01 December 2019

pacing Lucca at the Seattle Marathon

I am so proud of Lucca! 2019 was the eighth time we have run the Seattle Marathon together and this year she got within 59 seconds of her marathon PR. Wow!

Here's to these types of family traditions.

26 October 2019

Javelina Jundred 100 km

For someone that professes to be an ultra "runner", actually running for extended periods of time is one of my weaknesses. #irony

I'm used to (and my body prefers) ultras that include hiking, technical trails, and perhaps just a slower average speed? Well, the Javelina Jundred is NOT one of those "slower" races. For the 100 km event, you gain a total of just 3,900' and only 5,000' for the 100 mile! So why is the finishing rate consistently around 50%?! Because there is a lot more than vert to an ultra.

Here I am about 10 minutes prior to the start. Things are looking up!

13 October 2019

Dawg Dash 10k

Gosh, I think the Alaska Airlines Dawg Dash is my first 10k ever and other than a 5k I ran years ago in Seward Park, it's my shortest race in a very, very long time. And you know what? Short is fun but it's also not easy. :)

This was my first hard effort after dropping out of the Whistler Alpine Meadows 100 mile race (mostly) due to Plantar Fasciitis three weeks ago and it was so awesome to be able to push the pace again. And just to run!

I've been healing up from various ailments lately. About five weeks ago I pinched a nerve in my neck/shoulder that has taken ages to calm down and it still has a ways to go. Four weeks ago I got struck down with Plantar Fasciitis and one week ago I took a tumble off my mountain bike and bruised my ribs. All three of these things were "fists" for me and here's hoping I don't get a second opportunity to experience any of them as they all suck.

But I've running for about one week now and in a moment of exuberance/frustration I signed up for this race. Turns out it was a great idea.

Feeling like I needed to log some training miles I jogged over to the race. Quite by accident, I timed my arrival perfectly showing up about 20 minutes prior to the gun. This was just enough time to hit the bathroom, drop my running vest off at the gear check, have a gel and a sip of water, and stroll leisurely over to the start line. Go!

Wow, it has also been a very, very long time since I have run with 1000 people! What a zoo. I didn't start in the front as I had no idea if I could go fast so I had to slalom in and out of people for almost one mile in order not to get slowed down. It was kind of like playing Frogger.

After that first mile when traffic finally started to thin out and I thought my pace was something I could sustain, I notice a man who looked like he was in my age group some distance ahead of me. I figured why not try to hang with him...? So, of course, he immediately proceeded to put time into me.

Oh well, I was just having a blast running around the Univesity District. The course was super fun! We ran up to Ravenna Park, down through the park and then along the Burke Gillman Trail, and then snaked our way back and forth through the UW campus for the second half of the race. This is not a flat course and there are a lot of corners, I like that.

Around the mile 3 sign I saw this guy again. But I couldn't go any faster! So I just tried to hang on and hopefully, he would fade some. In retrospect, I managed my pace pretty perfectly. I was only passing people and never got passed. And with about 1 km to go, we hit a long, draggy hill and I managed to ease past this guy and then held him off on the last descent to the finish. Yes! There is always a race within the race and if only you know what the rules are it dramatically increases your odds of winning. :) Turns out he was not in my age group, he was younger. Still, he was an awesome carrot.

It was exciting when the 10k and 5k runners merged around mile 4, we entered campus and suddenly there is a stream of runners coming at us from the left. You had to pay attention!

The start was right next to Red Square and the finish was in Red Square. As soon as you crossed the line you got your finishers medal and they had a tent of laptops set up so you could check your results stat. the guy I was chasing for the whole race literally went straight to a computer and looked up his result. But then so did I once I saw this was possible. :)

I'm pretty sure I went as fast as I could given my current fitness and injuries. I didn't hurt myself and I had a good time, what a relief!

After the race I hung out for a bit, drank some water, ate half a banana and then jogged home. Oh man was that a slow return trip but you know what? It was also fun! I paid zero attention to the pace and just reveled in the fact that my foot was not hurting. And I had music so all was good. On the way home I just followed my nose and also didn't worry about the route. Good times.

I did see one sad thing running back tho. :(

For those of you that don't know, these white Ghost Bikes are memorials to cyclists that have been killed. All the flowers make me believe this was recent. And it's a kid's bike.

I used to ride my bike to races pretty frequently, maybe I should sign up for some more local running events.

Nutrition (before)
Nutrition (during)
  • nothing
Nutrition (after)
  • water
  • half a banana
  • 2 scoops Recoverite when I got home
  • a giant lunch right after my shower

20 September 2019

Whistler Alpine Meadows 100 mile - my first DNF

I was super psyched for the Whistler Alpine Meadows 100 mile race! For so many reasons.
  • It's in freaking Whistler!
  • Gary Robbins is the promotor.
  • It's the same distance and elevation gain as UTMB (legit!) and a qualifying race.
  • It would be my biggest challenge to date.
In truth, considering what I was up against on race day I should be very proud of how long I lasted which was 60 km. But it took me a few days to go from super disappointed to proud... understandable I guess when this is your "A" race for the year. :)

Here I am after calling it quits.

