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.

10468645_10154359395565346_350315559983425543_o

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.

10547825_10152524250822114_1359487081772402083_o

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.

10519185_756435294414695_5677611238121385405_o

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.

10368941_10152523967117114_2326770516874747590_o

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.

IMG_1764

Photo by Galen Burrell

Lake Sonoma 50

IMG_4206

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.

IMG_4191

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.

IMG_4200

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.

strava

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.

IMG_3711

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

IMG_3708

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

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

Jungfrau Marathon 2012

Wide awake.

I look at my watch: 1:30AM.  I groan, and try to go back to sleep, but my heart starts racing as soon as i remember what i’m about to do.  I finally drift into a state that is neither sleep nor awake, only to repeat the cycle less than an hour later.

Such is the life of a jet lagged long distance runner the night before a race.

On this particular race morning I was the a small Swiss village of Wilderswil awaiting the start of the Jungfrau marathon, which is said to be the most beautiful marathon in the world. While that claim sounds entirely too subjective, I had run this race once before back in 2007 and found myself in complete agreement. Consider the following:

Roaring rivers, 800-ft waterfalls, quaint villages, clinking cowbells, glaciers and mountains are all discovered along the course. And not just any mountains. The race finishes on the steps of three of the most legendary peaks in all of Europe: the Eiger, the Monch, and the Jungfrau. It’s a mountain lovers dream.

Course map

The gun went off at 9am and a colorful stream of runners, 6000+ in total, burst across the starting line (it is now the largest marathon in Switzerland, road or trail). Crowds lined up along the starting chute pounded the barriers, rang cowbells, and cheered, as firecrackers exploded nearby. Ah, racing in Europe, there’s nothing like it.

Unfortunately, there were no such fireworks happening in my legs. In the proceeding days I had felt a tightness settle in to my calves that made them tender even to the touch. Perhaps i did one too many workouts the week before, and the air travel probably didn’t help. Whatever it was I didn’t have the spring in my step that you always hope for on race day. But i didn’t want that to be an excuse not to run my best, so I tried to remain patient, hopeful that the legs would eventually come around and loosen up.

I was here to participate in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge (or Championship, depending on who you ask) with a USA team that included 5 guys and 5 women. We would compete individually for overall placement in the race but with the added context that our three fastest runners would score for team honors. The unique profile of the race (and significant prize money — $56,000 in total) draws an impressive pool of backgrounds and talent. 70 countries in total were represented, including usual suspects such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany, but also speed powerhouses like Kenya and Ethiopia. Reading through the bios of these athletes, it was not uncommon to see marathon PRs in the 2:14-2:20 range, with mountain experience to boot. Mountain racing in Europe is the real deal.

Mens 40+ runners and women raced the day before. Here, going through 10km. (Galen Burrell photo)

After running through the first 10k in 36min (5:47 pace) a lead group of ~20 had already gone off the front and I had no choice but to settle in with an equally sized chase group to continue running what felt to be a sensible pace. Although my breathing felt relaxed, my legs were feeling flat, and it seemed like my calves might cramp up at any time. This is just the warmup, I kept saying to myself.

From 10km to 21km the course is gently uphill (2% grade avg.), and I could see our pace slowing on my Garmin. At that point I went off the front of our chase group to push the pace a bit, because I knew I wanted to go through the first half in 1h:16m or faster.

My goal for this race was to improve upon the time I ran in 2007 (3:11:05), when I finished 5th. To do that, I knew I had to train smarter and more effectively to make up for whatever natural speed I’ve lost (and work/life responsibilities gained) since then. So I studied the course in great detail over the summer and identified each unique segment of the race, noting it’s length and grade (steepness).*

I used this information to match similar sections of trails and roads near my house (with a little help from Strava!) and trained assiduously on them with hill repeats and tempo runs to get my body dialed to those gradients. I love this kind of focused training and i saw considerable improvement along the way.

Going through Lauterbrunnen at the halfway point I was elated by the hundreds of spectators lining the streets cheering and screaming. High fives were exchanged as I floated through the crowd. But it was only temporary relief from the sinking feeling of seeing my time (1h:19m:33s) nearly 4 minutes slower than in 2007. I was way off my targeted pace.  I needed a hill.

USA’s Melody Fairchild at km 26 from the day before. (Galen Burrell)

The start of the climb finally arrived just before km 26 and i was in 25th place, with the chase group not far behind but nobody in sight ahead of me. I told myself “the real race starts now”.

