This was my first trip to Texas for a race. I’d heard good things about this race and wanted to try it out. Since it was National Championship race too, there was money for top 5. Meltzer and I connected a month or two before the race when we saw we both signed up and decided to share a hotel room and rental car for the weekend. It was good to catch up with the Karl and Cheryl and hang out a bit. Karl was coming “off the couch” because of fighting an injury in December. But, the Goat always runs well and this weekend was no exception.
For me, coming into this one fresh off strained cartilage in my sternum and missing 8 days of running when I was supposed to hit my big run really made 100k feel super tough. With lack of long runs plus the stupid water bottle mistake…more on that later…well, it kinda hurt the 2nd lap. Add to it the fact that it rained the night before and the first half of the race, made for gunky conditions to say the least. Bandera has a lot of solid, rocky sections of limestone (I think). Not a lot of loose rocks, just rocky…plus clay dirt in between. The clay sections when wet become a greasy, sticky mess. Four pound shoes and slime. Add slippery clay covering smooth solid rocks and you couldn’t use the rocks to step or plant on. The 2nd lap was better when it quit raining and we had a good breeze, it got tackier in most of the bad places.
I felt pretty clunky from 26-48 due to the bone-headed mistake that I didn’t pick up my extra water bottle (so I’d have 2) from 17 miles on. I meant to, but blew it off. Bad move. When the rain quit, it got pretty humid and the upper 60s/low 70s felt REALLY hot coming from 20s high temps in Central Oregon the past month. I kept draining my single bottle well before each station, so I slowed through the middle 20 miles of the course. I just kept getting behind a little, catch up when I chugged at an aid station, run out, get behind…repeat. I picked up my other bottle at 48 and felt way better the last 12 miles. Somehow I always seem to do this at the beginning of every season. Have one early race where I don’t drink enough, remember the same exact lesson EVERY season…oh yeah, carry more water than you think you need.
I rallied the last 12 to hold onto 7th overall in 9 hours 37 minutes. It would be an awesome technical, but runnable course if it was dry (which it is a majority of years). Karl ran about a half hour in front of me for 4th. He paid for his effort though. He passed out at the BBQ joint in Bandera Saturday evening. It was quite the spectacle—Speedgoat flat on his back on the floor in the middle of the restaurant. We had his feet propped up and sipping on Sprite to get his blood sugar back up.
The waitress had the most classic line after Speedgoat hit the deck and we told her he just ran a hard 100k. In her Texas drawl “Honey, I don’t even run down the block, I wait for the bus…and if I miss it, there’s another one a comin’!” Awesome. Felt like I was in Missouri again.
Anyway, it worked Karl over for the evening and Cheryl and I took him back to the Villa and he crashed out. He was back to old Karl the next morning. Even the best of them pay the piper occasionally. It is ultrarunning.
All in all, fun time in Texas. Good to get a long one under my belt so early in the season. Makes a 50k not seem so long. Great aid stations and super well-marked course. Giddyup.
It has been a busy few months since Wasatch. I spent the remainder of September and first half of October finishing up projects around the house to get our home on the market to sell. Painting a deck, painting a woodshed, general clean up and repair of little things that tend to pile up on the list when you own a home. I kept running all fall, but really backed off volume and just enjoyed the down time with my family and not traveling.
The Move: Back to the Westside, Baby
On a personal note, my wife and I had been longing to move back into town for a while and the market had finally creeped back enough for that to happen. We’ve really enjoyed the “crater house” but had outgrown the home (1500sf, tiny 1 car garage and no office space for me…plus the fact that it’s 10 miles south of Bend). My older kids are in activities now and we’re shuttling back and forth to town constantly. And, I don’t work out of the house anymore (besides some freelance consulting). Needless to say, big fuel bill when you drive 20-40 miles every day. I felt like we lived in the car and I didn’t move from Denver to Bend in ‘99 to get away from just that.
