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Sunday, October 20, 2013

One-Itis: Life After Western States

How do you get over something, after thinking about it every single day, many times a day, for months, even years - only to be so squarely rejected? Even now, nearly four months later, I'm not sure I know that answer yet.

Perhaps the answer lies in not getting to that point in the first place...

Immediately post-WS, after my family departed, I stuck around in Placer County for a while.  Mr Wonderful invited me to spend the Fourth of July up at Tahoe.  I thought about it; it sounded fun, but a part of me recoiled: that'd be like breaking up with someone, then spending the holiday at her parents' house.

I'm out.

I went west, as far as I could, away from the stifling, 100+-degree heat. I drove into the night until the road ended, and only a thin ribbon of asphalt separated me from the end of the continent.  I slept in the back of my truck along the PCH, in the cool, thick Pacific air, Rickey Gates-style. 

Leaving Placer County - Carb-Crazed, post-WS binge. 

Acommodations along the California Coast, just north of Sonoma Coast State Park

California 1.  Amazing drive.  Like Wisconsin...with sea cliffs, ocean views, and eucalyptus trees.

Breakfast along the coast. 


The next day, I caught a Fourth of July Parade...Mendocino-style:

Fourth of July Parade in Mendocino!

Very political.  Also a lot marijuana smoke. 

An admirable-sized rat-tail...and bag of chips.

What says Liberty better than a giant dog that pees on the patriots?
The next night's lodging: the Lost Coast/Mattole Road, south of Ferndale, CA.

I spent the next several days, alone, driving.  Contemplating.  I'm not sure when it came to me, but I eventually it hit me.

I did it again.

I had one-itis.

One-itis is a debilitating disease:  "A unhealthy obsession with a single entity", a "social malady that results in a feeling that this entity is totally special and unique, and therefore one must not mess up anything with it".  Moreover, it almost always involves "completely unrealistic idealizations and expectations" -- of what your life would become, should you successfully master that thing.

But ultimately, this obsessive fixation invariably interferes with one's ability to execute and successfully.  Because anything that valuable takes a confident, relaxed (if not detached) execution to master.

There's the rub.

I felt jilted: I put so much into this race, that day, and for what? Nothing. I blew it.

All the hard work, from December to June. What did I have to show for it? Two lackluster races and a beer mile victory.

Something had to change. Many things.
*****
Base Training

First, I had to let go. Oddly enough, that was easy. The relentless obsession with Western States had drained me, even pre-race. And now, after having blown it? I felt a tremendous weight release when I began to let go. 

Secondly, I had to change. I needed to achieve greater balance, perspective, and resourcefulness in my life. Wiling the hours, doing nothing more than eating, sleeping, slogging miles – all the while remaining obsessed about Western States had gotten me less than nowhere – it caused me to lose sight of those things.

After returning home from the race, I was determined to work on the non-runner me. I felt like, in many ways, I was deficient in the comprehensive non-running resources and abilities to not only effectively maintain balance, but also help me reduce my stress and anxiety, and keep perspective. Developing and enhancing my social skills was a big part of that.

I recall during the Solo Fast 2012, that one of my most significant issues was the void of meaningful day-to-day relationships in my life. Simply put, I spend way too much time alone, bored and lonely. In particular, a lack of a significant other in my life for the past year has been a tremendous void, and a drain on my spirit. Like the absence of food during the Solo Fast, it is easy to put out of mind, but every so often it would strike furiously, and a deep ache would set in. 

I feel the purpose of relationships are two-fold: one, they are people with which to share important and exciting moments in life, and two, they exist for you to help them, and them, you: to survive the challenges of life and transcend toward greater living.

But relationships, like anything else, take time and effort. They take intention and commitment, skills and abilities, energy and courage.

I was committed to taking July off running.  So instead of training my legs, I trained my social skills.

The EUG can be challenging for post-collegiate to pre-retirement single folks like myself, but, I had a blast.  I went out. A lot. I all but begged folks to hang out, and if they couldn't, I'd roll solo. And I stayed out, until 3AM. On a Wednesday night. And when I wasn't going out, I was at home, reading and studying relevant social skills that I lacked (and sometimes I'd go out and read and practice!). I'd go out, being friendly, just talking to people. And, by and large, it was effective: I interacted with more people in meaningful ways in that month than I had in the previous four years I'd lived in Eugene.

Clifton and Jens, out at Max's Tavern - July 2013

Good times. 

Perhaps the most randomly awesome picture of the summer: Teacher, Mentor and friend, Gregg Johnson (L) - with Chris DeMarco teaching a manual therapy course in Portland - July 2013.  Chris punctuated his trip to PDX with a surprise-appendectomy at the very hospital where the course was taught.  On Sunday, he came down to say hello.

KILLING IT with Dan Majerle in NBA Jam - August 2013. 
An extremely important conclusion when overcoming One-Itis is the reality that no race is so important that winning it is going to make your life great, or not great. Fact of the matter is, it never works that way: those singular experiences can never live up to that pressure, that hype – and if they do, it is short-lasting, and you're left invariably asking, “It's not enough, what's next?”

Relationships are identical. No one person can ever make you happy. You make you happy. And the sooner one can recognize that experiences and relationships are only a part of life – and not the end-goal – then we can be set free to experience them unfettered, and without expectation. And then, we're far more likely to optimize those experiences and relationships.  When interacting with folks this summer, I expected nothing.  Then, when something did develop, it was everything

Through random-but-valuable interactions this summer in EUG, what I learned was this: meaningful relationships - and experiences - are not scarce.  However, those experiences frequently appear in places and forms you least expect - so you have to be open and accepting to whatever comes your way.   If you are, you just might find that very thing you're looking for.

The Rebound

Despite my positive mental being, post-Western States, I still felt driven to have a Rebound. I felt driven to do something, anything, besides Western States. The choice was easy: Waldo.

For the past two years, I'd signed up for Waldo 100K, and, post-WS, DNS'd both, due to inadequate recovery. This time 'round, after my WS Fun Run, I felt I'd be rested. But would I be prepared?

The Training

During my Western States ramp-up, I read a lot of the latest edition of Lore of Running. In it, Tim Noakes writes in characteristic detail about energy systems, and what we now know – or think we know – about endurance metabolism. Until now, I'd never read or heard significant treatment about the importance of fat-burning as fuel for endurance performance. That changed in 2013, reading from Noakes. Another big factor was spending time with Tim Olson down in Ashland. Our conversations about diet and training, coupled with what I was reading in Lore, pushed me to radically change my diet to be more fat-burn-friendly: namely by slashing the quantity of carbohydrates from my diet. Since mid-March, I've been bonafide low-carb: eating next to no carbs from sun-up to evening, and only then will I eat unprocessed fruits and vegetables, devoid of any grains, pastas, breads, or any previously guilty pleasure foods such as The Big C's (chips, cookies, candy, chocolate, [pan]'cakes). They were all gone.


(But: I wouldn't cut out my beer. I gotta live!)

Diet was a big change, but another important conclusion drawn, post-Western States, was that my fitness in 2013 was “upside-down”. This is a term I've coined when talking about the difference between aerobic and anaerobic fitness.  While diet is crucial to training fat burning capacity (what you put in is what you'll use), one must train at the proper intensity to allow fat-burning to happen.

Lore of Running talked about the 1989 Ironman Triathlon -- the epic battle between Dave Scott and Mark Allen, where the men ran 8:09 and 8:10, respectively, including a sub-2:40 closing marathon leg.  Noakes talks about the physical impossibly of only sugar burning for such an effort, then outlines Mark Allen's work with coach Phil Maffetone, DC, to enhance his fat-burning and sustainable training.  

Maffetone advocates his Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) effort as the most important element in developing aerobic fitness.  It represents the maximum intensity whereby fat can be used as fuel.  According to Maffetone, if we maintain [the vast majority of] our efforts at or below this level, we will enhance fat burning.  The effect is, the speed at which we travel - whether by foot, bike or swim stroke - will improve at the same effort level.  

MAF is measured by heart rate.  And the beauty of heart rate-based training is, it takes into account everything: not just fitness, but restfulness, stress, and nutrition, among other factors.  If any of those are off, it will reflect in heart rate.  With MAF training, the days of only focusing on "miles" are over.  It is, in effect, truly holistic training.

MAF is calculated, simply, by taking your age and subtracting it from 180.  Mitigating factors - including injury history and consistent training - might increase or decrease that value by +/- 5 BPM. 

Since resuming running at the end of July, 95% of my running has been at or below my MAF heart rate of 150.  Subsequent testing at our clinic found that my true end-range fat-burning is 158-162 BPM - the absolute highest intensity where fat burning stops.  

Progress is tracked by doing periodic 5-mile time trials at MAF heart rate. It's a rather fun game: how fast can you run, while keeping your heart rate low.  It emphasizes maximum efficiency and relaxation.

My initial effort highlighted how upside-down my fitness was:  by mile 5, I had to slow to >8-minute pace.  It has since imporved to 6:20-7:00 pace, simply by "running slow". 

Since July, I've experienced palpable benefits in both running and body composition: I felt “fat-burning power” during long runs and races, where I felt like I could “run all day”.  Moreover, this is the most muscular I've ever been.  I've gained some weight since WS, but it's been all muscle; in fact, I'm sure it's been a net muscle gain with fat lost.  

Moreover, my Waldo experience  - and a recent run around the Three Sisters, where I ran 50 miles without a single calorie - reinforced that this approach is extremely effective.  

Waldo 100K

Almost by definition, Rebounds never work as planned.  But they do serve a purpose.

I went into Waldo unprepared to run well, and that was OK.  I was committed to spending the entire run at or below anaerobic threshold.  While my MAF was 150, I allowed a ceiling of 160 for the "race".  But with the numerous steep and long climbs, sticking to this would be no small feat. 

As Craig Thornley set us off - for his last Waldo - it was yet another example of the impact of the sympathetic system on heart rate.  Three weeks before, I did the opening climb - a solid, 1000'+/25 minute slog - fairly easy at 150 BPM.  Race morning?  170, pegged.  Sonofabitch!  I leisure-hiked as the entire front-pack faded into the pre-dawn darkness.  All but Jacob Puzey, who was coming off a recent illness.  He and I shuffled with each other early, then reconnected as the trail summited the ski hill and rolled west and downhill.  Yet even then, I could scarcely keep the HR under 160.  Damn!

After the first aid station, I slowed even further.  The slog up to Mt Fuji was brutally slow.  Being passed by several runners, including early women's leader Joelle Vaught, were further gut-punches.  "This sucks.  What am I doing?"

I wanted to quit.  It was stupid.  But I shuffled along.  As I summited Fuji amidst irritating wildfire smoke drifting from the south, passing the front runners, already ten-plus minutes behind, I connected with Rob Hendrickson, who I paced at Waldo in '11.  We ran together, and I had a purpose again, for the time being.  He and I ran in lock-step down Fuju and back west toward the PCT.

