Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Magical 2017 Moab Trail Marathon

(Watching the sunrise from the Delicate Arch)
Moab, Utah, is a truly mystical place. Amber sandstone stretches for miles, sculpted into giant canyons and gravity-defying arches by an endless swirling dance of wind, sun, and water. The sunrise lights the landscape in an instant, then pushes the clouds across the vast blue sky at hyperspeed, accelerating and stopping time all at once. Every moment is precious, raw and exposed for your contemplation, worthy of absorption…a playground for both body and soul.

(All seasons at once!)
I was here for the 7th annual Moab Trail Marathon, joined by 3,000+ equally slack jawed runners from all over the world. Elite runners came to compete for the USATF Trail Marathon National Championships (and a shot at the World team), while others sought personal adventure in two half marathon and one 10k option that scaled the most difficult parts of the marathon course. I came with all cameras blazing, eager to capture our tribe of adventurers in this epic backdrop.

(Reconnecting with Michael Robbert, faster than ever!)
(Sage Canaday [crewing today], Bryon Powell, Michael Versteeg, and Mo Sojern greet the day)

(Chris Grauch is ready to roll!)
My body was already sore at the starting line, much in thanks to some pre-race climbing, hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and whiskey tasting with all the Scottish/Irish clans in town for the “Scots on the Rocks” celebration. This was my first trip to the area, and I quickly found out it is hard to rest in Moab! There is always a group of people pulling you to enjoy the view, play hard, then celebrate even harder.

(And we're off! Photo courtesy of Richard Bolt)
A New Orleans brass band played fired up The Star Spangled Banner as we all entered the starting corral. I recognized lots of fast runners, short course and ultra alike. Mario Mendoza (2x winner here) was as fit as ever, as was Mo Sojern (Instagram poet and Bears Ears Protector), Anthony Kunkel (just won the USATF 50-mile Road Championships two weeks ago), Boudler speedster Sandi Nypaver, Chris Grauch (defending Masters champ, now in my age group…grrr), Michael Robbert (who inspired me to get into trail running 15 years ago), Renee Metivier (back in form after a broken leg), Michael Roche (father to David Roche), and enough super-fit locals from Utah and nearby Colorado to keep everyone honest. When Race Director Danelle Ballengee and USATF ambassador Richard Bolt sent us off at 8am, it was a sprint from the first step!

(Heading down the first canyon)
(The sand was thick!)
I settled in about 100 places back, rapid firing my camera as we plodded through the soft red sand and snaked up the canyon walls. It was a warm morning, but the clouds held back the burn of the sun that, as evidenced in the dry, red expanse ahead of us, could be significantly worse.

(Aid station, courtesy of local Jeep experts)
The first aid station (mile 5.6) was a sight to see – five huge off-road Jeeps had brought all the supplies up the day before. When I asked what route they took, one teenager said “the same way you did…didn’t you see our tire marks on the cliff?”. Those were tire marks?!? Wow, that is impressive. The teen happily filled my water bottle, saying they were spending the whole weekend up here being volunteers, camping, fishing, and doing donuts in the sand.

As we picked up the pace on the flatter routes, the trail got skinnier and skinnier until it became a one foot ledge hanging on a cliff. Honestly, if there hadn’t been course markings and volunteers there, I would have for sure thought we took a wrong turn! Meghan Hicks (of iRunFar fame) acknowledged this was the correct route as she guided us down, requiring all limbs and a few (literal) leaps of faith. This course is a doozy!

(Are you sure this is the trail?!?)
(Surfing the sandstone)
One more aid station (mile 9.7) split the marathoners from the halfies, giving us all some long roads to open up our strides. The hot sun gained ground on the clouds, peeking into the canyons and heating up the walls like a convection oven. I settled in with two buddies from Boulder, CO, and joined their distracting discourse about the best fruit and/or candy to add to pancakes.

(A little road time)
(Jeff Colt is flying! Photo courtesy of Richard Bolt)
Richard Bolt was there to guide us up the next canyon, a 2-mile out-and-back through a windy, aspen-filled gulch. Mario and Salt Lake City's Anthony Parsel were already heading back, while Renee was leading the women by 3 minutes. All of them warning me to look for the turnaround since a volunteer hadn’t made it in time (Renee went an extra mile). My inov-8 280 shoes were loving the variety of terrain – sandstone, river rocks, streams, deep sand, grass, and of course, mud! Good times.