Let's walk (pun intended) through the race and the days leading up to it, shall we?
I first heard about this event over one year ago. The Whistler Alpine Meadows (WAM) races had been around for a few years but this was the inaugural 100-mile race and running the first of anything is always exciting. From the day I started running ultras, being able to participate in UTMB has been my goal but UTMB is super hard to get into! When it was conceived, this event was officially billed as a 175 km race which happens to be exactly the same distance as UTMB. And with 30,000' of elevation gain, here was the opportunity to run a race with the same stats as UTMB without flying to Europe. So cool! There was a last-minute course change that prompted Gary to refer to this as a 100-mile distance instead of 175 km but from a runner's perspective, the change was minor. Plus, 100 Gary miles are about 105 actual miles.

For the first time ever, I did not run any long ultras in preparation, instead, I ran a bunch of 50 km events and even some very short trail races and a half marathon and hired a coach. But I figured that since I have finished three 100-mile races, and that coming in rested is way more important than logging the big miles for me, I would be good. In retrospect, this strategy was sound.

Here I am with my support crew.

I like to joke that I have made all the rookie mistakes and had all the injuries that someone new to ultras will encounter. Unfortunately, I keep managing to find more mistakes to make and more things to injure. I'm just thankful that once I figure something out, I don't repeat the mistake or injury.

About three weeks prior to race day, I woke up with a very painful pinched nerve in my right shoulder. The pain traveled from the base of my skull, down the right side of my neck and out to my right shoulder. For the longest time, there was nothing I could do to alleviate the discomfort except lie flat on my back. Being a side and stomach sleeper, this was a bummer.

The weather at the start was unexpectedly nice! I took off all the extras and just started in a short sleeve shirt.

A little over two weeks prior to race day I noticed a dull ache in my left heel. This feeling was new to me so I didn't recognize it and just kept running. I had bruised the ball of my right foot once in the past and figured I had perhaps bruised my heel so I made sure to always wear my most comfy shoes.

On Thursday, September 12 I ran two times. The morning run aggravated my left foot more than any previous run but it still didn't really "hurt" while I was running, it just made it more difficult to walk around in (my super flat, super non-supportive, super bad in this case) casual and work shoes. My foot was so uncomfortable that I walked to my afternoon run which in retrospect was a BIG, GIANT, RED FLAG. During the afternoon run my foot felt like it "warmed up" again and the actual run was not so uncomfortable that I was worried. After all, as long as I could run in Whistler I was going.

The trails up here are so much fun!

That weekend I rode my bike to give my foot a break. Cycling felt great! And for a short time, I forgot about how messed up my body was.

We got very lucky with the weather, the views on race day were not too shabby.

But just a couple of days later I was in constant discomfort from my pinched nerve and my foot so on Wednesday, September 18 went to see my Chiropractor, a care provider for my foot, and to get a massage. Pretty laughable, this was Martin trying to throw everything including the kitchen sink at my body in an attempt to find an advantage. A classic, last-ditch effort.
  • My Chiropractor confirmed the pinched nerve and gave me some movements that would "floss" the nerve and hopefully ease the impingement. I was told that heat was good and that aggravating the nerve, i.e. massage, was bad.
  • My Podiatrist was not free on such short notice but the nurse said she was pretty sure I had Plantar Fasciitis. I had come to this conclusion on my own in the previous week, it just did not act like a bruise. She gave me some recommendations and said that I could run the race if I wanted...
  • By the time I got to my Massage Therapist, my spirits were kind of low. But when I told her what my issues were and that she could not mess with my shoulder, she worked on my legs and foot instead which was awesome!
Remember, this is September 18 and my race was on the 20th!

Normally a long ultra requires lots of coordinated support, planning nutrition and clothing, determining your pace and splits, etc. But my optimism was at an all-time low and my brain was fried! As we drove up to Whistler there were no predicted splits, no nutrition plan, and if Gary hadn't provided a list of required gear I might have forgotten my jacket.

We pulled into a parking garage in Whistler Village, I got out of the car and walked to the back to grab my running vest and mandatory gear so I could check in and get my number bib. My vest was not in the car, I had forgotten it at home.

This was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back and I had a little breakdown in the parking garage. I already had very little confidence in my ability to finish and not having a concrete plan for my race had me pretty ragged. Now I was sitting in the back of our car with tears streaming down my face practically paralyzed and not knowing what to do.

Somewhere between aid station #1 and #2, I caught up to Jamil Coury. He finished this race just so you know.

As I was wallowing in self-pity and anxiety I tried to think about all the hard things my friends had done and all the adversity other people have overcome. In comparison, forgetting my dumb running vest was trivial! But yet here I was crying in a parking garage. I kept telling Shelley it made no sense to buy a new vest when I already had a couple at home that were not getting used, especially when I was fairly certain I was not going to finish.

Mountain biking? Yeah, they do that in Whistler.

There are so many special times when people come through for you or support you when it really matters. In the parking garage Shelley - who usually tells me to take it easy or to err on the side of caution - put her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, "I think you should go buy a vest and I think you should start the race." I thought I was crying earlier but now I was bawling.

I put my mandatory gear in a plastic bag and we walked to the check in. I was an emotional basket case but I was also a little happier.

