Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Marijuana, Cannabis, and Weed - One Athlete's Primer

There are few things in life that I enjoy as much as a runner’s high. That natural buzz that kicks in ~80 minutes into a run as my body slips into a primordial rhythm, my soul bonding with Mother Nature as she whirls around me and fills my lungs and senses with the feeling of flight...there’s nothing quite like it. In fact, I’ve only found a handful of life experiences that come close, and most of them aren’t nearly as accessible as a long trail run. Great sex, for example, or a perfect powder ski day requires a number of stars to align, such rarity perhaps making them all the more coveted. But one of my other favorite vices – marijuana - is quickly becoming more and more accessible with each wave of legalization here in the United States. Accompanying this is a growing amount of misinformation about cannabis from the perpetually aggrandizing media hungry for this buzz-worthy topic, including its use in fitness and endurance training. My inbox is growing accordingly with questions and requests for suggestions, so I will do my best here to give a primer from one athlete’s perspective.


If this subject isn't your cup of (herbal) tea, I completely understand. I'm fascinated with both the runner's high and its cannabis cousin, but certainly don't expect that curiosity to be shared by all. If you embrace the outdoors, love to sweat until it hurts, and are bold enough to allow adventure into every part of your life, then believe me, you are already winning. No need to change (or add) anything. My intent here is to share what I have experienced for those who are interested, knowing that endurance athletes probably understand the subject more than they realize.

In a nutshell, my personal use is as follows. I am a card-carrying medical marijuana patient in the great State of California, and primarily use it for recovery after big endurance events, nights around the campfire, lazy days in the off-season, or if there is more than five loads of laundry that need folded on any given Sunday. I don’t use it during races, nor during or after training efforts, and if given the choice of some weed or a good Prohibition-era cocktail, I will take the cocktail 95% of the time. Unless live music is playing, that is, and then I go for both, naturally. All in all, I’m a cannabis fan and advocate with casual monthly use, but it is a very small part of what makes me smile every day. My trail running, however, admittedly borders on exercise addiction and is a big part of what makes me eternally optimistic. So there you go.

The Similarities of Running Long and Cannabis Use

First, it should come as no surprise if any runner friend of yours is found to dabble in occasional cannabis use. Both trigger the same chemical system in the body, known as the cannabinoid system, creating feelings of mild euphoria, pain relief, appetite suppression, and a loss of sense of time and space. The act of running long does it naturally by producing endocannabinoids (also called "anandamide"), and is likely familiar to any distance runner who has mysteriously lost track of time between aid stations because they were "in the zone" and grinning like crazy. Meditation, music, lucid dreaming, yoga, surfing, climbing, and other endurance activities are also cited as ways to trigger this natural state.

Marijuana is an artificial, and more exaggerated, stimulation of that same cannabinoid system. The two primary chemicals in marijuana - Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) - are what create the psychoactive and pain suppression feelings by bonding to the same chemical receptors (CB1 and CB2) that endocannabinoids do. My personal experience is that using marijuana is about a 2-3x effect of the runners high, but as an artificial stimulant, will also have some after-effects as your body “overcorrects” from the experience, such as lack of REM sleep, the “stupids” the next morning, etc. (more on this here). A natural runner’s high, via increased health, actually helps your sleep patterns and mental acuity. So no surprise, your brain likes it best when it's naturally stimulated.

Since both running and cannabis stimulate the same chemical system, I’m not a big fan of consuming cannabis while exercising. Recent press has highlighted “22-year-old professional ultrarunners who get high before races”, running groups who promote cannabis use,  and “coaches who suggest/use marijuana in daily routines”, but these athletes are few are far between for good reason. If you are already putting in the time to get the natural high, there’s really no need to simultaneously stimulate your system artificially. There’s also a lot less face planting on the trail with just a natural high, and let’s face it, if you find the need to do any stimulant while trail running (caffeine, ibuprofen, cannabis, alcohol, nicotine, and perhaps even music), you are kind of missing the point of trail running.
And if you are thinking about using cannabis while competing, it's worth noting that is still considered a banned substance for use in competition by WADA, IAAF, and the NCAA. [Ed. note - WADA did raise the limit of THC for their testing to 150 nanograms/ml from 15 ng/ml in May, 2013, citing the specific goal of only screening for those who use in competition, not casual users. It's for this reason I can actually blog on the subject.]

