Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rebel Run at the 2017 Boston Marathon

The 2017 Boston Marathon was my 13th consecutive running of this iconic event, and once again, the experience exceeded all expectations. There’s nothing quite like this quintessential American road race that consistently conjures a unique recipe of new and familiar, struggle and breakthrough, and story-building experiences that are nothing short of magical. It wasn’t my fastest Boston by a long shot, but has already become one of my favorites.

(Feeling fast!)
(My Mom enjoys playing tourist at the Boston Tea Party Museum)
My co-pilot for this trip was my Mom, Dr. Diane Dunlap, who has somehow gone nearly 75 years without experiencing the rush of a big city marathon or Patriot’s Day weekend in Boston. What? Who’s Mom is she anyway?!? (ha, ha) But as we all know, bringing fresh eyes to a favorite city has a way of presenting a whole new perspective. Mom definitely did not disappoint on that front.

Within hours of her arrival, we were at an April 15th protest at Harvard Square demanding that President Trump release his taxes. The protest wasn’t on my original agenda, but as soon as she asked, it did feel like Boston was a perfect place to yalp the voice of freedom (Huzzah! As they would have said in the 1770’s). My Mom has spent much of her career as a college professor helping students find their voice, and in our hometown of Eugene, OR, campus rallies are so common the protest signs are made of dry erase white boards. Yet in all this time, I’ve never seen her fire burn as bright as that stoked by the kerosene-soaked tinder of Trump. She even posted to Facebook live during the demonstration to unite with her sisters in New York, Maryland, and more…yeah, Gramma D! It was fascinating to exercise our right to demonstrate on the very grounds that birthed our nation from similar passion centuries ago.

(Who you calling chicken?)
(At Haavahd Yahd)
(Sam Adams, my man!)
A few hours later, we were dressed to the nines at the movie premier for Boston - The Documentary at the plush Boch Center Wang Theatre (with a live performance of the original soundtrack by the Boston Pops, no less). Pre-event dinner and drinks at the Local Crossing provoked so much deep conversation, it was 1950 by the time we found our seats. The documentary was amazing (highly recommended!), giving my Mom a perfect intro to the history and personality of a race that has survived 121 years. She was eager to experience marathon Monday, especially with Katherine Switzer back 50 years after she broke the gender barrier by entering herself in the race as “K.V. Switzer”, and now once again donning her original number, #261.

(At the premier for "Boston - The Documentary", with live orchestra!)

(E. Bunny makes an appearance)
Sunday found us playing tourist, grabbing coffee and green tea roasts at Ogawa Coffee (so good, we went there every morning), throwing tea crates into the Boston Harbor at the Boston Tea Party Museum, spending a whopping $12 on Old Navy sweats for me to wear to the start (and donate), and grabbing a Sam Adams at the local pub. It was flip flop weather (~86 degrees), and we could see the nervous faces of runners throughout the town. This was definitely going to be a hot one!

(This guy will likely go deaf from the cheering)
(Hanging with the Alaskans in Corral #1)
Race morning cooled a bit (~65 degrees), but heat and humidity would clearly be a big factor. This wasn’t an “A" race for me, but instead was the last long run before the Avenue of the Giants Marathon in a few weeks. On the way to the race start, I made the decision to take it easy today and try not to overheat.

(And we are off!)
(OMG, so funny)
Corral #1 had different ideas, and as we headed from Hopkinton to Boston at 10am, Strava was already pinging me with Top 3 personal performances in the first 5 miles. Whoops! I crossed through the first 5k in 19:45, and in the first 10k in 39:30, well ahead of a casual pace (casual for me is 3:05-3:10+ marathon pace, and this was closer to a 2:45 marathon). But as we approached Natick and Wellesley (mile 10), I was dumping water on my head and grabbed every Otter Pop I could find (thanks, kids!). The heat beast was ready to rumble.

(Matching floral outfit was the wise choice today)
(Santa was there once again, and we got our 13th consecutive photo!)
(Check your form!)
As the Scream Tunnel of Wellesley approached (mile 12), some ladies holding up a sign quoting the movie Magic Mike (“the law says you can’t kiss…but I see a lot of lawbreakers out there”) made me a rebel in every sense of the word. If my face wasn’t hot red already, it certainly was now! I downshifted my pace to 7:30 min/miles to try and get my testosterone-infused core temp back into a reasonable range.

(Scream tunnel! The sign quotes Magic Mike - "the law says you cannot kiss...but I see a lot of lawbreakers out there")
(Boston College means beer time)
We had a slight tailwind, but that just meant the air was hot and stagnant until we crested a hill or changed directions in the Newton hills (mile 16). There was a collective sigh with each breeze, and from chains of runners hitting the firehoses and haz-mat tents along the way. Heartbreak Hill had its fair share of walkers this year, but the crowds got everyone moving with their encouragement.

