Speedgoat 50k

 I hadn’t intended on writing a race report for Speedgoat, but when Ultrarunning Magazine asked me to contribute a report for their upcoming issue, i was happy for the external motivation.  Please visit their site for additional photos and full results from the race.

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Photo by Jordi Saragossa

“Why are we even racing tomorrow?”

That was the thought that occurred to us as yet another colorful wildflower meadow unfolded before us on a sunny evening above Snowbrid Ski Resort. It was the night before the Speedgoat 50k, and I was on an easy shakeout run with Rickey Gates, Anna Frost and Fernando De Samaniego Steta, my Bay Area travel buddy for the weekend. Indeed, the act of exploring new trails with friends while the evening sun kissed our backs now seemed reason enough to justify the lengthy trip from the Bay Area. But the race would certainly provide this and more the following day, so we reluctantly turned around to get some rest.

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Photo by Bryon Powell/iRunFar

The next morning we awoke to a clear dawn, and after exchanging a few quick hellos during the anxious starting line warmup, Karl Meltzer sent us off on our journey. Before the race, I had debated if I should go for $1000 prime that awaited the first runner to the top of Hidden Peak (8.5 mi). But when Sage Canaday burst out of the gates like a charging bull, I was somewhat relieved to have that decision made for me. So I tucked into a pack that included Rickey Gates, Alex Nichols and Paul Hamilton, while Patrick Smyth and Jim Walmsley gambled with the Sage’s hot pace ahead.

It felt good to breath hard. To me, that’s altitude running in a nutshell; the willingness to breath hard while moving relatively slow. Although I’ve called sea level home for the last six years, my notion of running was forged in the relatively thin air of Boulder, Colorado where I went to college and spent the first six years of my professional career. Hiking and running in the mountains was the perfect counterpoint to the mental demands of my education and subsequently cerebral job, and I soon found myself competing in high altitude races like the Imogene Pass Run, Kendall Mountain Run, and the Pikes Peak Marathon.

Since moving to the Bay Area where the trails are gentler and the air is richer, I still find myself yearning for the rugged mountain running experiences and thin air that first attracted me to the sport. Karl’s Speedgoat course answers that call. With 11,000 feet of climbing crammed into the 50km distance, there is hardly a flat section of trail to be found.

At the top of the first climb to Hidden Peak at 11,000-ft, I was in sixth place and feeling like a champ. My plan for the long descent was to relax into a comfortable effort, fuel up, and save my energy and legs for the second half. The descent proved uneventful, if not a bit lonely with a sizable gap both in front and behind me.

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Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer

The short out and back section at the bottom of the descent serves as the halfway point and provides an opportunity to evaluate one’s competition. Those who went out too hard in front have a pall of doom on their faces, while those who started relatively easy look fresh and hungry. Sure enough, at this point I caught Smyth and Walmsley — the two guys that went out hard with Sage — bumping me up to 4th place. But I also caught a glimpse of Rickey Gates and Mike Wolfe, who were both looking far too casual. I would be seeing them again later.

The best part about running a race like Speedgoat is the training that it inspires: namely, running as much vertical as possible. In Marin, vertical is parceled out in relatively small hits of 1000 ft or less, with the exception of Mt Tam, the highest mountain in the county with around 2500 ft of vertical relief. It’s no accident that this mountain serves as the backdrop for the home of many ultrarunners, including myself. I tagged its summit on 54 occasions leading up to the race and was averaging around 20,000 feet of vertical per week. Not bad for a working dad from sea level.

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Photo by Criss Furman / iRunFar

At the top of the final climb up Hidden Peak (mile 27) I was still in 4th place and had only a 5 mile, 4000 ft descent between me and the finish line. As I reached the summit, I looked behind me to see a figure that I have come to expect in the closing miles of any race I compete in: Rickey Gates. Perhaps it’s a pattern that I’ve grown too comfortable with, but he is an outstanding character with whom I’m always grateful to share some miles with, competition be damned. Despite his encouragement to stick with him as we began the descent, I was still recovering from the grueling climb, and had to let him go. I wouldn’t see Rickey again until the finish line where he would finish 4th.