The first few km of the climb are outrageously steep), and although I felt my confidence returning in more familiar terrain, I was gaining little ground on the runners behind me. For the first 8km of the climb it felt like i was running by brute force and will, with little energy to enjoy the incredible event I was participating in. The realization that I wasn’t enjoying myself frustrated me even more than my pace.

A view of Lauterbrunnen valley from the course near Wengen. (Galen Burrell)

At around 33km, the first glimmers of hope started to appear. I could see runners ahead of me for the first time since the first 10km of the race. Despite how poorly I was feeling, I was finally starting to reel people in. After passing the first few stragglers, i felt some adrenalin releasing, and the tension and tightness in my legs start to ease up. I pounded my 4th gel to try and supercharge the sudden wellspring of energy.  Boom!  It worked – before I knew it, I was dancing up the mountain with lightness and joy that I hadn’t felt all day, and was passing people like they were standing still. I was finally running the race I had imagined all along, and it felt spectacular.

Adam Campbell running near the top of the climb back in 2007. (Galen Burrell photo)

I ended up passing 10 people in the last 10km and ran the fastest split among all competitors on the steepest and most spectacular final climb before the finish. Near the top of the climb, I passed a dazed and stumbling Ethiopian, clearly out of his element. Knowing that his 10k PR is likely 5 minutes faster than my own, i sprinted down the last kilometer to the finish with reckless (and fearful) abandon and crossed the line in 3:10:58 for 11th place.

In the end, I felt elated by my strong finish, relieved to run faster (incredibly, by less than 10 seconds!) than in 2007 when I was 5 years younger, and yet puzzled by how poorly I felt early on. Under-trained for the flat stuff maybe? Over-trained in general (i won the Mt Tam Hill Climb six day prior, maybe i wasn’t recovered)? Or maybe I’m turning into an ultra runner and need 30km just to warm up. These are things to ponder as I take a little break from training this month…

As for the team competition: my time, combined with Sage Canaday’s 5th place time and Zac Freudenburg’s 32nd place time, earned Team USA the silver medal, with the local Swiss team taking gold, and Germany staking bronze. Josh Ferenc and Jason Bryant put in gutsy performances for the US as well, finishing 43rd and 63rd respectively, despite some hardships in the second half.
The women put in a great performance the day before, taking home the gold in the team comp.

The gang of four, without Zac. (Melody Fairchild photo)

*The breakdown of the course looks alittle something like this:
10km (flat) + 11km (2% grade) + 5km (flat) + 4km@18% + 8km@7% + 3km@18% + 1.2km downhill = 42.2km with 6000 ft of climbing.

Marin Ultra Challenge 50km

Inspired by last weekend’s Western States, i decided to undertake an ultra of my own last weekend here in my own backyard of the Marin Headlands.  I love sprinkling these local events into my training calender throughout the running season; they are the kind of races you can get up for an hour before the start, eat a quick breakfast, and pick up your bib 10 minutes before the gun goes off and be guaranteed a beautiful course and as hard of a workout as you desire.  Inside Trail Racing did an excellent job planning and marking a challenging but scenic course through the Marin Headlands and the lower slopes of Mt Tam.  It featured over 6500 ft of climbing over the 32+ miles, but the cool, foggy weather, beautiful scenery, and camaraderie of friends made for a fun day out on the trails.  Check out the wicked course profile on Strava.

It was only my fourth ultra ever and I was pleased to come away with a win while running what felt to be a comfortable and sustainable pace.  It’s a nice little confidence booster as i head into my next block of training.

Finishing the Marin Ultra Challenge 50km

 

And this picture, caught by a secret photographer, pretty much sums up what I am so grateful for this summer. Little autumn’s feet are just barely visible in the middle!

Tanford Tahoe photo

 

Western States

In what is becoming an annual tradition, i headed out to Tahoe on the 3rd weekend of June to watch a few hundred people run 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA.  More specifically, i was there to pace my buddy, Dave Mackey.  Dave has had great success at Western States, including a 2nd place (and course record breaking) finish several years ago behind Scott Jurek, and a top 10 finish last year.  But Dave is a true competitor and I knew he had yet to achieve his best performance on the course.

Glenn Tachiyama photo

I wanted Kristin and Autumn to witness the spectacle of one of the most famous and competitive ultra races in the world, so we rented a little condo in north tahoe for the weekend. We drove up early friday morning in time to run in the Montrail 6km Uphill Challenge, which follows the same first 6km as the Western States course  the next day (2000 ft of climbing).  It was a nice opportunity for all the support crew and pacers to have their shot of competition for the weekend.  Team Mackey got off to a strong start with Rickey Gates and Myself finishing 1-2; we would both pace Dave, in that order, the next day.

