Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The two most common questions I get about running 100 miles (25 days to go!)

When someone hears that I'm running a hundred mile race, there are two questions asked of me more than any other, once I've clarified that yes, it's 100 miles all at once, and no, I'm perfectly sane, medically, anyway.

First, do you sleep? The answer to that question is simple: no. Of course, there are folks huddled under blankets, fast asleep after being pulled by the medical team for some sort of health issue, but that was unplanned and remains rare among the entire field of runners.

Second, and my personal favorite: do you go to the bathroom?

Even the winner of the Western States 100 is out there for about 16 hours, and the majority of us spend the better part of a day or more on the trails. As you might imagine, it takes a lot of fluids and food to fuel a 100 mile finish. So...yes, yes, we do. In fact, if you're not releasing fluids, it's a definite sign that you're dehydrated.

And then there's that other issue. Believe it or not, it's a common enough issue that there's some trail etiquette for it.

Here's what the race handbook for the Voyageurs 50 Mile Trail Run, my WS100 qualifier, says about the subject:

Relieving yourself - O.k., this is gross, but it should be mentioned. Solid
human waste should be buried (find a stout stick and dig a quick hole with it)
well off the trail and away from water. Liquid waste should not be deposited on
the trail itself or near water. You should be at least 100 feet from any water
source when relieving yourself. A non-entrant in the race should not see you
relieve yourself.

Seems pretty simple, right? It is, and it's nothing uncommon for distance runners. In fact, most of my running friends can find the humor in it all.

Come June 25th, I'll be lining up with my Gatorade, water, energy gels, and yes, a little baggie of toilet paper, just in case.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Western States Training Day Three (26 days to go!)

Before I write about my third and final day at the Western States training weekend, I want to take a moment, since it is Memorial Day, to thank all of the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. There is nothing that can explain the depths of my gratitude. It's a firm reminder, too, of the cause I've dedicated my 100 miles to next month-the Wounded Warriors who live their lives every day with a physical reminder of the high costs of their service. I am so grateful for the huge outpouring of support for the Wounded Warrior Project...we met my initial goal, but our work is not done. If you're able to give, no amount is too small as a thank you to our brave soldiers.

The third day of the training weekend was a 22 mile route from near the Greengate aid station at Mile 80 to the Placer High track in Auburn where the race finishes. Three busloads of runners gathered at the high school at 8:30 for the 40 minute bus ride that involved some white-knuckle turns along a windy road over the American River. Our bus driver actually cheered when we ultimately arrived. Pre-run instructions again included a warning about mountain lions, with an added admonition to run with a partner today. As I saw at Mile 8, that warning had a reason, as I ran past a small plaque marking the nearby spot where a runner lost her life in a mountain lion attack in the mid-1990s. Of course, I found myself running alone, cougar bait, when I noticed the monument. My legs had been feeling good, but I wasn't quite fast enough to keep up with yesterday's training partner.

Much of this run was along single track trail tucked into the hillside. The sun shone brightly overhead, and temps were the warmest they'd been all weekend long. On occasion, I'd come upon a small pitch to climb, but it was a largely downhill run that pounded my quads again. I was surprised when my legs actually started responding around Mile 3, allowing me to click off a series of semi-fast miles...slower than yesterday, but faster than I thought I'd be able to do on my third straight long run (a first for me).

The photo above of the mountainside across the canyon simply doesn't do justice for the colors that popped from the slopes--greens and oranges that were spectacular to view. The trail was lush in places, with many small creeks providing water that sprouted some thick overgrowth.

The first aid station came at Mile 14, and I forgot how terrible the next climb up a rocky path was. It was one of three bigger climbs, though the final one from No Hand's Bridge at Mile 97 up to Robie's Point at Mile 99 wasn't as painful as I remembered it being during last year's pace run. The paved hills in Auburn were steeper than I remembered, and I can imagine they'll feel even worse next month. Before long the gate to the Placer High track came into view. It's hard to believe that I'll run through that gate and 3/4s of the way around the track to a finish I've dreamed of for years in just twenty-six days.

My nearly 22 mile run was done in 3:11, and I was among the first runners to the final check-in point. I waited for some new friends to arrive behind me, kept company by Tim Twietmeyer (who seemed to be EVERYWHERE this weekend). After a quick shower in the boy's lockerroom, I'm writing from the Sacramento Airport, where a Southwest flight will take me home in a few minutes.

What a weekend. In a later post, I'll write about what I think I learned about myself as a runner this weekend...but know that I'm starting to believe that big things (for me) can happen on June 25th. I've put in the time and effort. Now it's time to execute.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Western States Training Day Two (27 days to go!)

And...Day Two is in the books.

I got an extra hour of sleep last night, since today's run didn't start until 8:30, and there was no pre-run bus to worry about. It was a chilly morning again, with temperatures hovering in the mid-40s, but the sun seemed to promise an appearance. I snapped a picture of the terrain below that would host many of my 19 miles just as I entered Foresthill for the second day of our weekend training runs. It was one of those mornings that reminded me how much I love being a runner.

