Race Report: Way Too Cool 50K

The Way Too Cool 50K went better than I expected.  The course was incredibly beautiful and challenging without being brutal. And I got a great time, finishing in just over six hours. I would say that everything went perfectly, except for two things: the weather and a parking mishap that ended up stranding my wife in the tiny town of Cool, California for a few hours.

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The starting line surrounded by the beautiful countryside.

First the good things: the course, the course and the course.  Cool, California sits up against the Auburn State Recreation Area and the race winds its way through a large segment of the park.  I took a couple photos on the course but my smartphone snapshots couldn’t capture how beautiful it was.  I would love to come back to hike and camp there some day.

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The beautiful Auburn State Recreation Area.

And the course was fun; technical without being frustrating. Because of recent rains, the course was definitely muddy.  Thankfully, we had plenty of opportunity to wash off since the course is punctuated by many rivers and creeks.  And the hills were generally rolling, with one major exception: the infamous Goat Hill around mile 25 in the course.

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The first of many rivers to cross in the course.

While the course was lovely, there was one mitigating factor: the weather. The race took place just as California was being hit with a powerful rainstorm powered by this year’s massive El Niño.  We all knew it was coming and were dreading it but, thankfully, it waited until the latter half of the race to come into full effect.  For the first fifteen miles or so we were hit with only a light sprinkling.  By mile twenty to twenty five, though, it was a full-on monsoon.  The canopies at the aid stations looked like they were going to fly away at any moment.  Not that they helped much since there was a fair amount of sideways rain coming in.  I just want to take a moment to thank the volunteers for their incredible support.

And speaking of support, I should also take a moment to thank my wife.  Training for races likes this can be very time consuming. Although I love it when she’s able to meet me on the course, I don’t ask her to since I feel like she does enough to support me. With this in mind, the plan was for her to drop me off at the race so she could spend the next six hours with the rental car and the hotel room to do whatever she wanted.

Unfortunately as we were coming in, we passed a turnaround point and got shunted into a one-way road past the starting line leading to a parking area along the course.  Once there, you leave for a few hours. So my wife had to stick it out in Cool, California which has one small strip of business and that’s it.  I just want to give her a public acknowledgement for all her support for the demands of my work and training.  You should go check out her blog, Tastes Like Scratch for recipes and gorgeous food photography.

All in all, it was a great race experience. The event itself was incredibly well organized, the course was amazing, I enjoyed myself, finished with a good time and finished feeling strong.  I’m well on my way of meeting my goal of getting stronger on the trail. I don’t have races completely nailed down yet but I have my eye on the Mt. Si 50K next month and the Taylor Mountain 50K in June.

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Ride Report: Chilly Hilly

I have tons of experience taking part in organized running events, but I have never taken part in an organized biking event until now with the Chilly Hilly ride on Bainbridge Island.

A Multi-Modal Day: Light Rail to the Ferry to the Bike Ride

A Multi-Modal Day: Light Rail to the Ferry to the Bike Ride

We took the light rail from our neighborhood to Pioneer Square and rode a few blocks to the ferry terminal.  We got there just in time for a boat that was just about to load. I had never been part of such a large crowd of bicycles.

Photobombed by Bainbridge's own Frog Rock

Photobombed by Bainbridge’s own Frog Rock

Although the Chilly Hilly can be treated as a race most people, like ourselves, treat it as a well supported leisurely ride. And, for the most part, it was. But a serious of harsh storms descending on us definitely took some of the leisureliness out of it. Even with that harsh weather, we had a blast with help from sun breaks, views of Seattle from across the sound, and great company.

We treated the course so leisurely, we didn’t even cross the finish line. About half a mile from the finish, we veered off to the house of a local friend to partake in freshly made crepes and minestrone soup. While hot food (famed eponymous chili) awaited us at the finish line, we opted for our own private celebration with friends.

While we definitely encountered the chilly aspect of the event’s namesake, I was actually relieved that the hills weren’t as bad as I had feared. The next day I felt fine. I think this has to do with two things:

  1. My daily commute which is loaded with serious Seattle hills
  2. The incredibly low gears on my Surly, which were partly the reason I favored it over other lighter bikes.

