 16. I confirmed with the volunteers "yes, that was Lance Armstrong", and they were all smiles, chuckling and saying they couldn't wait to tell their friends. I loved that they had this little story of their own after braving the rain for hours. As I hung out a few minutes to cheer the other runners, I felt that same sense of delight from the soaked and smiling athletes. Roger said he was definitely going faster than planned, and then a couple more runners told me they only signed up for the race because they heard Lance might be there. Byrnsie barely stopped at all, now in 4th place and putting it all on the line. It was going to be close!

In the end, Lance won the race in 3:00:36, Roger got second (3:02:27...he gained on him!), and Byrnsie came in 23 minutes later for 4th, winning the gentleman's bet. Lance and Byrnsie had to hustle off from the finish in search of warm, dry clothes, but they both asked me to be sure to thank the RD and volunteers again for an adventurous day. I just hoped their chafing wasn't nearly as bad as mine, which turned out to be enough to ask the theater staff for a first aid kit at the intermission. Whoops. But in the back of my head, all I could think was "I could have caught Lance in that last fun would that have been". Love that!

So that's it. That's the simple story of racing with Lance Armstrong. It was stormy, it was exciting, fun and fast, and I believe the race was better for having him there. I loved that the volunteers and fellow racers got such a thrill shaking his hand, and the ear-to-ear smiles he left behind in the blustery storm. It meant the world to me that Inside Trail Racing welcomed him with open arms, without hesitation, embracing the inclusiveness of our sport at the risk of criticism that was sure to come. But I'm also proud of my friend, Lance, for just getting out there and giving it his best on the day.  I hope we get a chance to do it again soon.

I'm sure some of you have thoughts you would like to share, and there is certainly a ton of dialogue already in progress where those can best be expressed. I'll be screening the comments this time around, and please ask that you keep the Hate on Hatebook if you feel it is necessary.

Happy holidays, everyone!

- SD

Monday, December 07, 2015

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (Movie Review)

Most people think running an ultramarathon is pretty crazy, but even among us ultrarunners, there are a handful of races that redefine insanity. Near the top of that list is the Barkley Marathons, that five-loop-through-uncharted-backcountry in Frozen Head State Park that boasts over 54,000' of vertical climbing in terrain so difficult it has had less than 10 finishers in its first 25 years, even with a 60-hour finish cutoff.

Most of us only find out about the race through rumors, trail stories, and Ultrarunning Magazine articles from the few survivors that keep going back. The lore is rich, and as true to ultrarunning culture as any race could be, so I was thrilled to hear about a new documentary film that does an incredible job capturing all of it - how it was devised as a mockery of James Earl Ray’s historic prison escape gone awry, backstory from the charmingly idiosyncratic co-founder Lazarus Lake, the goofy secret application process (and $1.60 entry fee), the unknown start time announced by a blowing of the conch, and many more unique features that has created the cult-like status around the race. After watching the movie, I am not surprised that is has already captured many awards. Available on demand on December 8th, this one is a definite thumbs up!

I had a chance to ask the Co-Directors Annika Iltis and Timothy Kane a few questions about this great film, which is touring the country as we speak: 

1. So why a documentary about the Barkley Marathons? Certainly there are easier documentaries to create. ;-) 

 We read Leslie Jamison’s essay, “The Immortal Horizon” in The Believer Magazine in the winter of 2012 and could not believe that we had never heard of the Barkley or the statistic of only 10 finishers in 25 years. We both wanted a creative challenge and it was fortuitous that we happened to read the article when we did. Shooting the documentary posed its own set of challenges due to the nature of the terrain, its vastness, and the likelihood that no one would finish. We went in without much thought to what the narrative would be, we only knew that we wanted to capture the spirit of the Barkley the way that Leslie did in that article. We also knew that we wanted to make a true documentary with a narrative; something that would be interesting for not only the running community, but also for filmgoers who enjoy a unique story.

2. For an ultrarunner like me, my reaction was “that looks awesome”, but I suspect most people will just scratch their heads and wonder what is wrong with us. What do you think creates that difference?

After 4 years of working on this film and meeting so many ultrarunners, we do think there must be something unique in the brain or the genetic makeup for those that look at the Barkley, or any 100-mile run for that matter, and start salivating. We WISH we had that special something that allows for this, but alas, we do not. We do find it especially inspiring when someone in their 40s or 50s starts running ultras. We have to ask, what changed? What flipped that switch? It is truly fascinating and seems to be a unique answer for those individuals.