Saturday morning started off with a bit of rain and hail, but would turn to cool (by Western States standards) and sunny conditions later in the day; likely the best weather the race has seen in over a decade. I paced Dave from Forresthill to Ruckey Chuckey, a cruisy 18 mile downhill section.  Dave was in good spirits and running strong in 3rd place, behind Timothy Olsen and Ryan Sandes.  Still, pacing is always a bit awkward because the racer and the pacer are in completely difference zones.  On one hand you have the racer, who is totally dialed but most likely, feeling like shit.  And on the other hand you have the pacer who is feeling great and stoked to finally be running after watching other people run all day.  This disparity can cause two friends accustomed to jokes and banter to suddenly have very little to talk about.    Nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable run down to the river, and i was stoked to see Dave running so well.

Dave would end up 4th, while smashing the masters course record in the process.  His wasn’t the only record setting run; the men and women’s overall course records were also demolished, no doubt aided by the ideal weather, but also an indication of the kind of talent that is being attracted by the sport of ultra running.

Rickey taking a Tecate at the mile 99 aid station.

Team Mackey: Rickey, Dave, Me, and Autumn (Kristin not shown)

North Face 50 Mile Championship, Postmortem

post·mor·tem  (pst-môrtm):
1. Of or relating to a medical examination of a dead body.
2. An analysis or review of a finished event.

Both of these definitions feel appropriate for my TNF50 recap, a race that concluded with a 15 mile death march.I’ve spent the last 2 days after the race wrestling with how and why the race unfolded as it did.  When there is such a large discrepancy between  your perceived ability and how you actually perform, it forces a lot of questions to run through your head.  But before I attend to those question, i’ll express my shear awe at the performance of the podium finishers.  Those guys and gals just crushed it.

~~

The race started pretty much  as expected, with a solid pack forming at the front and going much faster than one would think wise for a 50 mile race.  But of course i knew this was coming.  I positioned myself in the back of the group, allowing small gaps to form on occasion as if to prove to myself that i was running my own pace, not theirs.  I tried to focus on relaxing and drinking fluids, and chatted with the guys around me. I ran with Rickey Gates for much of the first 15 miles, and he seemed to have a similar plan, so i figured i was in good company.   As it turns out, we would both face a similar fate.

As we ran through Pirates Cove the first signs of dawn were starting to appear. The stars were in brilliant focus against the dark blue sky and the vastness of the ocean was unfolding beneath us in a gentle shimmer.  Having lived in the Bay Area for over three years now, i was intimately familiar with this section, and indeed the entire course.  I was thrilled to be traveling its familiar contours in the context of this race, seeing it with new light.  And this was one of the most compelling motivations for participating; when the best competition in the world comes knocking at your back door, you feel obliged to answer.

While i hoped this  connection with the course would  be a source of inspiration and confidence throughout the race, these pre-dawn moments through Pirate’s Cove would sadly be the last.

The pace was swift but comfortable on the climb up Heather Cutoff and the Coastal View trails.  Matt Flaherty had gone off the front, certain to come back, but the  lead pack seemed anxious to reel him in.    Meanwhile, my chronic glute/hamstring issue started to tighten after the quick pace through Muir Beach and I had to really focus on form and staying relaxed.  And my quads, which are usually the last muscle in my body to complain, felt crampy and fatigued.  This was not a good warning sign for what was to come.

I stopped at Cardiac to fill up my water and picked up some gels and take in some vitamin I and electrolyte caps.  Meanwhile, the lead pack charged on without delay.  As i left the aid station, i noticed Rickey hanging back.  I hoped he would catch back up so i would have someone to run with on the section out to McKennan gulch.  But he never did, and i was kind of bummed to lose his company.

Instead, i did the whole section out to McKennan gulch alone, which seemed to go on forever.  I eventually caught Matt Flaherty and another guy near the turnaround, and was probably 1-2 minutes behind the lead pack.  I was still confident at this point that I would continue reeling people in during the second half.  But in the descent to Stinson Beach, it became apparent that the cramping/soreness that i felt earlier in my quads was not going away, it was only getting worse.

My faithful crew consisting of my wife, Kristin, and my dad, Buzz, were at the Stinson Beach aid station waiting for me.  While my dad helped me lace up my shoes,  i watched Tim Olson and Adam Campbell fly by and start up the climb (they had clearly descended much faster than I did).  I departed soon after, and was determined to catch them.  Climbing, i kept telling myself, is my domain.