It’s a good thing we took the event as casually as we did and aren’t worse for wear. I did this event against the advice of my coach. I’m running the Way Too Cool 50K the following weekend. She wanted to make sure I didn’t exert myself. Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

We had a lot of fun on this ride and have a lot more organized and non-organized rides planned for this year. My only advice would be that the organizers need to include more markers and signage.  Thankfully they include a map in the race packet, but it seems like signage would be fairly easy to place at the course’s intersections.

A minor quibble. Clearly not a deal breaker since we will be doing the Inaugural Emerald City Bike Ride this year. It will be the first ride of its kind going through the bulk of the city of Seattle, with part of the course on the new 520 bridge. I’m looking forward to it!

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Race Report: Lord Hill 20 Mile Run

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It ain’t called Lord Hill for nothing!

This past Sunday I had the distinct pleasure of running the Lord Hill 20 Mile trail race; my second Evergreen Trail Runs event in as many months.  And I really do mean it was a pleasure since the event went so much better than I expected that the brutal aspects of the course barely even registered in my mind.

In fact, what was truly brutal were the couple weeks preceding the race. A couple weeks prior I had come down with the flu and was not able to get in nearly a full week of my normal training regimen. And I had normal day of running and biking before I was felled again by a new malady: a migraine. That is something I had never experienced before but now that I have I understand how devastating it is. Luckily the migraine had started to clear up the morning before the race. Still – the prospect of running a twenty mile trail race with over three thousand feet of elevation gain after missing nearly two weeks of training was making me nervous.

My coach, Michele, told me to listen to myself and gave me “permission” to switch to the 10 mile distance on race day.  I told her I would consider it and play it by ear.  The day of the race I took stock right up to the starting line and my body told me I was ready to do the full twenty miles. So I kept my registered distance and off I went.

About a mile into the race I was having doubts. I had started to feel lightheaded and was hungry in a way that my body was telling me that every cell in my body was lacking fuel.  Thankfully, at 2 miles there was a very thoroughly stocked aid station.  All the requisites were there (electrolyte fluid, water, bananas…) plus the more quirky solid foods you find at trail races (M&M’s, potato chips, cut up PB&J sandwiches…) but there were also freshly made quesadillas and bacon.

I held off on the quesadillas and bacon but helped myself to some of the other solid foods which “righted the ship,” if you will, and I was feeling great for the rest of the race; pacing the rest of my nutrition with my standard water and gels.

Once I got out of the hypoglycemic fog, the rest of the race was great.  The lightheadedness, in hindsight, was also understandable, not only because of the long lapse of my training but because of the layout of the course. For the first mile or so it’s pretty rolling hill but then you hit the eponymous Lord Hill.

I learned from the start of the Blast from the Past Half Marathon, Evergreen Trail Run enjoys peppering their events with some sadistic spectacle. This event was no different.

Just over mile into the course, there is an junction where the trail veers to the left. At that junction is a loudspeaker playing Placebo’s cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up that Hill on repeat and a sign pointing in that direction proclaiming “WARNING: PAIN AHEAD!”

They’re not joking.

You’re not running up that hill as you are walking up that hill. And you’re not so much walking up that hill as trying not to fall back down that hill. It’s not scrambling but it’s as close as you can get to scrambling while still being able to technically walk.

So yes, the morose tone of the Placebo cover was a very deliberate choice. Placebo took the driving pace of the original and turned it into a durge. Just as Lord Hill takes a running event and turns it into a long slog. I don’t even like Placebo but as a former college radio DJ, I can give a tip of the cap to the music nerd who made that choice.

Aside from that small but intense portion of the race, the rest of the course is a leisurely jaunt by comparison. Of course there still are hills that you have to walk but, duh, it’s a trail race. Maybe just after Lord Hill those hills just didn’t seem so bad.  The only bad part is that the course is just ten miles so for the twenty mile distance I had to go up Lord Hill twice.

Thankfully they made it so you didn’t go down the way you came. Because that would be very, very bad. The bottom of the Hill would look like a Civil War battlefield.

I briefly considered finishing my run at the ten mile distance. However, I have the Way Too Cool 50K coming up. Lord Hill was to be the peak before tapering and wanted to regain my training. I paused, took stock and decided to keep going. I’m glad I did.

The rest of the race was even more fun since it was familiar. Plus, after crawling up Lord Hill that second time I definitely helped myself to some quesadilla and a small piece of bacon. (I would have had more, but I’ve learned through hard experience that it’s not good to experiment with new foods on long distances)

In keeping with what I experienced at the last Evergreen Trail Runs event, Lord Hill was super well organized. It was very well marked and not only were there ample volunteers but they seemed to be having a lot of fun. Their enthusiasm was contageous – which is great when you’re tackling long, hard, wet and muddy trails when most people nestled in their Snuggies and halfway through an epic binge-watching sesh and your mind is wondering why you’re not doing the same.