Just as I was beginning to recover, Mike Wolfe caught up to me, and we continued to bomb down the mountain together for nearly a mile. But we soon found ourselves at a trail junction absent of any course markings, and realized that we had somehow traveled off course (we would find out later that some unsavory individuals had intentionally pulled flags). Mike and I split up in search of the course, but it became apparent that our detour was considerable. Precious seconds gave way to what felt like eternal minutes. The spirited competition amongst craggy peaks and brilliant wildflowers that had left such an impression on me only hours before now felt like a fairy tale, replaced by the sinking feeling that my hard fought effort was being lost – literally – in the convoluted trails of a deserted ski resort.

I would eventually find the course after 20-30 minutes and 2 miles additional miles of hiking and finish several places back in 9th. Mike Wolfe somehow managed to find the course much faster than I and finished strong in 5th.  Next time i get lost with Mike i’ll be sticking with him.

As an athlete, it’s natural to yearn for a performance where the outcome matches the effort that goes into it… a result that demonstrates your ability on the day. That didn’t happen for me in this instance.  But I remind myself that these races, so full of unpredictable variables, are about much more than a result. They are about the experience of bringing together a talented group of friends to inspire the best in one another. I think we all found this at Speedgoat, and for that I am grateful.

More: Strava data | iRunFar Coverage | Full Results 


Thanks to San Francisco Running Company, as always, for supplying me with the best shoes on market (or off the market as was the case with the pre-release Hoka Huaka shoes i used!) and Ultimate Direction for my complete hydration kit (AK Race Vest, soft flask bottles, and gel flasks).  And to my Bay Area running buddies for raising the bar – you all are a tough act to follow!  And above all, thanks to my wife Kristin and daughter Autumn for supporting me in this time consuming hobby of mine.

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Photo by Galen Burrell

Running in Rome

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Running has always been an integral part of traveling for me.  It offers a mechanism for experiencing a new place – including it’s natural or urban landscape and people – from a perspective that is different than your typical tourist activity.   In some cases, travel has been a means to run (i.e. for races), whereas in other cases, like my recent trip to Rome, running has been a means to travel.  Nothing arouses the sense of curiosity and wonderment while traveling like running through a new city for the first time.

I put this post together to help inspire others who are looking for a similar running experience while in Rome.  I didn’t do any exhaustive research, but i think I found a nice cross section of urban and trail running opportunities in and around the Eternal City that others might enjoy as well.

1. City Tour

If you only have one opportunity to run in Rome, it must be a city tour.  You can see more sights in 2 hours than most tourists would otherwise see in several days.  And that’s not to say that these sights aren’t worth spending several days enjoying (they certainly are), but there’s something very special about connecting them all together in one run that puts them all into context with one another and the city that they occupy.  It also is a great way to get one’s bearings at the beginning of the trip, making subsequent excursions to the places of interest a little easier.

On our city tour we ran alongside the legendary Circus Maximus, circumnavigated the Colosseum, linked up the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, and finished by looping around the Vatican City with a pause in St Peter’s Square.   On another we linked up the beautiful Villa Borghese and Piazza de Poppolo.  We went back to each of these places during the rest of our trip to experience them with more time, but we both agreed the first impression we had on these runs were the most magical.

>> Strava Route 1: Colosseum, Trevi, Spanish Steps, Vatican, St Peters

>> Strava Route 2: River path, Piazza de Poppolo, Villa Borghese, Centro Storico

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Colloseum

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Villa Borghese

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St. Peter’s Square

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The Spanish Steps

2. Villa Doria Pamphili

If I lived in Rome and wanted to run every day, this is the place I would do it.  Villa Doria Pamphili is located in the southwest side of the city, easily accessible from Trastevre, and other adjacent neighborhoods.  It used to be a massive estate for an uber-wealthy family but now is the largest landscaped park in Rome.  The park features a nice variation of open space, trees, gardens, ponds, fountains and structures that remain from it’s original function as an estate.   There is a nice combination of dirt roads and singletrack; a  welcome break from the hard cobblestones of the City.

The network of trails, while unmarked, are quite logical in their layout, making it easy to cobble together a route of any distance from 1 miles to 10 miles.  By staying to the perimeter of the park, a very nice 5 mile loops can be completed.  Note that the park is bisected by a very busy highway, but a pedestrian bridge is located on the south side.