(Locals more than happy to beer me!)
I grabbed a beer from some good folks at Boston College (mile 21), which put a huge smile on my face to brave the final slog. I held out my hand and counted 261 hand slaps (go K.V. Switzer!), just enough to bring the Citgo sign into range (mile 24).

(Citgo sign, there you are!)

(Ben Beach completes his 50th consecutive Boston, a new record)
Boylston lifted my spirits with its deafening roar, and I slowed to embrace every breath, every step, and the angelic hum of thousands of people screaming their lungs out. Soon enough I crossed the finish line in 3:07:47 (2,419th place), feeling good, but glad to be done. Boston #13 was in the books! I fell into the arms of a volunteer massage therapist, who pushed twitching dehydrated cramps out of my calves and sent me on my way with a smile.

(2:27 marathoners Michael Wardian and Matt Flaherty celebrate at the finish)
(With Jean Pommier at the finish)
(70-year-old Katherine Switzer with an impressive 4:44)
Although I thought the conditions were tough, I ran into a lot of runners who defied the heat to clock spectacular performances. Jean Pommier (2:44) finished 2nd in his age group, while Michael Wardian (2:27), Jorge Maravilla (2:24 for 30th!), Matt Flaherty (2:27), and Jon Kuehler (2:39) all crushed it. Alex Varner (2:34), Mario Fraoli (2:47), Erin Beck (4:34), Paige Alam and Kristin Armstrong (4:34) also did well in adverse conditions. At the professional level, the Kenyans swept with Geoffrey Kirui (2:09:37) and Edna Kiplagat (2:21:52) taking the wins, and American runners turning in incredible results with Galen Rupp (2:09:58) taking second and Jordan Hasay (2:23:00) taking third in her first marathon, and the men taking 6 of the top 10 spots.

My Mom braved the crowds of Boylston to see the pros finish, citing it as one of the grandest experiences she has ever witnessed (and sacrificing a toenail from all the walking, which seems an perfect marathon spectating result). We joined up at the Beantown Pub for dinner where she actively engaged with marathon finishers about stories of the finish and the history she knew. I was so proud! We all cheered as Katherine Switzer crossed the finish on the TV, looking as fresh as she did 50 years ago. Last stop was the Carrie Nation speakeasy for a nightcap before going facedown on our hotel beds a few hours later, exhausted and fulfilled from a truly American experience.

My thanks to the directors and volunteers of BAA for yet another great race, and a big congrats to all the runners who got through the heat to find that finish line. If you haven’t done this race, you should…and we will see you there! To my Mom, a huge hug and thanks for a perfect weekend, and making this annual pilgrimage more iconic than ever!

 See you on the trails… Scott

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Book Review - The Trail Runner’s Companion, A Step-By-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing

I recently had the chance to read a sneak preview copy of Sarah Lavender Smith’s new book, The Trail Runner’s Companion – A Step-By-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing from 5k's To Ultras, which will be released on June 1st, 2017 (and is now available for pre-order). I really enjoyed it. Sarah eloquently weaves sage advice, coaching tips, and her personal experiences from racing around the globe into 250 pages full of great pictures and how-to’s. This book is ideal for those just getting started in the sport, but I think trail runners of all levels will enjoy it the storytelling and thoughtful tips.

I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s writing for years (both on her blog and more recently as a regular contributor to Trail Runner Magazine), and always look forward to her cheery voice when she co-hosts the Ultrarunnerpodcast. As a trail runner, coach, Mom to teenagers, and elite runner (although she would claim she’s not…I’ll just point to that 2016 Western States silver buckle), Sarah enjoys everything from 10k road races to multi-stage 150-mile adventures. She is also brutally honest in person and her writing, sharing first hand insight into burnout, injury, marital stress from training, and other topics many of us ponder secretly. So I was excited to hear about her book, but also curious why she took this on.

“I actually didn’t intend to write a book, at least at first. I had the kind of hang ups a lot of women have (as described so well in Lean In) about feeling the need to have full-fledged credentials and top-notch experience before being “legit” enough to put myself out there as an authority worthy of a book,” explained Sarah, “Then, as fate would have it, I got an email out of the blue in late 2015 from the publisher, Falcon Guides, which publishes a lot of books on hiking and the outdoors (such as The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running by Adam Chase and Nancy Hobbs back in 2010). They recognized the growing popularity of trail running, and wanted to publish a fresh trail-running book, and someone recommended me as a writer/runner. So the question to me was ‘could I do something fresh’?”