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I crossed the finish line with a great time: just over four hours on my watch. That time would be great for a road marathon but for a trail run it was amazing and very encouraging.  That time includes walking up hills, port-a-potties, and shooting the breeze with people at the aid stations. My hill work is paying off!  Finally.

The finishing touch for my overall experience was that the coming rainstorm only arrived just as I was leaving. Totally selfish, I know, since the volunteers and all the remaining runners still had to deal with it. But after two weeks horizontal with the flu and a serious migraine, it was a glorious victory that I didn’t feel too bad about savoring.

So that was my long training run and I’m officially tapering until WTC50K. I’m looking forward to writing up about that race in a few weeks.

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Race Report: Blast from the Past Half Marathon and ½ Half Marathon

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On January 30th, I ran Evergreen Trail Runs’ Blast from the Past Half Marathon and ½ Half Marathon. It was an incredibly fun, light-hearted, and well organized race which really took the edge off the fact that the course itself was unrelentingly muddy and punishingly hilly. Although that’s not a bad thing. That’s just what I signed up for when I said I was going to start running trail races.

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The course was very, very well marked.

The race itself was called “Blast from the Past” since it was supposed to be a 70’s and 80’s themed race. Loud music was blaring and costumes were encouraged. There were giveaways and free food from sponsors and the race directors.  Most people weren’t in costume since the weather was cold and elaborate costumes would make an already difficult course that much worse.  Although I saw a few great outfits a la early 80’s Jane Fonda workout videos.

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You can’t tell from this snapshot, but this is one of the many long and brutal hills. I asked for more hill training this year and I got it.

The course is an out-and-back of 6.5 miles. Do it once for the “½ Half Marathon” or do it again for the “Full Half.” The course, on Mt. Taylor near Issaquah, was so punishing that I briefly considered exercising my right to switch the lower distance when I finished it the first time. To give you a sense, you immediately hit a long, steep hill that does not relent for over a mile.

However, I did power through and I’m glad I did.  I had such a sense of accomplishment for tackling such a tough course.  Although the photos on this post were taken mostly on old logging roads, the course goes through beautiful single-track trails that were delightful.  I would definitely do this race again.

However, I won’t have long to reminisce. The week after next I will be running the next Evergreen Trail Runs event the Lord Hill 20 miler in Snohomish.  If the pictures are any indication that race should be no less…rewarding.  Until then!

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New Year, New Goals

I’m normally not one for New Year’s Resolutions. I usually prefer to set resolutions throughout the year. 2015 was full of resolutions sprinkled throughout the year that were mostly met. Like, losing weight, getting fitter, biking to work, and eating better! Not bad!

But still, there is something about the artificial “reset” of the year that motivates you to set goals. Here are my plans for 2016:

This comic will never not be relevant.

  • Make Better Use of My Time on the Internet: Primarily, spend less time mindlessly scrolling through social media and getting caught up in Internet Outrage. Between Donald Trump, police brutality, and Kim Davis, there was more than enough outrage to go around. Understandably so. But does taking part in any of that outrage really make a difference in the world or contribute anything positive in my own life? Honestly, it looks like outrage is pretty well covered by other people.  So I’m planning on bowing out of that circus and spending more time trying to be actively creative and intentional on the Internet; try to blog more, plan projects, write emails, anything that actually betters my own life, and of those around me in some tangible way.
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Ingredients! In a food thing I made! It was tasty!

  • Cook More: I’ve been struggling with this one for some time now. However, I made a lot of progress in 2015.  My wife and I started with meal planning from my coach, Michele Pettinger at P3 Running.  She got us monitoring our meals and used that data to create meal plans for a month.  Those meal plans were delicious and nutritious and we saw ourself losing weight pretty quickly.  We’ve also experimented with Hello Fresh which has gotten me in the habit of cooking more and given me confidence to start putting together my own meals.  The goal for next year is to take the training wheels off and get in the habit to regular meal planning and cooking.
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Probably hour 6 or 7 of my nearly 9 hour Cougar Mountain 50K last year.

