Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Going "Full Ass" at the Inaugural 2018 Whistle Punk Deuce

(The clouds settle into Purisima, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
“Celebrate early and often”. It’s one of my favorite life mottos. Don’t wait for some once-in-an-eon milestone, round-numbered birthday, or Hallmark-designated date on the calendar…if there’s a reason to celebrate, just send the invites and DO IT. Does your neighbor’s dog need a one year and two month birthday party? Hell yes, he does. Break out the sausage balloons and bacon-topped chicken cake, and go off-leash crazy with all your doggy (and kitty!) friends. Is it the five year and three week anniversary of the day you met your current best friend? Then for God’s sake, have some champagne and cupcakes, retell every story with glorious volume and exaggeration, then dance until you pass out. Next week, we’ll add a costume theme and lawn darts, and do it all over again.

Once you decide to celebrate, what is most important (as my 7-year-old, Quinn would say), is YOU DON’T HALF ASS IT. Bring food, brings friends, play games, and don’t stop until everyone is exhausted and sunburnt. Have you ever seen a famous picture of half of an ass? Of course you haven’t. That’s ridiculous. Everyone wants the full ass. It’s so fundamental, even a 7-year-old will disapprovingly shake her head (and booty) if you even try to go, say, three-quarter ass. In the celebration of life’s random chapters, no matter what it is, one must go all or nothing. (Daddy, stop trying to make #FULLASSORNOTHING a thing!)

I suspect Race Directors conjure a similar muse when they scheme up new courses. Robert Rhodes and the Baytrailrunners “Whistle Punk - The Deuce” is a perfect example. I can picture Robert, with his mischievous smile and infinite passion for adventure, routing his deep knowledge of the beautiful trails of the Purisima Open Space Preserve to inspire a vision - “what if we double everything and hit every climb in this park…26.2 miles with 6,500’ of vertical…in the most perfect late Autumn weather that California has to offer…then sit in the sun with snacks and beer and talk about it until the sun goes down, and/or our quads and calves finally stop twitching in endless revolt…”. Epic from the moment of conception, as acknowledged by the hearty volunteers who pony up, and the runners who sell out the race in days. I was lucky enough to be one of them (racing today!), and was ready for a full ass adventure.

And so at 9am this last Sunday, I helped fill the parking lot with ~100 other runners, 35 tackling the 26.2 miles of “The Deuce”, while the rest took on the challenging Whistle Punk Half. It was a perfect weather day – chilly under the redwood canopy, but warm and sunny once you broke the tree line. Thanks to the vertically challenging course, we would all visit these microclimates repeatedly.

(Cruising under the canopy, photo courtesy of Todd Glieden)
I caught up with fellow runners at the start, including the fit-and-always-sandbagging Sean Handel (going for the Half, naturally), Ken Huang (her huge smile as bright as the sunrise), Nakia Baird (Faster Now That I’m A Master), Holly Tate Ross (the Dipsea Crusher), a visitor from Amsterdam, and many locals who had heard the call. My fitness was good, although I had recently taken two weeks off due to a neck injury suffered when taking an awkward fall on the trails (honestly, is there ever a “non-awkward” fall on the trails?). Given my limited range of motion, there would be no photos today (pro photographer Cris Gebhardt would have us covered on this front), but it shouldn’t hold back from a good, smiling sufferfest. Many of us shared an extra long hug and smile in memory of Dennis Connor who recently died in a trail running accident in Switzerland, knowing full well if he were here, he would tell us to count our blessings – good health, good friends, and an excuse to play in the mountains.

(Getting it done! Photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
Robert sent us off with a glorious “whoop!”, and we immediately descended to the Craig Britton Trail that traced above the coastal clouds, dropping us closer and closer to its refreshing grey soup. The trails of Purisima are ideal for running, alternating between the smooth, redwood-protected single track and roads, and some obscenely steep and exposed sections that even the most elite would need to fast hike. By Robert’s design, the first few miles would be the easiest (if you could call any of this course “easy”), and slowly but surely, the screws would turn.