We ran on such a variety of terrain!

After checking in, getting my gear varified, picking up my number, dropping off my drop bags (which contained a ridiculous amount of gear, shoes & socks - done), it was time to look for a running store to buy a vest. This was another exercise in stress. The first store we went to didn't have anything except for hiking backpacks. Too big and too heavy and not comfy for running. In desperation, I messaged a friend that was up here for the Triple Wammy and asked him if he had a spare. No dice. But he did suggest the Salomon store - brilliant. The time of day? It was 5:55 PM, the store closed at 6:00 and we were about 1 km away. Good grief. As we walked (not very) fast, which was really difficult in my condition, I was calling the store and asking the salesperson to please keep the door open for five extra minutes. He did, they had plenty of vests, and now I own another. :)

We ran through some sort of unofficial graffiti park. Turns out it's the site of an old train wreck.

That night I sorted all of my food and clothes, stuffed my new running vest full of... everything, had a glass of wine (it might have been two) and went to bed. The start was at 10:00 AM so at least that was not stressful.

We ran on wide gravel paths and on super narrow singletrack and everything in between.

Race day was a little anti-climactic. My deterioration wasn't that spectacular, just slow and steady. The terrain WAS spectacular on the other hand. The trails were so varied, and I didn't even make it to the big climbs. In just the first half, we ran on dry trails, moist trails, green trails, rooty trails, mountain bike trails, along train tracks, past multi-million dollar homes, across ski slopes, in areas that felt beyond remote, and right past the Red Bull Joyride course.

I started toward the back of the pack with zero expectations. At first, running was very uncomfortable but I had resolved to at least walk to the first aid station. Funny how we set such arbitrary goals for ourselves. By the time I got there and met Shelley, my foot was feeling better and I suspect endorphins were giving me a huge boost as I felt pretty good considering. I kissed my wife and got on with it. Later on, Shelley told me she was very surprised to see me in such good spirits.

From aid station #1 to #2 we did a lot of descending and I got there way ahead of schedule (yes, Shelley and I did finally come up with a very makeshift list of splits) and I missed Shelley. I still felt okay tho and I was trying to just take it one mile and one aid station at a time. Each bit of progress was a bonus as far as I was concerned.

Truth be told, at this point I was letting my brain get way ahead of my body. I kept thinking, "this is not that bad..." and was already starting to let myself entertain the idea of finishing this thing. At least I was staying on top of my pacing and after having started at the back, I was slowly pulling other runners back.

From aid station #2 to #3 the endorphins started wearing off and my pinched nerve and sore foot were no longer background noise. But for some reason I passed a slew of racers in this stretch. I met Shelley at aid station #3 and my smile of happiness had been replaced by a smile of guarded optimism/apprehension and appreciation of her. Shelley told me that my sister Lucca was cheering me on from afar. Ditto for all of my friends that were up here for various other distances of the WAM races. I left the third aid station trying to channel all of that support into forward progress.

Sometimes the trail was so soft! But without being wet, very pacific northwest.

When you are already frayed and not 100% confident of finishing what you set out to do, little things can pull you under.

Little thing #1 - aid station food.

Yes, this race had all the usual goodies like boiled potatoes with salt, pretzels, M&Ms, orange slices, and even Hammer Gel and HEED! But in a long race I crave something more substantial and by the time I got to aid station #3 I don't think I had consumed enough calories. I wasn't bonking mind you, I was just wishing there was something more appealing at these aid stations... I was drinking enough, and I had Perpetuem in my bottles, and I had consumed a couple of bars, but as most ultra runners know, bars only get you so far. One of the volunteers at this aid station told me that they would had soup and pizza starting at aid station #6, too bad for me they didn't have stuff like this earlier.

Little thing #2 - my malfunctioning GPS watch.

My f'ing watch is on its last leg. It's a little over three years old and several times now it has randomly stopped recording my run (even though I have it set to lock all the buttons during an activity) or just shut down altogether for no apparent reason. As I was walking out of aid station #3 it happened again. Argh!

As I looked down the display on my watch was black. I was carrying a battery pack since I knew I would need to charge my watch at least a couple of times (the battery only lasts about 9-10 hours in the most accurate mode these days) so I connected the battery while walking. But nothing happened. Normally the display of my watch will tell me what percentage of the battery is left and the number will increase as it charges as soon as I connect a battery or plug it in. Today, nothing. I kept moving but I was getting more and more frustrated. I had my phone with me to take pictures but pulling it out just to check the time seemed laborious (funny how the simplest tasks become a chore during an ultra). Plus I was feeling very isolated. Not knowing how far I had gone or had left to go felt daunting. I tried holding down the power button several times to turn it off (even though it appeared to be off already) and that didn't work either. Finally I just put my battery pack away as running with the cable attached to my wrist was becoming annoying. Screw the watch.

The flagging and course marking were incredible! There were pin flags every few feet in most sections. At the start, Gary bragged that he had placed 10,000 flags on this course, literally every single one that he had.

As I left aid station #3 my day started to deteriorate. My left foot was really aching and running the flat and downhill sections was becoming more and more difficult. Hiking was still okay but as the focus of my attention strayed from the next mile to the big picture, I was struggling to imagine hiking another 100 km... And now a few people that I had caught earlier passed me back. :(

Then we hit the first longer, really steep climb.