On the PCT, things started to click.  I got comfortable.  I figured, "OK, this is good fat-burning training.  Just go with it".

So I did.  I shuffled along.

It was a tremendous learning experience.  I felt when my body grooved in fat-burning: when it did, I felt like I could run all day.  When I inched over 160, I felt a heaviness in my gut, and things got cloudy.  Soon, I scarcely checked the HR read-out.  I could feel it.

At the aid stations, I took my time: I stood around, drank soda, chatted, and waited for my HR to drop.  Often, I took over two minutes per station.  But I felt the heart - and brain - needed that rest to re-set the system and allow for better running in between. 

I I hiked a lot.  Uphills at 7,000' with low fitness made running in the fat zone impossible.  So I hiked.  At the 45 mile mark, I picked up my iPod.  Fun music invariably drives up heart rate, but it was a small price to pay for the entertainment.  I jammed to Akon and Eminem as I rolled south along the PCT toward the last big climb up the 7,800' Maiden Peak. Again, tons of hiking, but I made the most of it.  And I felt strong.  There was no fatigue in the legs. 

The summit marks the 53-mile mark and the high-point of the course. From there, it's all downhill. I made quick, aggressive work of it.  I stopped for another couple minutes at the Maiden Lake AS, the put the finishing touches on my first Waldo finish.

The closing ten kilos at Waldo are among the best in ultrarunning: groomed single track, flat-to-downhill in its entirely, save but a few uphill blips.  And the views! You're treated to four different mountain lakes, including three in succession in the final four miles.  It shocks me that some complain about that closing stretch - but I suppose the final kilos of a 100K are inherently brutal.

As I passed the Lower Rosary Lake, marking 5K to go, I was feeling the fatigue of the day, but the finish line was in smelling range. The root wad repair marks about a mile to go.  I was keeping to my 160 ceiling until then.  Then, this song came on.  I looked at my watch: sub-10:30 was in reach.  So I pushed it.

Western States was not in my thoughts very much that day, but it came to mind in those closing minutes.  I thought about Craig waiting - as he does at Waldo, and now WS - at the finish line.  I was looking forward to seeing him, and I thought about how Western was supposed to be.

Like this.  Success.  Triumph.  Joy.  As the single track burst into the clearcut homestretch to the ski area, this song came on.  On the WS playlist, was supposed to be my River-to-Green Gate song...

I crossed the finish line - MAF to the wind - just a shade over 10:30.  I was a good 85 minutes behind winner (and newest speedster-du-jour) David Laney.  That stung, but it is what it is: a terrific training effort, and an important rebound.

Occupy Waldo - the encampment, pre-race

Pre-Race Meeting: presenting Craiggers with a going-away thank-you present - a quilt of all the Waldo shirts

"Congratulations on a job...done".  The HRM's max'd-out calorie count.  That's a lot of beer. 

The Man at The Helm.
 *****

So, here we are.  It's Fall.  That magic hour, liberated from heat, bugs, and impending snow.  Ample opportunity for care-free outdoor adventures amongst the watercolor splatter of autumn leaves mixed with Pacific Northwest showers.   

Yet, The Cup looms.  Bandera is right around the corner. 

Yet in order to be successful - to do it right - is going to take patience.  Balance.  Perspective.  Relaxed detachment.  This fall continues to be an exercise on those things.  Some fall races and adventures that I'd looked forward to will have to take a back-seat to the Big Picture. 

I'll be back to Western States some day - with a number on. And when I do, it will be different. And even better than before.  Until then: patience, balance, perspective.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bending the Map - 2013 Western States 100

"Oh, S##T."

"Take some salt!"
  Luis Escobar, stationed a hundred feet behind me, bellowed, as I staggered over to a nearby conifer to steady myself, in a vain attempt to stretch out spastic quads.  Looking down, the tetany was impressive - medial quad definition befitting a body-builder - but hardly appreciated. 

Quad seizure.  Mile 49.  Photo: Luis Escobar.
 I was in real trouble.
*****
 I'm not sure I slept on Friday night.  Really.  I laid there, drifting.  A thought would spark an emotion, and the heart would race a few beats.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  It wasn't anxiety, fear or dread.  It was excitement.  But I'm not sure my body knew the difference, or cared.  

"I'm ready." - the mantra of the past week - finally gave way to race morning.  At 3AM, I figured I could just get up.  I prepared: girding, taping, mounting.  It was finally here.

Driving BGD's truck from the Injinji House to Squaw, blasting "Pusher Love Girl", my cheer belied a nervous energy and, perhaps, impatience, for the final countdown.  Check-in, breakfast, numbers pinned, and - one last time - drills and warm-up with BGD on the walkway outside Squaw Valley.

"I'm ready".  

It's finally time.  Photo: The Ultrarunning Scene/Claytons.
Morning cheers, salutations and hugs amongst spectators and fellow warriors.  The most memorable was Hal.  With seconds left on the clock, I look to my left to see him standing there.  He had a crazy look in his eyes; a fire and excitement I'd never seen from such a cool customer: "Let's go for it Joe, I'm gonna be right up there with you!!" Before I could even respond, Dr. Lind fired the shotgun, and off we went.
Giving the watch a slap.  Go-time.  Photo:L Glenn Tachiyama.
*****
 "The best laid plans of Mice and Men oft go astray".  

BGD and I had plans for Western States.  A lot of plans.  Plans to start together, to run controlled in the High Country, to run together through the canyons, for at least the first 100km, to M10, to podium.

We did the work.  Incredible work.

Too much work.

Climbing to Escarpment, he was already lagging behind.  We both were.  As Cam Clayton dead-sprinted up the ski hill - with Hal, Tim, and even Clarkie in tow - we lagged behind a huge throng of runners, as we ascended the 30% grade "bark path" ("A gift from Eugene!", I joked) to the railroad car bridge, just before The Ancient Tree.

The opening climb. Photo: The Ultrarunning Scene/Claytons.

A week earlier, we had test-ran the climb, me wearing my heart-rate monitor, guaging a sustainable effort.  We were right-on splits, yet my heart rate was soaring: 170-plus beats per minute, far higher than a week ago.

The heart-rate monitor was supposed to be our guide on race day: keep things controlled and fat-burning early, and save energy for the latter half.  Yet that morning, pre-race, it was malfunctioning: no signal, 30 beats per minute, no signal...  I studied it as we shuffled and alternatively power-hiked to High Camp.  It would desend to 16x, only to jump to 170s again with the slightest effort.

I stopped for BGD. "We're on pace, and we're in, like, 40th place.  It's going to be a conga line in The Chief.  We need to go.".  I went.  He didn't.  The top ten guys were clear out of sight when I hit Escarpment AS (41:26, avg HR 171).  Power-hiking the steep, steep climb past the AS, I felt weak and tired.  I lagged behind Meltzer, Terranova and Yassine, but gradually reeled them in on the more reasonable Jeep road leading to the top of Emigrant Pass.
About to summit Emigrant Pass.  Focused.  Photo: Bob MacGillivray/DryMax.

Once over the top, I opened things up, but repeated the early-race mantras:  "Form-focus!  The Crouch!  Execute!  You're not working hard!"  I floated down the track, as daylight dawned over The Chief. 

The stride felt pretty good and the effort sustainable.  I saw a blue-shirted and bare-chested man running up a head.  I effortlessly reeled them with quick strides on the gentle downhills and flats, losing slight ground as I "floated the ups".  I passed the bare-chester - Rob Krar - very briefly - only to be retaken as the trail flattened into the numerous meadows of the Wilderness.

Jake was nowhere to be found, nor was anyone else to my six.  I focused forward, and inward.

I looked at my heart-rate.  "168??  Really! That can't be right...".  I wasn't working hard.  I was moving pretty well, but I felt no effort, yet the heart rate was soaring.  How could that be?  Maybe it was malfunctioning.  Or, maybe my heart was still wired from the pre-race nerves...  No matter, I felt fine.  I was fine...

But as I descended the wash-out trails and dirt roads past the Chief, behind Krar and blue-jersied Jeremy Humphreys,  it occurred to me, "Wow...my quads feel cooked!"
*****

"Oh, S##T."
It was a blazing hot afternoon on Cal Street in May.  Two kilos from Rucky Chucky, the homestretch on our version of the iconic Training Camp "Peace Run": Robinson Flat to the River Crossing, 48 miles.  The final run of an epic, eight-day training camp that covered every inch of the Western States course.

I was done.  Just done.  BGD cruised on ahead, triumphantly.  I stopped to walk.  I  was beyond tired.  I was defeated.

Jake and I had an extraordinary camp: A steaming Robie to the river.  A smooth Rob Flat to Michigan Bluff. A spirited Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat.

That was just the first three days.

We had a tremendous week: professional runners, professional eaters.  But it felt like work.  At night, at Carol's house in Michigan Bluff, unable to sleep each night due to profound fatigue, I passed the time poring over Tim Noakes' "Lore of Running" and his chapter, "Preventing Overtraining".

Isn't irony cute, sometimes?

As soon as I staggered into Rucky Chucky, I knew I'd done too much.  I could barely sit upright.  I laid on a picnic table for several minutes before gradually reviving, thanks to Topher Gaylord and crew's generous donation of water and calories.  I soaked in the River.  We were finished, we'd done it.  But at what cost?  I gradually came around in Christina Curley's Subaru as we - Jake, Tyler Curley, my Green Gate-to-the-finish pacer, and I - inched our way up to Driver's Flat and back to Auburn.  The rest of the night, my body felt a bunch of Ballpark Franks: plumped and cooked.  But I came around...I'm fine...

We were five weeks out from Race Day.  Plenty of time.  But the recovery dragged: two full days off, then easy miles.  But after a week, I was still exhausted.  A two-hour road run in Wisconsin wiped me out.  Four weeks to go.

Another week, another long-run attempt: multiple post-holes in the snow drifts of the Central Cascades were each small blessings - or slaps across the face, perhaps - to stop running.  More days off.  Three weeks.

Finally, with under twenty days to go, I rebounded: good energy, legs feeling spry.  The stride felt phenomenal: efficient and strong.  A short tempo run indicated awesome fitness, but recovery was yet again delayed and prolonged.

In 2012, I'd done about 26 miles and 6k', fifteen days pre-race.  This year, I settled for the tried-and-true Hardesty Mountain run: 5+ miles and 3300' up, and the same return.  This is my bread-and-butter climb, done once or twice weekly throughout the Western States build-up.  A typical week would have a Hardesty up/down on a Wednesday night, then a solid track session the next day.