3. What are your favorite quotes and characters? 

 Well, the quote from the film that always gets the biggest laugh is probably not printable here, but it is said by one Naresh Kumar, who is one of the most kind, inspiring, and joyous people we have ever met; which is probably why his quote is so funny. We’ll leave that one for the audience to see themselves.

 In terms of “characters,” Lazarus Lake is the anchor of the film and the venerable co-founder of the race. We could listen to him for hours, and we did! We never wanted to cut the camera around him for fear of missing out on something.

4. What was the hardest part of making the film? Anything really surprise you? 

 It’s actually almost impossible for us to pick just one thing that was the hardest part because pretty much everything was hard. Seriously. If we had kept track of every stumbling block or difficulty, from Tim getting lost in the park on the first day of shooting, to re-renting cameras we had used to recover pivotal footage that had not been downloaded, to the 4-year long process it would take us to actually get the film out in the world, we probably would have stopped a long time ago.

 In terms of surprises, certainly the events that transpired that first year we were there we never could have expected. For those, you'll have to see the movie!

So cool! Check it out here on December 8th!

- SD

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gift Guide for Trail Runners (2015)

Hmmm...what to get that trail runner/ultra runner on your holiday gift list?!? Our sport has little need for gadgets and gear - we likely all have the basics already. Yes, we have that DVD. Yes, we've read Born to Run! Grrr...I bet we are so hard to shop for.

So here are few non-standard gift suggestions from the inexpensive to the outrageous that you can put under the tree (or menorah, or whatev) for that mud-loving runner in your life. Enjoy!

The Flip-It Running Belt ($29)
This stretch fabric running belt holds everything from an iPhone 6 Plus, to a set of keys, to snacks and trash with no fuss. It can be easily added to any running outfit (handy for those of us who have lots of pocket-less options), and I continue to be surprised at how much you can put in these without any jiggling. A great stocking stuffer! Try coupon code FLIP15 for 15% off.

The SoloShot2 Tracking Camera Mount ($399)
Does your runner friend take endless selfies? Get them the SoloShot2, a self-guiding tripod attachment that hones in on a remote control tag you carry on your body, rotating and panning to follow your movements to get that perfect Facebook-worthy shot. Just put your camera on the mount, and the SoloShot will keep you in frame. The remote lets you control the shutter and works from 2,000 feet away. And just like're out of the lets-take-a-selfie routine! Well, sort of...

Victory Sportdesign Drop Bags ($40-85)

The Victory Sportdesign Drop Bag is one of those "how did I ever live without one of these" kind of gifts for ultrarunners. They carry EVERYTHING is an easy-to-access design, and look awesome, particularly when you dress it up with custom panels that have your name and race number. I have the BEAR II, and it's been with me through dozens of races, not to mention is my go-to trunk bag in my car. An awesome gift for runners and volunteers alike.

GoPro Fetch ($60)

Put this harness on your four-legged friend, and get a dogs-eye view of the world with the attached GoPro camera. Guaranteed to give you a new perspective on your favorite trails!

2016 Tribute To The Trails Calendar ($20-23)

Another "gold standard" trail runner gift, Glenn Tachiyama's visually stunning annual calendar can light up any drab cube or laundry room with glorious visions of west coast trails. Now in its 10th year, this stunning calendar also includes lottery race entries for over two dozen races. If that's not enough, it's all a fundraiser for the Washington Trail Association, so you know your dollars are going to a good cause. I buy 3-5 each year!

The RollingFWD Vibrating Roller ($199)

A fun new twist on the foam roller, the RollingFWD has a built in rechargeable battery that powers three different vibration settings from mild to deep therapy. Available in 18- and 30-inch versions.

Injinji Toe Socks ($10-23)

I'm a huge fan of the Injinji toe socks (and am sponsored by them), which have saved my toes from blisters for over 150+ races. This year there are some great new winter designs, available in warm NuWool, Over The Calf compression style, and fancy pink, green, and blue colors. I can never go wrong with this stocking stuffer!