  • Become a Better Trail Runner: 2015 was a good year for running. I lost weight and got more fit. I ran my second and third 50Ks.  However, those were fairly flat road races. Over the last few years I have been increasing my speed as I’ve been improving my fitness as a road-runner.  However, the majority of ultras are trail races with elevation gain. This requires a different type of training.  So I’ve made the tough decision to sacrifice speed for gains in strength and endurance by training for trails and elevation.  I’ve curtailed my previous goal of running a 50 mile race in 2016.  Instead, I’m going to focus on running trail races up to 50, working building up endurance with increasing elevation.  By year’s end I want to be a solid trail runner.  Then I can aim for a 50 mile race in 2017.
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Running with a group of people is fun!

  • Volunteer in the Running Community: Late in 2015, I joined the Board of the Seattle Running Club. This was my first foray into volunteering in the running community.  I started organizing the Sunday Group Runs which have been going really well.  I also intend to volunteer at races more often and give back to the activity that has given me so much.
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I fixed the front tube on my bike!  I did that! Me!

  • Learn More About Bike Maintenance: I started bike commuting in 2015 and it took.  Hooray!  One of the reasons I was reluctant to start bike commuting was the prospect of needing to fix a flat or a broken chain.  Up to now, I had simply dragged my bike to bike shops.  When I had a flat last week, however, bike shops were closed for the Holiday. So I went and patched it myself.  Successfully!  This was huge and so empowering.  I want to learn more about how bikes work, and be prepared when they stop working. Planning on taking some classes at Cascade Bicycle Club, reading some books, and watching plenty of YouTube videos.  But, first, I need to get some Lava.
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An awesome mailbox rack I spotted on a run in Lincoln City, OR.

  • Do Some Bike Touring: Empowered by the skill mentioned above, I want to start going on multi-day expeditions on my bike. I have a book with some trails that I’m planning.  Look forward to more on that in the coming Spring and Summer.

I’d love to hear your New Year’s Resolutions. If you have any tips on how I can better reach my goals, even better! With luck, I will revisit these in December and see how I did.  Hopefully well!

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

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Race Report: Yukon(’t) Do It! Half Marathon and Marathon

Strange font choice for the bib. Turned out to be presciently spooky.

Ugh. Another DNF. Unlike Ghost of Seattle, I showed up on time. And although the race started off strangely, I would have finished if not for one crucial mistake regarding gear. That said, let’s start from the beginning.

I’ve mentioned my affinity for small races. For the most part this had worked out great, but it has also lead up to some odd experiences. Back in 2008 I ran a race that was called the Live, Love, Run 10K that was my first experience with a poorly run race. Conversely the race, labeled a “1st Annual” has never reoccurred. Not to criticize too harshly. I have never directed a race. There are so many moving parts to keep track of, I can’t even imagine. But when things go wrong, it can be really stressful for the runners.

That said, Yukon Do It, was mostly organized well. However, it had some major issues that all revolved around communication. The site was pretty sparse on information, but seemed to have enough. However, when a bunch of us arrived at 7:00, the time mentioned for bib pick-up. There were no signs indicating where the starting line was. Runners were spotting each other asking “Do you know where bib pick-up is? Is it at the starting line? Where’s the starting line?” With the collective genius of our herd mentality, we eventually found the starting line down the waterfront.

When we got to the starting line, however, no one was around. We could hear people arguing in a tent and it was clear that they were still frantically setting up. We finally asked someone where the bib pick-up was. “Oh, ” he said, incredulous that we would ask, “that’s over at Moon Dogs Too!” A bar down the street. There was no information on the site about that, nor was an email sent out to participants beforehand. We had no way of knowing. The Marathon start was at 7:30. Now, 7:20, we went scrambling to Moon Dogs Too to pick up our bibs. I run back to the starting line and just barely make it back by 7:30, but there were no indications the race was starting any time soon.

Taken five minutes after the supposed start time. Everyone’s still wondering what’s going on.

The same guy who told us that the bib pickups were elsewhere walked up to me and another runner and said, “Hey guys. We’re going to be starting a little late. Probably 7:45 to 8:00.” There were dozens of other marathoners around wondering what was going on. This guy had a bullhorn but, for some reason, had decided just to tell us. I said, “Thank you, but you may want to use that bull horn and tell everybody else.” He looked incredibly annoyed but proceeded to do just that.