“My favorite books in the genre are memoirs—Dean Karnazes Ultramarathon Man, Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, Cory Reese’s Nowhere Near First. I love teaching through storytelling. The publisher had in mind a prescriptive, practical how-to book, but I felt that had already been done well by Jason Koop, Krissy Moehl, Meghan Hicks and Bryon Powell, Hal Koerner, and others. I definitely didn’t want to write a book that would read like a manual and feel like homework for the reader. Could I combine memoir AND have a practical how-to book that distilled all my coaching knowledge for training and racing? I warmed up to the idea of the challenge to write a book that is extremely practical, step-by-step and well researched, but also a good read, told in my voice and drawing on real-life stories.”

Sarah’s journey from road running into trail running came in 2004, right about the time I was also discovering this crazy niche sport where characters like “Rocket”, “Karno”, and “Tropical John” would run mountains all day just to do it. Her book opens up by perfectly capturing her first trail race up Mt. Diablo, running into legend Scott Jurek in the starting corral, and meeting people who would later become lifelong friends. Throughout the book, this same awe and respect for the sport come through in tips and suggestions like “be more humble than arrogant” and “take what the trail gives you”, and that trail running is as much a mindset as a change of terrain. There’s also a hilarious vocabulary section that will ensure you can keep up on those long trail run conversations.

The Trail Runner’s Companion is packed full of guidelines too, including safety, hydration, packing, fueling, menstruation (I had no idea), pacing, packing dropbags, base building and race planning, avoiding burnout, running technique, what to do when you run into a wild animal, and more. Sarah shares her own experiences, those of her coaching clients, and adds plenty of advice from her favorite runners. Although not as regimented as some coaching books, the guidelines are more than enough to get started in the sport.

All in all, The Trail Runner’s Companion is a wonderful book. At ~$18, it’s a total steal (pre-order now!). I have ordered mine, and look forward to it complimenting the trail running tomes that fill my shelf. If you are in the Bay Area, you can also attend her book signing at in Oakland on Wednesday, May 31, 7pm, at A Great Good Place for Books.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

John Kelly and Gary Robbins Make Barkley Marathons History

The Barkley Marathons, notorious for being one of the most challenging ultramarathons in the world (and beautifully chronicled in the documentary, The Barkley Marathons - The Race That Eats Its Young), had two epic finishes this weekend for 2017. John Kelly became the only the 15th all-time finisher of all five 20-mile laps under the 60 hour cutoff, completing the 100 miles in 59:30:53. Gary Robbins finished in a heartbreaking 60:00:06, after taking a wrong turn in the fog with just two miles to go, resulting in him finishing the race in the wrong direction and just six seconds after the cut off. It was most certainly the closest finish in the history of the race.

Jamil Coury (who also competed in the Barkley this year), chronicled the finishes in this great video. An incredible nine minutes of film, capturing the shock and exhaustion from two extraordinary athletes. Truly amazing!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Win a Free Trip to the UK For Some Crazy Fell Running!

Have you ever wanted to race in the historic Lake District of the UK, the true home of fell running? How about an all-expense-paid trip for FREE?!? Well, you are in luck...

My shoe sponsor, inov-8, has recently launched the GET A GRIP COMPETITION where seven lucky winners will get a 5-day trip to the UK to race the 9-mile Skiddaw Fell Race. And yes, US runners are eligible! Just fill out this form and share your favorite trail running experience, and you are entered to win to be a part of Team Get A Grip for the June 30th-July 4th extravaganza.

The steep and challenging Lake District is where inov-8 was born in 2003, and quickly became a favorite brand for tackling the unique rocks, trails, and mud of the area. Since you are in inov-8's backyard, you can expect far more than a race entry - you'll get a tour of the company, a chance to run with the international inov-8 team, hob-knobbing with plenty of record-setting locals, and probably plenty of free gear and beer too. It sounds like an amazing experience!

So what are you waiting for? GO FOR IT!!!

I will be the first to tell you how jealous I am. ;-)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Practicing Joy at the 2017 Marin Ultra Challenge 50k

"Practice Joy"

That was my goal at the 2017 Inside Trail Marin Ultra Challenge 50k last Saturday. No time goals, no sprints for podium finishes, not even a watch or headphones to distract me. Instead, focus on being in the moment, appreciate the glorious Marin Headlands with all my senses, and share the experience with my favorite tribe of people. A perfectly chill complement to the fast and furious FOURmidable 50k a few weeks ago.

JOY IS...the stillness of a moonlit morning at Rodeo Beach, listening to the waves crash, my warm coffee mug snuggled close. A snake of cars slither down the dark hillside, filling the parking lot with headlight nods and hugs.