Squirrel Colugo 2 Wingsuit ($1,700+)

Do you have a thrill seeker friend who just won't shut up? Get them a wingsuit and a GoPro 4, and odds are you won't have to listen for much longer. Considered the A-grade wing suit for parachuting nuts, the Colugo 2 is only for the craziest. But the videos are outstanding. (honestly, watch this one for the most amazing descent of Chamonix I have ever seen) I feel a VK + Wingsuit duathlon in the works...

Jaybird X2 Sport Headphones ($180)

If your runner likes to get their tunes on, they will love a good quality set of headphones. The Jaybird X2 Sport Headphones have great bass and mid-range sound for a low weight unit, a number of add-ons to customize the fit into your ear, and their unique SignalPlus technology helps reduce annoying Bluetooth drop off. The new battery in the X2 lasts 6-8 hours, and it is covered for life against sweat-related malfunctions.

Custom Race Bib Coasters ($22)

If your runner friend has a few proud finishes for the year, here's a way you can immortalize their race number for years to come. Stick it on four coasters! Take a picture of a friend's race number and send it to Mile Stones via for a fun coaster puzzle.

T-Shirt Quilt ($250-400)

On the other side of the spectrum are us runners who have stacks of old t-shirts filling the shelves.  Look no further than the marriage-saving T-Shirt Quilt, which creates a 7x7 (=49) King Size cotton quilt out of old race T's. I got my first one from a desperate need to create closet space, but we quickly found out that we use the quilt all the time (it's just t-shirts after all, so spill away!). Added bonus - when you are at a kid function wishing you were running instead, you can just glance through the shirts and relive those memories! Available at, be sure to order before December 1st for Santa to get it to you on time.

Outside Shower ($800-$5,500)

The mother of all marriage saving gifts is the outside shower, which my wife graciously gave me a few years back. Dirt and dirty clothes stay outside, and I get to be naked in the sunlight on a regular basis...what more could a trail runner ask for?!? This summer I went 70 days showering outside only and it was HEAVEN. Well worth it!

Lily Drone ($800)

By 2018, we will all have drones battling each other for the perfect video angle on a mountain side trail. But for now, drones are only for the nerdiest of nerds, requiring hours of set up and some decent flying skills. One glimmer of hope is the Lily Drone, due in August 2016, which could very well be the simplest user experiences the drone industry has ever seen. Just throw it in the air, and let the video roll...

The Functional Hoodie ($80-150)
As the winter chill comes around, I find a good performance hoodie quickly becomes my go-to piece of clothing. I like a hoodie base layer, like the new Patagonia Merino Midweight Hoody (or the even lighter Merino Air) or the many selections from Icebreaker, which are super light but warm you right up when the temps drop below 45F degrees. For a more universal shell, the new Voormi High E Hoodie is a good one, with its integrated wool/synthetic that repels water. If you're in a rainy climate, the inov-8 Race Elite Race Shell FZ* is the go-to in my closet thanks to the comfy hands and snug fit. 

Digitsole Heated Insoles ($200)

For the runners/volunteers familiar with frozen feet, the Digitsole Warm Series offers a new solution with their digitally controlled heated insoles. You can even adjust the temperature in the iPhone app, and track your steps all day long.

InknBurn Capris ($85)

Add a little pizzazz to the wardrobe with one of the many outrageous and beautiful selections from INKnBURN. A capri is a great addition for Fall/Winter (like the Wildflower above), but check out all their shorts and skirts too. It always brings a smile to my face to see these in action!

The GoalZero Sherpa 100 Solar Charging Station ($600)

Trail nerds, get your sun energy rolling! This three-panel solution weighs 5 lbs, but can power everything that a digital camper could need. No aid station will ever be the same!

Gift In Your Name to iRunFar, UltraRunnerPodcast, etc. ($TBD)

If your trail runner obsesses about race coverage (like we all do), consider making a donation in their name to, or one of the other many passion-driven media outlets we thrive on. Every dollar makes a difference for these guys, and the gesture will be well received. A perfect gift for the runner who has everything!

The RinseKit Portable Shower ($90)

If you've ever had to do the quick creek rinse or gravity-powered hanging shower, you know there isn't enough water pressure to get that muck and poison oak oil off your body. Behold the RinseKit portable shower, which provides up to three gallons of pressurized water that can fit in your trunk. You can even fill it with hot water for a mini-shower!

A Coupon Book for a Catered Run (Free!)