(Yes, this is a Colorado-based running club!)
I should note here that some studies have shown that cannabis use outside of running can affect you while you are running. One study has shown that THC is stored in your fat cells, and when you run long distance, you may be triggering up to a 15% dose of THC naturally as you burn fat. Be sure to keep that in mind the next time you are competing in a WADA-enforced event and have to pee in a cup at the finish line. ;-)

Not All Marijuana Is The Same

One thing a lot of people find surprising is that not all marijuana is the same. The two main types of marijuana, Sativa and Indica, are quite different in their effect on the brain and body. The effects can also vary dramatically if it is taken in through the lungs (smoked or with vapor), or ingested (eaten). It’s all a bit strange to the unintiated, I’m sure, and an industry still stuck in product descriptions like "Green Crack" and "Romulan" aren't really helping. But it's worth taking a moment to explain the differences.

Indica (aka "Cannabis Indica") is known to be more sedating and relaxing, with full-body effects that relieve pain and can "lock" you into the couch. Parents will know Indica as that skunk-smelling, sticky plant your teens are trying to grow in the attic (it couldn't have been just me, right?) that has them watching SpongeBob Squarepants over and over. Think of any Seth Rogen film, Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or Brad Pitt as Floyd in the movie True Romance, and you get the idea of the effect. It simply lays you out, and can involve a slight out-of-body experience that I attribute to most people who say "I tried it once and it didn't work for me because I just spaced out and drooled". The running equivalent is how you feel immediately after a race - exhausted, yet internally overjoyed.

(Brad Pitt plays Floyd in True Romance - worth noting that he also has gone on record saying smoking pot daily wasted a huge chunk of his life)

Medical marijuana professionals typically recommend an Indica strain for nighttime usage, treating anxiety, mood disorders, pain relief, and insomnia.  I reach for an Indica a day or two after a huge race effort, largely to keep my Type A personality from trying to get up and do things when I'm supposed to be recovering on the couch, which is usually the way I pull a hamstring or stress my back, not during the actual event. And believe me, a good Indica will keep you on that couch. One can go through an entire loaf of bread burning a dozen grilled cheese sandwiches because your brain can't quite stay on task. Not saying that happened, but you are warned. ;-)

Sativa (aka "Cannabis Sativa") is typically associated with a more energetic and cerebral effect. This is the type (also called a "strain") that gets your brain flying, stimulates creativity, and generally improves your mood. That great scene with Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda in the classic film 9 to 5 is more akin to a Sativa...you sit around with friends, thinking "what if's", and laughing your ass off over the simplest things. Then you clean the entire house, twice. If someone has said "I tried marijuana once and it made me too paranoid", it was probably a Sativa strain, because it really does get your brain going. The running equivalent are those moments of clarity you get when you are in a good tempo run, accidentally solving things in the back of your head every couple of minutes like how to organize your sock drawer. Medical marijuana professionals commonly recommended Sativa for daytime usage, increased creativity, and anti-depression qualities.


Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin in the classic scene in the movie 9 to 5

Californians will know Sativa as that tall plant that grows like a "weed" in the Santa Cruz Mountains and other coastal ranges, versus the shorter and stubbier Indica. Worth noting - grilled cheese creation can also be challenging with Sativa, but this time it's because you're too busy writing a new version of the Doobie Brothers "Jesus Is Just Alright" dedicated to "Grilled Cheese Is Just Alright" to watch over your melting snack. Likely you just end up nibbling the cheese and bread separately while you Google "history of the grilled cheese sandwich".

It's worth noting that most of the marijuana sold today are actually hybrids, or genetic mixtures of both Sativa and Indica, that are either Sativa- or Indica-dominant. One of the great benefits of legalization is that you can now visit a dispensary and know EXACTLY what you are getting. This includes the levels of THC (the psychoactive component) and CBD (mostly physical component), and the mix of strains. It's even possible to get a cannabis strain that has almost no THC and high CBD, such as the ridiculously named "AC/DC", which can numb your body without getting you high. This product knowledge and regulation, along with the ability to tax usage, is one of the many reasons I am a long-time advocate for marijuana legalization.

Another thing you will also find in a dispensary is a number of different derivatives of the actual marijuana flower - hash, concentrates, waxes, oils, butters, cookies, chocolate bars, gummy bears, breath mints, and just about everything in between. If you are curious, find a dispensary and get a walkthrough of the growing list of options. I'll just point out some important differences below.