So many of the trails that we ran on in the first half were also mountain bike trails.

The climb took us up the ski slope adjacent to/south of Creekside. It was mostly on dirt "roads" and we wound our way through unbelievably large and obnoxiously ostentatious and expensive homes that I stopped a few times just to exclaim my astonishment out loud. Most of these houses were "ski in ski out" with enormous decks (or numerous decks), had GIANT windows, outdoor hot tubs, and made liberal use of concrete and modern/pricy exterior materials like steel.

In longer ultras or races that incorporate significant climbs, I always take trekking poles. I had started this race with my poles in my hands and had never even considered stowing them. And the second half of this course was the "hilly" half! Whew.

When you're tired or hungry or suffering, your mind starts to play tricks on you. I had just met a friend who had caught me, I managed to hang with him for a while and the entire time we were together he talked about how he was not feeling 100% but that he was going to tough it out and just try to finish no matter what the pace. For a short time this conversation motivated me to do likewise but then he pulled away from me and I made the mistake of doing the math required to calculate my finishing time. If he wasn't feeling great and if he was leaving me behind, what was I doing out here? Ouch!

The time of the day was beautiful! As the sun started to set I noticed that all the clouds had disappeared. The long shadows and slightly cooler temperatures were really pretty and comfy. But by now I was pretty much walking every flat and downhill section of trail.

Popping out on a ski slope I have skied several times was fun.

Somewhere around here I stopped to cry again. It was mostly frustration! My body did hurt but not so much that if I stopped moving I was in pain, I was just so pissed and disappointed that my race was coming apart. I needed this finish to qualify for a future UTMB lottery and the 2020 Western States lottery and all I could think of was how hard it is to get into these super popular events and how much longer my body would tolerate me running 100-mile races.

Pro tip, feeling sorry for yourself is not the best way to stay motivated.

I finally crested this climb and started the descent to aid station #4. I kept thinking, "If I can run the descents I'd be okay with walking the flats..." but at this point, my foot was not even letting me run the downhills. Shoot.

Then the trail turned into a ski run and I could see the aid station below. And suddenly I was running! I guess my body had a little bit of adrenaline left to give and for those last few minutes, I tolerated my various ailments.

Shelley came up the hill to meet me and all I could do was lean on my poles and tell her I was done.

I suspect Shelley thought I was doing better than I was based on the two previous times she had seen me so far. As we walked down to some chairs by the aid station she held my hand and said, "Do you want me to talk you into continuing?" I love you Shelley! [Queue even more tears...] But now I had to convince her that I really needed to pull the plug. I sat down in a chair and cried again. Oh man, I was a mess.

After resting in the chair for a few minutes my body shut down. Hard! I had not realized how much energy I was expending by trying to compartmentalize the discomfort in my foot and in my shoulder, it had been exhausting! Suddenly I was shivering like mad in spite of putting on a dry shirt. No wonder I felt like I needed more calories earlier. And as we started to walk back down to Whistler Village my foot was suddenly killing me as that ailment rushed to the forefront of my consciousness. So impressive how much you can tolerate when you need to/choose to. But that was then, right now I was kaput.

As I hobbled back to the car propped up by Shelley I realized I had made the right choice. I wasn't even halfway through this monster and the "big" climbs and descents were all in the second half. And it was getting dark. And it was getting cold. Of course, doing the right thing didn't boost me up at this particular time. :)

During the (only two mile long!) drive back to the Airbnb I had to ask Shelley to crank the heat. Even so, it took a 20-minute hot shower after we arrived to bring me back to life. I was empty.

The weekend was not all darkness and disappointment (actually very little of it was, I always dramatize for effect), I learned a lot have a ton to be thankful for. See below.
  • It was educational to start a race in this mental and physical state. I have no desire to repeat this experience but now I know what I can and can't run through.
  • Having Shelley and my family and friends support me (Lucca and Shelley and my friends at the Airbnb were texting updates back and forth all day long) is huge. Every report I got that someone wished me well was a boost.
  • Take the time to plan your freaking race! Since I didn't have the confidence that I was going to finish, I started with no real aid station or support or drop bag strategy... I was carrying EVERYTHING (all my food, all my clothing, my light, etc.) with me right from the start. This resulted in a heavy pack that bounced around more than was comfortable when I ran. Not a huge deal but just one more chink in the armor that I could have avoided.
  • Double (triple?) check all your gear before you leave the house. Or print a list for crying out loud. How many ultras have I run? A few. And I know exactly what I need for a race. Forgetting my running vest was an easy thing to fix.
  • I really enjoyed the trails up to aid station #3 and I'm thankful for those memories. This course has an incredible variety of terrain.
  • Taking things as they come and focusing on just the next mile or the next 10 minutes or the next aid station is very helpful. Too often I let my mind try to wrap itself around the entire race. I suspect my injuries would have won in the end regardless but this technique of sectioning works and if you are just tired or hungry and not injured, it's a winner.
  • I used some Superfeet Run Comfort insoles because of my PF and am absolutely convinced they helped me make it as far as I did. I will continue to use these until I am 100% healed.
  • Use gear that works. Other than my too stretchy running vest, everything else was spot on. My shoes (as usual) were awesome! And I ran in some new gaiters that were so great. I also discovered some new shorts a couple of weeks ago and wore them today, they are the best!
  • You can get 7% milkfat and ELEVEN PERCENT MILFAT yogurt in Canada, I love it! Who needs ice cream.
  • I'm writing this race report three weeks after the fact and after finishing a 10k that I was able to run hard. You can heal from injuries, don't let them get you down. At least not for too long.
Here are all my pictures and videos.