Got a friend who is short on time, but long on a need for adventure? We all do! One of the simplest gifts is to give them a coupon book with all the things they need to make it happen - get someone to watch their kids, make an aid station and a map, create a finish line and snacks. and round up their friends to have a once in a lifetime experience. Extra points for a homemade trophy! Easy and super fun.

ZombieRunner Gift Certificate ($5-500)

I've never met a trail runner who couldn't drop $100 in Zombie before their coffee gets cold. Definitely will prompt a smile. Also an easy gift to buy and send instantly, and their online store means it can be spent just as fast!

Got any other suggestions? Leave a comment and let us know!

Happy Holidays! - SD

* Note - I am sponsored by inov-8, Injinji and others. so no surprise I am a big fan of their gear!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

UltraRunning Magazine Launches North American Race Series

How do you stack up?

That's how the announcement read for UltraRunning Magazine's new Race Series announced via email this morning. In action from May, 2015 to April, 2016, the new Race Series includes all North American ultras (50k, 50, 100k, 100m) using their compiled race results and costs nothing to enter. In fact, if you've run a North American ultra since May, you are already in the results!

The new Race Series uses a "complex formula" to determine your overall score, then breaks that down into one of seven regions as well as age groups for each gender. They say prizes will be offered for all 146 categories, with overall winners getting a ticket to the 2016 Western States 100 Endurance Run.

The "complex formula" includes a number of factors for determining your score for each ultra, such as Finishing Time, Race Distance, Gender, Place, Strength of Field, and Size of Race. At first glance, it has a bias for frequency of races (particularly longer ones), but that feels like the UR Mag vibe to me. The focus on North America provides another bias, and one that will likely handicap some of our best runners who often choose peak races overseas. But when you do see the top ranks for each region, I see a lot of names I know are hard core.

Take a look...and you in there? What do you think of the scoring system and results?

Pretty fascinating. Hats off to UltraRunning Magazine for leveraging their knowledge to try something new!


Friday, November 06, 2015

Race Lotteries for 2016 - Where Will You Place Your Bets?

It's that time of year again - ultra lottery season! Put your name in the hat for entry into some of our sports most popular events, and let the Lottery Gods determine your fate. I know many of you have your favorites - here are few dates to track for the ones I know of: 

Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, June 27, 2016 (Lottery Nov 7-14, Drawing Dec 5). I've got 64 tickets this year! Let's hope it's enough.

Way Too Cool 50k, March 5, 2016 (Lottery Dec 1-10). If you don't get in, get on the wait list right away...historically this race has been able to accommodate a lot of wait-listers. 

Lake Sonoma 50m, April 9, 2016 (Lottery Dec 1-13, Drawing Dec 15)

Gorge Falls 50k, April 9, 2016 (Lottery Oct 22-Nov 12, Drawing Nov 19). Note the 100k is sold out.

Bull Run Run 50m, April 11, 2016 (Lottery Feb 1-8)

Miwok 100k, May 7, 2016 (Lottery Dec 1-10, Drawing Dec 12)

Massanutten 100, May 14, 2016 (Lottery Jan 1-8, Drawing Jan 12)

Mt. Washington Road Race, June 18, 2016 (Lottery Mid-Feb with $5 lottery fee)

Mt. Hood 50m, July 9, 2016 (Lottery Jan 4-9, Drawing Jan 9)

Hardrock 100, July 15, 2016 (Lottery Now-Nov 22 with $12 lottery fee, Drawing Dec 1)

Tahoe Rim Trail 100m, July 16, 2016 (Lottery Dec 6-20, Drawing Jan 1). Note that the Tahoe 200m no longer has a lottery, and is open for registration!

Eiger Ultra Trail 100k, July 16, 2106 (Floating lottery depending on entries, typically Oct/Nov)

Badwater 135, July ~28, 2016 (Lottery/application Jan 19-Feb 2, Selection Feb 12)

Leadville 100, August 20, 2016 (Lottery Dec 1-31 with $15 lottery fee, Drawing ~Jan 15)

Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, August 20, 2016 (Registration Dec 16-Jan 5 with 1.5 euro lottery fee, Lottery selection Jan 14 if needed)

Waldo 100k, August 20, 2016 (Lottery Mid-Februrary)

Cascade Crest 100, Aug 27, 2016 (Lottery Jan 1-Feb 10, Drawing Feb 13)

Wasatch 100, September 9, 2016 (Lottery Dec 1-Jan 4, Drawing Feb 7)

Ironman Hawaii World Championship, October 8, 2016 (No more lottery - it was illegal!)