>> Strava routes 1 and 2

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Villa Doria Pamphili

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Villa Doria Pamphili

3. Via Appia Antica & Parco della Caffarella

Via Appia Antica (or Appian Way) is an historic road dating back to antiquity that connected Rome to the surrounding regions.  It was home to many historic events, including the crucifixion of Spartacus’ army and more recently, the 1960 Olympic Marathon!  There are many old tombs and catacombs that line the route, and there is  certainly a sense of history that one feels when traveling along its cobbles.  The first few miles are prone to traffic (except on sunday), but after that, it becomes quite peaceful and quiet and can be run for about 10 miles in each direction.

I highly recommend linking it up with the Parco della Caffarella as shown in my Strava route.  The park is absolutely stunning, and has miles of singletrack on rolling grassy hills.  There are also several archaelogical sites of interest within the park, but i was mostly captivated by expansive views, soft trails, and the herd of sheep we encountered (complete with a sleeping shepherd in the grass).

>> Strava route

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Parco della Caffarella

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Parco della Caffarella

4. River Path

Finally, if you just want to log some miles without leaving the city or having to think about route finding, the path along the Tiber River will certainly be of interest.  The path is sunk below the elevation of the roads and the rest of the city, which has a nice effect of reducing noise and stress of the traffic, but it also has a bit of a “concrete jungle” vibe to it.

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Path on the River Tiber

High Sierra Camps 50 mile Loop

Until this weekend, my experience with ultrarunning had been limited to a handful of 50km (are these still considered ‘ultra’?) and 50mi races.  The latter of those two distances had been met with mixed success, but the framework was generally the same: trying to reach the finish line faster than anyone else.  I was curious what would happen when there was nobody else at the starting line, let alone the finish line… no podium hopes, aid stations, or irunfar coverage?  I was curious how stripping all that stuff away would change the experience of ultrarunning.  So this weekend i set off on the 50 mile High Sierra Camps Loop in Yosemite,  alone, with virtually zero planning, specific training, or expectations.  Just a desire to go out for a big day in a beautiful place.Mt Conness as viewed from Glen Aulin

As the name suggests, the route connects the 6 High Sierra camps of the Yosemite high country.  While the camps themselves are of little note to a runner, they define a highly aesthetic, well-marked route that covers a nice cross section of the region’s scenic wonders. Granite domes and spires, glassy alpine lakes and quiet meadows that tempt even the most ambitious runner to stop and have a picnic. The Yosemite high country is a special place indeed.

The High Sierra Camps Loop

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For being a 50 mile route in the mountains, the terrain is relatively mellow – only 7600-ft of vertical (without any of the optional side excursions) and all between 7,000 and 10,000-ft in elevation.   Given its popularity with backpackers, the well-trodden path is always very runnable, allowing attention to be allocated toward the incredible scenery.

Classic high sierra meadow

Sub-alpine terrain

This time of year, the rivers and waterfalls are gushing with such force that the roar of their descent is heard throughout the route.  This was a perfect occasion to test out my new Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (thanks dad!).  At every river crossing, i simply pulled out one of the front bottles and scooped up the freshest, tastiest water money can buy.  No excuses for dehydration on this run!

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Loving the UD gear!

Despite my inspiring surroundings, i found myself struggling with the effort most of the day.  Early on, my steps felt labored and  I found my thoughts turning to work-anxiety and other life stresses.  Hiking seemed like a fine idea.  Reading a book back at the campground with a sandwich even better.  Clearly i was not in race mode.

But as the day went on, my connection to the landscape grew stronger, and with it my resolve to keep running. It felt awesome to be self-reliant out there in the wilderness, not just for resources, but also for motivation.  It’s easy to keep running when you know 4th place is hunting you down and a podium finish is at stake.  But the factors that motivate one to keep running 8 hours into a route that nobody knows you’re doing are a bit more complex — or perhaps subtle.  I’d like to say it’s the sheer enjoyment of it, but honestly that doesn’t quite capture the essence of it.  I found out that running 50 miles is darn hard whether competing or not.  And when things get that hard, the feelings of joy start to be replaced by something else more elusive.  It’s an exploration of sorts, and one i’m immensely curious about as i feel i have only scratched the surface of it.

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My favorite post run food groups: fat, salt, protein, and beer. Favorite post run food groups: fat, salt, protein, and beer.

More details of the route can be found on my Strava page:

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Lake Sonoma 50

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On the course, loving the hills! (Gary Wang Photo)

Great weekend at Lake Sonoma!  No race report per say, but had some thoughts rattling around in my head that i wanted to get down for posterity.  In short, i was really pleased with how the race unfolded, and in particular, how i felt in my third 50 miler race.  Unlike my first two 50 mile races (North Face 50mi San Francisco in 2011 and 2012), i felt much more in control of the variables that go into a successful performance.  I knew cracking the top 10 with this competitive field was going to be really tough, and I managed to finish in 8th place in 6h:42m.