(Through the tunnel!)
(Bit of a line at the turnaround)
(Fall colors in bloom!)
Despite promising myself to stop while taking pictures so I didn’t face plant, I soon face planted while taking pictures. Whoops! A mouth and nose full of red sand was a good lesson, so I slowed down on the big climb of the day with some runners from Canada and Washington. This climb was solid (2,500’ vertical), giving me plenty of chances to stop and gaze back on the course in awe. Atop the mountains, the scale is deliciously grand.

(Heading up the big climb)
(Cloud cover is nice!)
Once we reached the peak, I couldn’t see any runners in front of us. Luckily I was with two 3-time finishers who guided me through the white chalk course markings that took us through cliffs, slot canyons, and dry creek beds. We stopped to help a bonked runner, squeezed through a crevasse that required turning sideways, then soon found another crazy Jeep-on-a-cliff aid station (mile 17) to refill. This race is amazing!

(I think the trail goes this waaaaaaaaayyyyyy!)
(Run the slots!)

(Another courageous group of volunteers)
I caught up to Mo (unknowningly in 10th place for women) and Leadville’s Marvin Sandoval (12th at Leadville this year!), and we shared laughs as we crossed the rugged backcountry and mugged for my camera. The trails were more populated now, and we passed off-roading Jeep tours, mountain bikers, hikers, and motorcycles all out enjoying a great day. Bryon Powell (also of iRunFar fame) filled us up at the last aid station (mile 21) and I shared how blown away I was in my first visit to his home turf. What took me so long? I have no idea.

(Marvin and I head across the desert, photo courtesy of Bryon Powell)
(I'll lead, Marvin!)
(Along the Colorado River)
(Bryon Powell gets us fed...)
(...and hydrated!)
The trail worked its way down to the Colorado River, and I kept Marvin in sight best I could. Richard Bolt had forewarned me about the finish, saying just when you hear the cheering, you still have 3 miles to go, and it might be the toughest 3 miles out there. He was right! We had three rope sections, a ladder, and a tunnel, all of which triggered weary muscles into spams with devilish glee. When the finish line finally arrived (5:00:03 for me), I was spent!

(A ladder at mile 26? Are you kidding me?!?)
(Mario Mendoza for the win! Photo courtesy of Richard Bolt)

(Sandi Nypaver almost catches Renee Metivier, and immediate falls prey to the rabbit ears! Photo courtesy of Richard Bolt)
Mario Mendoza (3:13:54) claimed another win, with Anthony Costales (3:19:19) and former Mario roommate Patrick Parsel (3:24:26) finishing out the podium. Renee Metivier (4:08:01) held off a fast-charging Sandi Nypaver (4:08:53) to win the women’s division in her first trail marathon, with Michell Hummel (4:17:47) coming in third. All runners cited times were a bit longer than usual, saying the soft sand and 27.2 mile course may have added some minutes. Chris Grauch (3:51:53, 12th) won the Masters title, with his highest ever finish place, and Corrine Walter (6:02:05) claimed the Masters for the women. (all results) We all donned our red rock sock lines in flip flops, and cheered on finisher as the sun set along the canyon walls. Even by Moab’s high standards, this was an epic day!

(Beginners route, my ass!)
Despite a tough race and a many-beer post-race celebration, I couldn’t help but sneak out early the next morning for a mountain bike fix. Slickrock is an endless expanse of petrified dunes worthy of a Westworld episode (Westworld is actually filmed nearby, no surprise), and even the “novice” routes are a step up from any advanced ride back home. Here, however, I was joined by families out on their Sunday joy rides, motorcycle packs of 10-year-olds, and half naked, barefoot prophets that could all glide across the terrain with ease.