“OK guys, we’re going to be starting late. Probably 7:45 to 8:00. We’ve got an elite runner here and we don’t want him to be hit by all the half marathoners starting.”

We were agog. That excuse made no sense. If you’re worried about that, wouldn’t you want him to start sooner? Whatever, we were just glad at that point that somebody was saying something. People were still showing up pinning their bibs to their shirts.

Strangely, not two minutes later, this guy (race director/guy with a bullhorn?) decides to start the race. We all gather at the finish line, he counts down and off we go!

The course was as described. Along the waterfront between downtown Port Orchard and Manchester State Park, you have a stunning view of the Puget Sound for just about the whole way. The only time you deviate from the water is to loop back around in Manchester State Park, where you’re greeted by the beautiful forests and old naval warehouses.IMG_3907Things were going really well. It was cold, but I was dressed for the weather. I had on running tights, a vest, arm bands, gloves, and a cap that covered my ears. The Yukon Do It Half Marathon is primarily a Half Marathon race, as evidenced by the course. It’s an out-and-back course for the Half Marathon. And doing that again for the full.According to its site, they “kept full marathon mainly for [Marathon Maniacs] wanting to do multiple marathons or get one last chance before end of year.” OK, so it won’t be the most exciting course I’ve ever run, I thought. I’ll just keep bluetooth earbuds handy and load up my phone with podcasts and treat it like a long run with aid stations and a medal! And for the first half of the course, all was going according to plan.

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The famous torpedo warehouse in Manchester State Park.

However, halfway through a heavy downpour hit which was followed by heavy snow that did not let up for the remainder of the race. That had started at mile 13. By mile 18, I realized I had made a crucial error. My decision not to bring waterproof gloves meant my hands were soaked and freezing. In fact, my hands had never simultaneously been so numb and hurt so much in my life. At mile 18 I decided to turn around (a unique option, given the out-and-back-and-out-and-back nature of the course). All in all, I ran 21 miles. Not bad, but not worth a medal.

Only 5 miles shy, I might have been able to complete the entire course. At that point, I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was get back to my car and get warm. When I got to my car I couldn’t feel my car keys, so unlocking the car and starting it to get the heat running took almost five minutes all-told. When I finally got the car started, it took almost 20 minutes for my hands to feel well enough to drive.

Taken from a Starbucks drive-thru after the race. You can see how swiftly snow accumulated.

So yes, I was annoyed by the organizational hiccups in the beginning of the race. However, they had nothing to do with my DNF. I’ll chalk that up to a lesson learned: when facing the potential for inclimate weather bring multiple gloves, preferably waterproof. If it was my first marathon, I might be more bummed. But even a bad race is a good race if you learn something from it.

The same holds true for race directors.

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Scott Jurek Sold Me My First Pair of Running Shoes*

Ten years ago, in December of 2005, I was in my mid twenties and living in a studio apartment on Capitol Hill. Through the Summer and Fall I had started running with no guidance; completely self-directed. I thought it was going well, I was running longer and longer (mileage wasn’t something I was tracking yet, I didn’t know how). I was running in cotton shirts, basketball shorts and cross-trainers. My understanding of running gear dated from middle-school gym class. So far, so good, I thought until I was going up some stairs at work and my knee buckled right out from underneath me.

The logo of the now closed Seattle Running Company, living on in the logo for the Seattle Running Club.

The doctor, thankfully, rather than tell me to stop running, told me I needed proper running shoes. The pain, he said, was caused by my knees moving from side to side as my feet over/under pronated. A good pair of running shoes, he said, should correct my running form and allow to me to continue running with less risk of further injury. He suggested I go to a store that catered specifically to runners, not a “sports” store like Dick’s or a sneaker store like Foot Locker. He suggested Seattle’s famous running stores like Super Jock n’ Jill on Greenlake and, more conveniently, Seattle Running Company on Capitol Hill, which has since closed and become the still-wonderful Fleet Feet Seattle. These places, he said, would actually watch my gait as I ran on a treadmill and suggest the right shoe.

I was relieved to hear that I could continue running, but I was hesitent to go. I had heard of those stores and had gone past the Seattle Running Company several times, but there was a reason I didn’t go in. I was intimidated. I didn’t see myself as a “real” runner. And now I had to bring my (then) pudgy body and ask these lean athletes for help. I dreaded the idea, but I had no choice. I had developed a taste for exercise. I was feeling good and looking better than I had in years. And this was the only way I saw to keep going.