Two weeks out, I ran up Hardesty in awesome heart-rate discipline: 150 beats per minute maximum, in 65 minutes (with a typical "hard" effort in the low 60s).  That felt great.  The descent is typically 38 minutes.  I ran it aggressively, for one final quad seasoning.

My quads were extraordinarily sore for three days.  

"Oh, S##T."

*****
A trio of us rolled into Lyon Ridge in just under 1:40 (58:19/1:39:45 - avg HR 169).  I took two cups of fluid and a banana, and rolled out, only to forget gels.  I returned and grabbed two.  Hiking up the hill, enjoying my banana, I hear, "Joe!", followed by a "Shhh-sssh-shh" laughter - trademark BGD.  He was hiking beneath me, just leaving the AS.

"There he is!"

By the time I'd summitted The Cougar, he'd caught up.  It was good to see him, but I sensed that he must've worked hard to catch up.  We ran along and before long spied a new jersey ahead: Yassine.  We ran together as a trio along Lyon Ridge.  My stride felt solid and efficient, yet I felt the grade of each short climb along the ridge.  It was legitimately warm in the sun. At 7AM.

Before long, we had more company: a short fellow scooting up from behind.  The Legend!  Mike Morton.  He rolled in behind and joined the train and, as a group, we made the final climb up and over to the switches leading to Red Star Ridge.

We hit Red Star at least four or five strong (55:46/2:35:32 - HR 164).  That overwhelmed the aid station.  I'd tired of the half-apple juice, half-water sludge in my large hydration pack.  The sugar was good, but it was quite useless when: a.) the mixture warmed to luke-hot, b.) a half-chewed S!Cap exploded in my throat on Lyon Ridge, and c.) I tripped and fell on my hands, leaving them dirtied and bloodied.

I handed off the pack for a water fill as I went for a banana, gels and fluids.  Morton and Yassine were on their way out, yet my pack was still empty.  I helped the aid worker fill my pack with individual cups - the pitchers all commandeered for the other runners.

Another pack fail.

Finally, I was equipped and out the aid station, with Morton and Yassine.

No BGD.  I wouldn't see him again until the afternoon.

Yassine and I played leap-frog along the exposed, rocky singletrack of Red Star Ridge before he eased off the gas pedal.  Jeremy Humphrey lingered in the vacinity until the switchbacks into the Star Fire burn, then it was just me and Mike.

It was incredible to run with Mike.  I didn't plan on it, but it felt right: while he was faster on flats and slight ups, but I'd reel him in on downs, and on the steeper climbs - which he would ocassionally walk, stopping to take long, high pulls from his water bottle.  He even drank like a stud!

Rolling into Duncan Canyon, AS, on the heels of Morton.  Feeling strong.  Photo: Glenn Tachiyama.
And on it went that way: slinky train of Morton and me.  We neared Duncan Canyon; I was in good spirits, feeling good except for some irritating chafing beneath my left armpit, thanks to a shoddy makeshift singlet, I crafted from my Lake Sonoma 50 shirt.  The seam was digging in and I needed it out of there.  "Scissors, vaseline...scissors, vaseline!...", I repeated, aloud.

I cruised behind Morton down the switches into Duncan Canyon aid station, sizzling with excitement from a big crowd and bigger AS staff, teal shirts awash.  Jimmy and Matt were there to crew.  I handed off the pack and yelled, "Anyone have scissors?".  Of course they did!  A woman sprinted over to a bag, and within seconds snipped out the offending seam in my left axilla and dished out two dolyps of lube.

As I grapped a filled pack, and a jam-packed ice bandana, I reached under my shirt and ripped off my heart rate monitor: "This thing's useless", I told Matt.

It was, because I was completely ignoring it.

Off I went, again sneaking past Morton out the aid.  We continued on together, he passing me once again on the flats, while I adjusted the icy cold banana around my neck.  We had a good descent on a manicured trail to Duncan Canyon.  I chilled out behind Mike ("You want by? You want by?"  No way, dude.).  At the bottom of Duncan, a quick douse, then a run/hike up the other side.

It was getting warm, but the bandana was money.  I hiked when he hiked, and ran when he ran.  I felt a bit like Bug Boy, but I stayed back enough to allow Morton breathing room.  The stride felt pretty good on the exposed climb to the plateau leading to Little Duncan.  Mike turned back on a couple occasions he'd turn to yell, "Is this the right way??".  "Yes, we're good."

The final climb past Little Duncan is always a beast: no switches and, this year, with a sprinkle of heat.  Mike and I powerhiked the whole thing, me about 100 meters back.  Just before Little Rob Flat, Humphreys rolled up.  He passed by and went with Morton.  As I began to run on the plateau of Little Rob, I noticed something: cramping.  The right adductors, and a little bit of the medial quads. Hmmm...  I made some stride adjusts and that seemed to help.  I drank, I popped a gel. I snoosed another S!Cap.

I rolled into Robinson Flat (65:23/4:45:36) behind both Morton and Humphries.  I was hurting, but no worse than a year ago.  In fact, after a merciful icy-cold douse from Sara and a ice bandana recharge, I felt pretty damn good.  I weighed in, down four pounds from the morning; only two from yesterday.  The stomach was great, but I felt worn.  Typical Robinson.



Rolling into Rob Flat.  Hot already, heavy dousing.  Photos: Megan Uhan.

I rolled out of the aid station and inched my way up Little Bald, looking my best past Carey Williams.  I felt like garbage.  I shuffled and walked, struggling in my pocket for the hourly S!Cap.  Finally, the trail leveled out, and the sky opened up to the Middle Fork valley. It was a beautiful morning.

Yet, the negativity swirled: "I'm F####D. I'm cramping, I feel like hell, I'm alone."  But I beat it back: "Execute!  Efficiency!  Compact!  The Crouch!  Float!  Eat!  Drink!  Salt!  EXECUTE!"

And so it went: a light but respectible descent off the Bald and onto the dirt double track.  The flats felt OK, but as I rolled along, I began to feel more wiggles from the quads.

Cramping?  Really?  Why?

Just as I was about to feel more sorry for myself, up around the bend comes a trio of Morton, Humphreys, and Dave Mackey, running at me 

"We lost the trail!  There are no ribbons!  Which way do we go??"

"It's thisss wayyy!", I drolled, equal parts fatigue with annoyance, using my own forward momentum as the only directional.

"Are you sure??"

"Yyyyyesss...absolutely."

They took off again, Morton leading with Mackey and Humphreys in tow.  I thought, "Really, Dave? You've run this, like, eight times!"

To their defense, the road was completely devoid of confidence ribbon.  When we rolled into Miller's Defeat (42:40/5:28:17) as a trio, I notified the aid station captian that the ribbons were missing.  While there, I guzzled two cups of Sprite, gobbled a banana, and busted out ahead of Dave, who was hammering a Coke straight from the can.

Leaving the aid station, a funny thing began to happen: I started feeling OK.  The heart rate dropped.  The breathing deep and relaxed.  The heart rate slow and steady.

Then, I started feeling GOOD.

On the dirt road flat, I was on total form-focus: compact stride, hips straight up and down, strong elbows, trunk forward, gobbling up this free real-estate.  Morton was pulling head, but Dave, who'd passed me just past Miller's, was now fading back.

I rolled silently past Dave, hoping a lack of words would elicit a stronger impression of strength.  While my energy was great, I was not only still cramping, but it was worsening: both inner quads, and now the calves.  More form-focus: Compact, forward, up and down, elbows!  The stride felt money and the descent felt relaxed and strong on the steep downs toward Dusty.

I also adjusted my fueling: in the High Country, was I taking a half gel (50kcal) or two Clif bloks (70kcal) every :15, plus half-apple juice, plus a banana chunk at each AS.  This amounted to at least 250 calories per hour, close to 300.  This conservative variety - as well as a well-timed Zyrtek in the morning - kept the entire GI tract in perfect harmony, all day.  S!Caps were taken hourly, kept in cheek-and-gum, and sucked on progressively, rather than dumped whole in to my stomach - which previously caused nasty gut distress.

After Rob Flat, I switched to a full gel every twenty minutes, with the same aid station banana, also augmented by soda or Gu Brew.  Water was in the pack.

Nutrition was dialed:  I swear I could feel the Fat-Burning mode, which I worked so hard to hone this spring.  Energy was limitless, yet I felt like I was using none at all. 

The stride was dialed: I felt strong and smooth.

The heat was an after-thought: a non-issue.  I felt cool and comfortable.  

So why was I cramping?

I rolled down the Jeep road, passed the odd fan and photographer, the hallmark sign of an impending aid.  And there it was, Dusty Corners.  Ahead, Morton had just arrived.  I looked at my watch: 26:xx.  "Wow, awesome!"
Rolling into Dusty Corners AS, eyes on Morton, feeling phenomenal.  Photo: Glenn Tachiyama.

James and Matt were there: "The leaders aren't too far ahead.  Cam Clayton dropped out.  You're in the top ten!"

I felt absolutely phenomenal, and that news sent spirits soaring.  Roaring into the aid stations with fists ablazing, I high-fived Connor and LB, while I scurried about for fluid, food, a fresh pack, a bandana recharge, and this time, a hat with ice.  I was set!

Yet, the moment I stopped, my right calf almost seized up! What the F###?  I snagged an extra S!Cap and put it in my cheek, mounted up and was out in under 30:00 (28:50/5:57:08).

Everything felt on, as I rolled behind Morton.  In the High Country, I thought to myself, "This guy is my ticket to Top 5".  I fantasized about he and I, methodically rolling up the field until the river, until it was just me and him, battling it out.

But now, dumping down to Pucker Point trail, I was consumed with another battle: fighting off cramps.
*****
I wanted to win.  I thought I could win, I knew I could win.  Period.

And I couldn't give two s##ts whether you, this runner, that favorite, or anyone else believed it.  I don't care what you think, or what he, she, or this website says.

I wanted to win.  I was ready to win.

The Western States course is in my wheel-house.  It fits my strengths to a tee: a hybrid course, some rough trail, but not technical; some altitude, but mild and early; some heat, but not Badwater.  And, best of all, a whole ton of flat, fast running in the last 38 miles.

A year ago, with a stride befitting an octogenarian, I was ninth.  In the process, I ran the fifth fastest time from Foresthill to the finish.  My 16:13 ranked 23rd fastest in the 39-year history of the race.  And all this from running like Grandpa Joe, when he got out of bed for the first time in two decades.

This year, I was fit.  And fast.  Strong, and efficient.  Tempo runs that, a year ago, I was doing in 5:40s, I was now doing in low 5:20s.  Then five-teens.  On the track, I was running splits my watch hadn't seen since my mid-twenties.