So, we frantically got everything cleaned up in about a month and put our house on the market. The crater house was a fun almost 5 years. Watching my kiddos learn to scramble and climb around on our amazing one in a million property was fun, but the location was just not ideal for us. And, anyone that knows us well, we’re antsy when it comes to homes. The Crater House was our 4th home we’ve owned in Bend in 13 years…and most recent purchase was our 5th home. What can I say…we’re both creative folks and we get bored.
Little did we know it be a whirlwind ride. We put our home on the market and sold it in 4 days! The crazy thing was that we were eyeing a home on Bend’s Westside, big lot, walking distance to everything, close to trails and a big 8 acre park with singletrack in it…plus, it was a mid-century modern style home and we love that architecture. The start of the modern, energy efficient home design from the 50s and 60s. As soon as we were in contract on our Crater House, we made an offer. The owners had inherited it and it was managed by a Trust. The Trust (aka lawyers) were already in negotiations with an investor who had put in a low-ball offer, but they weren’t in contract yet. We threw in an offer quite a bit under asking price—as it needed work—gave it over to the Big Man Upstairs and waited.
To our surprise, the offer was accepted with one stipulation…no repairs. We were already planning on renovating, so that wasn’t a deal killer. So, we spent November packing and planning the renovation and took possession of the house in mid-December. Wham, Bam. We’re deep in renovation land and hopefully (yes, hopefully) we’re about 3 weeks from being done. So nice to be back on the westside and close to EVERYTHING. Walk to work, walk to pubs, walk to coffee. Awesome. I’m so thankful and feeling mighty blessed as we enter 2013.
I’ve been training through all of this…not sure how, but I’m swinging it. I sometimes get 5 hours a sleep a night, but that’s nothing new. I signed up for Bandera 100k (of which I’m traveling to today…I’m typing in Seattle Airport on a layover). Not sure what I was thinking with so much going on, but I’m impulsive and like most of us ultrarunners, I like running. So, I don’t sweat the details. I’m not at the volume I’d like to be, but muscle memory, right?!
However, I did have a solid November-December of training. Bend enjoyed a mild, dry late fall and I squeezed in a lot of speedwork and tempo work on lower volume for a good 2 months. What I missed in volume, I made up for in quality.
To my dismay, I did have one setback right before Christmas break when I strained the cartilage in my sternum/upper rib while working on the new house. Stupid, boneheaded move (I won’t go into details it’s so stupid), but it happened and had to take 8 days off running because I was so sore. So, after a few weeks of PT, it’s on the mend. Let’s just say I don’t want to fall at Bandera…or get a bear hug.
I did get to test out the ribs on my last long run at the annual Bad Ass Fun Run that Meissner and I started years ago. He’s since moved to Durango, but I’m trying to keep the tradition alive. It’s become a pirate run at different locales every year. Bend got hit with some serious snow and we did a snow run at Smith Rock/Gray Butte area. It was tough. Max King, Zach Violett, Stephanie Howe and I did the longest leg, 19.6 miles. Max and I ended up taking turns breaking trail and ran just under 20 miles in 4 hours and 19 minutes! We were in snow up to our knees on the top half of Gray Butte. It was an adventure. At one point, Max was breaking trail on a traverse in 8 inches of powder and I felt like I was running 6:30 effort, looked at my GPS watch…15:30 pace! It was work. So, I have to say…I’m looking forward to some dry, warmer trails at Bandera. And, sharing a hotel and catching up with Meltzer. The Bronco Billy and Speedgoat Show. Always good to hang with the Old Goat. Plus, I get to razz him that I tied with him in votes for Ultrarunner of the Year. Giddyup.
I ran Wasatch as my second 100 miler back in 2004 — 8 long years ago. A lot has passed since the “salad” days. I only had one child back then — now I have 3. I have a lot more responsibility and a lot less free time. I have to get creative with my training to stay at the volume it requires to race and stay competitive at ultramarathons. It’s tough sometimes and I lose sleep, but I love running in the mountains and I love this sport. I don’t think I could give it up if I had to.