Friday, October 30, 2015

Two Great Infographics - Top 5 Marathons, Ale Trail in North Lake Tahoe

Ah, the infographic - a fun way to put data, tips, and images into one sweeping graphic or interactive map! Here are a couple that recently caught my eye -

Fairmont has some top tips for the biggest marathons...check out the expert tip for the Boston Marathon!

In a pure stroke of genius, the local breweries of North Lake Tahoe put together an interactive map of both trails and local pubs and brew houses. These guys know their clientele!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Run and Rebalance at the 2015 Lake Padden Half/USATF Trail Half Marathon Championships

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Bellingham, WA, for the 2015 Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon, the Pacific Northwest embraced me in her tranquil arms. Endless green, snow-capped mountains, the perpetual sound of the ocean lapping the shore, the familial "hi's" from strangers on the only needs to be present in this emerald state to feel Mother Nature's maternal grasp and the community eternally connected to it. And I needed that hug, even more so than I was willing to admit, as evidenced by the long sighs of relief squeezed from my soul as I drove down I-5. Although it wasn't planned as such, this race trip had instantly become a retreat, an escape of sorts. Perhaps I would figure out what I was retreating from.

(Calm Lake Padden Park)
I was excited for the race too, naturally. New Race Director Tad Davis had redesigned the course that hosted the 2014 USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championship into a more challenging two-loop version that promised screaming fast sections along the lake, steep climbs through the lush and rooted hills, and a cross country style start and finish that would delight spectators. The weather had cooperated perfectly all week, presenting a mostly dry 55-degree day that would work well for runners and volunteers alike.

(A sample of the trails we would find in the first few miles)
The Lake Padden Half has an ideal mix of small town charm and sponsor-backed professionalism that draws an insane roster of elite athletes. In many ways, it is that perfect balance between the small local race we all love and the big-time throw down of the best in the sport we all love to watch. One thing for sure, it was going to be a challenge just to make the Top 20 with these guys around:
  • Defending champion Patrick Smyth (Nike/Utah), coming off a year that includes being the 2015 US Mountain Running Champion, 2015 Xterra National Champ (he's also the 2013 and 2014 Xterra World Champ), 2nd at the 2015 US 50k Trail Championship, and 4th at USATF XC Nationals. Oh yeah, there was also that redonkulous new CR at the 2015 Way Too Cool 50k (3:04:48). He recently moved from Salt Lake City to Sante Fe, NM, and it hasn't appeared to slow him down.
  • Andy Wacker (Adidas/Colorado), who won the 2015 US 50k Trail Championship in the Marin Headlands ahead of Smyth, was 2nd at 2015 World Long Distance Championship, won the 12-Mile Barr Trail Race on Pikes Peak, and was 2nd at the 2015 US Mountain Running Championship.
  • Max King (Salomon/Oregon), was here just a few weeks after winning the Warrior Dash World Championship for the 2nd time, collecting a $30k payday. He has been enjoying a season in Europe, so you know he has his climbing skills dialed. 
  • Tim Tollefson (Nike/California), the 2014 US 50k Trail Champion, was 2nd at the 2015 UTMB CCC 101km, and is a 2:18 Marathoner.
  • Jared Bassett (Brooks/Oregon), the 25-year-old track phenom (3:43 for 1500m, 8:36 for Steeplechase) who is quickly showing his trail abilities with a 5th at 2015 US 50k Trail Championship.
  • Sam Robinson (California) was 2nd at 2015 Table Rock 27k, 5th at 2014 US 50k Trial Championship, and has finished well here before.
  • Women's defending champion Maria Dalzot (La Sportiva/Bellingham, WA), who was also 18th at 2015 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in Wales.
  • Kimber Mattox (Nike/Oregon), the 2014 World Xterra Trail Champion (in her first trail run race ever), 2014 Warrior Dash World Champion, and was 6th at 2014 World Mountain Running Championship.
  • Allison Morgan (Brooks/Oregon), with a 4th at the 2015 US Mountain Running Championship, 18th at 2014 World Mountain Running Championship, and a 32:46 10k best.
  • Jamie Cheevers (Brooks/Washington), a fast local who was 12th at 2015 USATF Steeplechase Championship.
  • Michele Yates (Colorado), who cleaned house in 2013 with a win at the 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile Champion, 2013 TNF 50 Mile Champion, 2013 US 100k and 50m Trail Champion
  • Ladia Albertson Junkans (Washington), an NCAA DI XC All American, was 6th at 2015 US Mountain Running Championship, and boasts a 1:13 Half Marathon.
  • Caitlin Smith (California), on a tremendous year that includes becoming the 2015 US Trail 50k Champion, and finishing a 2:42 Marathon.
  • YiOu Wang (California), the 2015 Table Rock 27k Champion, she was also 3rd at Way Too Cool 50k, and boasts a 2:38 Marathon.
  • Lindsay Tollefson (California), who was 3rd at the 2015 US Trail 50k Championship, and is capable of a 2:41 Marathon.
  • Amanda Lee (Colorado), who was 10th at 2015 US Mountain Running Championship
  • Chris Lundy (California), the 5-time USA Mountain Running Team member.
  • Samantha Rivard (Oregon), an NCAA DII XC All American, who has a 16:29 5k, and is the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon Champion.
(Andy Whacker gets into Oktoberfest spirit, while chatting with Race Director Tad Davis)
(Hanging with the elites at the press conference)
(Sam Robinson and Caitlin Smith hamming it up, photo courtesy of Richard Bolt)
(Meeting Kimber Mattox before the race, and learning she trains daily on the tracks of South Eugene High School where I attended...ahem...30-some years ago! Photo courtesy of Richard Bolt)
Wow! Just insane for a 250-person race (another ~100 in the 5k). It was great to hang out at the press conference the day before with the elites and learn more about their various successes, training methods, and hopes for the big day. Most were saying this challenging course was going to test all their skills, from speed along the lake to shifting gears quickly for the hills. It was certainly going to take a trained and well-rounded runner to win here.