Here is Jamil Coury's video recap. You can see me at 5:46.

  • DNF
  • I dropped out at 60 km/aid station #4
Nutrition (before)
  • around 6:00 AM I had some coffee, yogurt, and then I sipped some Endurolytes Fizz on the short drive to the start
Nutrition (during)
Nutrition (after)
  • I skipped the Recoverite this time, partly because I had nothing coming up and partly because I just wanted to sleep... I think I had a glass of wine, 2 REM Caps, 50 mg of Hammer CBD, and then fell into bed.

24 August 2019

Ragnar Trail Rainier Black Loop

The Ragnar Trail Rainier Black Loop was my first ever running stage race. Unlike the regular Ragnar format which is a relay race, the Black Loop format is just like TransRockies where teams consist of two people and you need to finish each stage together since the clock stops when the second person in your team crosses the line. My partner was Martin de Vrieze who I have been running with for several years and even raced with at events like the Eiger Ultra Trail 101k.

[Photo credit Heather de Vrieze.]

Martin and I are super compatible. Depending on the event, one of us will be a little faster but we're usually close to each other. On this weekend we both had good days and incredibly won every stage and the overall. I'm still in disbelief.

Martin and his wife Heather were kind enough to let me crash at their condo which was deluxe! Almost everyone camps at Ragnar events and being able to clean up in between every stage was awesome. Plus we could walk to and from every stage.

The Black Loop event uses all of the regular Ragnar loops plus an additional "Black Loop". Here is what we ran.

12:00 PM - Green Loop
2.8 miles

3:00 PM - Yellow Loop
4.9 miles

9:00 PM - Red Loop
8.2 miles

7:00 AM - Black Loop
18.8 miles

The Green Loop was a mass start to sort out the field but the Yellow and Red loops had a 30-minute window where you could start and then the Black Loop started teams in order of their overall standing. The base of the Crystal Mountain ski area is around 4,000' so I wasn't very worried about altitude, the biggest issue was all the elevation we were going to gain. These loops were real trail races!

Stage racing is an exercise in planning, strategy, pacing, and recovery. You want to go hard, but you can't go all out on the early stages or you might blow up on a later one. You also need to do all the little things in-between stages so you are ready to run again for the next one. Warming up, cooling down, eating and drinking the right amount at the right time, and taking care of any niggles are crucial. Fortunately, I have participated in several cycling stage races so this wasn't totally new to me.

Green Loop
Most trail races start in the (sometimes very early) morning so noon was pretty different. We lined up at the base of the ski area and when the race organizer asked teams to stage themselves based on their estimated finish time, everyone was afraid to move to the front. I finally told Martin, "C'mon!" and we stepped ahead of everyone else. I figured this would be good for two reasons, 1) we could start mellow and perhaps dictate the pace and 2) in my experience if you act fast people often assume you are and don't challenge you. #letthemindgamesbegin

We ran down a gravel road for about 100 m and then headed straight up the ski hill. Dang, this was like a vertical kilometer race! And that mellow start? It didn't last long and by the time we hit the hill three teams had passed us. Time to work.

[Photo credit Heather de Vrieze.]

We were able to run about half of the hill and then had to shift gears to hiking. Boy does that kind of start get the heart racing and lungs working in a hurry.

About the time we switched to hiking we had passed all but one of the runners and since I knew the one person ahead of us had to wait for his partner I was feeling pretty great! While hiking we passed this last person and we had perhaps a 10-15 second gap at the top of the hill.

From here you run down a dirt road for about one mile. The grade was not too steep so you could carry a bunch of speed but we were trying not to go too fast as this was just the first of four stages. I kept looking back and not seeing anyone which is an amazing confidence booster.

At the bottom of the hill you make a hard left turn and head uphill on a little section of gravel road and then you are running up Crystal Mountain Blvd and finally through all the parking lots and then back up the gravel road to the start/finish. There were a lot of regular Ragnar teams strewn all over the course so it was hard to tell if another Black Loop team was behind us, turns out we finished this stage about two minutes ahead of the 2nd place team. Nice!

Another thing that was nice was the pool at the condo.

The water felt so good and I think it helped loosen up my legs. I did a little relaxing while I sipped some Hammer HEED.

Yellow Loop
As we were hanging out, Heather had the brilliant idea of taking the gondola up and leaving a drop bag at the top. Brilliant! I got some stuff together and headed up. After dropping my bag in the aid station tent I turned to walk back to the gondola and my heart sank. The line to get on the gondola for the return trip was huge! I actually ran to the gondola just to get in front of a bunch of other people that were walking in the same direction. Lucky for me the line was moving pretty efficiently and I made it back down in time.