For those of you who like a little background, cannabis has a fascinating history dating back to 300 B.C. It has been a part of medicine, religion, and culture for a long time. Not as much as running, of course, but there you go.

Differences in Consumption - Smoking, Vaping, and Eating

Since I am a California resident, I am required to have a recommendation/medical marijuana ID from a licensed doctor in order to enter a dispensary and purchase cannabis products. I was quite honest with my doctor that I was using it for elective purposes (i.e., recovery from endurance events), and he said that was fine, as long as I understood the proper use of marijuana and promised not to do anything stupid. It turns out this is an important point - if you don't know what you are doing, you can get into trouble, similar to someone drinking too much alcohol. For this and other obvious reasons, I wouldn't recommend anyone under the age of 21 use marijuana unless specifically recommended by a doctor (which also happens to be the law in all States where marijuana is legal). For the rest of you, read on.

The most common form of consuming cannabis, is of course, smoking it. Like that classic Friday's skit where he says "you smoke it, yeah, yeah, yeah", there a wide range of ways this can be done.  Smoking marijuana generally brings on the effect in a few minutes, peaks after 40-60 minutes, and lasts a few hours in total. One of the big reasons that marijuana smokers don't take "too much" in one sitting, like one can do with alcohol, is quite frankly you get so high you begin to self-regulate sooner. I think this is one of the reasons marijuana is considered 114x less risky than alcohol, and has shown to not have as high of correlation with car accidents. But smoking can be tough on the lungs, particular for athletes.

A popular and growing alternative is to use a vaporizer, which heats the cannabis to the point of releasing the active chemicals, but not to the point of combustion. This releases far less carcinogens than smoking, and the vapor goes down much easier in the lungs. IMHO, it creates a more mellow effect than lighting up, and is significantly less annoying to people around you. Longitudinal studies haven't been done to truly understand if vaping is healthier than smoking or not, although some studies are saying it is 95% less harmless. If you are going to "vape", be sure to read the instructions for your device - proper usage takes a few inside tricks, like the right temperature, the right way to pack the ingredients, and more. As if often said, you need to "sip it, don't rip it".

(A gentleman enjoys one of the best vaporizers on the market, the PAX 2)

Another alternative is ingesting cannabis, such as the famous "pot brownies" your parents made, or the multitude of consumables available on the market today (ice cream, anyone?). Ingesting cannabis has a very different effect than inhaling, one that is much more narcotic and physical in nature. It can also take a while to kick in - often as much as 60-90 minutes - and can take 3-6 hours to wear off. For this reason it is very important to control your dosage and your environment before you understand the full effect on your body. Most consumables are made with a 10-15 mg dose, and one would be smart to do that or less to begin, then wait for a few hours to get the full effect. The number one fear of every pro-marijuana doctor I have spoken to is that somebody messes up when ingesting cannabis (or gets into the hands of somebody who doesn't understand it), and ends up in the emergency room or worse. In the world of running, similar recklessness would be coming off the couch and running a 100-miler, and also ending up in the hospital. But if you're careful, ingesting cannabis can be a wonderful experience.

(Cannabis ice cream)
(A Kiva chocolate bar - don't eat the whole thing!)
If I'm in a Sativa mood, I much prefer to use a vaporizer to get a nice psychoactive effect. If I'm looking to relax and have a large window of time to do so, ingesting is my preferred method (the Kiva chocolate bar is a favorite), particularly during race recovery. And of course, if I've got time to do a long run or hike, it will always be my first choice, and the smile it puts on my face is more than enough to rid any desire for cannabis.

Conclusions

As I mentioned in the intro, if your life is full of the outdoors, smiles, exercise, and gratitude, there is no need to modify what you are doing in any way or add substances to the mix. You are killing it! For athletes that are more curious about this subject, I hope this was a helpful overview, and perhaps enlightened you to some parallels with your cannabis-loving brethren. For those of you already on the cannabis train who haven't tried trail running, let me strongly recommend trying the more natural way to find that high you already love, and get out on those trails! I am, of course, open to any feedback, thoughts, and tips on the subject.

See you on the trails...

- SD

[In case this wasn't obvious, all postings, thoughts, and opinions on this site, including this one, are my own and do not represent the postings, strategies or opinions of my sponsors, advertisers, employers, clients, friends, or family members. Except maybe my pug, Ace, who enjoys having me on the couch regularly.]


Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Na Pali Coast in Kaua'i, Hawaii

I stole away for an afternoon on Kaua'i, Hawaii, to run/hike the 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast this last week.  Although the trail was quite technical (often too technical or overgrown to run), it was a worthy adventure!

The Kalalau Trail is at the northern point of Kaua'i, about an hours drive from Lihue Airport, literally at the end of the highway. It's a popular tourist destination, so best to hit it as soon as the sun comes up. You can day hike up to six miles into the 11-mile trail, but need a permit to go farther (not that anyone was checking). 80% of the tourist traffic stops at mile 2, and all the naked fun starts at mile 6, so I found eight miles and back to be plenty.

(Shot from the Na Pali Coast from the air, photo courtesy of Wikipedia)


(The rugged coastline made for amazing views)
(The trail was quite rocky in some sections)
(There were a few runnable sections, like this one about 3 miles in)
(Vegetation was thick!)
(The 11-mile trail crossed over five valleys) 
(The beach at mile 2 had mysterious stone stacks everywhere)
(This spear stood above the highest point on the trail)
(The creeks were amazing!)
(The Hanakapi'ai Falls well worth the extra mile)
(I got no less than three invites to get naked and join the party...it's a big thing out here)
(Hang on! It gets a little slick...)
All in all, it turned out to be a whole day effort. Don't rely on your GPS - mine came up about 50% short. I didn't quite make it to the end of the trail (ran out of food and water), but would definitely do it again!


- SD

Monday, February 09, 2015

Are Ultramarathoners Getting High? (Wall St Journal)

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) ran an article today called The Debate Over Running While High, discussing the trade offs of consuming marijuana during, or after, ultrarunning events. Holy cow, is this a thing? Will all Colorado events (where marijuana is legal for recreational use) now have "special" edibles at the aid stations? Or is it truly a performance enhancing drug and should be banned?


It's an interesting read. I love that Jenn Shelton is sourced as saying "she made a decision to never compete with the drug for ethical reasons, expressly because she believes it enhances performance." That's awesome. That, and our primary representative here is a 22-year-old professional ultrarunner who smokes pot. If he lives in his parent's basement, I know a lot of those guys. ;-)

What do you guys think? Is cannabis use in ultras pervasive? Should it be banned? I'm a long-time fan of medical marijuana (see some early research here), as many of you know, and happy to write up a primer on how it has and hasn't helped the running over the years. Just let me know if that would be interesting to you.

Thx, SD

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

New 100-Mile PR at the 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100m/USATF Championships

“Oh my God, I think I’m going to be sick,” said the runner next to me in the starting chute of the 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100-Mile Run (RR100) last Saturday morning. Thirty seconds to start…it’s the last time your brain allows you to absorb the entirety of the next 30 hours, and the sheer insanity of a sport and race that annually draws 500+ runners here to Hunstville, TX. We are all fidgeting – the fast runners bouncing like hungry greyhounds, the vets finding solace and strength in the moment – but the newbies have it the worst.

“No worries, mate,” said a veteran RR100 runner right behind us with an assuring hand on the dizzy mans shoulder, “there’s plenty of time for that later.” We all chuckled, and several more supportive arms came out of the darkness with reassuring pats and fist bumps for our nervous recruit. He was stoked into a smile, then lowered his head down to his watch, his thumb on a start button he won’t touch again for two more sunrises. With one last collective exhale, Race Director Joe Prusaitis released us from our mental cages. The 2015 USATF 100-Mile Trail National Championship had begun.

(Here we go! Photo courtesy of Victor Ballesteros
(T-minus 30 seconds, photo courtesy of Jason Bryant)
(And we're off!!!)
I settled into an easy rhythm in the snake of streaking headlamps lighting up the fir trees and rolling hills of Huntsville State Park. We had five well-marked loops of 20 miles ahead of us, so no need to do anything in the first few miles except find your place in the flow and don’t step too far off the trail. The first sign when you enter the park says “Caution - Alligators Exist In Park”…you don’t need to tell me twice!