But i never caught them.

Muir Woods

I made it to Cardiac in 9th place, but the writing was on the wall.  If i wasn’t able to catch anyone on the biggest climb of the day, it was was only a matter of time before people started catching me.  The descent into Muir Woods was the final straw… my quads were completely shot.

The rest of the race played out like one of those bad running dreams, the kind where you feel like you’re running in slow motion, as if there are weights in your shoes.  And yet others seem to be passing by without effort.  It was bewildering.  The saddest part was that this was the section closest to my home and therefore the trails I run on nearly every day.  I kept trying to cultivate some inspiration from this, but there was no answer to my plea.

Ten people would pass me in the last 15 miles.  Anna Frost would blow by me on the  penultimate climb  out of Muir Beach like i was standing still.  This was the same hill i did repeats on less than two weeks ago.  “You own this hill” i told myself.  No, Anna Frost owned it today.  She’s an incredible competitor. I took some consolation in passing Mike Wardian later on the same climb, who seemed even more dejected than I did and was reduced to a hike.  As i passed, i joked “how bad does this suck?”, and he replied “yeah… nice day for a hike, but i didn’t sign up for a hike”.  Indeed.  He would end up flying by me about a mile from the finish as if he was completing a marathon.

The final stretch to Fort Barry was anti-climatic, and surprisingly devoid of  emotion.  I was just ready for the race, and my season as a whole, to come to an end.   I finished 20th, in 7 hours and 12 minutes.

Overall results

iRunFar coverage

~~

Things that went right

Fortitude – I pushed against my limits and they pushed back. I can be proud that i never gave up.

Nutrition – My only previous foray into ultra running (60km Kepler Challenge in New Zealand in 2009) taught me that fueling is key.  So in this race I averaged 250-300 calories per hour, with closer to 350-400 at the beginning and tapering down to 200 at the end.  My stomach still felt like shit the next day from all that Gu, but it got me through the race and was not a limiting factor.  I also took in 1 electrolyte cap per hour and 1200 mg of vitamin I.  At the end i was craving oranges and would eat those at each aid station.

Things that went wrong (read: excuses)

Pacing – It’s easy to look back in retrospect and say i should have paced more conservatively at the beginning.  The funny thing is, i thought i was doing that by allowing myself to detach from the back of the lead pack throughout the first 20 miles while they duked it out up front.  But when i look at how many guys (and gals) passed me in the last 15 miles who started off much slower than me, it’s impossible not consider pacing as the culprit.  It’s likely I could have made the top 10 had I paced even more conservatively at the beginning.  But i don’t have any regrets about that.  I wasn’t going for top 10, i was going for a win.  Unfortunately, the same could be said for about 20 other people in the race.

Off peak – I have yet to master the art of syncing my fitness peaks with key races, especially when there are several in a year.  The late time frame of this race proved challenging, as I felt myself peak back in late October / early November, and wasn’t able to maintain it.  A couple minor injuries at the end also deflated my confidence a bit.

The Kepler Challenge

 

The premise

Lake Te Anau from the Luxmore Hut

Prior to registering for the Kepler Challenge, Kristin and I had been living in Sydney for about 9 months.  During that time, running had largely been placed on the back burner while we adjusted to our new surroundings and I focused on my new job. Training for a race was the last thing on my mind during that adjustment period, but after 9 months I was ready to get back out and run again.   Plus we really wanted an excuse to return to New Zealand.

Objective

I entered the Kepler Challenge back in June 2009 to inspire myself to get back outside and enjoy the pleasure of running again.  I knew my situation in Sydney (where trails and mountains are hard to come by) wasn’t ideal for training for my first ultra distance mountain race, so instead of aiming for a specific result at the race, I made my goal simply to have fun, get fit, and above all, not get injured.  (of course, if you know me, you know that those goals are nice before the race, but once i toe the starting line i’m out to compete and give it my all)

Result

I’m happy to say I accomplished all these objectives.  The Kepler Challenge inspired me to start run-commuting to/from work, as well as to get out of Sydney on the occasional weekend for some nice long runs.  It was the most relaxed training approach I’ve taken in recent years.  And while I may not have been as fit as I’ve been before, I had fun, kept my life in balance, and never got injured.  Mission accomplished. (and i had a pretty good result at the finish, all things considered)

Read on for more…

I first came to the Kepler Track 5 years ago during my three month campervan / mountain running tour of New Zealand.  I hiked the track in three days like pretty much everyone else, and I was completely smitten by  its spectacular scenery and diverse landscapes. Half way through the track, I remember one of the hut wardens (keepers of the rustic mountain huts that trampers sleep in while on the track) remarking that the course record was a little over 4.5 hours set by a runner in The Kepler Challenge, an annual running race on the course.  Course record? They have a race on this course??