I remember going to Seattle Running Club on a dark Seattle winter afternoon. I remember I was the only one in the place and I felt like a fish out of water. The clerk looked up from behind the counter. He was really striking: tall, a shock of black, curly hair. He was lean and ropey. I didn’t know it then, but it was the first time I had seen an Ultramarathoner. At that time I didn’t even know there were distances longer than a marathon.

I told the clerk my situation. I remember feeling intimidated because he didn’t smile or frown, he just seemed really analytical. He asked me to run on the treadmill and had cameras on my feet (one set on profile and another from behind). After watching me run for a couple minutes, he played back the video and explained I was over pronating. He pulled a few shoes off the wall and gave me an overview of normal pronation and how my gait should be with the right running shoe. I tried a few of them and settled on the Brooks Adrenaline 5s, successive generations of which would be my standard running shoe for the next nine years.

He also noted my cotton shirt and gym shorts and suggested clothing made of moisture-wicking material, along with running socks. I asked about running in the rain and cold and he suggested a running vest and running tights for the cold. I couldn’t tell if he was eager to close his shift or was preoccupied. Although he was helpful, I couldn’t help but feel his mind was elsewhere. Regardless, I plunked down what was an enormous sum for me at the time, went home and looked at all this weird running gear I got.

I remember the first run with my new gear feeling more comfortable than I ever had been. Encouraged, I started reading books on running and used then-new tools like MapMyRun to estimate mileage. The next year I would get my first Garmin GPS watch, a bulky Forerunner 301. I was training smarter and began running longer distances and doing more races: 5Ks became 10Ks and then my first Half Marathon in the Fall of 2007. I started to see myself as a runner, thanks to that inititial consult at Seattle Running Company.

Image from ABC Radio National.

In 2009, I read this article in Runner’s World about a new book called Born to Run and right there in the article is the (now famous) photo of Scott Jurek running alongside Arnulfo Quimare of the Rarámuri. I remember seeing that photo and thinking “Hey! That’s the guy who sold me my first pair of running shoes.”

Only after that did I learn about his record-setting wins at Western States, Badwater and Hardrock. In fact, it was in reading about him that I even learned about those events. A year later when I read Born to Run and hearing Christopher McDougall’s (albeit reportedly exagerated) characterization of Jurek’s aloofness and the nickname the Rarámuri gave him, “the Deer,” did I realize that this was the same guy.

All these years later, after I finished my third ultra, and improving my performance on the trails, and am getting more involved with the Seattle trail and ultra community. The moral of the story, if there is one, is inhibition doesn’t get you very far. When I think about not showing up, I think about that night and how fortuitous that I overcame my sense of intimidation to unwittingly get help from one of the legends in our field.

* The other moral of the story is that memory is a tricky thing. This was a long time ago. It’s possible it was someone else and my mind put Scott in that place after the fact. Please don’t hesitate to give me evidence that proves me wrong.

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Race Report: Ghost of Seattle 50K First Annual Seattle Slacker 50K

I was really looking forward to writing a race report for the Ghost of Seattle 50K. Sadly, circumstance and my own disorganization intervened, but mostly circumstance.

The morning of the race I woke up nice and early in preparation for the 6:00am start time. Because the start of the race was so close to my house, I thought I would run there. The distance between my house and the starting line was just enough for a good pre-race warm up.

Once I got to the destination, however, I realized that the starting line was actually a good mile and a half to two miles to the South. There was no way I was going to make it by the starting time, at least not on foot. I was kicking myself for not reading the directions more closely and for not having driven there.

It was thirty degrees and I was feeling embarrassed so I just walked home and crawled back in bed. After I woke up later that morning, I sulked for a couple hours before realizing there was nothing stopping me from running the distance I had trained for. I resolved to run the distance the next morning anyway…even if I wasn’t going to get a medal for it.

This grainy selfie doesn’t capture the beauty of the early morning fog.

The Seattle Marathon was the next morning, so I had to get up early if I was going to get away from the course and have a clear route to run. I headed out at 5:00 a.m., before the roads closed and went to the Burke-Gilman playground, a favorite starting point of mine to get on the Burke-Gilman Trail. Just as it was the previous day, it was cold (about 30 degrees) and incredibly foggy. For the first hour of my run, I could only see the beam of my headlamp relected in the fog and a small patch of ground a few feet in front of me.