There is more to this mysticism of Moab it seems, and only deeper play and exploration can fully reveal its secrets. I shall have to return, long enough that the red earth burns deep into my bones and my soul swims across the blue sky.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Whiskey Hill Redwood Run, Nov '17 (Video)

A short video of the BayTrailrunner's Whiskey Hill Redwood Run from last weekend, on my home trails in Huddart Park, Woodside, CA. Enjoy!

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Best Laid Plans of Moms and Men (2017 Tussey Mountainback 50m USATF Championships)

My mother and I have always had the greatest intentions for State College, PA. Over 25 years ago, this was to be her new hometown, teaching at Penn State while my step-father made the most of his retirement fixing up an old house in the college district. Life threw in an unexpected twist, and it became a path not taken, forever a "what if" in her life journey. This last weekend, she returned to State College to crew for me at the 2017 Tussey mOUnTAiNBACK 50-mile run (her first crewing experience), where I would use my fitness and course experience to cruise to an easy finish, needing little more from her than a few pictures. Um, yeah...that didn't quite pan out either. But it was a worthy adventure, full of vivid Fall colors, miles of cramps, and some shared adventure that gave my Mom a good taste of the voluntary suffering that is the ultramarathon. The best laid plans of Moms and Men, I suppose.

(Team Dunlap, go!)
Mom (aka, Dr. Diane Dunlap) was more optimistic for the 85-degree humid air than I was, relishing any east coast Fall/Winter day that didn't involve sub-zero temperatures. For an unacclimated runner, I explained, it meant a struggle with core temp right from the gun, followed by a losing battle with dehydration, and the oh-so-fun "find the chafe spot" post-race shower that feels like angry ghosts armed with heat-seeking cattle prods. She got a good laugh out of that one, asking what she could do to help. Just be there, I said. Flat Coke, pb&j squares, and Vaseline for back up, but really, just be there. "That's what Moms do," she replied, and she was right. Although it had been a few decades, this was certainly not be the first time she stood in the rain for hours so her son could get muddy in the name of sport.

(The colors are out! Photo courtesy of
It took a lot of courage for her to be here, not just for the race, but to revisit a place where her life could have been. This became clear as we drove the streets looking for the house she had once bought but never moved into. By some stroke of luck (and her impressive internal compass), we found it, and she quickly pointed out all the home projects that David (my step-dad) had been ready to tackle. That would be the master bedroom, the library would go there, you should see the workshop...she recalled every napkin sketch he had scribbled just days before the move while they were on a retirement vacation in Australia. When David died of a heart attack on that same vacation, the plans for State College ended just as suddenly.  Now there are just memories of sketches of a house almost lived in - a path nearly forged with the best laid plans.

(97-year-old runner George Ertzweiler gives us a few pointers, photo courtesy of Jean Pommier)
Mom was thrilled to be here though. She joined me for the pre-race dinner, where we sat with David Roche and his parents, super Master Jean Pommier, and some local runners. David gave a short talk, then Race Director Mike Casper introduced us to 97-year-old George Etzweiler, whose six person team had an average age of 78! George was naturally doing the hardest leg with 1,200 feet of climbing. ;-)

(Liza and David before the race)
(And we're off into the storm!)
(Through the rain)
The warm rain was in full force when we lined up to race, but it was quite pleasant. Mom was a little nervous, but knew that the course layout of 50 miles of dirt roads meant she would see the runners along the way throughout the day. We wished each other luck, and RD Mike Casper sent us off down the lush forest roads. I cruised along with Mike Ryan from Ohio, who had his sites set on fellow M50-54 runner Jean Pommier a few yards ahead. David Roche, Joel Frost-Tift, Anthony Kunkel, and a half dozen others were already well into the distance at a 6 min/mile pace.

(Liza heads through the fall colors)

(The stillness of an early AM aid station!)
As we crossed the first aid station (mile 4) and leaned into the downhill, the rain parted to show a glorious canopy of fall colors. I found the familiar stride of Liza Howard (forever famous in my mind for breast-feeding a newborn while winning the Rocky Raccoon 100m), and tagged along with her effortless form. We knew we were going too fast when we cut through a pack of 20-somethings while saying "old people coming through", so eased up after the second aid station.