(Starting under the fog, the moon lights our way)
(Varying moods at the start line)
JOY IS...the warmth of the collective passion and courage in the starting corral. First timers meet locals who could run these trails in their sleep (and just might given that yawn), and 50k and 50-mile runners sigh with the anticipation of the final countdown. We stare at a trail that leads right into the heavens.
(Ted Knudsen shares a laugh)
(Well worth the climb!)
JOY IS...a sunrise welcome at the mountain top, illuminating clouds as thick as marshmallow soup. We dip in and out of its tasty goodness as the trail rambles along the ridge.

(A great day above the clouds)
(Surfing the clouds)
JOY IS...the kinship of shared adventure, and appreciating the multitude of paths that brought us together on this day. In one hill climb, I meet a guy from Florida, another from Mozambique, and a woman from San Diego who signed up for the 50-miler the day before. Differing paths, yet similar smiles and wide-opened eyes that embrace the mountain spirit.

(This Floridian was in town for a Google conference and decided to throw in some hills)
(A perfect day!)
JOY IS...realizing all woes can be cured with salt water. Sweat, tears, or the ocean...all have healing powers. We embrace the saline holy trinity as we climb out of a foggy Pirate's Cove, boosted by spurts of cool air from crashing waves a shadow away. I grab not one, but a handful of Nutter Butter cookies at the aid station and cram them into my maw like Cookie Monster.

(Racing clouds that pour into the valley)
(It was nice to dip down into the clouds and cool off)
(Volunteers get a nice view too)
JOY IS...volunteers who get an epic day in the mountains after all those rainy days they have stood there for us. Set up, aid stations, sweepers, and the other elves who make every race flawless deserve a little sunshine. Even the flowers sprout up to greet them, dotting the hills with poppy orange and cornflower blue, and filling noses with rosemary and honey.

(Chicken lady!)

(Jenny Capel and Mark Tanaka take on the 50-miler)
JOY IS...friends I recognize from their signature strides a half mile away, but have rarely seen in everyday clothes. Ted, Chris, Penny, Jenny, Tanaka, Emily, Kevin, and many more...a quick hug, a few words, a smile that speaks volumes...the silent bond built from hundreds of shared miles.

(Getting warm up top!) 
(Heading to the final climb)
JOY IS...long moments of solitude, sprinting the big climb only because it dared me with its punishing incline. I stop at the top, still licking Nutter Butter residue from my hands, and finger trace the route on the horizon as I catch my breath. One, two, three climbs...just one more.

(There's that finish!)
JOY IS...that familiar sound of cowbells, cheering, and clapping at the finish line that relaxes the body instantly. I don't want it to end, but then again, beach/BBQ/beer sounds pretty good too. I cross the finish, and the fulfillment washes over me. We switch to flip-flops, exchange water bottles for beer, and laugh and cheer in the sun as a steady flow of delighted runners race down the hill. It's not even noon yet, but we have claimed the day, victorious. My college classmate Andres Kohn finishes his first trail 25k with a smile as big as the waves. We all knowingly grin...his journey has just begun.

JOY IS EASY, FOLKS. Look around and be present. Invite adventure into your life. Laugh and strive together so you have stories to share. It's a simple recipe.

I drive home, windows rolled down to cool my sun-kissed arms, savoring this early touch of Spring. Mother Nature is awesome in every sense of the word. I am grateful to Tim Stahler and the volunteers of Inside Trail for giving us this glorious excuse to inject some adventure and accomplishment into our lives. With their help, practicing joy is as easy as breathing.

Monday, March 06, 2017

How To Be A Sponsored Athlete - Commentary on Ambassadors, Elite Athletes, and Professionals

Last week, a few people forward me a Trail Runner Magazine article entitled "Getting Sponsored Isn't Just About Being Fast (Pro Athletes Offer Their Advice)", and asked me "is that how you got your sponsors?".  Ummm, sort of?!? The article had a lot of great advice, but I feel it missed some opportunities that non-pro level runners (like myself) can easily tap into. I thought I would share some insights here in case you are looking to create a relationship with your favorite brand.

Caveat #1: My day job is as a marketing executive in Silicon Valley, so my very biased perspective is (1) based on an understanding of what makes a corporate brand thrive, and (2) uses a lot of digital marketing. I'm sure there are many other ways to slice this apple, but this is the recipe I know.