Wasatch 100 is one of the hard ones, the big dogs. There are a lot of other races that get more recent press because of fat-cat cash purses, but Wasatch, in my book (and many other “old school” ultrarunners that have been around before any of the hype) consider Wasatch as one of the pinnacles. It’s been around since 1980 (I believe the 2nd oldest 100 behind the infamous Western States 100). It’s hard, it’s technical, it’s relentless. 26,882′ of climbing and 26,131′ of downhill — 10,000′ of the descent coming in the last 23 miles! It’s brutal…and beautiful. Just my kind of course.
Since my youngest son is still not at the age where he travels well, my wife and I decided I should “dirtbag” this race and drive solo, sleep at my friends Roch and Catherine’s house in Salt Lake City and bust it out. Zip in, run hard, zip home. No pacer — just Roch as my crew at 3 checkpoints, drop bags and go hard. No pampering — just like this race embodies. That was the plan.
I was super busy the week of the race and only averaged 5.5 hours of sleep the entire week leading up. Phew. I was a little worried about that, but had no choice — life, work and family took precedence over training plans and tapers, so I just rolled with it. I took off for SLC from Bend at 9:30pm on Wednesday night, made it to Eastern Oregon and crashed at a pullout in the desert at 2am. I slept 5 hours, got up at 8am on Thursday and drove the remaining 7.5 hours to Salt Lake in time for the pre-race check in at Sugarhouse Park. I dropped my drop bags, weighed-in, and hung out chatting with old friends.
Karl Meltzer, a good buddy, who has won this race multiple times was there to hang out and talk with some folks he was coaching (he was running Run Rabbit Run 100 the following weekend) and would just be spectator this year. We discussed my final strategy for the race. Remembering how hot it was from 35 to 53 and the fact that I ran too hard here in ‘04 and paid the piper the last 25 with dead quads, my plan was to go easy through Lambs Canyon aid (at mile 53) by holding back in the heat of the day and not running any downhills hard until Bear Ass Pass (mile 57), then turn it on up Mill Creek Canyon, Dog Lake, and up to Desolation Lake in the 60s and get as far as possible before turning on lights. If possible, getting to Ant Knoll aid at mile 80 by dark, allowing me to run the extremely technical descent off the high point above Brighton Ski Lodge (Point Supreme) in the daylight. Here you plunge 1,450’ in just 1.7 miles on extremely rocky, rutted single track trail. That was the strategy. The key is sticking to the plan in these things and not getting caught up in racing too early or just generally being a numbskull.
Thursday night, I went out to dinner with Roch and Catherine at a local Thai joint and then off to bed at 9:30pm. I was up at 3am to have Roch take me to the bus shuttle in downtown SLC. I got to the start and after some usual pre-race stuff, we were off at 5am sharp and running the rolling 5 miles on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in the pre-dawn darkness. I went out in the lead with two other guys with me. Peter Fain, from Truckee, CA and Adam Lint, from Seattle. We were making small talk and the lower section of the 4,400’ climb to gain the summit of Chinscraper, local George Grygar, joined the group. Soon we were flipping off our headlamps and gaining the ridge line above 9,000’ and cruising along together.
Somewhere before Grobbens Corner I took the lead on some more technical singletrack rollers. I just relaxed and cruised into Frances Peak aid station at mile 18 at 8:18am (4 minutes faster than Jeff Roes’ CR pace). I didn’t feel like I was pushing, but I consciously backed off the pace after that to be safe. A few miles after that aid, George caught up to me and we ran together for a while chatting. He left me on one steep climb and I just settled in to run alone and not push.
I could see George from time to time on long stretches on the ridge and would time his lead — 3-4 minutes. Not much. I remained calm and just cruised and let the miles slide by through Bountiful B, Sessions and Swallow Rocks aid. I was content to let George lead and knew it was too early to be racing and preferred to be the hunter and not the hunted.