On the trails, I was stronger.  At Camp, we were putting up splits that might make Timothy perspire in his North Face® quilted chambray night shirt: 1:48 from Last Chance to Michigan Bluff (after a 2:0x outbound warm-up), a 2:17 Cal Street at the end of Rob Flat to the River (which included a 4 minute stop at Cal 2 to mess with Matt Keyes' water bottle).  We were even cutting sub-3 minute kilometers at Placer High in between trail sessions. 



Matt Keyes' Cal 2 water bottle for Training Camp weekend.  You know it's a solid prank when it makes MonkeyBoy chuckle.  Photos: Me.

I was a different runner in 2013, physically, but also mentally.  I would no longer simply hope that I might place well, or quietly wish for success.  I was going to take what I wanted. 

I wanted to win.  I didn't care about how strong Tim is: that wouldn't stop me (nor would I suspect Tim would want that to stop me); I didn't care about Hal's experience, or Clarkie's toughness, or DBo's and Clayton's deadly speed and strength. 

I respected those guys, but I didn't care.

I wanted a ###ing Cougar.  Period.

And I told everyone with a sense of hearing about it.   That's what I got from spending time with Jim King during Camp in May.  His passion and desire was surpassed by none in Western States Lore.  He, like Scott Jurek, was unabashed about his desire to win, to be the best.  And it was that desire that fueled his running and racing.

Jim King and BGD at Carol's House in Michigan Bluff, Training Camp week. Photo: Me.

I was asked, "Don't you care about if you go for it, and come up short?"  I knew I had to do it my way: not "run with the leaders", pacing like a high-schooler in a district two-mile race.  I would run my own race, and Execute to Foresthill, Punish on Cal Street, and finally, Close.  So if I did just that, and fell short, what regrets - or shame - could I possibly have?

I got that from studying and talking to Tim Twietmeyer, also during camp.  He wasn't always the strongest or fastest guy, but seldom was anyone tougher, smarter, or cooler, than he.  And twenty-five times that got him to Auburn; fifteen an M10, and five times a Cougar.  

I was ready.

Now, suddenly, just as the race began to coalesce and align in my direction, one single element was threatening to unravel it all.  
*****
As I shuffled along the initial descents of Pucker, the quads and calves were tweaking wildly.  I was more concerned about the calves, as they were prone to near-violent contractions.  What the F### was going on?  My stride felt terrific, yet here I was.

Previous experience and significant study led me to believe that cramping was due to three primary factors: running too hard for too long, or running too inefficiently.  Or, running on compromised legs. Speed, food, water, and salt were only mitigating factors - they would improve the situation, but their effect was only finite.

So I slowed, and I was hyper-form-focused: strong, downward elbows, hips hinged, trunk forward.  But what I noticed was, each time I tried to trend forward, I felt the hydration pack - now burgeoning with water - pull me behind, rounding my spine backward.  Damn you!  

Another pack fail.  Epic.

I resolve to ditch the pack at Michigan Bluff and go with only bottles from there, but would I make it there without incident?
*****
I ran along Pucker, still making fairly good time, trunk forward as can be, elbows churning.  Morton's long-gone, and now Humphreys rolls up.  We exchanged status updates, but I said nothing about my cramping.  Before long, he asked to pass and I obliged.

I went to work on the stride; the Brain iPod, after several hours of J.T., shifted to a new tune: "Work! Work! Work!..." Execute! The cramps are stabilizing, perhaps improving slightly, as I pass Pucker Point (and several clever photogs).  The pace is still solid, and the energy, terrific.  The stride feels terrific.  The calf cramping...gone!  But the quads continue to quiver.  I pressed on to Last Chance.

By the time I descended to Last Chance, I was right behind Humphreys.  The downhill stride was sound and I entered in good spirts.  Weight steady at 154 - hydration was fine.  My friend from Eugene, podiatrist Dusty McCourt was there, so I schmoozed with he and the terrific aid station staff on hand.  More S!Caps, gels, and soda.  I felt strong, and focused.  I was determined to beat this.

I rolled quickly out of Last Chance, recovering my stride and making a push on Jeremy, who lingered at the aid.

The calf cramping was gone, but what about the quads?  I made pretty good time (10:xx) to Pacific Slab, feeling strong, but I knew the descent to Swinging Bridge would be challenging.  The quads protested even the most conservative pace; I did my best to avoid braking and keep the trunk forward.

Before long, I came upon a hiking Cam Clayton.

"There's plenty of time for a Silver Buckle!"
"Something popped in my ankle."
"OK, take care, dude."

I thought to myself about Scott Jurek rupturing an ankle ligament on this same descent back in 2001, after which he went on to win.  But I neither mentioned or dwelled upon that; I had my own problems.

The downside of Deadwood canyon heated up the closer I got; the quads objected, but the cramping was stabilizing.  I hit bottom in :25 - a respectable race-day split, and started across.  At the spring, I doused heavily: head, back, chest, up and down the legs.  I refilled my dousing bottle for the climb ahead and took off.

I powerhiked the bulk of the climb up to Devil's Thumb.  The quads were spastic, protesting each step.  I kept my trunk way forward and put hands-on-thighs, which helped.  I ran small chunks, if only to provide the knees and muscle stretching breaks.  It was warm, but tolerable.  I ran in the shade and hiked in the sun.  Simple stuff.  Energy was strong; I popped a full gel and ate a half-sleeve of Bloks.  An S!Cap dissolved, cheek-in-gum.  Execute!

I made the top of Devil's in a solid 32:xx and spent two minutes in the aid, shoring things up (24:31 + 33:49/7:38:55).  I weighed in at 155 - only a pound down.  Hydration was fine.  Fuel was fine; in fact, my energy was still strong, even atop Devil's.  I gave a cheery hello to Ellie and got a thorough douse everywhere, guzzled only one Coke - being acutely mindful of over-hydration - got another S!Cap, and took off, hoping to loosen out the quads.

I made it down the trail and up to the top of the clear-cut until my quads were in full revolt.  Stopped dead.  S##t.  Little stretch, crouch, flex.  Cold water on the quads.  Walking made things worse.  I ran, high-knees.

This stretch of trail is absolutely money.  Rolling sub-40 is effortless, so long as you can gobble these flats and gentle downs to Deadwood Cemetery and the start of the real canyon descent.  I shuffled along, passing the odd spectator, until I came upon Luis, his son, and another man.

I was in big trouble.  I was only hoping I could make it past them and out of sight before the quads completely seized.

I did not.  
*****
 "Take some salt!"

To respond, I had to spit out the two, now-empty, S!Cap carcasses from my mouth.  What I really wanted was for Luis to remove the Taser probes from my medial quads.  They seized, ceaselessly. But I had to keep going.  Standing, walking, or stretching did nothing.  I had to move.

So I got my shit together, and got down the trail. Craig and Andy's voices filled my head, "Solve your problems!"  But how?

I would not hammer S!Caps: my stomach was phenomenal; my previous experience with over-salting was so dire and miserable, I would have nothing of it to hammer ten, five or even three additional salt tabs.  I would not hammer water: my weight was not down, and I was not thirsty.  I would not over-hydrate and risk the hyponatremic trifecta: nausea, swelling and even greater muscle damage.  My fueling was fine, but I pumped more calories.  I continued on.

I refused to let negativity seep in. "How can I fix this?"  I became hyper-form focused, again: "OK, so I need to get into a big-time crouch, hip hinge down, and then the shock will shift to the mid-thigh and glut!"  So that's what I did.

And it actually worked.

I stumbled and crouched my way down to El Dorado.  The stride and the pace weren't pretty, but I was doing it.  I began to muse, excitedly: "How epic would this be?  'Uhan battles cramps for 65 miles to triumph at Western States!'"

I was all-in.  I crouched and hinged, and elbow-pumped down the trail - using every ounce of personal and professional experience to get there.  Finally, I hit El Dorado: gels, soda, hat ice, douse.  It was hot down there, but not as epic as I thought.

Despite the spasticity, and the walking and tree-hugging breaks, no one had passed me.  But Humphreys entered the AS as I left (47:55/8:26:50).  I powerhiked once again, eating and drinking and dousing.

The quads protested with extreme prejudice, but I hiked along - stretching and lifting, dousing them, cajoling with all my spirit.  I hiked to the top switch, and ran as I did Devil's: shuffle the shade, hike the sun.  So I plugged along.

I thought about Michigan Bluff AS: "If I could get there and do something, it's flat running for a while...".  I decided I'd stop at MB and ice and stretch my quads.

Then, I remembered the scene from "Race for the Soul", where runners were getting massage work at the Michigan Bluff.  I recalled a recent Tim Noakes podcast, where he surmised that some cramping might be due to adhesions in the muscle and fascia.  That's it!  I'll get a few minutes of massage!  

I powerhiked into the hot, exposed north side of El Dorado, passing a few specators, including Bret and Gale Henry, RDs of my first-ever ultramarathon, the Autumn Leaves 50/50 - who gave great encouragement.  Behind me, Humphreys was closing.  I didn't care.  Fix your problems.

Climbing up to MB. Photo: Matt Uhan.
The trail opened to dirt road: the top.  I staggered into a shuffle and rolled along, up the gentle climb past the houses.  My cousin Matt was ahead, boisterous cheers as usual.

"Take my pack! I gotta get work done!"  I wanted to be done with that pack so badly I couldn't stand to be near it anymore.

He grabbed the pack and took off ahead, only to drop something out his back pocket.  I watched it bounce violently on the pavement. 

Hey.

That's my phone!

"Hey Matt, you dropped my phone!", I yelled.  He stopped in his tracks, 180'd, and picked it up.  How I knew that was my phone, why I would think he'd have my phone, I have no idea.  But the absurdity of noticing him dropping my smartphone on the pavement above the Bluff  at that moment was not lost on me.  I chuckled, even as I staggered down the hill to the AS.

Michigan Bluff.  Home.  Past Carol's house and around the bend, I quickly weighed in.  Two down, right on. Ignoring my crew, I yelled, "I need massage therapy!"  I hope I said, please - I probably didn't.  Two ladies scurried front and center, and took me to a soft table.

It was two familiar faces!  Kelly Lange, esteemed chiropractor from Ashland, and Tonya Olson - physical therapist, and DustBall's sister.  Both terrific practitioners, members of The Ultra Community, and friends.  I was in good hands.

"My quads won't stop cramping, I need a few minutes of massage on each one!", I barked.  They wasted no time, each taking one quad at the same time.

My quad were cramping, yet, even in tetany, they weren't that painful.  Until then.

That massage. Hurt. Like. A. Mother#####r.

Dear Lord!  Tonya went straight into deep tissue cross-friction, while Kelly busted out the Graston tool - a sharp metal blade!  I screamed like a newborn, intermittently barking for bananas and soda while I laid supine, with knees bent off the table.
Tonya and Kelly hard at work on my quads at Michigan Bluff AS.  Photo: Megan Uhan.