Some other thoughts:

Competition: I was really proud to be able to compete with such a talented group of athletes near the front end of the field (4th through 8th place was separated by only a few minutes at the end).  For the first time in a 50 miler, I really felt the thrill of competition… not just trying to finish.  This is what makes racing exciting for me, and it was awesome to finally feel feel it in an ultra.  I felt a tremendous sense of both pride and humility as I finished this race;  proud of my performance and yet humbled by the course, the distance, and the awesome runners who finished ahead of me.  Stoked to see my good pal Dave Mackey crush it for 5th place (1st Master and father of two!).

Finishing:  One of the main things i would love to go back and improve upon is my finish.  I felt like a champ through 38 miles and got as high as 5th place after passing Dave and Chris Vargo. But then I hit a rough patch where i couldn’t seem to stay ahead of my calories/electrolytes, and both guys passed me soon after.  I managed to recover, but not in time to rally back.  In retrospect I should have crammed more calories in, and dug a little deeper mentally to push through and hang with those guys during the rough patch.

Taper:  The complexities of the pre-race taper continue to elude me, but i tried something completely different this time around that seemed to work.  I got a debilitating stomach flu only 2 weeks out from the race that caused me to not be able to run for nearly a full week.  At that point, i decided i would either withdrawal from the race, or spend the next week running normal volume to get my strength and confidence back up.  I chose the latter.  It took a few days to get my strength back, but by Thursday/Friday I felt a spring in my step again, despite having just run 50 miles in the previous 5 days.  I showed up to the start line feeling relaxed, confident, and strong.  The reverse taper worked!

Long run: Basically, I used my training for Way Too Cool as a springboard for this race.  As such, 50km was my longest run, and most of them were quite a bit shorter (generally 20-25 miles).  Occasionally i did back to back 18-20 milers.  Curious what others do for their long runs leading up to a 50 miler?

The Course: The course was beautiful!  Way more enjoyable than expected, with incredible views of the lake throughout, high quality single track, stream crossings and rolling meadows.  You know it’s a good course if you don’t mind coming back the same way.

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Previewing the course during an Injinji photo shoot

Fueling: I managed to stay ahead of my calorie balance for most of the race, averaging 2 gels per hour for the first 4 hours and increasing to 3 gels per hour for the last 2.5 hours (by necessity).  I also slammed Coke at every aid station in the second half and took 3 salt tabs in total. Hydration was the main concern out there on such a warm day.  I ran out of water before nearly every aid station, and had to fill up at creek crossings a number of times.  Probably should have spent more time in each aid station getting fluids down before topping up.

Gear: Brooks PureGrit from San Francisco Running Co and Injinji Performance 2.0 socks fit the bill on this course.  With all the creek crossings and choppy up/down course, good footwear was key.  No issues with blisters or any discomfort with this combo.  Also love the new Patagonia Strider Pro shorts – so awesome for ultras.

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Injinji photo shoot (photo by Dave Mackey)

Support: Having the support of my wife (and my 13 month daughter, even if unknowingly), not just during the race, but during the training that leads up to it, makes balancing running, family and work possible, and fun!

Strava: The dessert to every race is uploading to Strava and seeing how the numbers played out as the race unfolded.

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Congratulations and thanks to all the competitors, crew and organizers that made this such a great event!

Way Too Cool 50k

Way Too Cool finish

Finishing Way Too Cool 50km

Thought 1: Sometimes getting to the starting line is the hardest part.

It’s cliche, but it’s so true. Focus and motivation have never been the problem for me, it’s controlling all the other variables in life that proves challenging when trying to be the fittest you possibly can on a specific day. Historically, injuries are the variable that i’ve struggle with the most leading up to a race. I’ve had my share of stress fractures, hamstring tears, glute strains, groin pulls, etc that have sidelined me in the last three weeks before a race.