It was starting to warm up when I arrived at Big Mountain aid station at mile 39.4, the first crew stop at 11:59am — 12 minutes off CR pace. Roch was there ready for me. I dropped my empty bottles, weighed in 4 pounds up and walked through the aid station as Roch dowsed me with ice cold water, I chugged a bottle, ate some banana, swapped gel flasks and took off to hit the hottest part of the course, Alexander Ridge.
This section is notoriously the spot where it makes or breaks your race and going too hard through this section can really beat you up. It’s SW facing and exposed and is like a hot pocket on the course. It has a pretty significant hot micro-climate. I went mellow through here, just concentrating on pushing calories, liquid and generally taking care of myself. I really didn’t worry about George’s lead. I wanted to feel good coming into Lambs Canyon. After Alexander Ridge aid, I kept cruising comfortably until finally arriving into Lambs Canyon aid at 53 miles. Rocho was there with an ice cold soaking towel, water to douse me with and a full ice water bottle to drink. I downed water, soaked myself really well and hiked up to the aid station tent to weigh-in at 2:27pm.
I weighed in one pound over and to my surprise found George still in the aid station. He looked a little worked. Noted. I said something to the effect of “hey, man.” At that point, I was still not ready to start racing, I knew we’d be out of the heat soon and just wanted to make sure I ate and drank enough to get myself topped off before leaving Lambs. Rocho and I walked through the aid station swapping out gels, getting my iPod on and letting me wolf down some food. We were still walking under the overpass of I-80 when George came flying by running up the Lambs Canyon Road. I had an inkling to go after him, but took a deep breath and relaxed and reminded myself not to race yet. During this internal conversation, Rocho (the grizzled veteran that he is), echoed my thoughts by saying, “Let him go, Bronco. Not yet. He’s hurting.” I replied, “I know, Roch, still early. I’m chillin’.” Strategy.
Once I got refills situated, I took off up the road (George was already out of sight), and settled in to go easy and let my food digest and all the water absorb I had just enhaled. By the time I hit the trailhead at Lambs Trail a mile and a half up the road, I was feeling pretty darn good. The heat was settling down with the north facing climb up to Bear Ass Pass, so I just settled in transitioning running and hiking up to the top. I got to the top and about halfway down the 1,500’ descent (in 1.8 miles) I came around a switchback and George was 50 meters in front of me. Okay, time to make a move. I took a gel and a Succeed Cap and blew by him. I glanced over my shoulder and he tried to go with me, but I’d saved my legs and was moving down better than he was and I quickly gapped him. I soon hit Mill Creek Canyon Road and took off up the pavement for the long grind up to Upper Big Water aid at 61.7. I ran 95% of this road with only a few short hike breaks and got in at 4:09pm and was in and out in about a minute and onto the trail before George arrived. Sweet.
As I ran up the climb to Dog Lake I listened for cheering at the aid station below to see how far back he was. I estimated about 3 or 4 minutes. Good, that meant I put about a minute a mile on him on the road. So, I just kept plugging away and was nearing the final push to Dog Lake when I came to the last trail intersection and came to a halt. There was one flag on a big tree on the left and one flag on the ground (obviously pulled and thrown down) in the middle of the intersection. No other flags. Crap. Which way? Think. I couldn’t remember for sure which way. My gut said right, but the flag was on the tree on the left side of the trail before the intersection. So, I headed left up the trail. After about 2-3 minutes of climbing I came to another trail intersection with no flags. Dang, wrong way. I turned on my heels, glanced at my watch, and flew down the trail at 6 minute pace. It took me 1 minute of hauling downhill to get back to the vandalized intersection. I looked back down the trail and saw George in the distance almost up to where I was. Man, all that work for nothing.