My legs felt good after yesterday's workout, and I gave myself enough time to stretch for a few minutes as we milled around the Foresthill Elementary School. The talk of the morning was the snowfall that occurred near Tahoe again yesterday, with Squaw Valley receiving another six inches overnight. One thing is clear: we're all going to get the chance to run through a few miles of snow next month.

I met up with the guys I found myself running with yesterday, and after the pre-run instructions again (this time including a few words about both mountain lions and trail pooping--no joke!), we were off along the paved road to California Street.

My coach wanted me to hammer this run, since it was mostly downhill and runnable. We hit the location of the Cal-1 aid station now known as Dardanelles around 26:30 in for the nearly 3 1/2 miles. I knew the next stretch had even more of an opportunity to abuse the quads, and without looking at splits, the effort felt like we picked it up a notch as we arrived to Cal-2, now known as Peachstone, in 1:04. That aid station was manned by a who's who of ultrarunning, including Tim Twietmeyer (who apparently is EVERYWHERE this weekend), Craig Thornley, and last year's second place female Meghan Arbogast, though with the last two, I didn't realize this until later when someone mentioned it to me.

The next stretch down to the American River included a huge climb along a fire road, but we managed to keep up the pace. I arrived with my fellow entrant Chris from Monterey to the Rucky Chucky aid station an hour after Peachstone in 2:04 from the time we left Foresthill.

After refueling for two minutes, we started up a steep road for three miles to White Oak Flat, the day's endpoint. This stretch was part of the historical Western States course, but featured a downhill run to the Rucky Chucky crossing rather than our slow hike along the soft dirt road. Chris continued to attack the hills with a slow jog, while I mixed a fast walk with my slow jog and fell behind him a bit. Two miles up the road, we bumped into Chris's girlfriend as we took a right turn onto a rocky, rooty singletrack path. Before long, though it felt like an eternity, we emerged at White Oak Flat. The buses scheduled to take the runners back to Foresthill weren't scheduled to arrive for another thirty minutes, but we fortunately had a ride with entrant Dave's wife. We ate a few slices of watermelon, enjoyed hot dogs hot off the grill, and then loaded up Dave's car in all our sweaty glory for the ride back to Foresthill.

19 miles in 2:44, with 40 of those minutes in the three plus mile climb out of the canyon. Time for a drink at the Auburn Ale House!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Western States Training Day One (28 days to go!)

I thought for a moment that the alarm went off too early this morning. It was 5:45 AM in Auburn, California, the Endurance Capital of the World, and after a long day of travel yesterday featuring two delayed flights (I was thankful for the second one), I could have used more sleep. But then I remembered that in four weeks, I'll already have summitted the highest climb of the Western States course by the time 5:45 AM rolls around. That's right...four weeks. 28 days. It's fast approaching.

I flew out to California for the long weekend to run the Western States organized trail runs, three days of running along the course with other race entrants and anyone else who wanted to have a supported trail run on the Augusta of ultrarunning. I made the 17 mile drive to Foresthill, Mile 62 of the course, where the runners gathered at the same elementary school where our pacers will be waiting for us on June 25th. Temperatures were in the mid-40s, and a mystical fog floated over the quiet little mining town.

I checked in with the Western States officials, who gave me a blue wristband used to track me along the course over the next three days. I took it as a good omen that I received lucky number 7s.

There were enough runners milling around to fill seven or eight school buses, but before we boarded we received instructions from Greg, the race director. The megaphone didn't work all that well, but I think the instructions included "Do not get eaten by a mountain lion" and "If you're going to poop on the trail, make sure you're at least ten feet off the trail itself, and cover it up." One of those two is a joke.

I boarded the first bus, which somehow ended up fourth in the caravan to the trailhead, and I got all excited when Tim Tweitmeyer, the five-time Western States champion with a record twenty-five silver belt buckles for sub-24 hour finishes, sat down four rows in front of me. I got the chance to run with Tim early on in our run, and he gave me important advice when I asked him for some for a first-timer: Have fun. He also hinted that the Western States board was going to do their best to ensure that we'd be using last year's snow course, though snow levels in Robinson Flat may still prove to make that impossible. I was running at a slightly faster pace than Tim, so after a minute or two we parted ways.

This was a training run, so there were no rules when we disembarked from our orange ride. A few people hit the trail immediately, without stretching. Others formed a line for the bathroom. Most of us tried to stretch a bit. I hadn't met anyone to run with, so I started on down the road on my own.

It was a steep descent down to the reverse-Cal Street run we were having since the normally-scheduled canyon run was too snowy to provide aid to the runners. I pounded my way past quite a few runners before pulling over for a pit stop at a primitive bathroom near a campsite along the American River. It was shortly after that stop that I ran with Tim, and before I knew it I was running up the downhill section of the course from the American River to Foresthill. Most of the running was gradual climb single-track, and the American River frequently roared below us to our right.

It was tiring, but I worked to keep up the pace and soon found myself running toward the front of the pack. Remember, it wasn't a race...but it sure felt like one. Somewhere just before Foresthill I crossed paths with Gordy Ansleigh, basically the father of this race, running in the opposite direction on a training run of his own. I said hello to this living legend, who started this race in 1974 when his horse came up lame at the starting line of a horse race. Instead of letting it ruin his weekend, he ran the 100 miles himself. In short, that's why belt buckles are awarded to finishers of this race, and most ultras--because Gordy finished a horse race!