Thankfully, in my “old” age, i’ve gotten better at detecting early warnings signs, taking necessary precautions, and just generally training smarter. But in my preparation for this year’s Way Too Cool 50km, I got thrown two curveballs in the 2-3 weeks before the race that had me wondering if I would make it to the start: Two straight weeks of stressful work deadlines, combined with two – count ‘em – two nasty colds in a 3 week period. The second, which hit 8 days before Cool, was a real doozy. I ended up going on antiobiotics (for only the 2nd time in my life) 3 days before the race, and that thankfully got me over the hump enough to make the ‘go’ decision the night before.

I had wanted to run Way Too Cool for years but something would always come up that prevented me from, well, making it to the starting line (usually injuries…).

But there i was at the starting line on a beautiful sunny morning, a little worse for the wear, but there nonetheless… getting to the start was the hardest part, right?

Thought 2: I’d rather race my best against the best than win a race with no competition.

This year had Max King, Chris Vargo, Leor Pantilat and last year’s winner, Gary Gellin on the start line, so the challenge was certainly not over. Not surprisingly, the first three took it out hard and we hit the first 8 mi aid station in 6 minute pace. I decided to forgo my naturally tendency to be conservative, and hammered with them for those first 8 mi (“the end is going to hurt no matter what”, i told myself). After that, i let them go (not that i really had a choice in the matter), and settled into what would be a solo time trial to the finish, pushing my pace as much as possible. I felt on the edge the whole race, which in and of itself was an interesting thing to experiment with in an ultra.  I struggled with GI issues a bit (i’ll spare you the details) but fueled right, never bonked, and held on for a solid 4th place (3:25:59 or 6:53/mi pace), under the previous year’s course record. I finished 4 minutes behind Leor, but a whopping 17 minutes behind Max King, who, as it turns out, was not hammering at the beginning, but simply running the same 6 minute pace he would continue the whole race! Incredible new course record for him.

So yeah, sometimes getting to the finish line is pretty tough too.

I feel fortunate to finally take part in it this classic spring event; it lived up to its stature as one of the best 50k’s in the country. Also thankful for the support of San Francisco Running Company, Injinji socks, and above all, for Kristin and Autumn!

Check out the Strava details here.

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My buddy Brett, and owner of San Francisco Running Company, crushed his 50km PR, finishing a solid 8th!

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Autumn and Kristin post race (Autumn’s dance moves not shown).

A year with Strava

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Another fantastic year of running in the books, full of new friends, new trails, and most importantly, the arrival of Autumn Burrell, my beautiful 10 month daughter and occasional jogging buddy.  If there is one thing i’ve learned about being a father, it’s that it brings the most important things of life into focus.  For both Kristin and I, running is one of those things, and we’ve both enjoyed one of our most pleasurable years of running yet.

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2012 was also my first full year using Strava, the GPS tracking cum social fitness network. Strava scratches a lot of itches for me as an athlete, from the tangible to the intangible.   For the analytic nerd in me, It provides a framework for tracking performance over the duration of a training cycle and monitoring progress on key training runs/workouts (example).  And for the competitor in me, it injects an extra bit of motivation into a hard effort, with the knowledge that I am competing against both my own previous best times, and also everyone else on Strava who has ever run the trail.  In short, there is a life to the run beyond the pain of the workout.  For those of us that don’t train in a club or a group, that sort of virtual competition, even if it’s only with ourselves, is incredibly valuable (if used selectively).

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Using Strava for a full year also means that I have a whole slew of data to reflect back on at year’s end.  I’ll share a summary of these numbers below, not because i think they are so impressive, but to serve as a  benchmark to measure future years.    Many elite runners run nearly twice the volume that i do, but this is what works for me to maintain balance in my life.

So here’s my 2012 year in running by the numbers, with goals identified in parentheses (aimed primarily at being injured less)…Hopefully 2013 will be just as fun.

260 total runs

325 hours of running (2013 goal: 365)

2,260 total miles run (2013 goal: 3000)

337,000 total vertical ft  (2013 goal: 500,000)

1300 average vertical ft per run

49 consecutive days off due to Achilles tendonitis (2013 goal: 0)

11 races, 6 wins

187 miles raced

29  Mt Tam summits (2013 goal: 50)

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Another Look at Ultras – TNF50 Round 2

A weary runner (Brett Rivers /San Francisco Running Co)

A weary runner (Brett Rivers /San Francisco Running Co)

Here’s the irony of ultra running: When you are on an easy run, you have time to think about a lot of things. But when you are racing an ultra, you have a lot of time, but somehow can only manage to think about one thing: how uncomfortable it is. Or maybe it’s just me.