I took off uphill running hard to try to get a gap again and, sure enough, saw a couple of flags. Okay, now I’m going the right way. I shook off the detour mentally and concentrated on getting my lead back. I soon hit Dog Lake and started the short descent to Blunder Fork to pick up the climb to Desolation Lake. I was a few hundred meters flying downhill when I came to a screeching halt. Moose, broadside in the trail. Man, can I get a break here?!! He’s right behind me! I assessed the situation. Female. Calf? Don’t see one. I yelled and waved my arms. Nothing. She just stood there chewing and looking at me like “What? You talkin’ to me?” Dog Lake is a high-traffic area and I think this moose was used to seeing people. I kept yelling. Nothing. Two guys on a training run who I’d been leapfrogging with on the climb caught back up to me and I quickly asked for their help. We all started yelling and waving our arms and walking toward her. Me in the back of the pack. She eventually started walking, very slowly, to the left and stopped 10 meters off the trail looking at us — still chewing. Not jumpy AT ALL, unlike the Moose I have encountered in the Bighorns.
Once she moved, I took off, passed the two dudes and flew down the trail trying to get a lead back. I hit the junction and started the climb up to Desolation Lake. About a mile or so before the aid station I had to bail off the trail as I almost got taken out by a downhill mountain biker. All the excitement got me worked up and had to jump off in the bushes for a pit stop. As I was off-trail “admiring the aspens,” George hiked by. Dang. Seriously? Okay, let’s do this.
I got into the aid station less than a minute behind George at 5:30pm. He was still there. I grabbed a 1/4 of a PB&J, two full bottles and bolted out of there with a mouthful and George about 50 meters behind. The course quickly leaves the basin and we started a rugged 800’ climb up to Red Lover’s Ridge at 9,900 feet. I was feeling good here and just pushed the pace on the climb. By the top of the ridge I had increased the gap by at least a minute, so I kept pushing.
I got to Scott’s Tower aid station at mile 70.7 with a 4 minute lead (about a minute a mile faster). I quickly got in and out and headed down the trail and soon the jeep road to the highway that takes you down to Brighton Lodge at 75. I hammered the road and soon Karl came up in his truck and said I had about a 10 minute lead. Good. I was feeling strong. Strategy of holding back early was paying off.
I ran into Brighton with Roch, Catherine and Karl ready outside the lodge with Rocho’s own special chicken soup and my drop bag. I ate, got my Black Diamond lights adjusted, arm warmers, and Patagonia Houdini jacket around my waist and jogged up to the lodge to weigh-in and get out. I didn’t want to waste any daylight. As I was heading out I asked Karl and Roch how long to Point Supreme…it went something like this…
Karl: 48 minutes.
Roch: No, no, 51 minutes. 51 minutes, Bronco.
Me: (in my head) I’m running 48 minutes.
I ran out of Brighton and got hoofin’ it up the 1,660’ climb to the high point of the course at 10,450’. I got up to the high point in exactly 48 minutes. Sorry Roch.
I plunged off the steep, technical downhill at breakneck speed. My goal to get to Ant Knoll aid at 80 miles before dark was panning out. I soon heard some cowbells and was pulling into the aid, 16 minutes from Point Supreme. Giddyup.
After some soup, I flipped on my lights and climbed up to Grunt Pass. At this point, I just kept plugging away in the dark. It was pretty uneventful — besides a face to face with a porcupine right before Pole Line Pass. He puffed out and I had to bushwhack around him. Then, it was the same routine…grunt climbs, rocky and loose downhills…repeat. I soon was climbing out of Pot Bottom and running the ball bearing ATV trail and hitting the pavement to the finish. I crossed the line at Homestead in 19 hrs, 33 minutes for the win. I missed the third fastest time by 2 minutes (Dang that moose). Totally psyched to be the 4th fastest time in 33 years. Now time for some fall rest and relaxation. Giddyup.
Big shout out to my lovely wife and kids and without their support — I just couldn’t do this. Thanks to the Big Man upstairs for keeping my steps safe. Huge thanks to Rocho and Catherine and their hospitality, crewing expertise and Roch’s course knowledge. He’s a walking encyclopedia. Thanks to Patagonia for the good gear, Ultraspire’s handhelds (love them), Black Diamond lights, First Endurance EFS gel, Rudy Project for the awesome glasses, and FootZone of Bend for everything. And, thanks Bien for throwing down a hard training week at TranRockies 3 weeks out with me…good times, Bandit…Kick Start My Heart!