Caveat #2: I am not a professional athlete. I cannot set 50k course records at national championships when it is 17 degrees outside (that's Tyler Jermann's 2:48 at the 2017 Caumsett 50k), nor can I hang with the group that hits the opening mile of Way Too Cook 50k in 4:48 (Cody Reed, Chris Mocko, Patrick Smyth, etc.). Those guys are the real deal, and should have their own Jerry Maguire agents prancing on the sidelines ("help me help you!"). But there is room for a lot of evangelists beyond professionals.

Ambassador, Elite, or Pro - Which One Are You?

Marketing is all about "authentically amplifying the brand", and there are many ways a brand can do that with athletes. In many cases, athletes can tell the brand story in ways that are far more authentic (or outrageous) than the brand itself. Injinji nut-tsak? I rest my case. But a couple of important things to note about that blog story - it got over a million views, and to get the joke, you needed to understand Injinji's unique value proposition.

Ambassadors - The Army of Passion

When you are a new brand, you need to get the word out because many haven't heard of you yet. You need lots and lots of energetic people who love your brand, out in the field, participating with others, and saying "OMG, you've never head of Picky Bars? I love these guys." The best grassroots solution for this are Ambassadors (also called Advocates). Ambassadors don't need to be the fastest in the pack, but they are in the sport all the time. Running, volunteering, directing, at the early morning workouts, in the stores, at the film festivals, in the running clubs, at the parties, encouraging friends, and likely posting online about all of it. As much as I read online, I still hear about great products more through ambassadors than anywhere. It really works.

I've found that most people become Ambassadors just by doing what comes naturally - they talk about a product they love, and why they love it. They link to the brand when they post, answer questions on behalf of the brand, and find fun new ways to express their passion for the sport. Brands in their early stages look for these interactions to understand what is working, and often reach out to these people (or are very receptive when athletes reach out to them).

Typically an Ambassador will sign up for 6-12 months of an "official relationship" in exchange for some free product, unique swag, and a chance to join a team event once or twice a year. As long as the brand doesn't force the interaction ("you must make four posts per month to get your product"), it generally finds a rhythm that doesn't offend the group an ambassador can influence. And you get free product for something you are already using! My favorite brands will also give some product to Ambassadors to give out regularly, such as race prizes, freebies, etc. Free stuff is nearly always welcomed.

For example, I am an Ambassador for Succeed S! Caps. I'm a big fan of their electrolyte solution, and have talked about it online a bunch of times. One day they sent me a case, and it was so much, it will be 2020 before I get through them all. In that timeframe, they will likely get in excess of 30 million impressions of their brand on my blog, with an ad value of $300k.  That's a pretty good deal for both of us.

I am also no longer an Ambassador for Vitargo, although I do continue to use their product. About a year ago, their ambassador program became one of those "you must post weekly to get your next tub of product, please provide all links for proof". Yeah, nobody likes a "shill" post, so this kind of program doesn't work for me. But if you are already posting 10 times/day, then maybe its easier.

Elite Athletes - Amplifying the Brand Through a Following

When a brand has a solid foundation (in stores, mentioned in magazines, at trade shows, etc.), it can then begin to amplify that brand by investing a bit more into a few select people who represent it. One way to do that is to sponsor Elite Athletes. Elite athletes have a very strong commitment to the sport, and their social/digital influence looks more like a "following" than a group of friends. They generally are at a fitness level that they can make a podium finish (overall or age group), and do race often. Many get their following from how they express their passion for the sport when not on race day - a great coach, a book author, a personal trainer, an artist, race director, or someone with a great web site or hilarious podcast (Eric Schranz at, Jamil Coury, Bryon and Meghan Powell at iRunFar, etc.). But in the end, all Elite Athletes do compete and know what it takes to do well in the sport.

There are really three ways you can become an Elite Athlete, and all of them require one thing - you need to authentically use a product along the way and talk about it. With that in the background, you can take one of three tracks:
  • First, you can perform well. You get out there and win or complete something big. Set your goals, get 'er done, then thank the brands that helped you get there BEFORE they become your sponsors. 
  • Second, seek out and meet the people in charge of the team, and build a relationship. In some cases, this is all that is needed. Most teams refresh their rosters in November/December for the following year.
  • Third, work on your "following" so it's easy for them to find you. This was my gravy train when I started trail running a decade ago - I would blog about all these products that worked really well, linking to their sites, and as the blog readership got bigger, the links began sending noticeable traffic/purchases to their site. At that point, it was a pretty easy conversation ("hey Scott, what can we do to have you mention more about our xxx?"). Sometimes it even works the other way - I once had a camera company send me six cameras and say "please don't ever talk about how our camera broke again, just let us know if you need more". You don't need a huge audience if you have the right audience and the right voice, and these days a good Instagram or Twitter account can get a following pretty quickly if you are out racing regularly. But you do have to stay at it, and authentically endorse the brands that fuel your passion.