I had even split my watch, determined not to sit there, forever.  The minutes - and the pain - accumulated.  The ladies did great work and I felt like they were nailing the tight spots.

Flipping to prone, I had them stretch my heels toward my butt.  They flexed about halfway.  Brutal.  On and off pumps.

It felt better.  nearly ten minutes had passed.  The clock was ticking.  I had to move.  Not simply to compete, but to avoid a total-body shut-down.  The longer I stopped, the harder it would be to re-start. 

I hobbled off the table.  Tyler Curley, my Green Gate pacer, handed me a second bottle.  "I'm done with packs.".  I hobbled down the road, toward Gorman Ranch, and out the aid station.  Tyler said something awesome, but it escaped me.  The day was escaping me.

I shuffled along Gorman. The quads, had stopped cramping, but were destroyed.  ObliteratedUseless.  I managed to run through the gait filming station, but was reduced to a slow walk down the hill.  I tried to run but nearly fell down.  I walked some more, but even that was excruciating on the descent.

I made it nearly to Tonto's grave.  Craig and Andy's voices disappeared.  Tim Noakes' appeared in its stead:
"...If you are running badly on the day, why continue to struggle to the finish?

The reason elite runners should quit when they are running poorly is simply that they are probably under-performing as a result of muscle damage. This usually indicates that these runners have been over-training or have raced too frequently before the race, or have not recovered fully from a previous race. Thus, their best option would be to stop running and to commence a period of rest. Continuing to run simply compounds the problem by prolonging recovery, seriously affecting future chances of racing well again.

I now firmly believe that this type of muscle damage caused by racing the longer distances, which is characterized by pain during exercise and by prolonged post-exercise muscle soreness, is cumulative and may have long-term consequences.  If this is indeed true, it makes no sense to incur that muscle damage for no good reason, other than finishing a marathon or longer race in a disappointingly slow time..."

I was done.  My day was over.

I stopped.  I turned around, and I walked uphill.  But I stopped again, and tried to run/walk again.  No way.  I turned and walked again.  I stopped again.  I knelt and stretch.

Done.

I walked slowly back to Michigan Bluff.  Only when I was within sight of pavement, did I finally see the next runner: Paul Terranova.  He looked strong.  I smiled weakly, gave him a thumb's up, and said, "You're M10."

I re-entered Michigan Bluff, met with silent, disappointed looks from spectators: Dead Man Walking.  I re-entered the aid station and watched in slow-motion as the scissors snipped through my wristband.  

*****
The ensuing time was spent at the AS, borrowing a phone to call my family and crew that was stationed in Foresthill.  I sat and waited for BGD to come in, then went with his crew and family back to Foresthill.

The most difficult moment of the day was seeing my crew: I had let them down.  They'd traveled so far and sacrificed greatly for that day, and it was now over. 

The phenomenal OOJ crew, waiting for me in Foresthill.  Photo: Meredith Stevens/unknown.
After some time resting at our crew camp, I watched as BGD rolled through Foresthill.  Our eyes locked for the first time since morning.  No words, just a look.  Get it done.  He looked strong, and he looked to still be in M10 form.

His brain was on board, but his legs were not.  His muscles ailed, the same as mine, for the same reasons.  He made it to Cal 2 before they would run no farther.  Still, he walked another fifteen miles before ending his day, well into Sunday.
*****
For months, I had a clear vision of how this Day would go, and vivid images of the finish, and the awards, and Placer High School: rounding the track triumphantly, cheering specators, hugging LB, congratulating him on his first big race, even bounding up the bleachers to the press box for some love from Tropical John.

This revised reality was painful and irritating.  Rude awakening.

I stood there, in lane two, on the half-lap mark, and watched as Timothy entered the stadium.  I was alone.  He ran at me.  I put out my hand, and we high-fived.  Maybe he'll think I actually won and was already changed..., I mused to myself.
  
Timothy's homestretch, T-$ in tow.  Photo: Glenn Tachiyama.

Tim was the champion, again.  He was only two questions into his post-race interview when he was interrupted by a charging Rob Krar, only five minutes behind, having run an extraordinary debut and a crushing last twenty miles.  Not long after, Mike Morton, my ticket to the podium, entered.

I watched and listened, then I left.
*****
The following morning, I returned.  I needed to see people accomplish that which I could not.  I watched as the final three official finishers - then two, super-30 hour unofficial finishers - rounded the track in the searing late-morning heat.  Two sunrises.  Epic.

I spent the rest of the morning, into the afternoon, at the track.

A couple people told me, "It's really good for you to be here." Actually, it was gloriously awful to be there: the reality of the day so sharply contrasting my vision, my dream.  But I was there for two reasons:  first, because I wanted to absorb it all: every bite of humble pie, every moment of buckle-less shame, every second of being an outsider, looking in.  I grabbed every moment and tucked it away, saving it for future use.  Never forget.

But second, and most importantly: this is my family!  Western States is extraordinary, not for the race, or the trail, or the effort, but the people.  And these people are my family.  It doesn't matter if I had a stupid, shitty, embarassing day.  There were people - hundreds of them, runners, pacers, crew, volunteers - who had amazing days.  And it was incredibly awesome and important to celebrate them.

Big-time fan moment!  Bruce LeBelle gets his 1000-mile/Ten Year buckle, thanks to his crew - Three-time WS Champion, Bjorg Austrheim-Smith!
Funniest moment of the day was Tim Twietmeyer's "notes" on Bruce's "1981-vintage" Bill Rodgers shirt. 
You're there for family, no matter how good or bad your day went. No question.

And then, it was just over. 
*****
In "Deep Survival", the seminal work on the physiology and psychology of survival situations, author Laurence Gonzales introduces the concept of "bending the map": of being in a place and time where clear information is in front of you, but it is not what you expect, or what you want to see.    Rather than accept reality of the situation, the person denies and rationalizes: the lost hiker examines the horizon, an unexpected view, and exclaims, "That rock shouldn't be there...".  They continue onward, hoping the scene will change, and fit their vision.  They bend the map.

I wasn't supposed to over-train at camp.  "I ran the same camp as last year".  Except I didn't.  After the severe quad thrashing on a normal up/down run, "That's just because I ran it fast, and I haven't run vert in a while."  Except it wasn't.

The heart-rate in the high-country was excessively high.  "That can't be right - the heart rate monitor isn't working".  Except it was.

Sometimes bending the map works.  But only because you get lucky - you find your way out of it.  The most successful survivors are those who can most quickly accept the reality at hand and adjust accordingly.  And the runners that survived and thrived in the 2013 Western States did just that.
*****
That said, onto the Post-Mortem Q&A:

Q: "Did you go out too hard?"
A:  No, I don't think so.  Even with the elevated heart rate, the effort felt even and sustainable.  I attribute the high heart rate more to over-training effect than the pace and effort at the time.  My split into Robinson Flat (4:45) was relatively conservative, slower than 2012, and left me feeling on par - if not slight better - than when I arrived there in 2012.

Q: "So, the heat made your quads cramp, right?"
A:  I disagree.  Heat does not cause cramping, directly.  What heat does, is decrease the effort level at which muscles become taxed.  Since the body must shunt blood from from working muscles to the skin to cool, there is less flow to the exercising muscles.  Therefore, neuromuscular fatigue - the only accepted cause of exertional muscle cramping - occurs at slower speeds, and earlier, than in ambient conditions.  

I believe my quads (and calves) cramped, and cramped early, because they were over-trained.

Another contributing factor was biomechanical: the use of a hydration pack altered my mechanics by rounding my back and causing me to "sit back" in my stride.  I felt this, acutely, on Pucker Point, as I desperately attempted to correct my stride.

But overall, my energy was phenomenal.  I had one low point: Robinson to Miller's Defeat, and after that, I felt incredible.  Even at the height of the cramping - Last Chance to El Dorado - my energy was terrific and (until the Cemetary), my pace and splits were very good

I really felt like the heat was a non-factor, due to effective cooling and pacing.  I might change my tune, had I made it to Cal Street and beyond.

Ultimately, a hallmark sign of over-training is the catastrophic failure of one system, while other systems (brain, energy, stomach, mood) are perfectly fine.  This contrasts with simple fatigue, malaise, or misery, in which all systems suffer with relatively equality.

Everything felt phenomenal, except my medial quads.  That reality is as astonishing as it is simple.

Q: "What about water and salt, doesn't that stop cramping?"
A:  There is is no consistent evidence that demonstrates a relieving effect of cramping from salt and/or water.  Because the only known cause of cramping is neuromuscular fatigue, only those things that might alter that fatigue - changing effort or changing mechanics - have proven to be relieving.

Anyone who has published evidence to the contrary can e-mail it to me at joseph-dot-m-dot-uhan at gmail dot com.

Moreover, I was perfectly on top of hydration, fueling and salt intake all day.

Q: "So why did you take salt at all?"
A: Good question.  Studies have shown a temporary relieving effect from salty foods (e.g. the pickle juice study, noted in Noakes' Waterlogged).  What Noakes (and I) believe is that when the brain become aware that salt (and likely sugar, fat, and water) are on board, it will "settle down" and decrease the cramping response.

Whatever "tastes good", the brain will like.  That is why I always "ate" my S!Caps.  When they no longer tasted good, I waited to take another.


Q: "What else do you think you could've done to fix yourself?"
A:  In retrospect, the only other thing I could've done was to soak.  Talking to MonkeyBoy after the race, he noted that he took two prolonged river soaks during his phenomenal M11 performance: at Swinging Bridge and in Volcano Canyon.  His words: "I sat there until my heart rate got under 100".  I believe that period varied between a few and ten minutes each occasion.

If I could race it over again, I would soak in the Middle Fork below Swinging Bridge.  In retrospect, I could've sat in there for an hour and - had it worked - still run top ten. 

But I don't think it would have worked completely.  You can't fix dead legs.

Q: "Did you drop-out because you knew you couldn't win, or M10?"
A:  NO.  I dropped out because I knew, without a doubt, that I could no longer physically runPeriod.  It wasn't my stomach, it wasn't my head, it wasn't energy, it wasn't a pity-party.  I was lucid, focused, controlled, and (with the exception of a ten minute period on Little Bald) had a positive, determined frame of mind all day. 

This is what was so goddamned frustrating: I felt phenomenal almost the entire day, and most notably in the twenty miles when the cramps ensued.  The effort felt so easy, so sustainable, so effortless.  I was having no problem keeping up with Morton, having run with him effortlessly for twenty five miles.  And he went on to do exactly what I thought he (and we) would do: grind his way through to the podium.

As I hobbled, walking downhill toward Volcano, I thought to myself: "I'm 35 years old.  I want to run more of these".

I already own two silver buckles.  And as sacred and special it is to run Western States, and important as it is to cherish the privileged opportunity, the bravery and commitment to finishing would not trump the scientific and medical reality of what finishing would've done to my body.