Gear: Patagonia Cap 1 Jersey and Strider Pro Shorts, Black Diamond Icon headlamps, Rudy Project Zyon glasses, Ultraspire handhelds
A good friend and Patagonia teammate, Rod Bien, and I raced in the 80+ (Masters) division. Rod grew his race “stache” for the event. I started coining him “The Bandit” (Burt Reynolds in Smokey and The Bandit). By the end of the week it was set in stone: Bronco Billy and the Bandit.
Stage 1: Buena Vista to Covered Bridge, 20.9 miles and 2,550 feet of climbing
Rod and I started out Stage 1 with the simple goal of running smart. Neither one of us had time to get acclimated, and we soon found the rolling terrain to be a bit of a challenge. We would run every roller rise and then at the top, when normally we could take off again, it would take 40-50 meters to catch our breath and get control our heart rates. We still ran well and ended the day in second behind LaSportiva. (we lost about 8 minutes to them). But, in hindsight, definitely our roughest stage of the week.
Stage 2: Vicksburg to Twin Lakes (via Hope Pass), 13.4 miles, 3,250 feet of climbing
Both Rod and I have run and finished Leadville 100, and know the infamous Hope Pass well. We were looking forward to the tough singletrack climb and descent before the final five miles of rolling trails along the southern shore to the finish at the east end of Twin Lakes. We power-hiked and ran up Hope Pass and found ourselves only 100 meters from LaSportiva as we started the technical descent off Hope Pass. We absolutely love and thrive in this type of terrain, and reeled Andy and Bernie about halfway down Hope Pass. We passed and gapped them, and tried to keep pushing to hold them off. However, their acclimated legs were turning over faster at nearly two miles above sea level, and they caught and passed us with about two miles to go. We were able to minimize the damage by crossing the finish line just over a minute back, for another second-place podium finish (a foreshadowing of the days to come).
Stage 3: Leadville to Camp Hale, 24.2 miles, 2,800 feet of climbing
After an afternoon and night in Leadville at 10,200 feet, we took off from downtown Leadville for a longer runnable stage which included a beautiful section of the Colorado Trail. We again watched Bernie and Andy climb away from us at the beginning of the stage. This was a great stage of rolling terrain and good downhills, through Ski Cooper’s terrain before running a mentally tough two-mile section of gravel road to arrive at the historical Camp Hale where the 10th Mountain Division trained for World War II. This was our base camp for the next two nights. Again, second-place podium finish, 6 minutes back. Dang those old Colorado mountain goats.
Stage 4: Camp Hale to Red Cliff, 14.2 miles, 2,900 feet of climbing
We woke up to very tired and tight legs for the start of Stage 4. This was by far my toughest “rise and shine” of the week. Both of us had trouble getting moving, but after a couple miles of slow jogging to shake out the cob webs before the start, I was thankful we were ready to roll again by 8AM. This stage is one giant climb, one giant downhill and a mile through a rocky creek bed before the final two miles on a downhill gravel road into the little mountain town of Red Cliff on the backside of Vail Mountain. We really enjoyed ourselves on this stage. For the first time, we were starting to feel some acclimation taking place. We both felt more normal climbing, without just gasping for air. This stage finish has a nice perk, as there is a restaurant called Mango’s right at the finish line with a roof-top deck featuring fish tacos and microbrews. A welcome hang out after four days of racing, and a good place to enjoy yourself before embarking on the final two hardest stages of the race.
Stage 5: Red Cliff to Vail, 23.6 miles, 4,100 feet of climbing
The route for Stage 5 climbs 11 miles straight out of the gate before traversing six rolling miles on top of the ridge at Vail Ski Resort hovering around 11,000 feet. Then, you descend eight miles of winding singletrack to the stage finish at the edge of Vail Village. I had a pretty significant blister from Stage 2 on my left heel pad, which turned ugly by the end of this stage. An excellent practice session in mind over matter.