What do Elite Athletes get in return? Generally you're going to get free product, free swag, some reimbursement for race expenses (typically $500-3,000), and a chance to get early access to products and be involved in the design process. Elite Athletes also often get perks like a multi-day retreat with other athletes, photo shoots, and being involved in advertising, speaking, and other events. I've had the good fortune of some of those events being in Chamonix, Switzerland, and Big Sur....didn't have to twist my arm to go! Elite Athletes can also often make a case for additional resources for a special project, such as receiving some funds or extra products. Elite Athletes typically aren't compensated at a level to focus 100% on racing (unless you're willing to live out of your truck), but it can be a great complement to the right profession.

I'm an Elite Athlete for Team inov-8 (shoes), Team Injinji (socks), and Inside Trail Racing (trail races in California). All of these came from loving their products and races, talking about them on the blog and in social media, and having a ton of respect for how they were building their brands. My favorite part of being on these teams have been helping develop new products and events, and racing with teammates all over the world. Some race expenses are covered, most are not, but I am always flush with products I love in super fun venues. I have to reapply every year like everyone, but that helps me keep my sights high for the following year.

I have been offered far more lucrative deals with other sponsors (particularly those willing to pay the going rate for online ads) but if I don't use their products, I say no thank you. There are a few brands I would love to be a part of, but not sure if they identify with trail running (Lagunitas? Aleve? Ducati?) or if I'm the right brand fit (*LOVE* the Oiselle brand....pretty sure I'm not on their radar until a men's sports bra is in production). That's okay, still happy to show them some love with a few links and mentions.

Professional Athletes - Winning To Get Eyeballs

When a brand has established global presence (Nike, adidas, Salomon, North Face, etc.), they need epic people doing epic things on a regular basis, preferably in a professionally shot video. They need athletes to win races, attempt FKT's, have shoes named after them, scale mountains, and take on the toughest courses the global stage has to offer. They need professionals. If you are in a sport that reaches billions of people, you can get paid millions to do this. We are lucky that trail running in the last few years has now been able to reach millions, so a lucky few can actually make a living.

We all know who these folks are (or have been), because we refer to them by first names or nicknames (Kilian, Max, Sage, Frosty, Magda, Wardian, DBo, etc.) or see them as legends on the walls of retailers (Koerner, Krar, Kimball, Rory, etc). They all have close relationships with the big brands that back them, and work together annually to craft marketing investments that work for all involved. Pro athletes get compensated in a number of ways - annual stipends, matching of purses won, bonuses for national titles or wins at big races, compensation for use of their persona in advertising, etc. I know of many getting $5-10k in comp from a sponsor, am aware of a dozen that have been able to make in excess of $40k/year, and I've met two that have crossed $150k/year when everything goes right. Certainly not "retire early" money, but a way to do everything in the sport you want to do with a full film crew involved. Trail running continues to grow, so I suspect even more opportunity here abounds as broader brands (autos, banks, insurance, etc.) see a selective audience of outdoor lovers.

So What Can You Do To Get Sponsored?

Really, the best thing you can do is express your passion authentically and don't be afraid to talk about the brands you love. Link to their sites, tag them, and see what happens. If your style of evangelism is a good match for what that brand needs at its point of evolution, go ahead and reach out to meet the people behind the brand marketing. The worst that could happen is that you make some new friends.

I'd also suggest exploring your digital marketing skills. Figure out how to take good pictures, understand how to write posts that are fun and uplifting, and tag the brands and people that inspire you.  Even if you don't develop a long-term relationship with a brand, you can use these skills to help out with race expenses. I've been comped free hotel rooms, airline flights, meals at favorite restaurants, and more just for giving shout outs on the blog and social media, or helping link and write reviews that attract people in our sport. In nearly every case, it's because I took the time to email or call the owner/manager and just ask.

A big THANK YOU to my sponsors for sticking with me over the last decade. I honestly never get tired of talking about your products, so I know it's a good fit.

Happy to answer any other questions - just leave a comment!

Thanks, Scott

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Muddy Mayhem at the FOURmidable 50k (2017 USATF 50k Trail National Championships)

Formidable (Fohr-med-a-bull) – Causing fear, dread, awe, or discouragement as a result of size, strength, or some other impressive feature; commanding respect; causing wonder or astonishment. Difficult to defeat or overcome.

FOURmidable 50k – the above, plus 31 miles of mud and 6,000' of climbing. 