From that day, I knew I would be back.

Great field

It turns out The Kepler Challenge is the recognized as the Jewel of the New Zealand mountain running scene.  It has great organization, top competition, and without a doubt the most spectacular course in New Zealand, and among the best in the world.  Despite its ultra distance of 60 km, it somehow manages to attract everyone from collegiate cross country aces to Olympic marathoners, in addition to the ultra running crowd that one would expect for this distance.  But then again, that’s New Zealand for you.  Unlike in the US where people tend to be good road runners, good mountain runners, or good ultra runners, but very rarely more than one of those, this distinction in New Zealand is much less prevalent.  It’s all just running.

Great course

 

Course map

The Kepler Track has all the makings of an epic course; in fact it goes right up there on my list of the Top 10 best running trails of the world.  Bold statement you say?  Well let’s run through some criteria:

  • Loop course. No out-and-back sections, no contrived add-ons… The Kepler Track is beautiful in its simplicity – a circular loop that starts and finishes just outside the small town of Te Anau and runs around the Jackson Peaks range.
  • Views. Once you get above tree line, the course follows undulated mountain top ridges for about 15km with unbelievable views of the snow capped southern Alps of Fiordlands National Park (they make the Colorado Rockies looks like big rubble piles), stunning lakes (Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri), and lush glacially carved valleys.
  • Diverse landscapes.  Like many tracks in the South Island of New Zealand, the course starts in temperate rainforests (think lush fern understory and trees covered in green moss), through sub-alpine bush, and then barren alpine landscape (complete with the occasional snowfield).
  • High quality track.  The entire 60 km track is totally runnable, ranging from soft and spongy forest track to hard packed gravelly mountain track.  Any boggy sections are boardwalked.

Great organization

The race is flawlessly executed by a huge group of local volunteers, has great sponsorship that provides impressive prizes and support for elite runners, and still maintains its egalitarian vibe that makes it a fun event for all abilities.  This is a world class event for a world class course, but has the atmosphere and friendliness of a community event.  Perfect.

All these factors contribute to the Kepler Challenge being the most popular mountain race in the country (the field of 400 runners limited by the national park service is filled within a matter of minutes).

On Saturday December 5, I discovered first hand what all the excitement was about.

My race

Race start and finish line

The gun went off at 6am below a nearly full moon that cast a glow on the formidable peaks ahead of us.  The race started out fast and I found myself scrambling to get into good position before the track headed into the forest.

Kristin and I had run on this section of track the day before and it was gorgeous; the lapping shores of Lake Te Anau on the right and lush forest on the left.  On race day, however, I was focused on counting the number of guys ahead of me so I could keep track of how many I would need to pass later on.  It’s fun to pick off runners one by one throughout a race, each one a little victory in itself.  Of course, this mentality can have the opposite effect if you’re the one getting passed, as I would experience later.

The climb up to Luxmore Hut ascends about 3000 feet over 8km.  I was in 4th position at the start of the climb, and before too long caught up to Martin Lukes, the winner of the previous two years.   We had a quick chat about the nice weather and after a few minutes I continued on my way. The two guys that remained in front were clearly after the King of the Mountain prize; an intermediate prize of $500 awarded to the first runner to Luxmore Hut.  I had no intention of trying for it unless it came easily, as I would rather reach the finish line first, not the hut.  Nevertheless, I caught the #2 runner John Winsbury (4th place in 2008) just before tree line and we ran together to Luxmore Hut (1 minute behind the leader) while enjoying the spectacular views that unfolded around us.   At the hut we had our gear checked to ensure we were carrying all the compulsory gear (2 thermal tops, rain gear, hat, gloves, emergency blanket); if not, immediate disqualification.

Running on the tops...

After Luxmore Hut, the course continues to climb another 800 feet or so up to Luxmore saddle, the highest point on the course.  I put some time on John here, and by the top of the climb I was comfortably in 2nd place and within sight of 1st place.  This was the best part of the course… for the next 15km the track followed undulating ridges with 360 views of snow capped peaks and giant lakes.  Bluebird skies all around.  It’s this section that really positions the Kepler among the finest mountain races in the world.  For a good 15km – or 1 hour – you are truly running along mountain tops… racing across the sky.