That was the reality of that moment in time, and my decision might be different in the future, under different circumstances.
*****
Ultimately, the biggest mistakes were made, not on race day, but in the days and weeks before.  Decisions were made in that lead up that were both positive - making Jake and I poised for a breakthrough day - and negative, leading to the ultimate result.  The challenge will be, in the coming days, weeks, and months, to sift through those elements, keeping the good things and disposing of the bad. 

It's all very academic, and - like the bulk of that day - devoid of strong emotion, duress, misery, or tragedy.  Shit happened.  It sucked.

But, like all things ultra, and all things Western States, it was epic.  I had a blast. 

Some quick-hit highlights:
  • Spending a week with BGD in South Tahoe: running, doing drills, eating, sitting in the Sauna, jamming to Eminem and ASAP Rocky, and playing "Mike Tyson's Punchout":
Race week prep - jogging around South Tahoe.

  • Staying at the Injinji House in Squaw Valley with BGD, my and Timothy's crew guys, and like likes of Dom Grossman - and getting pumped up with viewings of "Runaway Train".
  •  Pre-race introductions at Squaw.  This, in itself, was one of my career goals achieved: to be recognized, and included, among the best in the race.  An honor.  

White and Dark Chocolate, gazing longingly into each other's eyes.  Pre-Race Introductions at Squaw. 
Mike Morton: the consummate bad-ass with the black t-shirt that says, "KILL".  Pink shirt?  Not so much. 
Photo: Jacques Dehnbostel.
  • The start, and the first hundred meters through the lodge area.  A nice addition.  What wasn't so nice: hiking straight uphill on the compensatory "shortcut".  Thanks, Twiet!
  •  Running the High Country with Yassine and BGD.
  •  Running for a big chunk of time with Mike Morton, twenty-five miles, from before Red Star until Pucker Point.  Smart guy, tough guy.  Hell of a day.
  •  Feeling awesome between Miller's Defeat and the top of Devil's Thumb.
  •  Solving problems, or at least trying.
  •  Terrific support from all aid stations, but especially at Michigan Bluff AS
  •  Post-race: watching Tim, Rob and Mike come in.  
  •  Awards the next day, celebrating terrific achievements, especially from Jesse Haynes (M7), Paul Terranova (M8), Yassine Diboun (M9), Karl Metlzer (M10), Scott Wolfe (M11), and AJW (M14).  Bruce LaBelle's 10-year buckle.  And on the women's side, Pam's amazing rebound to F1 and the rest of the Oregon-laden top-ten (Amy, Megan, and Denise!).
  • Hanging out post-race at the Pool House with my family and friends.
I'll be back.  To race?  I hope so.  But so long as there is a Western States, I'll be involved.

It's family.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bridge Burning - 2013 Lake Sonoma 50


These are my famous last WORRRDS!!
My number's up, bridges will – BURRRN!

The days and weeks leading up to Lake Sonoma 50 – the preeminent 50-mile trail race in the country – if not the world – in 2013 – were filled with personal frustration. One one hand, I felt like I've put in a lot of work to get fit, yet I had nearly nothing to show for it, other than a lackluster, less-than-ordinary road marathon at Napa Valley in March. The last ultra I raced, The North Face-San Fransisco - was a f##ing disaster – the product of stress, fatigue, and - most of all – audacious, delusional belief that I had the talent and fitness to hang with the fastest ultra runners on the globe.

The ensuing weeks and months were spent pursuing a two-fold mission: to recapture the fitness necessary to compete at a high level, and to rediscover an efficient, fast stride – something that, honestly, has eluded me in my two years of ultra running (and, arguably, the 4+ years prior to that). The driving question was, “If I could run 16:13 at Western States with s##ty mechanics, what could I do with a good stride?” The answer to that question has been the singular motivation for solo track sessions, running nearly-all out 200s- and 400s, and long, hard tempo runs, searching for that old stride. 

Both missions sowed painstakingly results; two steps forward, one back – as if I was peeling layers of an infinite onion, inching forward so slowly that it was difficult to gauge any progress, at all. Confidence was tenuous, at best. I began to question, yet again, whether I had any business to including myself among the best in the sport.

Or was that yet another embarrassing delusion?   

That said, I had no delusional goals for Sonoma '13. No pipe dreams of a “podium” finish amongst a bonafide elite field of Olympic Trials qualifiers, and at least three dozen other men who could rightfully claim a place in the top ten. I wanted to do well, but I knew I had to do it on my terms. And I knew that, no matter what, I needed this race to be a stepping stone upward toward my preparation for Western States.

My goals for Sonoma, therefore, were simple, yet well-defined:
  1. Run a measured first half – one that was conservative, yet faster than 2012 – and then push as hard as I could in the second half, to simulate the last 20-25 miles at Western States.
  2. Try some new training and racing techniques: namely dietary changes and on-the-run music.
  3. Maintain efficient stride mechanics to allow fast running in the second half, and avoid any mid- or post-race injury.
I thought that, if all went to plan, I could run in the 6:30s to 6:40 – an improvement of >20 minutes from 2012. That was it. Beyond that, I didn't care where I placed. I could only control what I did. But I knew that if I executed, I would most likely place Top Ten in this highly competitive field.
 
Race Day
BGD and I made our way to the Lake Sonoma Marina/Start Line.  No poppy tunes this morning, just some chill Lonesome Randall - my Wednesday night live music and beer staple back in Eugene.

BGD "mounts up!", pre-race.  Photo: Me.
In the pre-dawn darkness, we checked in, then did a light jog warm-up and potty break, some drills and active stretching, then mounted up.  Talent was swarming around, like a nest of happy hornets, ready to burst!  And then we did...

The Pearl Izumi Contingent - Nick Clark (L), myself - vibrational with pre-race energy - and Ryan Burch - at the start.  Clarkie's praying the Gods of Skinny Little Brits that there's beer left at the finish when he arrives.  Photo: Gary Wang.
Start

Down the hill we went, led once again by Jady.  Whereas he actually led through four miles in 2012, he was sucked back to the chase pack within a half mile, while a lead group including Max King, Cam Clayton, Chris Vargo and Miguel Heras pulled quickly out front.  A big ol' swarm of us were in reserve, including several of my favorite people: Clarkie, Yassine, Diamond Dave, "Dark Chocolate", and many others.

The road section was, once again, a great opportunity - not only to let the field disperse, but to get some form efficiency:  I was hyper-focused on efficiency with hips, trunk and pelvis; the major emphasis on using the arms and pelvis for climbing.

Another key focus was using my butt!  Too often, I've thought of running "tall" - but that robs the hips of power if one is too upright.  My track workout with Sam Chelanga - running sustainable 65-67s quarter-miles -  just three days prior was as awesome as it was random: an excellent reminder on hip engagement for speed, power and efficiency! 

That said, I had an entertaining mantra to remind me of good forward trunk engagement and glut use - for both the ups and downhills:


Pearl Izumi's yet-to-be-unveiled uni's for the 2013 Western States
Up and down, and around we went along Skaggs Springs Road...along with Skaggs, who, with Jimothy, vascillated between the leaders and the chasers.  Then, as is his style, up comes HK out of the back end to stick his nose in things.  I hung back with Dave, cutting tangents trying to keep the pace controlled.  I felt like I was working on the ups, but within reason.

We rolled onto the trail and down the switches.  I felt clunky on the descents - perhaps not yet warm, awake, or a little low on energy.  Down, then up, then down.  The pack gradually strung out at an aggressive pace.  GPS watches announced the fourth mile all around me - beneath 28 minutes.  Moments later we hit the first AS at Island View (mile 4.3) at 29:49, a full two minutes faster than the entire field ran a year ago...but just under my desired split of  30:00.

I was working on the ups, but unwilling to work much harder.  Ricky Gates and Galen Burrell, among a few others, snuck past me.  Behind me was a dwindling group, including BGD and Gary Gellin's crack-addicted GPS watch, which seemingly never stopped flourishing!  But before long the packs had dispersed and things quieted down.  

I ran along alone for a while, happy to be away from the hyper-beeping watches.  Up and down and around: controlled, but efforted ascents, and relaxed descents.  I hung with Galen before he pulled away; I reeled in Brian Tinder and ran with him for a while before scooting past him.  Then I was alone.

That's how it went for nearly an hour!  Peaceful singletrack.  Focused efficiency.  Gels on the :25.  An S!Cap every hour or so.  Tunes bopping in the "Brain iPod", including this number, which I used to hone in on my "moves".

I approached the rolling Jeep road preceding Warm Springs, and caught sight of Hal. Crossing the shallow river before the AS, I got an update from BP: everyone was under the CR, and the leaders were only 5 minutes up.  "Good news!"  I was worried they'd be 10+ minutes up already.

I was in and out of the Warm Springs AS (11.6) in 1:24:26 overall, with a 54:55 split, including aid time - just a tad slow, right at 7:00 pace. Up the climb, I went.  Hal was a few switched ahead of me; I took my time and let my natural pace - with heavy emphasis on arms, trunk and pelvis power - to gradually reel him in.  We met up with each other about 20:00 past the aid.  His ankle was bothering him - a casualty of a tweak a couple weeks back.  I gave him a couple quick pointers, but made my way past him.

I ran on, focuing on an even, strong but sustainable effort, knowing that my focus was on pushing the second half.  Yet, I was determined to keep the pace honest and remain "in the hunt" for a top ten spot.  I figured myself to be in about 15th place.  Running along the rolling ups and downs, the stride felt effortless.  It hit me:  "Wow, I'm completely aerobic right now!".  It was an incredible feeling to be running that fast, yet be completely comfortable.

Wulfow AS (16.9) came up quickly.  A year ago, I'd split 46-flat on this segment, including a quick potty stop.  This year: 42:00.  In retrospect, that was a mere 7:5x/mile pace, but with a significant amount of climbing.  Hal was still hanging in back, and I commented about how much quicker we were than a year ago: "We're on sub 3:10 pace for the half!".

I was surpised, a mere 14-minutes later, to come up on the Madrone AS (18.8 miles).  A year ago, the aid was located at the very top of a long gravel road climb.  This year, the bottom.  Ugh.  I refilled on water and took my second pull of soda.

At Warm Springs, I took the time to pour some soda into my bottle, pound it, then get water.  But I noticed that, while they had no cups, they had cans!  Problem solved!  Jokingly, I approached the aid station, grabbed a can like it was Catholic Mass and said,

"Blood of Christ!"
[Pounds Coke straight from can, no lips]
"Amen!"

I got no laughs.  I'm sure they were confused.

Grabbing some gels and a filled bottled, I scooted out the aid and started the shuffle up the hill.