By the time I got to the start line, I was definitely in a much better mental state. I had decompressed with some local brews in the charming area of Fairhaven, and enjoyed chatting with some local marijuana dispensary owners about the fast-moving world of cannabis which had become recreationally legal in Washington last year. Such adventurous entrepreneurs! This industry reminds me so much of Silicon Valley circa 1995...passionate nerdy players, a government that quickly changes its tune when the tax coffers fill, curious capital coming off the sidelines from all kinds of investors, and the big and bold thinkers positioning themselves for the game of the decade. A couple of these dispensaries were flat out thriving, and it was clear that outdoor lovers/tourists were a big natural draw - just check out the ads in the local Adventure Journal! Why is that not a surprise? ;-)

(Ad page in the local Adventure Journal...lots to choose from!)
Race morning was a perfect overcast day, and RD Tad Davis, race founder Al Doyle, and USATF guru Richard Bolt lined us up for the national anthem. One last round of applause for the sponsors (Flora Health in particular) and volunteers, and a reminder that this race has already generated $40,000+ for Rebound of Whatcom County, a local charity that helps underprivileged kids get their grounding. Bravo! Then with the sound of the air horn, we were off...

(Getting in the zone)
(Patrick Smyth, ready to roll)

(Max King picks a winner, while Kimber Mattox, and Tim Tollefsen get their game faces on)
(And we are off!)
The course started with 2 miles of dirt bike trail along the river, and it didn't take long for Patrick Smyth and Andy Whacker to start dropping sub-5 minute miles, with Max King right behind them. I slotted in with eight of the leading women cruising at a 5:45 min/mile pace about ten places back. The ladies were smooth and powerful, and running among them felt like galloping with thoroughbreds. I wanted to capture this feeling for my girls! So inspiring. But seriously kicking my ass trying to keep up.

(Running with the gazelles along the lake path)
(Flying! Photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
(The women sprint down into the canyon)
(Maria Dalzot takes us up into the hills)
When we hit the hills (mile 2.5), the runners began to spread out on the single track and I found myself pacing with locals Maria Dalzot (2014 champ) and 50k Masters runner Dominic Battistella behind the lead pack of women. Both were definitely better climbers than me, so we see-sawed back and forth through the switchbacks, me taking photos as they passed me again and again. The inov-8 X-Talon 212's loved the moist-but-not-muddy dirt and crisp Fall leaves that kicked behind us like rooster tails, and gave me the traction I needed to slingshot back to Maria and Dominic out of the tight switchbacks. I counted three climbs in there, the third being the biggest (~700' vert), and we soon descended back to the track in ~48 minutes (mile 6.5). So much fun to run an unknown course!