(Ummm...wha?)
My Dad, Dr. Larry Dunlap, was my trusty crew once again, and I let him know I was just going to run the first lap comfortably and see where that put me. I had secret desires to improve my 100-mile PR of 18:12 and secure another USATF national title, but the only way that was going to happen was showing the discipline to pace from the first step. Historically I have not been great at that, and have done my fair share of death marches in the final miles of these hundos. But for this race the chips were stacked in my favor - my fitness and health were good, I was spiritually centered and calm, the weather was forecasted to be an optimal 53 degrees with slight showers, and the loop format made pacing much easier. The excuse drawer was empty, basically, so time to put it in diesel mode.

(Steve Speirs smiles as the sun greats us)
(My early mile pace mates, Steve Speir and Shaheen Sattar)
The sun peeked over the horizon just as we arrived at the “Dam Nation” aid station (mile 7), and I found myself pacing with Team Injinji teammate Steve Speirs (4th here last year, 15:43) and Shaheen Sattar (3rd female here last year, 16:45). It was great to have a couple of RR100 experts give me the lay of the land as we took the “Dam Loop”, the longest stretch between aid stations on the course. We chatted about the front runners we had meet at the race briefing – Ian Sharman (CR holder of 12:44, looking very fit), Paul Terranova (Texas local who just took 2nd at Bandera 100k three weeks ago), 2-time Women’s winners Nicole Studer and Liza Howard, Texas local Melanie Fryar, Master’s defending champion Joshua Finger, 78-year-old Peter Fish attemping to be the oldest runner to ever finish a 100-miler, and a dozen more that could be making history. There was a stacked field in every category, and the loop format meant we could watch it all unfold in real time.

(Steve catches up to Melanie Fryar as we hit one of the many footbridges along the water)
(Henrik Westerlin sets a fast pace and heads into loop #2)
We did a quick refuel, then took on some long roads before finding the familiar single track and wooden footbridges along the reservoir. Steve’s pacing logic was absurdly straight forward – just under 9 minute miles (including rest stops) gets you 15 hours – a tactic that has worked well for him. Shaheen had paced with Steve last year, and knew that it was a good way to get rolling on her sub-16 goal. Around mile 18 we were already seeing the leaders coming back, with Boulder’s David Kilgore (on a 6:50 min/mile pace!), Italian Marco Bonfiglio, Ian Sharman, Jean Pommier, David James, and Nicole and Liza all looking strong. Steve had paced us in to a perfect 2:50 first lap, right on track for his 15-hour goal. One lap done!

(I get by with a little help from my friends - sticking with Steve Speirs on the first loop, photo courtesy of Ally Speirs)
(Women's leaders Nicole Studer and Liza Howard share a few strides, photo courtesy of Victor Ballesteros)
I took a pit stop, so Steve and Shaheen headed out ahead for Lap 2 without me. Honestly, not sure what I was thinking pacing with a 15-hour guy! Given the roots and twists I had just seen, I suspected I could do between 16:30 and 18 hours if I could hold it together. Just keep moving, right?

(Hey, I know that guy! Jean Pommier setting a wicked fast pace)
(Cruising the footbridges)
(Only allowed on the left, photo courtesy of Victor Ballesteros)
At the next aid station (mile 23), Shaheen was already on the side of the trail clutching her bloodied hip, a victim to a fall on the sharp roots. A good reminder that anything can happen to even the best of runners, so stay in the moment. I slurped my Vitargo and listened to the birdsong in the trees, singing to myself to keep the momentum going (the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack mostly). The front runners were already headed back, with David Kilgore clearing the first 26.2 miles in ~2:50. Wow! That is definitely a world record pace!

(WR or bust, David Kilgore goes out hard)
(Nearly impossible to get lost with the great course markings)
(Liza Howard moving fast, photo courtesy of Dominic Grossman)
I checked my watch at the marathon mark (3:55) and promptly caught a toe and went sprawling into the dirt. Texas trail trolls don’t allow for daydreaming! The Dam Nation aid station (mile 29) cleaned me up in a jiffy, and I was back at it in just a few minutes, picking up David James as company as he worked his way through some back spasms. We kept the pace around a 9 min/mile, and it seemed like Dave knew everyone on a first name basis. He took another walk break (too much cheering!), as we high-fived a huge conga line of runners before I leaned into the long fire roads again.