After leaving Foresthill's aid station, there was a seven mile run down to Michigan Bluff at Mile 55 of the course. The first stretch was paved and a steep downhill to a fire road that continued the downhill descent to Volcano Creek, where a rope was strung across the three foot slippery rock-bottomed creek through ice cold water. From there, it was a steep climb up followed by a quick descent down into Michigan Bluff. Along the way into Michigan Bluff I noticed a pet cemetery along the side of the road. It was a horse grave that caught my eye, but it was the grave marker for Tonto that I recognized. Tonto was seven-time WS100 champion Scott Jurek's dog, and he was well-known for long training runs with his owner. Scott and I share a very small common bond: we both ran our first ultramarathons at the Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Run. Of course, he finished in second place, while I missed a turn while in fifth place and ended up running 56 miles and finishing in 37th place. (Click on that link to the Voyageur race site and admire the gentleman pictured in the background photo.)

When I turned around at Michigan Bluff and headed back, I knew I had a quad-busting hard stretch ahead of me. My coach, Andy Jones-Wilkins, wanted me to run the downhill to Volcano Creek hard, and I found myself slamming along at about a 7:15/mile clip for the first mile. The second mile was slowed by the runners coming uphill at me, and the fact that it was a steep, single-track, rocky path. I crossed the creek again, and started the climb back up to Foresthill. My pace fell off slightly, and I thought to myself that the climb won't be any fun next week in the heat of the afternoon. It was cloudy today, and temperatures were no higher than 60.

Before long, I entered Foresthill again with a guy I ran much of the late morning with...he is a Naval Academy grad, and we hit it off talking Notre Dame/Navy football (I only wish I had more to brag about recently). We came to a stop just over 30 miles and almost exactly 5 hours after we started. I chowed down on some grilled ham and cheese and let a massage therapist assault me in the most beautiful way for a good 15-20 minutes before heading back to the hotel.

Day One: Success. Here's to a strong day of hard downhill running tomorrow!

Friday, May 27, 2011

To my daughter. (29 days to go!)

My prayers were answered. You're here, you're healthy, and you're more beautiful than I ever thought possible, especially given that half of your genes are shared with me.

There's something you need to know, though, baby girl. Your mommy and daddy are runners. In your daddy's case in particular, he likes to run...a lot. I mean, I'm going out of town for an entire long weekend today...and the absolute worst thing about it is that I won't see you until Tuesday.

But you see, running's what we do. Unfortunately, we don't do it well enough to get paid to do it, and that's why we pick up our briefcases each morning and head into the office. Until I met you, and other than your mother, it has been the one thing that gets me through those tough days when nothing seems to go right and everyone appears to be the enemy. Running is my therapy, my escape, my way to find balance in a sometimes crazy world.

A lot of people don't run, and in my opinion, they don't realize what they are missing. Yes, it's a crazy world, but it's also an amazing one. There is so much to explore out there, and our time here is finite. I can't wait to show you so much of it, but I know that even the most well-meaning father can't show you it all. You'll need to discover some of its beauty on your own. Here's a tip: I've learned that there is no better way to do that than on my own two feet.

Some of my fondest memories have come while I was running. I'll never forget the sound of ocean waves crashing onto the beach on Sanibel Island or the tingy echo of bagpipes playing mystically across the lake on a Friday night before a Notre Dame football game. I can still smell the pungent stench of fish one early morning at the Pike Place Market. It wasn't pleasant, but I can taste the gravelly dirt air from passing cars in the middle of the night somewhere in Oregon. I can see pairs of headlamps glowing across that Sierra Nevada canyon, dancing like fireflies under a California full moon. And the cheers...oh, the cheers! I've never felt more like a superstar than when I've made those left hand turns on the streets of Boston and Chicago, masses of spectators rooting for me...for him...for her... for all of us! That burning pain in my legs disappeared in an instant, only to be replaced by the warm sensation of tears rolling down my cheeks. I hope you get to experience that feeling of jubilation even more frequently than I have in my life.

But few memories are better than those of my own rhythmic breathing, mind cleared, the miles clicking away as I run toward the finish line, or a cold beer, or home to you, or even nowhere at all, just out to run because I can.

I have no idea if you'll be a runner, or if you'll even want to be one. You kick those legs around so much that I can't help but think you will be. I want to share this gift I've been given with you, but I promise I will do my best to let you pursue the things that interest you. If the day comes, however, when you ask if you can join me on the roads or trail, know that I won't tell you "no." In fact, that first mile we share together will undoubtedly be my most memorable mile yet.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Berryman 50 Mile Race Report (30 days to go!)

I wrote a race report after last July's Voyageur Trail Run, my first 50 mile run, but I have yet to publish it. I'm proud of that first foray into ultrarunning, particularly as the race that qualified me for Western States, but it was a race that also nearly broke me. I was eight pounds underweight 24 hours after I finished, and I couldn't finish a beer later that night back at the hotel. Yeah, I was done.