(Some great long climbs!)
(Hauling ass, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
(Volunteers were amazing, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
(Patrick Smyth lays it down, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
I picked it up to 6:10 min/miles along the lake for lap 2, definitely feeling the mixed terrain of the last hour, and now knowing what was ahead. I clearly had taken the flats too fast on the first lap (ego, please!), so I eased up a bit on this lap so save for the hills. Dominic and Maria both kept a faster pace, so I watched them stretch out in front of me along the lake and into the hills again (mile 9). For this lap, I would be solo, enjoying what redwoods I could see through the anaerobic tunnel vision.

(Lap 2! Photo courtesy of Takao Suzuki)
(Saturation NOT turned up!)
The second lap came effortlessly, completely in flow, up and over the logs and ledges, and skipping down the dirt steps like child's play. My epiphany was instant...I hadn't felt "the flow" this deeply in months. Sure, I have enjoyed my daily runs, but they hadn't produced this deep serenity since the Spring. I kind of knew it then, burying long runs in headphones turned to 11, but didn't want to sort it out. Now that Mother Nature's northern playground had rooted me, the dissonance was deafening in its absence. The culprit was obvious (work, duh), and as it goes with many things, identifying the issue is more than half the battle. The decision to "fix that shit when I get back" came and went as fast as the last aid station, and my center felt calm and warm again. My shoulders relaxed, and I headed down the final descent with an ear-to-ear smile. I crossed the finish in 1:42:17 for 26th place, third Master, and much to my surprise, the M45-49 win.

(Patrick Smyth takes the win, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald
The battle up front had been epic from start to finish, with Patrick Smyth (1:18:29) striking out like a banshee on the second lap and repeating as champion. Andy Whacker (1:22:12) and Max King (1:22:35) arrived soon after, the three clearly in a league of their own. As Max King said at the finish, "Patrick was on fire, and when he's like that, it's hard to keep up". Tim Tollefson (1:24:21) and Jared Bassett (1:25:00) came in a few minutes later, followed by Sam Robinson (1:28:13), Ron Tibaduiza (1:29:19), Keith Lafferty (1:31:08), and Masters winner Chris Grauch (1:31:47). All the finish times were 2-3 minutes slower than last year, so it was definitely a more challenging course.

(Kimber Mattox, 2015 USATF Trail Half Marathon National Champion, photo courtesy of the Bellingham Herald)
Eugene OR's Kimber Mattox (1:32:20) prevailed as the Women's champ, holding back a fast charging Allison Morgan (1:34:02). An epic last mile duel between Ladia Albertson-Jenkins (1:36:24) and YiOu Wang (1:36:37) made it all the way to the final grassy field, while Bend OR's Camelia Mayfield (1:37:51), Lindsay Tollefson (1:38:07), Jamie Cheaver (1:38:08), Maria Dalzot (1:41:08), and Caitlin Smith (1:42:42) rounded out the top finishers. (all results)

"There were so many ups and downs in the hills, I couldn't tell if Allison was right behind me or I had a big lead," said Kimber at the finish, "believe me, it's a big motivator to know Allison and the others could be a pounce away. I pushed right to the finish."

(The Patrick Smyth cut out got a lot of love...some here from teammate Tim Tollefson)

(A great video summary put together by Andy Whacker and Richard Bolt) 

We all enjoyed soup and snacks as the remaining finishers came across the field to big applause, and soon had some time on the podiums to crown our national champions. Small town, but big time great! I continued to be blown away by how impactful this race was to the local community too...funds for Rebound, the draw of the nations fastest trail runners, the unmistakable cheers for finishers who had decided to do something big today, and then got it done. This feeling never gets old. I signed over my winnings (a whopping $50) to contribute to the cause, feeling just as much the angel investor as I do in Silicon Valley. Great things are happening here.

(Top Ten Men)
(Top Ten Women)
(Good for AG gold)
I'll certainly be back to see more of this beautiful country, perhaps for the USATF Champs that will be here again in 2016. Or maybe just to have the Pacific Northwest center my soul again and get me on the right track even when I don't realized I am off course. Many thanks to Tad Davis, Al Doyle, and the sponsors of the Lake Padden Half, and the volunteers who made it so special. I will see you again soon!

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