(The hearty volunteer team at the Dam Nation aid station has no worries about rain)
(This guy said "I think you dropped the skin from your elbow on the trail"..ha, ha!)
(Matthew Urbanski gets some tree cover)
I charged in for a 2:58 second lap (mile 40), which still seemed fast. My Dad let me know a few more had dropped – Steve Speirs, Shaheen, and a dozen others, most of them citing injury – so to be careful as my tired legs started to shuffle among the roots. Sure enough, I took another digger just a minute after leaving him and bloodied my nose. Grrrr…this course looked much easier on paper!!! (ha, ha)

(19-year-old Carlos Rodriguez and Peter Goldring are looking good)
(Jason Bahumundi and his friend Jeff Irvin always had a smile for us!)
(72-year-old David Blaylock gets his tunes rolling)
A few rain sprinkles visited as I hit the halfway point (mile 50, 7:50), and I found a good groove to get through the third lap in 3:18 (mile 60). Ian Sharman had moved up a few places, with Marco Bonfiglio now leading once David Kilgore dropped. Paul Terranova, Sam Skeels, Henrik Westerlin, and Peter Hogg were all within 10 minutes, and Nicole Studer and Liza Howard also moving fast about five minutes off each other.

I had switched to eating broth/ramen and pumpkin pie slices at the aid stations, a good complement to my drink calories as the lunch hour arrived. Sure is easier to manage the stomach when it’s not 100+ degrees out…I was easily staying on my hydration and calories, with a little Vespa to balance it out.

(Ian Sharman looks amazing, natch) 
(Paul Terranova keeps the pressure on)
(Liza Howard is so fast! And still smiling)
My Dad and I agreed he should meet me at the last aid station on the fourth loop (mile 75) to hand off a light, since I quite wasn’t going to make the full loop in time. Not like Ian Sharman, who told me “you only have about 30 minutes of dark at the end when you’re on a 13 hour pace”. Wha? That guy is amazing. He and Rob Krar should have a #noflashlight hashtag club or something.

Speaking of which, Ian had moved his way into second place and had gapped Paul Terranova by a few minutes. Nicole Studer was right on Paul’s tail, well on a 14:30 pace. They inspired me to run a bit faster, particularly when I realized I had gained a few minutes on Joshua Finger in the last lap, but as soon as I did, I was face down in the dirt again. One of the fast runners stopped to pick me up, and it was none other than Joshua Finger! He wasn’t leaving until he knew I was okay. Love that guy.

(Nicole Studer leads the women...no watch! Photo courtesy of Jason Bryant)
(I'm still hanging in there! Photo courtesy of Jason Bryant)
(Nathan Leehman takes a break, then digs deep for a Top 10 finish, photo courtesy of Victor Ballesteros)
I really started slowing down once the darkness settled (~12 min/mile), mostly out of fear of falling again now that I was bleeding from every limb. There was going to be some serious bed sheet jerky tonight! Everything else seemed to be going pretty well though, and I came in the fourth lap in 3:38 (mile 80), meaning I was in sub-17 territory and in the Top 20 overall. Jean Pommier (dropped after a crazy sub-8 minute first two laps) and Victor Ballesteros (manning the ultrasportlive.tv microphone and camera) mentioned there were a few Masters well ahead of me, but they weren’t sure about my age group. The sprinkles of rain had gotten a bit heavier, so I grabbed my inov-8 Race Elite 70 Windshell and wool t-shirt before heading out for the last lap. My Dad joined me for a mile jog he had done on previous loops, but missed his turn this time and accidentally got 4 miles of night running in (and one face plant). Way to go, Pops! We’ll have matching bed sheet jerky for sure...big tip for the hotel maid!

(Snapping a quick pic with Victor Ballesteros and Jean Pommier before loop #4, photo courtesy of Victor Ballesteros
(Amos Desjardins stays under a 20-hour pace)
(Tony Nguyen ain't stopping! Photo courtesy of Victor Ballesteros
I shuffled into the night, thrilled to see where everyone was in their respective races. You really get to know your fellow runners when you see them five times, and many of them were holding strong! Tony Nguyen was killing it, well on track to his first Western States qualifier ever. Kurt Dusterhoff was moving well, with a sub-24 well in his sights. The unstoppable Roy Pirrung was, well, unstoppable! Anytime a runner asked “what loop?”, and I replied “last one”, there were huge sighs and cheers (and the occasional “oh, you bastard!”), and I felt instantly grateful. Some of these warriors would be out here until noon tomorrow…sooo impressive. Having done both fast 100's and all-day 100's, I honestly don’t know which is harder.