That gravel road climb is tough; it's even tougher with a full stomach of soda.  But I shuffled my way up, walking only perhaps twenty steps before finally cresting up and over the other side.  For the first time all day, I felt gassed.  I made my feet work to descend as quickly as possible, along the dried mud that - a year ago - we skated through.  Down and down, then down some more, each step with a mental tenativeness, knowing I'd have to climb this all again in only a handful of minutes.

I saw no one on the descent, and began the long climb to No Name Flat and the turnaround.  I pushed it just a bit more, slightly edgy about just how far behind I'd be.  I remember being scarcely on the ridge before seeing Dakota zoom past us a year ago.  I wanted to avoid that as much as possible.

Running nearly the entire climb, elbows pumping, I worked the stride to recovery over the hill and keep the feet moving.  I got perhaps a quarter-mile farther before seeing a red, then while jersey coming at me: Max, with Cameron not far behind. I wished them well and pushed along, just a bit harder, hopefully I wouldn't see anyone else.

I hit the needle's eye and picked it up slightly, having recovered from the big climbs.  There I caught sight of Greg Vollet, who wasn't moving well.  Without words, he waved me past on the tight singletrack before the turn into No Name Flat AS.  As I descended through the brush toward the aid, I ran past both Jimothy and Skaggs!  Woah!  A burst of excitement.

I burst into the aid station (3:10 in, left at 3:11/50:35 split) and, right on cue, there was Sara, ready to go with a fresh bottle, a fresh mini-belt of gels, and my mp3 player.  I looked to my right to see Clarkie at the aid station, but he left while I was messing with my Yurbuds, tucking them under my jersey and fastening the player to my shorts.  She asked about Jake; I didn't know if he was struggling, so I passed along some form cues to her ("Tell him to keep his chest forward!").  I then downed a good half-can of Coke (without religious exhortation), grabbed the bottle, hit "play" on the iPod and took off.  The last thing I heard out of the aid was, "I think you're in 14th!" from Sara.

Dave Groehl's scream into my ear bolted me out the aid station.  For the first time, I was racing with music.  I chose an opening song, the Foo Fighter's Bridges Burning, but otherwise intended to shuffle through a playlist I handcrafted in the days preceding.  I ran along, only one earbud in, powering up the trail and back onto the main drag.  I came across The Chief, Tropical John, had a brief exchange about a favor I owe him, then shot past toward a green Pearl Izumi jersey up ahead.

The Foo ended.  Then repeated.  The same song.  I fumbled for the track forward.  Same song.  "F!".  I slowed to about infinity jog pace as I fumbled for the player, took it out of the sleeve, and adjusted the settings for "repeat all" instead of "repeat track", then continued on.  By then, Clarkie was out of sight as I began the long, rolling descent.

The downstretch flew by, as the tunes "Raged": with a variety of mostly rock, metal, but with sprinklings of rap and pop; a veritable "E-Cap" of musical nutrients.  Shuffling ensured that variety stay consistent.  And it was sensational!  

I made a speedy if not clunky descent down the gravel, past throngs of climbing runners to the lake bottom.  It was there that I reeled in Nick.  I rolled behind him for a bit, before politely asking to step past.  He obliged and wished me well.

I wish I could say I felt amazing and powered along.  My energy and affect were great, but, almost 30 miles in, my legs felt gassed.  I did my best to push the climbs, but the fatigue of the day, the developing heat, and the wear of thousands of feet of downhills accumulated.  I didn't make the time I was hoping for, but I plugged along the return climb, passing hundreds of oncoming runners - mostly without issue.  While I felt haggard, I was keeping Nick at bay, so I felt like I was running respectably.

Clarkie and me run past Gary on our way back from No Name.  Photo: Gary Wang.
Just before the final wooded singletrack climb, I got another gift: Jimothy!  He appeared to be moving well at the time, but his presence here at this point in the race signaled that something was up.  As I crested the final climb and saw The Boss Man, he confirmed that both Jimothy and Skaggs were just head.

"Go get 'em!"  
"Will do!"

Surprisingly, the steep descent to Madrone 2 AS went better than the turnaround.  I made quick work and  before long rolled past Skaggs, who was obviously struggling with some foot pains.  He wished me well and I rolled into Madrone 2 (43:00, 3:54:07) while Tim was still restocking.  More water, a Coke and Sprite pounder, and some gels and I took off just moments after he. 

Now, don't get me wrong: I frequently fantasize about passing Tim in the late stages of a race; in fact, it was a frequent one going into Sonoma.  But it was definitely weird - and a bit of a bummer - to pass him, knowing that  he was hurting.  Above the din of my tunes, he related that, while his ankle was feeling good, his left knee "was F'd".  With Zach de la Rocha's urging, I kindly asked past Tim and pushed my way down the trail.

Fueled by the momentum of passing two of Ashland's (and America's) finest trail talents, and tweaking on high fructose corn syrup, I made quick and powerful time to Wulfow 2.  The flats felt exceptional!  The music was bumpin', the hard metal balanced by the coolness of JT.  The arms and hips were working great and the effort felt minimal.  In nearly the same split as outbound, I hit Wulfow 2 (15:11, 4:09:18), stopping just long enough to get some water on the head.

Rolling along the $$ singletrack around Wulfow AS.  Photo Keli Kelleman.
 In retrospect, that might've been the first mistake of the day: no water fill.  Things felt great until about midway, when I began to feel worn.  I downed a gel, plugged some water; I bit on an S!Cap.  Things improved, but my water was now out.  Yet I pushed along.

About 4K from the aid I spied another runner: it was Ricky, moving slowly up the tight singletrack climbs that marked the highpoint of the trail before descending down to creek level.  It was another quick go-around before I was on my way.

Wulfow to Warm Springs inbound is always longer than one remembers.  I always forget about the "Spooky Forest" section of road and double track that precedes the final plunge to the creek.  Thankfully, I had some Eminem to power me through, my mind distracted somewhat by his negative commentary about his wife and mother.

Finally, the track broke out of the trees and to the final switchbacks to the AS.  There was a nice pack of cheery spectators present, but all I heard in my head was the voice of Hoyt Axton"By the time he'd reached the Aid Station, he was BADLY DEPLETED!"  I pounded Coke, then some water, then more Coke, then a full bottle.  Bit another S!Cap and was on my way. 

It was go-time, but I was gassed.  Even worse, before the aid station, I began to cramp: both medial thighs started to blip in the miles before Warm Springs.  As I climbed out of the water and up the Jeep road toward the lake, I was barely moving, and the cramping returned.  And spread.  Ugh.

We know salt doesn't stop cramps.  It doesn't.  Read The Book; do your own lit review. But what we - as a collective - know as ultra runners is that adequate water, calories and salt - through some unknown mechanism - will mitigate their severity.  I plugged another S!Cap, but knew it wasn't going to solve it.  Only mechanical excellence will get me through it. 

I shuffled along at time, and other times even walked, as the quads began to tighten up.  But miraculously, I saw another runner up ahead in a black singlet.  That motivated me. "Other people must be hurting, too!"

The climbs were brutal for cramping, but I made do with heavy arm swing and using the gluts.  I kept black singlet in sight and - over the course of maybe 5K - reeled him in as we reached the high ridgeline above the lake, marking the halfway point of this long, 7+mile segment.  The cramping abated somewhat, as the ups were brief and the straights were longer and frequent.  I made good time.

I finally reeled in Black Singlet - who turned out to be Ryan Ghelfi, the young stud from Ashland.  More "Rage" fueled me around him and up a short climb ("Didn't have to blast him, but I did, anyway!...").  I did my best to make quick work to put him behind, working the uphills hard, even though the quads were only a few ATP ahead of a full-on seizure.  But ups cede to copious downs - the beauty of Sonoma - and I gobbled them up with big, fast strides.

By the time I passed Ghelfi, my water was cashed.  Ugh.  And it was getting hot.  A look at my watch confirmed that I was a good twenty minutes from the aid.  Moments later, a creek crossing appeared.  Without hesitation, I uncapped and filled the bottle.  It was clear, at least.  I powered on.  Looking back, Ryan was dunking his head.  I powered up the short climb and continued on.

I pushed and pushed, balancing a fast effort with cramp prevention - namely keeping the stride as compact as possible, keeping forward trunk momentum and pumping the arms like crazy.  "The arms won't cramp; neither will the gluts!"  I kept glancing at my watch: it crept closer to an hour split.  Ugh!  A year ago, I'd split <64, yet the aid turnoff hadn't yet appeared.  I rolled along.

Finally, a man stood in the trail, directing me left down to Island View Camp.  And just then - as it happened a year ago - I came across a runner just getting back on.  It was Dave.  I said hello and made quick work downhill toward the Camp near the water's edge.  Along the way, I passed two more guys: a shirtless runner in black shorts, then Galen Burrell, who wasn't more than a minute or two out the aid when we crossed.

Quick water, cold Coke (amazing!), and two gels and I was out, hard.  The Coke was great, but did nothing for the cramps, which now threatened the integrity of the calves.  I powered on, knowing there was at least three guys for the taking.

The last 4.5 to the finish is tough: I recall hiking sections of it in '12, after not walking at all the the preceding miles.  But I also remember some good flat stretches.  I gritted down and hoped for the best, powering out the aid station and doing all I could to gobble the aggressive Jeep trail downs that led us back homeward.  No signs of anyone, but I pushed when I could and cramp-managed the best I could - which, regrettably, included several brief spurts of hiking.

I made up for it with hard, aggressive, fast flat running.  My legs might've been haywire, but my energy and desire were strong.  The stride felt powerful!  Before long, I saw the white jersey and hat of Galen, just as "Faint" blasted into my brain to power me past.  That song promped a brief flashback to Sectionals '04 - and some great motivation from those tough-running cross country guys - as I powered along the singletrack that gradually opened up to more and more sunshine and open air -signaling the final kilos of the race.

Just as the trees gave way to shrubs and rocky single track, I saw another guy!  The Shirtless Guy! He was about 30 seconds or so ahead, and running strongly in front, but I was closing the gap.  I wanted to put in a huge surge, yet we hadn't hit the final mile, yet; the cramping was only worsening, and it was a gamble that I couldn't take.  Finally, I saw the One to Go sign (6:33:38) and surged ahead, flying as fast as I could on the rocky flats and downs, with only blips of sluggish uphill running.

Finally, I could see an opening and the parking lot ahead.  My iPod stopped, having run through nearly 3.5 hours of music; I flipped through the tunes, until..."Bridges" came on again!  YES!  I surged along, powering as hard as I could, hoping for another shot at the unknown runner.

Across the road, up the final single track climb, Dave Groehl and the boys put rage into my legs over that final kilo, into the parking lot, and hard around the corner.

Down crooked stairs and sideways glances!
Comes the king of second chances!
Now throw him in the flaaaame!




Thumbs up!  Photo: Lake Sonoma 50.