From the moment I added the FOURmidable 50k to the race calendar two months ago, I have enjoyed how its clever-but-daunting name injected a twinge of fear into my workouts. The all caps “FOUR-” cleverly represents the four insanely steep climbs between Auburn and Cool, CA, that anchor the course with nearly 6,000’ of vertical gain. The lower case, but not to be underestimated, “-midable” refers to the fast runnable single track in between those climbs. Put them together, and every workout of the normally slow winter season is frightfully blessed with purpose. Climbing, downhills, speedwork…FOURmidable would demand it all.

(Note the inverted profile chart with aid stations at the bottom of the number - genius!)
As the race approached, Mother Nature raised the stakes with the highest year-to-date rain on record in California, guaranteeing miles of shoe-sucking mud that could break spirits and ankles with equal ferocity. This year, it was also the 2017 USA Track & Field (USATF) 50k Trail National Championships, so we could expect speedsters such as world champion Max King, national champion Andy Whacker, power couple (and national champions) David and Megan Roche, YiOu Wang, Ryan Ghelfi, Cole Watson, Jennifer Devine Pfiefer, Meghan “the Queen” Arbhogast, Jean Pommier, and a couple hundred more ready to define their best.

(Jessi Goldstein gets ready with her fellow warriors)

(Addie Bracy, Andy Whacker, and David Roche are ready to roll)

(YiOu Wang makes a few adjustments while Team Hoka's Cole Watson and Ryan Ghelfi stretch out)

(Ray Sanchez, just ahead of the best singlet ever from Ian O'brien)
It was the first competition of my 2017 season, and I yearned for the release of the start gun with a manic intensity. Races are such a gift, inviting us to adventure with fellow warriors and leave our “normal” life behind for half a day. Lately, my “normal” is 11 power outages in five weeks as Woodside struggles in the windy storms, launching a brand new company (Brilliant, who makes the worlds smartest light switch), and the inescapable cacophony of Trumplandia permeating the will of the world. Five hours of sweaty quiet along the gorgeous hills of the American River valley? Heck, that’s the most sane thing on my calendar these days.

(Who's ready to roll?)
(And we're off!
The relief came at 8am, as Race Director Paulo Medina and the gang of Single Track Running sent us down from the Auburn Dam Overlook towards the American River after the 35k runners. Andy Whacker led Max King, David Roche, and Ashland, OR's Cole Watson down the first descent at blazing speed, while YiOu Wang and Colorado's Addie Bracy tucked in about five places back. I set up about a dozen people behind them, trying to keep my Masters competition in sight. Somewhere up there was Jean Pommier (who just ran a sub-3:20 50k two weeks ago), and I had seen Mark McManus (defending Trail 50k National Masters Champion), local Peter Fain, Alan Abbs, 200-miler king John Burton, and a few other names on the start list that could clean my clock any given Saturday. But I was fit from a solid 8-week block of training (thanks, FOURmidable!), and knew in these conditions, patience would be my best ally.

(Cruising the towpath, photo courtesy of Theseus Augustus Felonius)
 By the time we got down to the river and back again (mile 5), it was clear that the mud was going to be a bigger factor than the hills today. Every mud condition imaginable was here - sloshy mud up to your knee, bone breaking hard clay, murky bottom creeks, sticky rooted climbs, saturated cow fields….even No Hands Bridge had a four inch puddle on the top. The downhill switchbacks were downright suicidal in some sections, but the kid in me was having a great time slopping it up.

(The mud would be the big factor today)
(Megan Storms shows off her buddy's new gaiters)

(There's a creek ON TOP of No Hands Bridge!)
As we stomped across No Hands Bridge and tackled the 22% incline of K2 (mile 11), I heard that Andy Whacker had taken a fall and was off to the hospital to get some stitches. Yikes! This course takes no prisoners. Max King had a 2-minute lead on Cole Watson, with David Roche and Ryan Ghelfi right behind them, all going at well under the course record pace. Addie Bracy and YiOu Wang were leading the Women’s race, well ahead of the pack (I found out Megan Roche had not started to take care of their dog who snarfed down some ibuprofen for breakfast - good doggy Mom, Megan!).

(K2 is looking crazy)
My playmates for this race were all from the Bay Area. San Francisco’s Sebastian Duesterhoeft was here for a “training run” (but looking pretty damn good), 17-year-old Spenser Talkington and his rainbow hair was climbing everything, while Mill Valley’s Chris Castleman led us down the descents with his effortless gait. Ryan Smith from Fair Oaks joined us as well, chuckling that the muddy conditions would be his 2-year-old sons perfect day. The pace was quick, that is, until another thick field of mud had us spread out, laughing out loud, and grasping for anything that resembled traction. A smile cracked through my mud mask, humbled by the pure joy of my fellow warriors. Glorious, this mud be!

