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.

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]

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/
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:

3x16oz bottles
~12 oz soda (mostly Coke) 

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 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! 


  1. Congrats Joe! Great race report (I love the grading system). It was fun to watch you move up across those last miles. Can't wait to see what happens at States this year

  2. Will you move to PI shoes before Western? Just curious...

    I went to the Road M3 about six weeks ago, and when I needed new trail shoes last week I tried on the Trail N2 (among others) and ended up getting them; feel great so far.


    1. LD-

      I am currently making my way through the PI shoes. I'm not a shoe snob, but shoes do have to "work" for me to use them. That said, I have no idea what I'll be using at Western States. It's possible I could even go with their E-Motion road shoe!

  3. As friends and runners, our best days are yet ahead! Fun weekend and good confidence built heading into WS!

    Again, heck of a race! Can't wait until camp here in a few weeks.

  4. Show some respect, Joe. It's G-R-O-H-L. No 'E'.

  5. Great race report and great pics. I am curious how you feel about the low carb diet. After I had a terrible Way Too Cool 50k this year I switched to the low carb diet the next day. 5 weeks later I tested it out at the Woodside Ramble 50k with great results. I did eat some more carbs the two days before the race and ate 150 to 200 calories an hour from Clif Shot Blocks during the races. I had no bonking or any GI issues other than the normal tired of eating gels/blocks after the 3 hour mark. I am keeping this diet till the Silver State 50 miler to continue to test it out. Did you carb up the days leding into the race or did you go into it with no extra carbs?

    1. Luke-

      Thanks for the comment! I did "carb load" Wed PM through Fri PM, pre-race, but not a lot: I'd say a "normal" amount of carbs (my old normal): some pasta for dinner, a couple Subway sandwiches w/bread, etc. Then on race morning, I ate only peanut butter.

      Did it "work" for me? I think so, but it's tough to say: a LOT of things went well. Most notably, my run mechanics are vastly improved compared to even a month ago. I'm more fit. So there's multiple variable that could account for this single "good" performance.

      I think it's also important to note that I eat an enormous amount of vegetables every day; I think those who go low carb WITHOUT having copious amounts of raw fruit/vegetable micronutrients are going to suffer - the fat burning will not outweigh the importance of those nutrients over the long haul...

    2. I too had far better training going into this last race than the one a month before and feel like I would have performed the same on either diet. The biggest difference for me is how my stomach feels on this diet compared to a high carb diet. I am just amazed at how well the body can adapt to about any diet and feel like I will never need to feel the urge to eat the amount of carbs I used to and think I need to to perform my best. As of now the only carbs that get into my diet are from vegetables and seeds/nuts at about 50grams of carbs a day and up to 120 on high training days. It definetely took the whole month leading to the race to feel completely normal on the energy level with the first 2 weeks of a dizzy bonking hell. Good luck at States!

  6. A year late comment yes, but I'm not a stalker, I promise. I just wanted so say thanks for a great post and congrats on a great race! Nothing like it when things come together like that and you power through to something you want. Loved your Yes! fist pump pics at the end, I had almost the exact same pictures from Moab RedHot 55k this year after passing Anita Ortiz and running into 10th place. I am running Sonoma this year and looking for a great race. I'm sure I'll be rereading your report a few times. Loved it

    1. Thanks for the comment, Leslie -- Sonoma is a phenomenal race and among the most enjoyable finish lines and post-race experiences of the ultra community! Best of luck, now and on race day!