Pump it!  Photo: Karen May

Definitely Psyched!  Photo: Bryon Powell/iRunFar.com
A slap and a hard fist pump across the line, good for 6:41:10 and 7th place.

I flew across the line and nearly straight into the bare-chested runner, who turned out to be Chris Vargo, finishing a minute head of me. A mere five seconds ahead of him was Dave Mackey (thanks to his old man brain fart coming into the finish area, taking a wrong turn); another minute up from them was Jorge. Two minutes out of fourth place, I was.

Jake's wife Sara, and Jake's mom (and running machine) Karen were at the finish line to offer congratulations.


I needed that!” is all I kept saying. "I needed that!". I truly did.

It was so important to perform well, again.  More importantly, I executed The Plan, and proved to myself that I can run hard and fast with the best in the sport, in the latter half of an ultra:


“I love it when a Plan comes together!”

 OOJ & BGD, Post-race

As for BGD, he didn't quite have the day he was hoping for, but he ran just as smart: 100-mile smart.  We both wanted to run well at Sonoma, but our eyes are on the bigger prize on June 29th.  And with that in mind, he ran a strong effort in less than ideal conditions for him.

On a personal note, BGD hasn't missed a beat since we hit the track at Placer High last summer: he keeping me in one piece -- being a consistent source of support, encouragement, constructive criticism, and reassurance over the past several months.  He's a great friend and competitor, who motivates me every day to be my best, as a runner and a man.

*****
The Grades
Pacing: A-.  With respect to pacing and performance, this is the best ultramarathon I've ever run.  I was consistently strong for nearly the entire day, save some low-and-slow points between Warm Springs and Island View in the last twelve.  I ran a conservative plan early and pushed late.  Had I been better prepared with vertical and long-run training, I feel like I could have run the 3:20 inbound split that I was hoping for.

Relative to the rest of the field, I ran as strong as anyone.  In fact, stronger than all but one:

Second half splits (final 25 miles)
1. Sage Canaday – 3:14:55
2. OOJ – 3:31:10
3. Cameron Clayton – 3:32:24
4. Jorge Maravilla – 3:36:24
5. Dave Mackey – 3:36:46
6. Galen Burell – 3:37:09
7. Ryan Ghelfi – 3:39:13
8. Max King – 3:39:57
9. Chris Vargo – 3:40:51
10. BGD – 3:42:38
11. Nick Clark – 3:44:10

Madrone AS to the Finish (last 19.1 miles) - "The Green Gate Split":

1. Sage Canaday - 2:36
2. OOJ - 2:48
3. Cameron Clayton - 2:51
4. Dave Mackey - 2:53
5. Jorge Maravilla - 2:55
6. Galen Burrell - 2:55
7. Ryan Ghelfi - 2:55
8. Jacob Rydman - 2:56
9. Nick Clark - 2:58
10. Chris Vargo - 2:59
11. Max King - 3:01

When you're out there, alone, struggling, it's difficult to believe that anyone else in the entire race is running slower than you.  To finish strong was the number one goal of Sonoma; to run that strong, relative to the rest of the field, was extremely encouraging.  And, as I finished, I was still closing.

I hope for the same result at Western States.  My success depends on it.

Mechanics: A-.  Again, the best ultramarathon stride I've ever had.  By a long shot.  This isn't saying much; my mechanics have been at best salvageable - embarassing, at worst - since transitioning to the trails.  Sonoma was my most efficient stride yet, putting it together from top to bottom.  That alone allowed me to survive while maintaining an aggressive closing pace in the last dozen miles.

In the aftermath, my aches, pains and soreness has been shockingly symmetrical: both left and right sides seem equally - but minimally - sore.  The more efficient you are, the faster you run, and the less you beat yourself up.

Fueling: A-.  Very consistent stomach, fueling with only gels and soda, without issue.  Slight down marks for not being more on-top of hydration as the morning warmed.  My low just beyond Warm Springs was exacerbated by being low on fluid.  In total, I drank:

Outbound:
3x16oz bottles
~12 oz soda (mostly Coke) 

Inbound:
4.5x20oz bottles
~16 oz soda (mostly Coke)

I peed only once, and didn't again until about an hour, post-race.  Perfect for fifty miles, but deficient for a hundred.

Side notes:
1.) Going low-carb.  This was my first race having run under "low carb" conditions.  Since Napa Marathon, I've adopted a lower carb diet.  Heavy reading of the latest edition of The Lore of Running, as well as conversations with other successful low-carbers inspired this shift.  In some respects, it was a minor change, but it resulted in a significant decrease in overall carbohydrate consumption.

A typical day of eating now consists of:
- for breakfast: six scrambled eggs, topped with Udo's Oil
- for lunch: "The Yard Waste Bag", an apple and mixed nuts (walnuts and almonds)
- for dinner: comprised with more meat and dairy - chicken, beef, turkey - with low-sugar vegetable substitutes for traditional starches (e.g. shredded zucchini for pasta noodles).  I'll also eat the odd salad and cooked vegetables, but "The Yard Waste Bag" leaves me pretty full of vegetables, by dinner time.

The biggest changes have been:

- No more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - though I now eat PB "straight"
- Very little bread (only with the occasional Subway sandwich or burger)
- No chips!  I was a huge addict, downing a bag of Kettle Chips and Juanita's tortilla chips, on my own, in a week.  Instead of noshing on a half-bag of "Party Size" chips with a beer, I now dine, daintily, on quality cheeses, instead.  I feel like I've turned into these guys!

I'm still drinking plenty of beer, albeit less.

2.) No "number two" stops!  This is a new, all-time personal best - the previous being about 34 miles (Bandera 2012).  Most pleased with his achievement!  B-) 

Mental Toughness: A-.  Very good.  Didn't get down on myself, but not quite as aggressive in the last sections as I would've liked, for being a "Western States Simulation".  But I'm just fine having left some hard mental energy in the tank for June. 

Joy: A-.  I had a blast!  This was the most fun I've had in an ultra: my best performance, while still feeling strong and "together" at the finish to enjoy it.  I ran with some of my favorite people, and enjoyed the benefits of a terrific organization of race directors and volunteers.  Again, it was rewarding to spend hours at the finish line, socialzing: catching up with old friends, and meeting new ones.

Bit of lost points for not being more encouraging of others, mid-race - the earbuds made that tough.  Also, I wish I'd talked to more folks at the finish line, as post-race atmospheres like Sonoma are few and far between.

Side note: running with an mp3 player was sensational.  I feared it might be disruptive (and, should I ever be in a real bad patch, it could be), but on that day, it was a huge boost.  I had a great mix of music - mostly hard, hair-raising rock and rap tunes, but a nice sprinkling of pop and dance tunes.  Here are some highlights:
  • This was all the "Rage", and will most certainly make the WS Playlist.
  • Justin kept things light, but bumpin', when I started feeling worn. "Go 'head, be gone with it!"
  • When the going really got tough, Marshall Mathers and his LP kept the tough going!
  • It can't all be hard: Carley Rae kept things light!  "We're takin' it way too far, but I don't want it to end!"
  • And the requisite old school 90s "rhythm and dancin'!"
 *****
Post-race: The Rydmans and I stayed at the finish until 5PM, socializing and cheering in the other finishers.  I thankfully had the foresight....to watch Max King rinse off with Technu...and I did the same, sparing any further delayed-onset misery (I had three tiny patches of poison oak, indicating that I did have it on me, but got 95% of it off).  I also borrowed some of his sunscreen, which saved me from second-degree burns!

I had a great time, making the 'rounds, chatting with friends, old and new, under blue skies, Racer 5's for Racer number five:

Chilling at the finish line: from L, Ricky Gates, "T-$" Tristan Olson, Cam Clayton, and Jimothy.  Photo: Me.

Chatting with The Lord and the Rydmans.  Photo: Me.

Who has it together better than The King?  Lubing up...with sunscreen.  Meanwhile, Gary's sticking his nose in others' business, again!  ;-)  Photo: Me.

"Did you really finish in front of me?"  Skaggs (L), Ghelfi, and HK.  Photo: Me.

The Team Salomon Contingent.  Photo: Me.
Clarkie and BGD nosh and rehash.  Photo: Me.

Working hard, or hardly working?  BP.  Photo: Me.

Dark Chocolate gets some words of encouragement from The Crafty Veteran, Erik Skaden.  Photo: Me.

Early results.  Photo: Me.

"Shouldn't you be sewing a quilt, or something?"  The Queen, just finished "Queening" a few hundred gentlemen, less than a week shy of her 52nd year.  Photo: Me.
After cleaning up, we rolled with Clark and Burch, and Yassine and Cassie to Bear Republic for some food and beers.  Hung out with the Queen and the Lord, and got a bit of quality time (and a San Fran Running Company hat) from Dark Chocolate before heading out.  We had a lackluster nightcap at a townie spot but otherwise had a quiet night.  I wonder what the Ashland crew was up to....

BGD and Clarkie at the townie bar, draining Sierra Nevadas.  Photo: Me.
On Sunday, I CHOSE NOT TO RUN, and instead went on a spirited fitness walk through the vinyards of West Dry Creek Road with Ryan, where we shared some good stories.  Romantic gestures were at a minimum.  B-).  Most of us convened at Wilson Winery for the Sunday afternoon "wine mixer", but my clock was ticking and I had to bolt to make the long drive home.

Organic IPA at Eel River Brewing, Fortuna CA - off US 101 in Humboldt County.  Photo: Me.

Sunday sunset on the NorCal coast, Del Norte County, CA.  Photo: Me. 
Overall, it was a terrific weekend, a tremendous experience for the body and soul, and a great foundation and stepping stone for the Great Western Build-Up.  I feel like I successfully burned away the bridges to the struggles of the past several months.

I look forward to a week+ of zero running, before "giving it a push" through May and early June.  Best of luck to everyone, and thanks to all for a great weekend!

*****

Last, but not least, I'm ecstatic to announce that I'm now a part of the Pearl Izumi Racing Team!

This is a group that's been loaded with talent over the years, and I feel privileged to be among them.  Moreover, the Pearl Izumi product line is the best in the business: I've been wearing PI shorts, shirts, jackets, hats and arm panties for nearly a half-decade.  I've run in exclusively PI compression running shorts since 2009; I've owned exactly four pairs: still getting good wear from both my 2011 and 2012 "Western States" shorts!  It truly is the only sport brand out there that combines performance, comfort, style and durability.

Gear I sported at Lake Sonoma:
- Infinity Compression Short
- Infinity In-R-Cool Visor
- Infinity In-R-Cool Singlet

The Compression shorts were money; besides having a roomy rear pocket, I actually stored empty gel wrappers inside the leg!; they're so compressive, yet soft, that they held the empties in place betwen aid stations!

Can't wait to fly under the PI flag at Western States and beyond in 2013!