As the sun rose, I was nearing Kenmore and noticing that the fog had barely lifted and everything around me was covered in frost. As I continued on, the Burke-Gilman trail turned into the Samamish River Trail, where I had previously run the First Call 50K. I continued heading Northeast around the top of Lake Washington and noticed the frost was turning into patches of snow and ice. It started getting a little slippery, but I ran more cautiously and am grateful I never fell.

In Woodinville, I had run up to the halfway point, 15.5 miles, and turned back the way I came to complete the full distance. I was feeling really good. I had dressed properly and felt warm in the frigid weather. I had a hydration pack that I was making good use of and a had been taking gu gels at a regular basis, about every 7 miles and had a homemade sports drink as well. It appeared that running the 50K distance without the help of aid stations wasn’t going to present much of a problem.

Ironically, the only negative experience that I had was at the 19 mile mark when I had broken off from the trail briefly to make use of a restroom at a nearby McDonald’s. I slipped on some ice in the parking lot and rolled my left ankle a little bit. I don’t think I did any serious damage but I had a dull ache in my ankle for the rest of the run.

I really enjoyed the solitude of the early morning run to Woodinville, but the run back was a lot more crowded. Even in freezing weather I was dodging bikes, dog walkers and large groups taking up the trails. While I was happy to see people still enjoy being outside, I had gotten spoiled having the trail to myself earlier that day.

When I got back to the car, I felt an intense sense of accomplishment that more than made up for the disappointment of missing the race the previous day. Although I didn’t get a medal, I felt even more accomplished for having completed the distance I had trained for anyway. In my mind, my dedication had made up for my organizational mix-up of the day before.

I got a good time, setting a PR* for the distance. Although I’d prefer not to miss races I signed up for, I feel like having my own private “race” is a fine substitute.

Up next, assuming I don’t miss the starting line, is the Yukon Do It! Marathon in Port Orchard in December. I’m considering some 50Ks with greater elevation and some >50K distances next year but haven’t nailed down any firm plans just yet.

* Caveat: Time is watch-time not chip-time. So it doesn’t include time I stopped to eat gu, change playlists or go to the bathroom. I still think I beat my previous PR with all that, too.

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On Bike Commuting Nigh On Six Months and Counting

My first day bike commuting to work. I knew right away this was a new habit.

When Bike to Work month came around last year, I felt that nagging feeling whenever anyone suggests taking on a new and healthy habit. Sure, I could start biking to work, but who has the time or the energy? I mean, I work a full time job and I’m already training for ultramarathons. Between the time spent at work and training, I didn’t see how it could happen. Plus I live in Seattle, where we have hills.

I could have let all those excuses stop me…and for a while they did. After all, I never biked to work during the actual Bike to Work month of May. But something kept telling me, “Other people have figured it out. Just try it.” After weeks of hemming and hawing, I finally worked up the courage to bike to work. I decided that June 1st would be the start of my own Bike to Work month and I engaged my own commitment device by telling my wife that I was going to do it. Thankfully, when the day came and I stuck to my word. I knew on that first day that it was a tremendous success. And while the hills were tough definitely tough, at least at first, I quickly saw the other excuses quickly melt away on that first ride.

There were many reasons it took this long for the habit of biking to work to “take.” The real issues of cars and hills are definitely there but if I have to be honest with myself, the real barrier in my mind was tremendous intimidation from American biking culture. I was afraid I’d look foolish, that I would be too slow and that I’m not knowledgeable enough about bikes to ride. Six months later, I now know that none of those things matter. However, I acknowledge that those doubts are a real barrier for millions of other Americans who would ride otherwise. I know I can’t be alone.

I’ve now been riding for almost six months and am planning on bike commuting year round. In that time I’ve faced some of the fears that kept from starting to ride (crazy/angry drivers, riding at night, riding in the cold, flat tires, riding in the rain, etc.) and found they are totally manageable and feel really good to overcome. Despite what the guys in sponsored jerseys and carbon fiber bikes would have you believe: anybody can do this. Anybody. And it’s incredibly empowering.

That said, it’s going to take a huge shift for American biking culture to adapt and to feel comfortable with anybody and everybody hitting the road. Thankfully, in cities at least, that shift is already starting to happen. The Lance Armstrong crowd is just going to have to save the machismo for the velodrome as they have to deal with my slow ass riding to and from work every day. I will be saving my speed for tempo runs.