I ran my second 50 mile race on Saturday, the North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge. I ran the same race last year as my first serious ultra, and let’s just say things didn’t really go as planned. So i was determined to learn from the experience, and come back to do it right this year.

I focused more on the long runs in the months leading up to the event, and got to the point where clicking off hilly 25 milers on the weekend was relatively casual. I built recovery weeks into my training cycle, ensuring that i would not show up to this late season race burned out (like last year). And i got my nutrition dialed… namely by discovering that the best way to survive an ultra without bonking and getting sick is to drink the most un-nutritious beverage on the planet: Coke. Lots of Coke (Sorry Mrs Obama).

And all that stuff worked fantastic on race day. I showed up well rested, didn’t bonk, and ran like a champ… for 25 miles. I chatted quite a bit with Rickey during the early miles, agreeing that biding our time, running a consistent pace would be key to running a successful (or at least satisfying) race.  I was feeling confident about this plan.  Although i realized that the pace I was running for the first 25 miles (7:30 min/mi) would win the race most years, it felt comfortable and sustainable.  But the last half of the race felt almost as tough as i remembered it from the year before: numb, battered legs that simply refuse to go any faster down the stretch.

And who can blame them?

Strava course profile

Strava course profile

47 miles, 9000+ feet of climbing, darkness, rain, and mud.  Ultras are hard.  Really hard.  You have to be willing and able to run uncomfortably for a long time, which is as mentally taxing as it is physically.  How the leaders manage to run sub 7 min/mile pace over that course is beyond my comprehension, but i suspect it is has much do to mental conditioning as physical training.  I suddenly feel like an amateur in a pro sport.

Good gear helps

Good gear helps

In the end, i would finish in just under 6.5 hours for 21st place.  Kristin and Autumn, who crewed for me the whole day in the rain, were waiting for me across the finish line.  I could finally enjoy their company.  Autumn gave me a thumbs up.  You know you have a family that loves you when they are willing to embrace you even though you are sweaty, muddy and smell a bit like urine.  I couldn’t talk for the first few minutes, because i just wanted to cry.  Not out of disappointment, and not out of joy, but rather tears of relief, that i had persevered and gotten through it.

At the finish line with Kristin and Autumn (Brett Rivers / San Francisco Running Co)

At the finish line with Kristin and Autumn (Brett Rivers / San Francisco Running Co)

Although my pace slowed in the end, i ran every step and never lost my composure.  I climbed well.  I fueled well.  I wore the right shoes and socks.  And i never gave up.

But i question if i have the ideal physiology to run ultras as hard as one needs to be competitive   Maybe i’m not robust enough.  My quads don’t look like the tree trunks.  But most of all, i question if i have the desire to train and race such long distances.  Running is more special to me when it is kept in balance with the rest of my life, and i think to be competitive at these ultras you need to train more than i do.

Remember when marathons used to be considered long distance?  Well, they are sounding pretty good to me right now.

Congratulations to everyone who ran their heart out in such a challenging race.  It was inspiring to be a part of it.

-Galen

Links:

iRunFar Article

Full results

Autumn in Michigan

We all experience seasons in one way or another no matter where we live, thanks to our varying position relative to the sun and changing day lengths. Even here in coastal California we have four seasons, subtle as they may appear at times. But there are some places where the seasons are defined with such clarity, that it nearly transcends the place itself.

Michigan is one of those places.  I was lucky enough to spend 16 years of my life growing up there and have been coming back to visit family ever since. While I certainly have strong childhood memories of  the thick blankets of snow after a winter blizzard and the twinkling of fireflies on a humid summer night, it is autumn where Michigan really shows its colors. (and it is in Michigan where Autumn showed hers to the family)

It is an intimate season, with quiet evenings around the fire with family and friends, and solitary runs on country roads. It is a time when sunlight, rich in color, casts long shadows through kitchen windows where the season’s last tomatoes await their culinary fate. And It is a time when the lush canopies of oak, maple, and poplar burst into a grand finale of color before returning to the earth to repeat the cycle.

I also find it refreshing to step outside the cultural/tech/foodie incubator that is the Bay Area — so full of superlatives and innovation and forward thinking — and spend a few days in a place that a little more understated, yet utterly content in the present.

I am thankful for this place called the mitten state, with its distinctive seasons and quiet beauty. And above all, I’m grateful for my family who live there. It will always be a home to me.