Stage : Vail to Beaver Creek, 24.0 miles, 4,900 feet of climbing
We took off on this day in a solid second-place position behind Team LaSportiva and were planning on relaxing, as first place was out of our reach and third place was way back. However, another Bend team and good friends (first-place in the Mixed Open Division, The North Face’s team of Stephanie Howe and Zach Violett) ended up on our heels on the first climb. They had only beat us the first stage when we were struggling with the elevation, and our egos wouldn’t let us off that easy for the final day. I have to say, I was pretty nervous about my gnarled heel and even told Rod so on the first paved downhill through the town of Vail at the beginning. But after we settled in, I hit the first technical downhill section to really test it. All systems go. I knew I’d be fine as long as my footstrike was on the forefoot. We kept plugging away at this hard stage, hoping to hold off Steph and Zach. Upon entering an upper meadow, we caught sight of Team LaSportiva about halfway into the stage — right before the main long, technical singletrack downhill into the town of Avon.
We had been second on the podium every stage, and we really wanted one stage win. Rod said, “I think we can catch them on this next downhill.” Within 10 minutes, we were barreling down the singletrack hot on Bernie and Andy’s tail. Once we caught them, we blew by them with Rod leading. We gapped them slightly and I said, “Let’s roll this.” He stepped aside to let me lead and we took off bombing down and soon reeled in Team Salomon’s Mario Mendoza and Jorge Maravilla. We got to checkpoint 2 neck and neck with Salomon, in and out, and dropped into and through the town of Avon on the pavement. We could see LaSportiva only 200 meters back through town before starting the final 1,800 foot trail climb to the south. We put our heads down and took turns leading and grinding the final climb out of Avon. By the top of the climb, we couldn’t see them anymore and knew if we maintained, we had a stage win wrapped up.
As we arrived into the finish corral in Beaver Creek, it was sweet icing on the cake to take a stage win over the team we’d been battling tooth and nail the previous five days. 120 miles and 20,000 feet of climbing later, a few blisters and some sore legs — a great ending to a great week. I highly recommend this race, it’s a hard but fun week of awesome trail running. Great trainer for Wasatch 100. That’s the next stop. Giddyup.
Where do I start. Wow. What a day. I truly had “one of those days” where it all clicked. I’m SO pumped to have PR’d on a technical course for 100 miles. I can’t say enough about the race itself. Super-well organized, well-stocked, well-marked and hot and technical. Fun course.
The course is held 40 miles inland in the mountains east of San Diego. There is 15,800 feet of elevation gain. The course is known for being pretty technical, exposed (no trees) and windy. June is usually hot, typically in the 80s and windy on the ridge and 90s in the canyons. The hardest part is that, after mile 15, you NEVER, ever have shade until 72 miles into the race. The course starts and finishes at Al Bahr Campground on Sunset Highway and does a loop SW and then connects to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and runs north hovering on a ridgeline between 4,500 and 6,000 feet overlooking the Anza Borrego desert to the east. The course then heads west and down into Noble Canyon (the hot part of the course) for a figure eight loop and back up Green Valley to the ridgeline and the PCT. Then a northern loop along the shore of Lake Cuyamaca, over Stonewall Peak and then down the drainage paralleling Hwy 79 as it descends toward San Diego, then back up to gain the ridge (at mile 51/80) and take the PCT back 20 miles south to finish at Al Bahr.
Crew in the House
My buddy and Patagonia Team Rep, George and his fiance, Steph (a gifted photographer) were my crew. They did a great job. Steph got to geek out on photo opps and George got me through key checkpoints like a well-oiled machine. He was so ON IT. Going into evening, I was quite a bit up on course record and some of the stations hadn’t gotten word yet. George was paramount in filling them in, getting them firing up some broth and had it ready in hand when I arrived, ready to chug. Nice because I was SO over bananas and orange wedges at that point (a good focused crew is paramount when you’re trying to grab time everywhere you can).