This time the organizer let you start anytime you wanted to in a 30-minute window. We decided to wait a few minutes and let most of the teams get ahead (I think they pretty much all started right at 3:00 PM) so that we would have a carrot up the trail and so that we would not get stuck in traffic when the trail got narrow. Especially since this loop started up the same steep hill as the Green Loop and we knew people would be slowing down. I had seen the start of the Yellow Loop singletrack and it looked like congestion city if you timed your entry poorly. It didn't really work out as planned.

Sure, most of Black Loop teams were ahead of us but loads of regular Ragnar runners were right in front of us. And sure enough, we hit the narrow singletrack right behind about eight runners. We could have been jerks and asked them to step off the trail and into the bushes but instead opted to enjoy the short rest.

When the trail widened out we are pretty jazzed to get moving and did just that.

This loop is one, long climb to the very top of the ski area where the gondola drops you off. Being pretty fresh I was able to run most of this climb but there were some hiking sections. We tried to push without blowing up.

One disadvantage of not starting at the front is that unless you memorize all the runners in your race, you are never sure if you have passed everyone... :( That's the boat I was in and as we got out into the open about 1.5 miles from the top I could not be sure that we had caught everyone we had let go ahead of us. Lesson learned. Turns out we did pass all the other teams and finished about 4 minutes ahead of second-place so now our overall lead was around six minutes.

Since Heather was out running herself (she was on a regular Ragnar team) and since I didn't take my phone along on this stage I don't have any pictures of us until we reached the finish where I could retrieve my drop bag.

Having a drop bag at the finish of this stage was great. I had a dry shirt and my bottle of Recoverite and was a happy man.

After this leg, we had 4.5 hours to kill! Luckily dinner was served at 5:00 PM so that seemed like plenty of time to eat a (slightly smaller than normal) proper meal and have it digest in time to run again at 9:00 PM.


Boy did I get lucky in retrospect. This was too much food, especially too much protein even four hours before running. Another lesson learned.

Fortunately, we also had time for a nap! Did I mention how nice it was staying in the condo? I think I slept for at least one hour.

Red Loop
Exciting! This loop was mostly downhill and all in the dark, I was super excited about starting. The route was roughly two miles across the ski hill which had a net elevation loss, then four miles of pure downhill, and we finished with a gradual two-mile climb back to the start/finish.

We took the gondola to the top of the ski area and although there was another 30-minute window where you could start, we had learned our lesson and started right at 9 with everyone else. Also, the sooner we finished, the sooner we could go to bed. 7:00 AM was already sounding early.

We thought it would be cold, it was not. I put on an undershirt and arm sleeves and gloves and within minutes of starting realized I had made a mistake. Oh well, at least I was not overheating dramatically and pushing the arm sleeves down helped enough.

One nice thing about only running one and a half hours at night is you can turn your headlamp up to the brightest setting right from the gun. One interesting thing about a headlamp turned up to 11 is that the beam reflects right back at you when there is dust or fog in the air. On the way up the gondola, we noticed that fog was covering the middle two thousand feet of the ski hill and of course the trail up here was nice and dry (read: dusty). Yikes.

There were times going down when our visibility was reduced to maybe 3'? There were a couple of sections where I had to walk just because I could not see far enough ahead to run. But as we descended, the visibility slowly got better and we were able to run fast.

This was the only stage where Martin and I got separated. Luckily it was not in the sections were we could not see anything, rather it was toward the bottom of the descent. I think I scooted around some regular Ragnar traffic and Martin got stuck behind them. Once I noticed this I dialed my pace back a tad and by the time we got close to the bottom, he was right behind me again. Awesome.

Once again some teams took off like a shot and we were chasing in fourth(?) place. But Martin likes to descend (as do I) and we have both run at night and that experience really paid dividends. At one point I was in front and I could hear someone totally tailgating Martin. He said, "Feel free to pass if you want..." About five minutes later I didn't hear anyone behind him anymore.

As dry as it was out here, sections of this descent were just damp enough to give you perfect traction and because of this we were going pretty quick. I suspect we were fortunate not to have an accident while running. At times I was absolutely trusting that my foot would land where I thought the trail was and there were a couple of times when the ground dropped away more than I was expecting which gave me a burst of adrenaline, to say the least.

But man was this fun! We made really good time on the descent. At one point Martin's headlamp suddenly turned off! Lucky for us it came right back on. More excitement! :)

About 1-1.5 miles from the finish the trail suddenly got muddy and wet. Running this fast at night it was impossible to avoid all the slop so we got wet feet but it was really close to the finish so no biggie.

Running back up through the Crystal Mountain parking lot I was so buzzed from 1) ripping that descent and all the close calls and 2) because we were in the lead again! I had a huge smile on my face as we finished. We gained another 13(!) minutes on 2nd place on this stage. Some skill and experience, and some luck, take the credit. Now our overall lead was almost 20 minutes.

After walking back to the condo, drinking some more Recoverite, I just got cleaned up and hit the sack. I figured my last big meal was not that long ago and I know from experience that stuffing myself the night before a hard run is never a good thing.