I found my Mom at mile 11, and she got me set up with more Vespa, Vitargo, and snacks. I had fooled myself in to thinking I could "bank time" in the cooler early hours, but was pretty sure any tactic was not going to hold off the humidity. Over the next couple of miles, I chatted with local Josh Litofsky about his breakthrough race at Kettle Morraine, his six person crew (cheering the most of anyone), studying chemical engineering, and his desire to break 7 hours at this race after a few solid finishes here. We took on the big climb together (mile 25), before he noted he needed to pick up his pace and pulled ahead. There had already been a lot of people dropping up front, and we found ourselves in 6th and 7th place much to our surprise.

(All smiles)
(Liza is such a ham)

I got through the first 50k (3:47) before the twitches of cramps showed up, and those twitches soon spread like wildfire through my quads and hamstrings. Grrr! I pounded a few more S! Caps, but knew the cramps were evidence of a deeper hydration problem, forged in a lack of training/acclimation. I stopped to chat with my Mom, letting her know this was one was going to be a slog. She still smiled...she was having a blast meeting all the crew, volunteers, and their dogs.

Despite the required walk breaks every half mile, only a few people passed me, so I suspected I wasn't the only one suffering. Every aid station had people dropping, including all the lead women up to Liza (go, Liza!). Mike Ryan went by quickly, so I suspected he might give Jean a run for his money. I felt like I was going SO SLOW, but my Mom kept saying I was making up time. Just keep going!

(Liza brings it home!)

(Anthony Kunkel for the win)
The gold and amber leaves kept my gaze up in the last 10 miles, a nice crutch to my crumbling form. At one point my cramps seized so much I fell over, and I almost couldn't get up! It's been a while since I've felt that messed up, but all you can do it get up and keep going. Just eight more miles...six more miles...three more miles...oh, thank god, there's the finish chute! Ninth dude in 7:34, third Master, and the only one of eight in my age group that didn't drop. All hail, the slog king!

(Mike Ryan, Jean Pommier, and Liza Howard with their bling)

(Great run, great haul!)

(The fast women)

(Ready for that beer)
Anthony Kunkel (5:43) had moved into first on the big climb, and steadily distanced himself from the pack for a decisive win. Best of all, he stayed on course this year (he took a six mile detour before the first mile marker last year)! Liza Howard (7:07) won the Women's division (and Masters), with Jean Pommier (6:39) blazing to a Masters win as well. Aside from Anthony, everyone seemed to have struggled with the humidity, but had the fortitude to find that finish.

Ah, the best laid plans of Moms and Men. But today, it was a team victory, and a chance to create a new family chapter for State College, PA. My thanks to my Mom, Mike Casper and the volunteers, and my fellow adventurers for a day well spent!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Bar For The Boston Marathon (BQ) Gets Higher for 2018 - 3 Minutes and 23 Seconds

If you were hoping to get into the 2018 Boston Marathon this year, you had to beat your Boston Qualifier (BQ) time by 3 minutes and 23 seconds. Wowza! That's the biggest gap since the Boston Marathon established this new process five years ago, and the fifth year in a row you needed to run faster than your age-group standard BQ. Here's how it compares to previous years:
  • For 2017, you had to better your BQ by 2 minutes and 9 seconds.
  • For 2016, 2 minutes, 28 seconds.
  • For 2015, 1 minute, 2 seconds.
  • For 2014, 1 minute, 38 seconds.
And it appears Boston qualifying runners are getting even faster. Here's the breakdown compared to the fields in previous years:
  • 4,691 Qualifiers met their qualifying time by 20 minutes, 00 seconds or faster. (+7.5%)
  • 7,673 Qualifiers met their qualifying time by 10 minutes, 00 seconds or faster. (+7.9%)
  • 7,505 Qualifiers met their qualifying time by 05 minutes, 00 seconds or faster. (+10.3%)
  • 2,905 Qualifiers met their qualifying time by 3 minutes, 23 seconds or faster. (-35.4%)
  • 424 Qualifiers were accepted based on finishing 10 or more consecutive Boston Marathons. (+2%)

That's a fast field! Congrats to all of you who got in. Hopefully you had a great year, and I'll be seeing you in Hopkinton on April 16, 2018. 

- SD

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