Fast forward to Saturday. As this blog has documented, I've upped my mileage, with a lot of it on trails. I have another 10 months of running experience under my belt. And I have a goal: Western States. So there I was, scrambling to the starting line of the Berryman Trail 50 miler, hoping my Garmin would find a satellite signal in the middle of the nowhere otherwise known as the Mark Twin National Forest, praying that I was ready for this endeavor, and wondering if I'd be able to drive myself home after the race. No, I couldn't have done so after Voyageur. Not a chance in hell.

The Berryman Trail Run consists of a short out and back on a gravel road before darting into the forest for two 24 plus mile loops on the Berryman Trail. The trail is largely single track, frequently rocky and/or rooty, occasionally hilly in a uniquely Midwestern way, and for this go-round anyway, very, very muddy. We'd had some storms the day before the race, with more in the forecast on race day. They fortunately stopped a few hours before the race started at 6:30 a.m., and that of course led to temperatures near 80 degrees with bright sunshine for the second loop. Instead of being soaked to the bone in rainwater, we were soaked to the bone in sweat.

When the magic words were spoken, we were off.

I ran along the gravel road with my buddy Tommy, who has been so good to me as a training partner and advisor since I first got into Western States, Ben, a fellow WS100 entrant that I affectionately (and accurately) refer to as the best ultrarunner in the State of Missouri, and a fourth guy who dropped off the lead pack after a couple miles.

Tommy (in yellow above) was coming off a stellar victory at the Potawatomi 100 mile race in Pekin, Illinois in April, and you may remember Ben (leading the pack in red above), the returning Berryman 50 mile champion, from my race report about the Double Chubb 50k last month (where he repeated as champion). Throw in his 19:32 win last November in the Ozark Trail 100, and there is no question that this guy is the real deal. I expect big things from him next month at W100.

We dipped into the woods, and after a mile or two, I realized they were going out too fast for me, with our pace in the mid-7s. When we reached the first aid station 4 1/2 miles into the race, I stopped at the buffet of candy, chips, and Gatorade, letting the other two slip away from me in an effort to run my own race.

That was a decision I didn't regret. Running alone, I found a comfortable pace in the 8:30-8:45 range, pounding through the muddy sections that seemed to be around every corner and focusing on my caloric intake. In that first lap, I ate a PB&J sandwich I carried in my pack, pounded gummy worms, and dined on lighter fare like bananas and oranges while slamming a regular dose of water and Gatorade. I am proud to report that I didn't take my first Gu until the 21st mile.

When I entered start/finish area approximately 3 1/2 hours after I started, I took a minute or two to swap out my Garmin for Beth's to ensure that my batteries wouldn't die and weighed the pros and cons of changing my soaked shoes and socks. David White, the co-director, saw me pondering this decision and laughed: "They'll be wet again in a mile if you change them." So away I went, stopping my first Garmin watch at 3:32 and hoping it wouldn't take long for the second watch to find its GPS tracking. Like I had been for the last 20 miles, I was in third place.

The task put before me by my coach was to attempt a negative split by running the second half of the race faster than the first. Of course, he wanted me to run my first 25 miles at a 7:30 finishing pace, and I came in on target for a 7:00 finishing time. But I try my best to be a good pupil, and so I barged forward into the woods at a faster clip than the first lap.

A few miles into the second lap, I came upon Tommy. Like he always does, he gave me some positive reinforcement and mentioned that Ben was only a few minutes ahead of me. While I knew he had been running with Ben, I really couldn't believe him. But a mile or two later, and Tommy was proven right. I saw Ben's red shirt through the tree branches.

Uh oh. This wasn't part of the plan.

I made a quick pass just after a small creek crossing. As Tommy and I did, Ben and I checked in on each other, making sure we were both doing okay. Sure, it's a race...but it's really a race against yourself, not the others out there with you. And now I really was racing myself, though there were dozens of runners behind me, all wanting to catch me, and I now didn't have anyone to chase.

I won't lie. This development scared me. My respect for Ben as a runner is about as high as it is for any runner, and on most days I'd only see him at the start and finish. And here I was passing him. I could tell from his stride that he wasn't having his best day...but I also figured that it was just a bad stretch that he'd soon shake off. In fact, I think my final words to him were, "I'm sure I'll be seeing you again later." He's a better runner than I am, much stronger and more experienced. And somehow I was now in first place, with 18 miles to blow up.

I did an internal check of my system and realized that I might not be able to keep up my current pace (about a 7:30/mile when I saw Ben) with the course ahead. I figured I could, however, keep up a consistently strong pace that might lead to a win. And just like that, I switched from a run worried about my nutrition to a race worried about my position. And to be clear, Ben wasn't my competition. I just didn't want to get passed at all, by anyone. [I found out later at the finish that Ben took a DNF at Mile 40. No runner likes to have to make that decision, but Ben made a good choice to keep his eye on the Western States prize.]

The rest of the race is a bit of a blur. I started making shorter stops at the aid stations, focusing on refills of my two water bottles combined with a few solids. I popped more Gus and S-Caps than I'd planned, all in an effort to keep the cramping to a minimum and the energy at a maximum. I had some faint cramping in my right hamstring, a first for me, and my body never appreciated the gymnastics required to squeeze through the branches of a few trees that had fallen over the trail. By the time I was running my 40th mile or so, I was fairly confident that my consistent 8 to 8:30 miles over the last eight miles would be tough to overcome, but I was still concerned about blowing up...and I swear I could hear Ben's footsteps approaching behind me. I tried to keep running, afraid of being caught from behind like prey on the Serengeti.