After a steep descent from “the tops” (as they call the alpine section) the race gently descends the Iris Burn valley for about 15km.  I finally caught the leader, Norman Dunroy, at the beginning of this section, just after the Iris Burn aid station, and found myself in the lead with 28km to go. I was feeling quite confident at this point, and the race was unfolding pretty much like I had hoped it would.  My pacing felt comfortable, my energy was good, all I had to do was not hit the wall.

And hit the wall I did.

After running in the lead for about 10km,  I started to get waves of dizziness and feeling “out of it”.   In other words, I was bonking.  But I didn’t realize it at the time because I thought I had my fueling dialed and I had been taking it in as planned throughout the race.  I kept running through it, not realizing that my run had slowed to a meager shuffle. Then all of a sudden Martin Lukes, winner of the previous two years who I had passed several hours ago on the climb, came charging past me like i was standing still.  It was only then that i realized how much i had slowed down.

As he ran past, he actually slowed down, clearly worried about my condition, and gave me a few strong words of encouragement.  With my senses somewhat impaired and his words forced between heavy breathing, I couldn’t make out half the things he said, but what I did get out of it was this: WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T HIT THE WALL.  Sorry, too late for that one.  DRINK AND EAT AS MUCH AS YOU POSSIBLE CAN. This one took a few minutes to sink in.  But in the mean time, I thanked him for his encouragement (what a nice guy), and he stormed ahead on his way to a 3rd straight Kepler Challenge victory.  He would put 20 minutes on me in the last 15km.

As I forced down a GU and a bunch of water, Norman Dunroy (the runner I had overtaken about 10km back ) passed me.  By now I was I was feeling the reality that not only was the win slipping away, but the race as a whole was starting to completely unravel.  But I slowly started to regain my composure with the additional fuel in my system.  The incoherent waves of fatigue went away, and I could concentrate again on my form and the task at hand.  But the damage was already done; my legs were pretty depleted and I had a feeling the two guys ahead of me weren’t coming back.  Now I just needed to fight to not lose any more positions.  Then John Winsbury passed me and I was in 4th with about 8km to go.  But I didn’t let this get to me.  I knew I was coming back to life and he looked like he was struggling.  I stayed within sight of him, pounded another Gu, and about 10 minutes later I passed him back.

The finish...

I finished in 3rd place in a time of 5:18, which was much slower than I had hoped for.  But that’s how it goes when racing a course for the first time.  You have to throw times out the window and just compete as best you can.  I truly enjoyed being out on the course, experiencing the mountains, running hard, and competing again.  I realize now how much I missed it.

Lessons learned:

I calibrated my fueling (rate of caloric intake) based on what worked in my training runs.  While this was good enough for the first 3.5 to 4 hours of the race (the length of my longest runs), it was not enough for 5 hours of racing at that effort.  I think i was slowly being depleted without knowing it, and completely ran out of gas after 40-42km.

My longest run was 4:20 and only did a few at 4:00.  Most of them were around 3:00 due to the lack of good places to run in Sydney.  I think I probably needed some longer runs in there, if for no other reason than to practice with the fueling.

Jungfrau Marathon 2007 Report

Update: This is an old post from 2007 but i figured i’d keep it here since it continues to attract readers searching for Jungfrau race reports..

The Jungfrau Marathon / WMRA Long Distance World Championship
26.2 miles (nearly all uphill)
6000 feet elevation gain (nearly all in the last 12 miles)
4,000+ entrants

Pre-race: I arrived in Interlaken on Wednesday night after a long but uneventful 16 hour journey (San Francisco – Frankfurt – Zurich – (train) – Interlaken). On Thursday I checked out the top few kilometers of the course with friend and fellow racer Adam Campbell from Victoria, BC. On Friday I did an easy 25 minute run along the river. The race organization was kind enough to put me up in a hotel for 4 nights and provided meal vouchers each day. Opening CeremonyOn Thursday and Friday nights there were athlete dinners, technical briefings, and opening ceremonies where I had the honor of being introduced on stage alongside Wyatt and three other top seeded male runners. A different song was played as each athlete was introduced and jogged down the center of the banquet tent to the stage: they played “Born in the USA” for me. It was awesome. Also, every country with a representative in the race had a flag hung at the ceremonies, which i think is pretty cool. The only downside to arriving early is that I had the worst jet lag I’ve ever experienced. Basically, whether I napped during the day or not, I woke up at 3:00 AM every morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. In fact, 6 nights into the trip, I still have insomnia which is how/why I’m writing such a long report on this race…

Race day weather: Perfect – clear skies and mild temperatures (50-60 F at the start, 40-45 F at the top)

Fuel: Ate a bigger than normal breakfast – oatmeal with dates, half of a hardboiled egg, a piece of toast, and about 2 oz. of black coffee. I ate three gels during the race and one gel 45 minutes before the start. Also made a concerted effort to drink two cups of water at every aid station.