The only picture I have from this stage is during the trip up the gondola. The bright light you see is the timing/aid station tent on the ridge that was all lit up.

[Picture credit Heather de Vrieze.]

Black Loop
Yes. This was the real thing, an honest trail run. It consisted of the Yellow Loop, a 3-mile dirt road descent to the bottom, a 3-mile climb (half dirt road and half singletrack) right back up to the very top, and then the Red Loop.

I woke up wondering how I would feel and it wasn't too bad! Since we were so close to the start, I set my alarm for 6:00 AM to maximize my rest. And I never eat for at least three hours before a race anyway, it was a very good call.

We got up, prepped our running packs, and walked over to the village. I could tell that I was a little dehydrated but didn't want to chug a bunch of fluid right before the start so instead hoped that I could catch up during the run by being serious about drinking. Luckily that strategy worked.

For this stage, they started the top three teams together and then teams started behind us per their time gap and everyone else started at 7:30. We went right up the hill from the Green and Yellow loop again but at least this time the trail was not so crowded.

Ready, set, go!

[Photo credit Heather de Vrieze.]

Let's just say that we hiked more of the Yellow Loop this time than last time. :) But we were still pushing. Our split for this loop was only about 15 minutes slower than yesterday, I was psyched about that.

On the way up I looked back once we got out into the open and I could see the 2nd place team maybe 5 minutes behind us. That's some great motivation let me tell you.

Here we are cresting the hill at the end of the Yellow Loop.

[Photo credit Heather de Vrieze.]

[Photo credit Heather de Vrieze.]

The dirt road descent from the top of the gondola was ridiculous. I've skied this road so knew roughly what to expect in terms of the pitch (it averaged 20%) but I had never seen the surface of this road in the summer. It was really, really rocky. And Martin was eating it up! At one point he shot ahead of me while I was tapping the brakes in anticipation of the next climb but we hit the bottom together again.

We lost a couple of minutes here because I decided to assume where the Black Loop timing tent and aid station was instead of following the arrows. :( At least it was only two minutes. Once we saw the arrow and got to the aid station I filled a bottle, grabbed some fruit, and we were off.

I think we hiked about 99.9% of this climb, which also averaged 20%. :) We hiked so much of it that we started joking about how we were going to describe it. Here are some phrases we bandied about in true male, macho, ego-preserving style.

"Yeah, we ran some of the climb..."
"It wasn't that bad, I guess we hiked parts of it..."

As we got close to the top I looked back again and saw the 2nd place team. this time they were maybe 10-15 minutes behind us? Hard to tell for sure so no time to relax.

At the top Heather was there again to meet us and take pictures, thanks so much Heather for your awesome support!

[Photo credit Heather de Vrieze.]

[Photo credit Heather de Vrieze.]

Next up was the Red Loop. And this time the dust was not an issue and there was very little fog. Plus, no headlamps required. :) We made great time going down the hill compared to other teams. Surprisingly (perhaps not?) we actually ran the 4-mile descent at about the same speed as in the dark! I guess we were more tired today and we really did push it last night.

Friday night mile splits on the descent
9:43 (tons of dust)
9:54 (tons of fog)

Saturday mile splits on the descent

Martin finally started to get tired once we got to the bottom. He's a master of hiding the effort and suddenly he was walking about 50' behind me and I had no clue he was hurting. But it didn't matter, we only had the 2-mile gradual climb back to the finish so we adjusted our pace accordingly. And to his credit, Martin ran up two short, steep climbs that we had walked up Friday night! This guy is tough.

Running up through the parking lot was awesome! I have never enjoyed running through a paved parking lot this much. I couldn't see any Black Loop teams behind us and we had a big cushion over 2nd anyway so we were able to savor the moment.

Yes! What an awesome experience.

Did I mention staying at the condo was incredible? After crossing the line we walked straight back there, I had some more Recoverite, we showered, and then strolled back to the village for food and beer. AND BECAUSE WE WERE GOING TO GET AN AWARD. :)

Here are the top three male teams, 2nd place overall was a coed team.

[Photo credit Heather de Vrieze.]

Lessons learned
  • A compatible partner is gold. Martin and I were super compatible. We were both able to push each other just the right amount and we paced ourselves very well throughout the weekend.
  • I warmed up prior to every stage. This consisted of some lunges, some leg swings, some high knee jumps and prior to the first stage, a short jog. It helped a LOT.
  • I cooled down after every stage instead of just flopping down in a chair. I went for a short walk, hit the pool, did some light stretching, and that also helped avoid the soreness that comes from a hard run.
  • I fueled well. After every stage I had something to drink and except for after the first stage something to eat as well.
  • I figured out when I wasn't properly hydrated and took appropriate action. I drank 1.5 bottles on the first climb Saturday and that caught me back up. I should be drinking Endurolytes Fizz instead of water in-between stages.
Here are all our pictures and videos. Mt Rainier was so beautiful!