For the final five to six miles, I found myself working strategic walk breaks into my running, picking a few uphill stretches (which were not steep compared to my normal training trails) to walk at a brisk pace. When I entered the final aid station to the cheering welcome of another training partner, John, who had finished the trail marathon and joined his wife at the aid station she was working, I finally realized that I'd be able to win this race. John was polite and told me I was looking good, and I asked him to confirm the remaining mileage, since the numbers on my Garmin were no longer accurate after 47 miles in the woods. John confirmed that I only had 2.3 miles to go, and that seemed...runnable. For the most part, anyway, as I unfortunately had to pull up once or twice for short walking spells.

When I finally emerged from the woods to the ringing of the cowbell that greets all finishers, I couldn't have been happier. Sure, it was great to win the race. Even better, though, it was over.

In a lot of ways, this race was a bit of a redemption from my Voyageur run last summer. I was well-trained (90 mile weeks instead of 50 miles weeks), healthy (no bruised foot from a skydiving mishap), and never got lost (an extra six miles will add some time to your 50 mile race, believe it or not). It also was a huge confidence boost, proving to me that the last five months of training were starting to pay dividends. My official time was 7:01:51, and I pretty much ran even splits after falling off my negative split effort in the final few miles. I finished far ahead of my expectations, and no, I'm not sandbagging.

Western States is less than five weeks away. I leave for California tomorrow for the Western States training camp, getting a preview of the course I'll be running in just over a month.

I can't wait.

[Special thanks to Shannon Drohan and Renee Cash for the photos!]

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ford's Bar to Rucky Chucky Near (Miles 73.0 to 78.0) (31 days to go!)

The seventeenth stage of the Western States 100 continues the descent to the American River, from the Ford's Bar aid station to the Rucky Chucky Near station at Mile 78.

Special thanks to Jen & Steve Merschel (in honor of Steve's uncle who served in Vietnam), John Hiltz (a friend from ND who is a pilot in the Navy and dedicates his two miles to Lt. Matt Lowe, who recently was killed in a training flight and Drew Weiland, a young man taken too soon by leukemia), Kari & Josh Luehmann, Bryn Burkholder, and my coworker Jonathan Valentino for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsor this segment of the course tour. It's also a landmark day in that donations to WWP exceeded $11,000.00 today! Thank you all!

This stretch of the course is beautiful, and it's fast. Unlike prior downhill stretches, this section is runnable. The American River runs to runners' left, and for many of us, the sun will be setting or will already have faded away for the day as we jockey for position down to the river crossing.

There isn't a lot of room in a few stretches to make passes, which led to the hilarious warning given to slower runners by the runner I paced last year as we approached: BEEP BEEP BEEP.

As you approach the river crossing, where I expect we'll find rafts waiting for us again this year due to high snow levels leading to high river levels, there is an aid station set up on the near side of the river. Runners also have to go through their eighth medical check of the day. Another aid station sits on the far side of the river, so runners should have no issue getting food and drink at the river crossing.

The river is one of the most highly anticipated sections of the course. The most popular shots of the race show runners pulling themselves along a guide rope through chesthigh waters to reach the other side. The water is ice cold, as one would expect from mountain runoff, and crystal clear. I remember looking over the side of my raft, headlamp in place on my forehead, and seeing the rocky riverbottom 8-10 feet below me.

The leaders will hit the river around 5:15 PM. 24 hour runners will arrive over five hours later, at 10:40 PM, with 30 hour pacers showing up just before dawn at 4:00 AM. The aid station closes at 5:00 AM. Over 22 miles lie ahead to the finish line.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Up Next: WS100 Training Weekend (32 days to go!)

I'll hop on a plane on Friday to fly out to Sacramento for three days of running on the Western States course. it's a great chance to log some high mileage (over 70 miles) in three days while meeting other competitors and strategizing a bit for next month's race.

Saturday was supposed to take runners from Robinson Flat (Mile 29.7) to Foresthill (Mile 62) through the canyons, supposedly the toughest stretch of the course. Alas, the high snow levels have changed those plans according to the WS100 website:

Due to a much deeper snowpack than in previous years, we will not be able to use the normal Saturday training route through the high country.

Without access to the Deadwood Aid Station and the notion of slogging through four to five miles of snow with the very real possibility of injury, we will be using an alternate course that the runners will find just as challenging as the canyons and much more enjoyable. From a safety aspect, Run management has no choice but to use the alternate course.

The alternate course will run from the top of Driver's Flat Road to Foresthill (Cal Street in reverse) then on to Michigan Bluff. The runners will turnaround at Michigan Bluff and return to Foresthill for the finish. Total distance: 30.6 miles.

Sunday's 20 mile run from Foresthill (Mile 62) to Rucky Chucky (Mile 78), plus a little bit tacked on, is unaffected, as is Monday's 20 miles from Green Gate (Mile 79.8) to Auburn (FINISH!).