Now, if you’re still with me, on to the race…

The Jungfrau Marathon is the most beautiful course I’ve ever seen.
The race starts in Interlaken, with the first 5km flat in the city to maximize spectator support. The next 15km climbs gently (800 ft) up the Lauterbrunnen valley, along the river, on rolling singletrack, bike paths and paved roads.

© Tomas Ortiz Fernandez 4,000 or so runners filled the starting chute on the main street in downtown Interlaken, while the elite athletes warmed up in front of the starting line. Spectators, at least 3 or 4 deep, lined the sides of the street as far as you could see, and banners of previous year’s champions loomed overhead. About 5 minutes before the start, the announcer once again presented five of the top seeded male and female runners. As they called my name I jogged a few steps in front of the start and waved to the swarm of photographers, trying my best to hide how awkward I felt. I’ve never been a part of something with so much fanfare and hype, and I felt a little out of place. But that’s the great thing about racing in Europe – they are into it! Every race has prize money, helicopters shoot video for TV broadcasts, and people come out to watch it.

At 9:00 a loud canon exploded and we launched out of the blocks. Not getting knocked down was all I was thinking about at this point, as getting trampled by 4000 runners would not be the ideal way to start the race. The cheers from the crowd were deafening as they banged on the guard rails and screamed, and loud firecrackers went off all around us, only adding to the adrenaline rush that is natural at the start.

© Tomas Ortiz Fernandez Two guys immediately went off the front to go for the sprint primes (cash prizes for intermediate points along the race), while a group of 14 or so collected to form the main pack. I tucked in near the back of this group while Jonathan Wyatt (NZ), Zac Freudenberg (US) and Daniel Kipton (Kenya) set the pace. We went through 5k in 16:40 and it felt like we were jogging; same thing when we through 10k in 34:10. However, at the 10k aid station I got detached from the group when I missed the water handoffs (downside to being in the back of the group) and had to stop and grab some water.

Without much road racing experience I am remarkably unskillful at grabbing a cup of water and drinking it while running 5:30/mile pace. I would say 95% of the water typically distributes itself across my face, eyes, up my nose or anywhere except the back of my throat, but the 5% I do manage to get down is accompanied by a large gulp of air. I figured slowing down to drink was worth it to make sure I got enough water during the early part of the race.

At this point I also started to wonder if it was smart to maintain the pace the group was going at. It felt easy now, but we still had 32km to go and 6000 feet of climbing. I decided to keep my distance and not surge to rejoin the group, but basically followed within 10-100 meters of them over the next 10km. The section along the river was very nice – a mixture of gently rolling bike paths, singletrack and roads.

lauterbrunnenAt 20km, the course passes through the center of Lauterbrunnen where at least a 1000 spectators lined the course, and 74 (official count) waterfalls pour hundreds of feet from the steep canyon walls on either side. I saw a BASE jumper pull his/her parachute right above me at one point (and I read the next day that a BASE jumper had died right there the day before).

I could start to feel the gentle climb in my legs and the increased effort that it required, and it reflected in my time through the half marathon (1:15:55), about a minute behind the lead group now, and four minutes slower than what I ran on a flat sea level course in San Francisco in late July. But I felt that I was running the right pace knowing that the hardest was yet to come, and was counting on most of the guys in front of me dropping back once the real climb started.

After 25km, the course turns up the mountain and the real race beings. The steepest part of the race occurs between 25km and 30km where about 1,500 feet are gained. It is viciously steep here. At 30km, the course flattens out a bit and passes through Wengen, a small but cheerful car-less village perched on the side of the mountain.

Despite it’s small size, Wengen was host to the most exuberant, supportive crowd I’ve ever experienced in a race. Spectators were literally lining the street 10 deep on both sides, leaning over the guard fence, waving flags, blowing horns, ringing cow bells, cheering and pumping their fists in encouragement. Dozens of outstretched hands from kids awaited high fives. Meanwhile an announcer was screaming something in German over the speaker system but all I could understand were the sounds of “Gaaaah-len …. Bah-rellllll!!!” and “America!!”. As I ran through Wengen, still alone and in 11th place at this point, the energy of the crowd seemed to literally lift me off the ground and carry me through the town. It was like I was floating in the wind, and it felt like my entire body was buzzing. Who needs drugs to get high when all you have to do is run 5:00 pace through a small village in a mountain marathon? It was one of the most euphoric moments of my life.