Despite a thought-to-be-fully-charged headlamp, my Petzl Nao started to give that oh-shit-just-about-out-of-power blink a few miles into the Dam Loop (mile 88). As it dimmed, I reached for my backup handheld, only to find the back up light dimming as well (I think I left it on). Oh, no…it’s that worst case night running scenario! By mile 90, I was at a dead stop in the rainy blackness, and I cursed myself a bit for being so lazy in the headlight planning. But as my ears and eyes settled in the expanse of the darkness and heard the light rain, it felt amazing, and I was completely lost in the moment. When you hear nothing but footsteps and breathing for a dozen plus hours, a moment of infinite silence and darkness has a vertigo-like intensity. So….wicked….COOL! My runner’s high was off the charts at this point (obviously), and nature’s symphony was almost too much for my wide open soul. I could see some runners headed my way, so I just sat down and enjoyed the tranquility, fueling up the best I could and letting the tears of joy run down my dirty cheeks.

(Wow...the forest sure is pretty at night. ;-) )
My savior was Gerardo “Jerry” Ramirez from Fort Worth, TX, a veteran of 20+ 100-milers who was cranking out his fourth loop at a solid pace. He loaned me his extra light to get to the next aid station, but five minutes later, that one went out too! Bad lighting karma, everyone, keep your distance!!! I couldn’t believe it. I jogged in behind Jerry, and traded my expensive-but-worth-nothing-now handheld light for a $6 Wal-Mart special that someone had stashed at the aid station (mile 91). Thanks, Jerry and thoughtful volunteers!

I was seriously shuffling at this point, but still running everything. I found energy in my gratitude for Jerry’s help, so I sang a version of The Beatles' "Let It Be" in his honor:

When I find myself in times of trouble 
Brother Jerry comes for me 
Sharing grace and headlamps – let Scott see 

And in my hour of darkness 
There is still a light that shines for me 
Shines right through tomorrow – it’s Jerry! 

My light fiasco had erased any sub-17 hour possibilities, but I blew through the last aid station anyway to see how close I could get. At 17:06:38, the finish line found me in 22nd place, with Jason Bryant holding up the USATF finisher tape to signal I had won my age group! A PR of 66 minutes, a sub-24, got the USATF AG win, and no line at the massage table. Can’t ask for much more than that! 

(Paul Terranova captures the USATF 100-Mile National Championship, photo courtesy of Jason Bryant)
(Getting a massage at the finish...phew! Photo courtesy of Jason Bryant)
There were stellar finishes all around, with Ian Sharman taking the win (13:38), Marco Bonfiglio taking 2nd (13:57) after being passed in only the last three miles, and Paul Terranova (14:05) taking third and winning the USATF championship with his new Masters course record. Nicole Studer finished in an astounding 14:22, pacing to a new Women’s American Record without ever having a watch on. Yes, a new AMERICAN RECORD by 22 minutes! Liza Howard was second (15:34, Masters champion, on her birthday no less), and Melanie Fryar completed the podium (16:17). Tony Nguyen finished in under 29 hours (getting his States qualifier), and Kurt Dusterhoff went sub-24...Nofal Musfy ran an unthinkable 26:11 at age 72. There were lots of success stories today. (all results)


(Nicole Studer sets an American Record on her way to winning the USATF 100-Mile National Championship)
(72-year-old Nofal Musfy finishes in an outstanding 26:11)
As I laid restlessly in the hotel room, battered and scraped from head to toe and unable to sleep, it would only take a glance at the shiny belt buckle on the table to bring a happy tear to my eye. So much in one day! So many triumphs by my fellow warriors! That moment in the dark I will cherish forever! More Mother Nature than most people see in a year! And best of all, that eternally optimistic clan of ours who organize and stay up through the night to give us an excuse to challenge ourselves at unthinkable levels.

(A little more bling for the wall)
I’m so often asked why we do these things, why we push ourselves like this for “no reason”. But in this moment, when I stare at the buckle and let it reflect that pure light of humility back into my soul, there is no greater pursuit. I actually don’t want to sleep at all. I want to stay in this moment of transcendent joy forever.

My thanks to Joe Prusaitis, Tejas Trails, and the amazing volunteers who put on this fantastic race. A special thanks to my Dad too, not only for being there on this special day, but for giving me the love of trails that never seems to end. I hope this finds you all healthy, happy, and letting adventure pour into every part of your lives. If not, the 2016 Rocky Raccoon 100-Miler will be on February 6, so get registered! - SD