I'll miss my girls this weekend, and I'll miss our annual trip to the Indy 500, but I'm looking forward to this adventure and a chance to meet some of my fellow 2011 entrants!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Meet my pacer. (33 days to go!)

Running 100 miles through the night in the mountains isn't easy, or necessarily safe, so Western States allows runners to utilize a pacer for the final 38 miles of the course, from Foresthill to the finish line. Some runners choose not to use one, but most, including the leaders, have a buddy or even a complete stranger come out and run with them through the evening and nighttime hours. It's a safe strategy at a time when competitors are battling tired bodies and exhausted minds. I paced Fernando Fernandes last year, and this year I'll have a pacer.

Meet Jay. He's my pacer.

Okay, so this is an old picture, back when Jay wasn't in the same shape he is now. And he smoked. He definitely wasn't a runner. In fact, I don't think he had ever been a runner, not even in high school.

This is Jay now.

Notice how he's running all by himself. That's an ultramarathon in northern California. He runs by himself a lot now. You see, Jay is a very fast runner...the fastest I know. In fact, he ran the Boston Marathon this year in a new personal record of 2:29:33, finishing 88th overall. Yes, out of ALL runners. Here's a photo (sorry, Marathonfoto!) of Jay running down Boylston toward the finish line and a new PR!

Yes, he's eating a cannoli. The woman behind him finds this hilarious, doesn't she? Our friend Sully handed them out in what's become a bit of a tradition among my running friends. Jay's out there having the race of his life, having spent all winter running 100 mile weeks (in Santa Cruz, so it's not THAT hard), and he has a good enough sense of humor to pose with a cannoli just a few hundred yards from the most storied finish line in marathoning. This is why I'm having this man pace me through the night. Well, that, and he's got experience at pacing Western States.

That's Jay on the raft crossing the American River at Rucky Chucky with Western States competitor Oz Pearlman. Jay paced Oz from Foresthill at Mile 62 to Greengate at Mile 80 before joining another runner for his final 20 miles.

It was a memorable weekend for Jay and me, one we hope to reproduce in 2011. Oz easily earned a silver belt buckle, and Jay's second runner came back from the dead (okay, not the dead, but a several hour nap) to nab his first WS finish in five attempts.

Jay is fast, and while that's not necessarily a quality I'll need from Foresthill to Auburn, it can't hurt any either. The best part of it all is that I'll get a chance to run 38 miles with my friend...and I look forward to that moment after we've entered the track at Placer High, when our running is done for the day, and we get to partake in our second favorite hobby:

Cheers! Here's to a great 38 miles, Jay. Thanks for agreeing to run with me!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Training Week 20 Recap (34 days to go!)

I can see it. It's there, just around the corner, only days away. That's right...the taper is coming, and it's coming soon!

Week 20 is in the books. I can't believe I'm wrapping up five months of training, but when I flip back through my training log, it becomes more and more apparent how far I've come.

Here's what I did this past week, with a fuller report of my race at the Berryman Trail 50 miler to come...hopefully, anyway. I never did get around to writing up a race report from Boston! Oops.

Monday: 8.12 miles. My legs were tired. It wasn't an easy run.

Tuesday: 12.12 miles. Very cold morning run. I wore gloves.

Wednesday: 10.12 miles. (By the way, you'll notice that I frequently run an extra .12 miles. It's a bit of a superstition. I like tacking on fractions of a mile because they add up to "free miles" in my year-end count, but I have a fear of the number 13, too.)

Thursday: 8.12 miles.

Friday: 1.05 miles. I made the drive down to Cuba, Missouri, for a stellar night at the Best Western, with a pre-race pasta dinner at Country Kitchen. It was a wild and crazy night, let me tell you.

Saturday: 50.0 miles. My second fifty miler, this one at the Berryman Trail ultra-race. I'll write up a race report, but here's the quick recap: I never thought it could happen, but I won the race in an approximate time of 7:02 (about an 8:26 pace). It was supposed to rain all day, and it did all night, but race day was actually dry...and later, hot and sunny. The trail, however, was muddy. I was pleased with my effort, and I got a sweet belt buckle and plaque to boot! The best part, however, was shooting the breeze with my fellow runners post-race for a few hours.

Sunday: 1.05 miles. The recovery run. I needed it. I'll probably take another one tomorrow.

Total Week 20: 90.58 miles. My first ever back-to-back 90 mile weeks. My old self doesn't recognize me, just like our regular waiter at our favorite Mexican place (where we hadn't frequented since Nora was born). He turned to me tonight and said, "You look different."

One thousand four hundred thirty-six point thirty-six miles since January 1 will do that to you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Berryman 50 Mile Trail Race tomorrow! (36 days to go!)

I'll run my longest training run tomorrow. It's actually a race sponsored by the Saint Louis Ultrarunners Group called the Berryman Trail Run. There are two options for competitors, a one loop marathon and a two loop 50 miler. I ran the marathon last year, my first extensive trail run, and ended up winning the race in a time of 3:21. My win earned me a free entry into one of the races this year, and I chose the 50 miler.