The flat section is short lived, and after Wengen the course (mostly cinder trails and soft, narrow dirt roads at this point) continues to climb through steep pastures and tiny villages, and into a pine forrest. Cows and goats roam the pastures with bells clinking below their necks, lazily chewing on grass. Old farmers cutting hey with a sith would pause long enough to smile at you as you run by and say “hoppe! hoppe! hoppe!” (i.e. go! go! go!).

Soon after Wengen I passed one of the other top seeded runners – Daniel Kipton from Kenya. I couldn’t help but feel both pleasure and sympathy passing the Kenyan. Pleasure because he is obviously a great runner who is much faster than I am on flat terrain, but sympathy because he was clearly way out of his element. I also started to realize that I was executing my plan as hoped, as I was starting to reel people in, but I started to wonder if I had gone out too conservatively.

topThe last 5km are the second steepest of the race, and the most technical, as the course switches to single track with rocky steps, and climbs up along the ridge of the glacial moraine. At this point, you are running directly below three of the most famous 4000+ meter peaks in Alps: The Eiger, Monch, and the Jungfrau, each crusted in snow and blowing snow plumes off their summits into the azure blue sky. A bagpipe player dressed in a kilt signals that you are near the top of the climb, and only 1km remains, which is all downhill to the finish line at Klein Sheidegg (6857 feet).

With 5km to go I caught up to Zac Freudenburg, the other top seeded American runner who helped set the pace at the start. Zac is a great guy who I became friends with after he got 3rd place behind me in Pikes Peak last year. He has a strong road background and ran 2:21 in Boston this year to qualify for the Olympic trials. Given his fast marathon background and climbing abilities, I knew this would be a good course for him. But the strong early pace followed by the steep climb was clearly taking its toll, and he was suffering pretty badly. Still, he was kind enough to hold out his hand for congratulatory slap as I passed by him, and we offered each other words of encouragement. At that point I was in 8th place and feeling more and more confident with each runner I picked off.

I passed two more runners on the steep, technical single track heading up to the moraine ridge, and could see one other runner further ahead. The top was in sight and I knew 5th place was in reach. At this point however, my legs were feeling completely depleted and I was reduced to power hiking with hands on my knees for a few steps on every switchback. My arms started to tingle and was feeling light headed, a tell tale sign that I was right on the edge. But I kept up the cadence and passed my last competitor of the day just below the bag pipe player to move into 5th place. As it turns out, he was a defending champion (in 2000) and runner up last year.

finishAs the trail crested the climb and turned down for the last kilometer towards the finish, I felt the thrill of completing the race. My quads felt like jell-o at first but soon adjusted to the downhill and I was able to sprint down to the finish in good form. The two race directors (who had been following the race by car or motorcycle along the course) were the first to greet me across the finish line and congratulate me. Hot shower, massage, and beer and chocolate immediately followed (yes, at least the last two are available on most mountain tops in Europe).

I am happy with my performance. I wouldn’t call it a breakthrough performance by any means, but I ran tactically and executed my game plan. It’s hard to have a goal for a mountain course you’ve never seen before, amidst competitors you have never met. There are so many unknowns. The climbs were certainly much steeper than I expected, for example. But once the gun goes off you let go of expectations and just compete the best you can. I ran within the means that my training afforded, played my strengths (climbing, endurance), and tried to pick off as many people as possible at the end. If I have any regrets it’s that I have a sinking suspicion that I didn’t leave it all on the mountain. I felt a little too good throughout the race, particularly at the end, and might have let up too much after 10km. Something to remember for next time I suppose. I’d like to do the race again, now that I understand the course a lot more, and know exactly how to train for it.

Above all, the entire race was just an awesome experience. The support and organization from the race committee was beyond expectations and the crowd support was inspiring. And the three hours I spent running below waterfalls and alpine peaks and alongside glaciers was totally surreal. It truly is one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world.

Finish: 5th Place overall, 3:11:05

Course record holder, three time Olympian, and five time world mountain running champion Jonathan Wyatt won as expected in fairly convincing fashion. Two Italian runners placed second and third, and a tiny Mexican runner got fourth. Zack Freudenberg ended up a very solid 8th, and my friend from Canada, Adam Campbell, rounded out the top 15.

img_6885.jpg

Me, Zac F. (8th), and Jonathan Wyatt (1st) at the awards ceremony

Click here to see some photos of the race