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Belated Race Recap: A Stumble and Getting Back on the Ultra Horse

Although my blogging may have been on hiatus this last year, my marathon and ultramarathon training wasn’t.

I had last written in January after running my first ultra, the Cougar Mountain 50K. Running my first 50K would have been hard enough on its own, but I had made a critical error by not researching the elevation gain of the course beforehand. At 7200 feet of elevation gain over 30 miles, a course that would have been five or six hours was instead an 8-hour odyssey. I forgot to mention it was also the first race since running last year’s Seattle Marathon, with freakishly cold 20 degrees at the starting line. I never blogged about it because:

  1. See previous blog entry
  2. the freakishly cold conditions caused my muscles to tense up so hard my body hurt for weeks.

Between these two events, I not only started to doubt if I was an ultrarunner but if I really wanted to continue running at all.

I scaled back my running and training and went into “maintenance mode” as I reassessed things. I got back on the horse gradually by taking on the Aramco Half Marathon in Houston. I had originally registered for the full, but after my experience at Cougar Mountain and the Seattle Marathon, I wasn’t sure that I was up to it. It was a beautiful, flat race. The enthusiasm of the Houston spectators and volunteers was larger than life, as expected. And my family was there to cheer me on. I definitely want to come back for the full so my niece and nephew can see me cross the finish line.

My family making signs to cheer me on

Encouraged, I ramped up my training to a full. The next event on my schedule was the Capital City Marathon in Olympia in May. It was the first full marathon since the Seattle Marathon. Luckily the race was in easy spring weather and the course fairly flat. Olympia is a beautiful city with lots of cool, hip local businesses. My wife and I had a great time there and I hope to run more races in the area soon.

Some runners taking advantage of the pre-race stretching exercises at the startling line of the Capital City Marathon

As with most adversities, time has a way of turning pain into resolve. As the months passed, I needed “redemption” from that first 50K and I sought out the flattest 50K I could. Surely enough I did: the First Call to Run Labor Day 50K on the Sammamish River Trail in Bothell. I set my eyes on training for that event.

In the meantime, I ran the San Francisco Marathon​ two months later. It was a redemption for me in two ways. First, I had run the San Francisco Half Marathon back in 2009, but only after I switched after originally registering for the full. My training for that marathon wasn’t successful. So it felt good to run the first marathon that I had trained for, unsuccessfully. Second, the race had a fair amount of elevation. Not as much as my first 50K, but enough to get me to rethink my aversion to elevation gain. Lastly, we got to visit family and explore the town beforehand. I then got to revisit many of those places on the course was as beautiful as I remembered it when I ran the half in 2009, with the added bonus that I got to see even more of the city this time.

With two marathons under my belt, I felt confident to retry the 50K distance. I ran the First Call to Run Labor Day 50K on my birthday. It was a low-key, flat 50K and got me to feel that I could overcome the 50K distance. When I say, low-key, I mean it. I think there were two dozen other participants, tops. We ran on the Sammamish River Trail. There was no starting line, no chips and the aid stations were just tables with water and electrolytes and tables set at two spots on the course. No fancy website, it’s just a Blogspot.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Low-key races are actually my favorite. I’ve done them before, namely the Birch Bay Ghost Half Marathon, which is actually 15.1 miles long. There’s no corporate bullshit like Race Expos or talk show radio hosts babbling on-end at the starting line. Just a bunch of running nerds. There’s way more community. Although it wasn’t the fanciest race (an out and back, out and back, and one last out and back for a mile on a bike trail), the pizza and the great conversation I had with my fellow running enthusiasts more than made up for any missing bells and whistles. Plus, I had the satisfaction that the 50K was indeed a doable distance for me.

Having accomplished my second 50K, I felt like I could “officially” think of myself as an ultramarathoner. I felt encouraged to set more aggressive goals.

I have now registered for a third road 50K, the Ghost of Seattle. While not totally flat, the 50K is on familiar territory. As mentioned earlier, I’ve run the Seattle Marathon and I train on much the route regularly. In fact, the starting line is a ten minute walk from my front door.

I’m feeling confident about that race and starting to make plans afterward. I am planning on doing more hill training and leg exercises to be able to tackle trail 50K races with elevation gain next year: 1,000, 2,000, 4,000 foot elevation gain. Because, Hell, if I can do 7200 ft elevation gain, I can do anything.

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