(Sean Handel leads us out, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
(Todd Glieden gets a selfie with the Grabtown volunteer crew)
We climbed up Grabtown Gulch (some of my favorite single track out here), hitting the first aid station (mile 6) and checking off the first of four big climbs. After a long and luscious descent, I found myself running with San Francisco’s Kristin Sellers and Oakland’s Lucy Andrews, both of whom were wise enough to take hike breaks on the second big ascent as they rocked out to their respective tunes. We still have lots of climbing to go!

(Tackling the climbs, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
As we finished the climb and made the turn (mile 13), the volunteers let me know I was in 4th place, with San Bruno’s Ammon Skidmore out front, closely followed by Palo Alto’s Martin Jambon and local speedster Karl Schnaitter. The lead women were all within a minute right behind me - a tight race! Whose soundtrack would be faster?

(Enjoying the shade while it lasts, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
We descended down the crazy steep Harkins Ridge trail (first race to ever go this way!), where Palo Alto’s Rokas Zickevicius went flying by me just before we hit the aid station (mile 17). I fueled up quickly, so regained 4th place as we did a backwards loop back up to Grabtown. I could hear Rokas working hard behind me in the canyon, which kept my posture upright and focused (thanks, Rokas!). It somehow felt steeper in this direction (likely because it was climb #3), but I kept on it, running everything. At the top (mile 20), they reaffirmed my place, but said Kyle Schnaitter was now leading the race a solid 10 minutes ahead of me. Wow, he’s flying!

(Nothing but smiles, photo courtesy of Nathan Han)
The butterflies surfed my tailwind as I headed down into the redwood canopy one last time, their random flight patterns as light as laughter. I often wonder if butterflies wait for us like surfers watching a break. If so, let me be your seventh wave so you can drop big! I leaned into the downhill until my quads screamed, cutting through the still air with proper wave-like nobility. The butterflies replied with glorious carves, fabulous floaters, snaking each other like a den of thieves. These magical moments are everywhere in the forest, forged in presence and play.

(Ammon enjoys some fast single track, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
I broke from the flow to fuel up at the last aid station (mile 21) as the butterflies sallied into the sunbeams. Mother Nature, my love, I crash onto your shore! The sun was coming down through the redwood canopy now, so this last climb would be a hot one. Volunteers Penny and Ramona got me set up with my hot day cocktail of half Coke/half water, and I tore up Whitmere Gulch one last time.

(Me burning through the last climb, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
It was a grind, pushing me to cross-eyed levels in the last mile (full ass!). I drowned myself in the cleansing voluntary pain that we all relentlessly chug, and so few on this planet understand. I crossed the line (4th overall in 4:11:59), and quickly took a seat in the sun with Karl Schnaitter (1st, 3:50), Martin Jambon (3:58, 2nd), and Ammon Skidmore (4:09, 3rd). Rokas finished right behind me (4:12:34, 5th), thanking me for being just close enough he had to keep pushing all the way (Roka, you did the same for me!). Holly Tate Ross (4:17) won the Women’s Deuce, with Kristin Sellers (4:19) and Lucy Andrews (4:25) very close behind. Sean “Sandbagger” Handel won the Half (1:47), with Dara Dickson (2:16) winning the Women’s division. Before long, we were all relaxing on the grass with the volunteers (Trisha, Rob, Karen, Bala, Kristen, Mandie, Lauren, Michael, Susan, Rosa, Nathan, Todd, Greg, and more!), telling tales with beers in hand. It’s not even 2pm, and we have seized this day for all it is worth. This was most certainly a full ass celebration.

(Enjoying some post-race moments with Greg Lanctot and RD Robert Rhodes)
My thanks to Robert and his volunteers for creating “The Deuce”, and executing it brilliantly. In my book, this is already one of the great California “must do” events. I hope to see more of you next year!

- SD


  1. Congratulations on embracing the full ass! The Whistle Punk course is a tough one, even more so with the new Deuce configuration. Great job!

    1. I thought about the Deuce for over a year but figured it would be too hard and nobody would signup. Man, was I wrong! Next year will be fun.

  2. Great write up and congratulations on the full ass!

    -Troy Windsor

  3. Thank you for mentioning Dennis, and he would have enjoyed the run & company for sure. <3


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