The course winds along the Berryman Trail in the Mark Twain National Forest, about 75 miles southwest of St. Louis. Much of the trail is single-track dirt trail, but there are a few technical sections of rocks and roots. There are a few climbs, though none are enormous, and at least one wet and wild creek crossing. The race directors, David and Victoria White, organize aid stations every 3-5 miles, providing runners with plenty of opportunity to hydrate and eat. Like most SLUG events, the volunteers at these aid stations do an amazing job!

I'll toe the starting line at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow morning for my second-ever 50 mile run. I hope this one goes better than the last one, when I ended up running 56 miles! The forecast calls for temperatures in the 70s and rain (just like last year), so I can expect a sloppy good time in the mud!
I'm pretty sure I won't be posing with a victory plaque this year, but I do look forward to a good 7 1/2 or 8 hours out on the trails, running with some of my fellow SLUGs, and working to figure out my food intake plan for Western States. And just like last year, I have a pretty good feeling I'll finish my day with some wings and a cold one when I get back home!

Run well, my friends!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Training Week 19 Recap (41 days to go!)

It was a big week! I hit my second highest mileage of all-time, but even more importantly, we hit our fundraising goal, surpassing $10,000 (and very much still counting) for the Wounded Warrior Project in the middle of the week. I've said it already, but I'll say it again...THANK YOU! I'm humbled.

Here's the running I did this week:

Monday: 10.15 miles. I felt my left IT band a bit on this run, and I'm definitely going to have to set up a massage appointment to work through this minor lingering issue before it becomes something more.

Tuesday: 12.14 miles. A tough workout....I ran from the office to Forest Park and knocked out 8xhills...1/2 mile up, 1/2 mile down. The ups were in the 3:21 range, and the downs were in the 3:01 range. It hurt, but it was worth it.

Wednesday: 10.21 miles. Nice and easy recovery run...and I felt good.

Thursday: 8.55 miles. To the track in what my coach AJW described as a great 6 week out test run. I did a 2 1/2 mile warmup, then 4x1600 in 5:38, 5:39, 5:36, and 5:32, with 2 minute rest between intervals. A nice 2 plus mile cooldown wrapped up the workout.

Friday: 10.15 miles. Again, nice and easy...it was a humid morning, and I didn't feel too hot when I started, but the run finished well.

Saturday: 30.72 miles. A great Greenrock trail run...I ran the first 20 plus miles with the group. The run went by much faster than the nearly 6 hours I was out there. It was a cool day with an off-and-on rain. Overall, though, a great run. It's funny how these 30 milers are becoming easier and easier.

Sunday: 12.12 miles, including a few at mid-7's "tempo" (i.e., tired) pace.

Total Week 19: 94.04 miles, my second highest weekly total ever. And I feel good. Six days until my 50 miler at Berryman, and 13 days until I'm running a 3-day training run on the WS100 course!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The morning after...a note of gratitude (44 days to go!)

I could sit here all day, and I'd never find the right words. I'm going to try, but eventually I'll just have to hit the "publish post" button and hope you all understand how I feel right now.

On December 4, 2010, I found out that I won an entry into the Western States Endurance Run. My odds were no better than 10%, and somehow my name was drawn. Just like that, I was given an opportunity to achieve a life goal, one of those things you say (at least if you're a screw loose like me), "I'd like to do THAT someday."

A few years ago, when I first dreamed up the idea that someday I'd run the Western States 100, I also decided that I'd use that opportunity to help others. As I said in my first blog post, running is generally a self-centered hobby. But I decided that I should use the opportunity I was given to help others, and within an hour or so of learning I was in the 2011 race, I signed up to raise $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project.

$10,000--that's a lot of money.

To put it in perspective, Dean Karnazes, the talented runner known as the "Ultramarathon Man," the man who has written New York Times bestsellers, appeared on Letterman, served as the fitness correspondent for the Regis and Kelly show, run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, and never, ever turned down an interview, just raised $150,000 over 75 days as part of his run across America. But he reached that number (and don't get me wrong, it's a very impressive number) with the help of his sponsors, regular spots on the Regis and Kelly show, and a horde of traveling assistants to record his running, update his blog, provide him with massages, organize media spots and large group runs (with entry fees) at schools all over the country, and whatever else it takes to get one of the biggest stars in running from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean while raising that amount of money for his charitable cause.

Meanwhile, I had on a poorly written and erratically posted blog and a Facebook account. The PR folks at my employer even tried to organize some media interviews about my running, fundraising, and career, and not a single newspaper bit on the lead. It was a reminder that, unlike Dean, I'm a nobody. And yet as of yesterday, the Wounded Warrior Project had received over $10,000 (and counting!) to mark my upcoming Western States run.

That's because I am a nobody with a secret weapon: all of you, my generous friends and family.

I cannot thank you all enough. From day one, you've supported a cause dear to my heart, and you've supported me. You made donations, posted links on your Facebook page, mentioned my training and the cause motivating me to your friends and family, sent me notes of encouragement, and any number of little things that brightened my day and reminded me to keep dreaming big, that my fundraising goal, like my race day goal, is not impossible.