  • Green Loop - 1st overall
  • Yellow Loop - 1st overall
  • Red Loop - 1st overall
  • Black Loop - 1st overall
  • official results
Nutrition (before)
  • Green Loop - water
  • Yellow Loop - Hammer HEED and water
  • Red Loop - water
  • Black Loop - cold brew coffee, water, 1 Hammer Gel 5 minutes before start
Nutrition (during)
Nutrition (after)
Green Loop
Yellow Loop
Red Loop
Black Loop

17 August 2019

pacing Lucca at the Waldo 100k

I have never started a race with the intention of running with a pacer but I have lucked out on several occasions and ended up connecting with some excellent ones (most notably here and here). Ever since the first time I have realized how helpful they can be. I have also paced several friends and run with Lucca at the Seattle Marathon many times and at the Sun Mountain 50k once and so when I heard she was going to run the Waldo 100k I jumped at the opportunity to help her out again.

Lucca had a GREAT run and I had an awesome time.

Here's to many more shared experiences.

A 100 km trail run is not a trivial thing and takes most of the day to complete. The normal start time for this race is 5:00 AM but the race organizer asked everyone that felt they might not be able to finish in 16 hours to start at 3:00. Lucca took that option so my day started at 2:00 AM when the alarm went off. Luckily our lodging was only about 10 minutes from the start. Whew.

There were about 30 runners that went for the early option.

And invariably there is always one shirtless guy.

I didn't just want to pace Lucca for the last 30 miles, I wanted to help out where I could. Turns out the 20-mile aid station was just another 10 minutes up the road from the start so I had time to go back to our place, nap, have breakfast, and still make it to this spot by 7:30 AM.

The aid station was right by the road so all I had to do was park and walk about 100'. Nice. I headed up the trail a little and waited. The trail was beautiful!

While I was hanging out I got to encourage several of the early starters as they jogged past me. It was really fun to cheer people on! And then there was Lucca.

After Lucca took off I got in the car and drove back to where we were staying to get all my gear sorted and to have a quick lunch. At about 10:00 AM Bil drove me to the 31-mile aid station which is where runners could pick up their pacers.

I got all suited up and again walked up the trail a bit to meet Lucca in advance of the aid station. And right on schedule there she was.

Ultras are (mostly) a balancing act between effort and fueling. Luckily Lucca has figured out what works for her. Today it was plain, whole milk Greek yogurt.

And then we were off! Oh man were these trails awesome!

Lucca was doing an incredible job and killing it on the climbs (something she would continue to do until the very end) running several sections that others were walking.

Suddenly we saw this sign next to the trail.

I think I laughed out loud! Then I stifled myself as I was not sure how funny this would be to someone that has already run 39 miles...

Turns out the next aid station was themed like Mad Max Fury Road - so cool! There were so many fun signs and the staff at this aid station definitely took the spirit cake.

Lucca has her aid station protocol down. She adds ice to her drinking bladder, and to her bandana, grabs what she needs and hits the trail. Even when she needs a little extra she does it on the go.

Until now I didn't have to do much encouraging. I was just talking trying to keep her mind off of the effort and would occasionally remind her to eat and/or drink if I noticed she had not done so in a while. And of course I was here to take pictures!

The aid station where things got serious was #8 at the base of the climb to Maiden Peak. This was mile 50 and right when you left the trail went UP. But even though you had to hike in the aid station supplies they still had ice! So awesome.

We got what we needed and took off. And by "took off" I mean we got out our trekking poles.

It's about three miles from here to the summit and some of the pitches are pretty severe. As you get closer to the top, the terrain becomes more rocky and barren.

But eventually you get there, and on a nice day the views are worth it!

The summit is a short out-and-back so now we had to descend that steep, loose, rocky trail.

Once we got back into the woods the trail improved quite a bit. I was absolutely loving being out here and started to feel sorry for Lucca as she was much more tired than I was and probably not enjoying the trails quite so much. :)

From here on in I tried to keep up the encouragement.

"You're doing great Lucca!"
"Way to go Lucca!"
"You are crushing the hills Lucca!"
"Nice job Lucca!"

All of it true.

There was one more aid station at mile 55, and what did they have here...?

I could not help notice that the bottle was almost empty. :)

The last nine miles of this course are basically downhill but like many downhills, they are not 100% down so there were a few small "bumps" that we had to climb. Sometimes Lucca had to shift to a power hike but her hike was still as strong as it was 40 miles ago - so great.

Lucca's descending speed had tailed off some but with about two miles to go she managed to speed up. I think she started to smell the barn and these last two miles were just perfect trail. Not so steep that you needed to tap the brakes, nice and soft, great for running in other words.

And she kept smiling.  Here is a great shot by the race photographer with about one mile to go, if you look closely I am right behind Lucca in the green hat.

And then we broke out of the trees and could see the finish.

I really appreciate James Varner (the race director) who chooses to greet every single finisher when they cross the line.

All Rainshadow Running races have an incredible finish line spread. The Waldo 100k was no exception. While I was chowing down on a giant burrito, huge cookies, and having an IPA, Lucca was doing her own recovery.

I'm so proud of Lucca! She always downplays her speed but she gets the job done and her attitude is an inspiration. In the end, she finished in 16:15 so just barely over the time that was suggesting an early start and WAY below her target time of 17:00. I'm so glad to have been part of this success.

Here is Lucca's race report.

Here are all of our pictures and videos.

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