(David Roche leading up the climb, photo courtesy of Eric Schranz)

(Try and stay dry! Ha, ha)
As Spenser led me up Overlook Hill (mile 15), we caught up with 35k runners and all got a shot of adrenaline when two bucks went flying down the hillside right in between us. Phew! Now that’s what I call good downhill form. I scanned ahead for my Masters competitors, but even as we crested the hills above the fog, I could only see Ryan Smith’s red shirt in the distance. A good enough target for now. Sebastian joined me as we crossed the thigh-deep Knickerbocker Creek, and we chatted about how in decades of running up here (Way Too Cool, Western States, etc.) we had never seen the creeks running so wild. It was music to our California-drought dry ears.

(Max King and the epic face plant we all made, photo courtesy of Paul Berquam)

It wasn’t until the Cool aid station (mile 22), that I got an idea of the race ahead and where I was. Max King had come through at blazing speed, face planting in the four foot deep creek, with Cole Dayton two minutes behind him (and also face planting in the four foot deep creek). David Roche, Ryan Ghelfi, Ian O’brien (hands down the best race shirt), and Ryan Woods were all in pursuit. YiOu Wang had made her signature move, turning on the afterburners in the last 10 miles, and had already gapped Addie Bracy by four minutes. The volunteers guided me around the four foot creek, and a guy said “you’re first in your age group, Jean is about 8 minutes up for Masters…he’s going fast though, so you better get moving”. Wait...where is Peter Fain? Mark McManus? The guy shrugged his shoulders and said “looks like it’s your day”. Well, it's not over yet...

(We aren't done yet!)
Sebastian caught up with me as we rolled through Cool, and we joked about how perfect that volunteer’s update was. “You’re leading your age group” (you’re killing it, but don’t slow down) and “Jean is still ahead of you and going fast” (how bad do you want this?). I kept my pace rolling through to No Hands (mile 27), but Sebastian had a few more gears for climbing than I did so he pulled away. I recollected how great it felt to run these hills in the final hours of Western States, and let those memories lighten my heavy legs.

The last of the four climbs (mile 30) set my quads and calves twitching, and I power hiked the bottom just in time to watch Jean Pommier finish at the top. Chris Castlemen was able to run the entire last climb, and caught me in the final 200 yards, collapsing at the finish. I followed him in (4:39), nabbing 11th overall, 8th USATF Male, 2nd Master, and the M45-49 win. What a great finish to an amazing day!

(YiOu Wang is our new USATF Trail 50k Champion!)

(Max King talks strategy with his daughter after taking the win)
Max King (3:32, new course record) had held on for the win, with Cole Watson (3:39), David Roche (3:51), Ryan Ghelfi (3:55), and Ryan Woods (3:59) all going under 4 hours. Ian O’brien (4:15) took sixth, just ahead of the Womens champion, YiOu Wang (4:18), Addie Bracy (4:32), and Masters winner Jean Pommier (4:32). Sebastian (4:33) almost caught Jean! Guess I should have stayed with him. (all results)

(Womens Masters champion Jennifer Devine Pfeiffer and RD Paulo Medina)

(M40-44 winner John Burton and M55-59 winner Gary Saxton make good use of the finisher hoodies)

(Killer swag!!!)
As we enjoyed beer and brats, got our Monster Massages, and covered ourselves in the amazing swag (t-shirt, sweatshirt, hat, finisher medal, water bottle, yes!), we cheered in more happy and muddy racers. Jennifer Devine Pfiefer soon came in to take 3rd Female, winning the Masters category, just ahead of a flu-beaten Meghan Arboghast who was still all smiles. My cycling buddy Chris Devine had placed 3rd overall in the 35k, with his friend Ben Winters just behind him, and we joked that both could probably whip out a marathon and feel less exhausted than 22 miles of this insanity. With every muddy face that came up over the hill, we let out another cheer – John Burton (M40-44 winner), Gary Saxton (M55-59 winner), Tim Tweitmeyer, Ron Hess, Jerry Dischler, Megan Storms, and many more. This was an epic day, and worthy of a finishers yelp.

My thanks to Paulo Medina and his troupe at Single Track Running for this wonderful gift of a run. In my mind, it redefined what a USATF 50k Trail Championship race should be – epic climbs, crazy conditions, fast runners, great swag, awesome food, not too much pomp and circumstance, and all of it expertly organized. Best of all it was a perfectly good excuse to get muddy, and renew my appreciation for nature’s extraordinary range of beauty. Thanks Team inov-8 for making mud running fun (#getagrip), and Injinji for getting me through another crazy race with no blisters. Let the chalice of my soul spill over with gratitude.

See ya on the trails!

- Scott