Every time a donation is made to my page, I receive an email notification. It was mindblowing watching my inbox light up one email after another yesterday, as a final push was made to get over the $10,000 hump. But every single notification I have received over the past 5 1/2 months was equally treasured by me. It reminded me why I set that alarm each Saturday morning to head out for 4 or 5 solitary hours by myself in the woods. It reminded me why those gut-busting track workouts are worth it. It reminded me that together we can make a difference. Together, we are making a difference. I'm not stopping at $10,000, and if you've been thinking about helping the cause, I hope you still will even though we've met our "goal."

One of my favorite movies is the old Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life. There are a lot of great lines in that movie, but my favorite isn't even spoken aloud. George Bailey, surrounded by his friends and family who have just come to help him in a time of need, opens a book left for him by his guardian angel Clarence. The inscription reads, "Remember, George: No man is a failure who has friends."

I have no idea what is going to happen next month when I embark on this race that is going to cause me to hurt worse than I've ever hurt before. It is the very first time in my life that I'm not positive that I can succeed at something I set out to do. But I promise one thing: I will dig deep and give it my all. It's the least I can do for the Wounded Warriors I'm dedicating my race. And I know all of my friends-those of you I've met and those I hope to meet someday-are out there somewhere rooting me on to the finish line.

No man is a failure who has friends.

You've reminded me that I cannot fail on June 25th.

Peachstone to Ford's Bar (Miles 70.7 to 73.0) (45 days to go!)

Special thanks to Kim Barman (and her husband who serves in the Army), Whitney Richman, Judy Lynch, Michael "Sully" Sullivan, Jonathon Amlung, and Fred Sauer for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsors this segment of our course tour. We're so close to reaching the $10,000 goal that I'm scrambling to do a course tour post on a daily basis right now! Only a few hundred dollars to go! Thank you all!

The sixteenth stage of the course is a very runnable section from Peachstone to the Ford's Bar aid station. This largely downhill section features a few small climbs, as you can see above, but none that compare to the steep, soul-breaking climbs found in the canyons earlier in the day.

The views in this section are spectacular, and I remember feeling the isolation as we ran deeper and deeper into the woods. The trail is a lot of single track, with a few wider sections, and passing other runners requires one to be polite and ask for the trail. In true ultra nature, it is standard practice for a slower runner to step off the trail to permit a passing runner to continue on without breaking stride.

The leaders will enter the Ford's Bar aid station at 4:30 PM. 24 hour runners will reach their first truly dark aid station around 9:25 PM, with 30 hour runners exiting at 2:30 AM. I recall the aid station being a beacon of light in an otherwise dark forest. The aid station is open until 5:00 AM. Runners have just over 27 miles to the finish line!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dardanelles to Peachstone (Miles 65.7 to 70.7) (46 days to go!)

The fifteenth stage of the Western States course is a five mile stretch high above the American River canyon.

Special thanks to my aunt and uncle Sue and Dave Kanz, Steve and Amie Smith, Brian and Brooke Lunt, Tony Lounsbery, and Chris and Andrea Vinyard for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsor this segment of the course tour. And good luck to Tony, a fellow Minnesota native now living in St. Louis, who is training for the Leadville 100 in August.

When I ran this stretch with Fernando, it was dusk, and the sunset over the river valley was beautiful. We could hear the water rushing below us, and there were pink, orange, and red colors dancing throughout the woods.

The trail is a series of climbs and declines along relatively wide trail. It cuts through a lot of woods, crosses over some small creeks, and requires patience from runners with sore quads from the previous sixty-some miles.

The leaders will enter Peachstone around 4:05 PM. 24 hour runners will enter it around 8:45 PM, with 30 hour runners at 1:40 AM. The Peachstone aid station closes at 2:30 AM. There is no crew access at Peachstone, but runners do have access to a supply drop. They also have to check into seventh medical check of the race.

It's only a short 2.3 miles to the next aid station...and just under 30 miles to the finish line!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Foresthill to Dardanelles (Miles 62.0 to 65.7) (47 days to go!)

Special thanks to Kurt and Bridy Oreshack, Ashley Bourgault and John King, Sarah and Brian Foster, and Pam Kennedy for their donations to the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsor this section of the course tour!

This next few stretches of the course are commonly known as "Cal Street." We've reached the fourteenth stage of the course, the first on which I've actually run!

The course exits Foresthill along Foresthill Road. Runners are on paved road for less than a mile before making a left turn onto dirt trails that descend down toward the Rucky Chucky crossing at Mile 78. Here's the turn-off onto the trail.

I have a habit of getting lost on trail runs, and when I ran this stretch of road with Fernando last summer, I nearly missed the left turn onto the trail! Once on it, though, it was easy to follow.

Much of the trail here is wide enough to run two wide, if you want. There are a number of switchbacks, and I remember the path being made of a fine dirt that was soft to our footfalls.

The Dardanelles aid station is tucked precariously on the side of a steep hill. I was surprised to stumble into it. The space wasn't much of a clearing, and the canyon dropped far below us into the river. It's a small aid station, and runners are better fit keeping their visit to a short stint, as the path could bunch up as you approach the river.

The leaders will pass through Dardanelles at 3:15 PM, with 24 hour runners over four hours behind at 7:30. 30 hour runners will arrive at midnight, and the absolute cutoff for all runners is at 2:30 AM.

Pass through Dardanelles, and it's a long way back to civilization again. It's also just 34.5 miles to the finish line!