We assembled for the 7am start at Al Bahr Campground on Saturday morning. My Patagonia teammates Luke Nelson and Roch Horton were running (and Krissy Moehl was pacing). The main contenders were Luke Nelson who ran a sub 20 at Wasatch last year (but showed up with a head cold…bummer), Adam Hewey — a solid 100 mile runner and probably who I was most worried about. The dude’s a closer in 100s, 19:05 at Cascade Crest 100 last year (3rd fastest time on that course) and I heard he was super fit, as well as Dan Olmstead from Eugene. Plus a few other dark horses (Fabrice Hardel and Tim Long).
After a few quick reminders from RD Scott Mills, we were off and running at 7am sharp. Luke and I settled into 3rd and 4th place respectively, little bit of chatting at a relaxed pace. I don’t like to go out like a shot in a 100 miler, so I was content to cruise for a few miles, let everything warm up and relax.
The first few miles are mellow, buff singletrack trail and we were just cruising along. After a couple of miles I passed Tim Long and moved up to 2nd and was running behind Fabrice Hardel. About 4 miles in we were rolling through a rocky singletrack section in some Pines and Fabrice was running very carefully on the technical sections and I felt like I was right on him. So, I decided it was time to pick my own line and jumped around him. I really enjoy the technical stuff and immediately opened up a good gap without even really trying.
I just concentrated on not racing and just staying relaxed and cruising and soon arrived at Meadows aid at 7.2 miles a little slower than Bowman’s CR pace last year. I knew Rod, Yassine and Dylan — namely Yassine, had gone out hot last year, so I wasn’t too concerned. Side note: I did figure the win was going to take a CR time and was willing to give it a shot and had Dylan’s splits on me for reference.
I swapped my single water bottle for two bottles with George and headed back the short out and back section. I hit the split in the trail just as the other guys (Tim Long, Fabrice, Nelson and Hewey) were coming in, about 2 minutes back. Little did I know that this would be the last I would see anyone the rest of the race.
After Meadows, I kept running comfortably, letting the miles roll by and soon cruised into Rooster and got there right on CR splits. I got in and out with some banana and more water and was soon turning onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), heading north. The heat was starting to hit here, because you start moving out of the tree cover and into the exposed shrubs that make up a majority of the upper course. I just kept plugging away and was soon through both Todd’s Cabin and Penny Pines a few minutes slower than CR pace.
Heading down from Penny Pines into Noble Canyon, I took it easy and stopped at the few small stream crossings and dipped my hat. On the lower section of this descent, it’s really technical and I ran up on some downhill mountain bikers all decked out in full faced helmets. We leapfrogged a couple of times and finally I dropped them and soon arrived at Pine Creek aid (mile 30) and was really feeling the heat.
I had been talking race strategy with my training buddy Rod Bien (2nd here last year) and he told me this section sucked and was hot and advised me to go easy so I would have legs for the 8-mile climb up to Pioneer Mail. I did just that. I took it slow and steady on this loop back to Pine Creek 2 (mile 36). I was about 9 minutes slower than the record splits at 36. This was okay, because I knew the leaders last year struggled on this climb and I felt pretty good leaving Pine Creek. So, I got what I needed…fruit, chugged 2 glasses of gatorade, ice and water in my bottles and got moving up the single lane paved road for the 8 mile grinder.
After a few miles the pavement ends and rolls down a little into a small basin on dirt road, then climbs again before hitting a water only aid station. I had already drained my two 24 ounce bottles and was ready for water. I refilled and the dude manning the station had popsicles. They were tasty. I had a melting popsicle and within 50 meters turned onto the trail that continues to climb. This section is mostly south facing to gain the ridge at Pioneer Mail aid (44.1) to pick up the PCT again. It was hot.
And, by the time I was nearing Pioneer, I was rationing my remaining water and having a bit of a low spot, but I got to Pioneer a few minutes under CR splits. George was there to make me drink a 20 oz. bottle of water and eat while I was at the aid station. Got new bottles and was off on the PCT to Sunrise 7.2 miles away.
The next section on the PCT to Sunrise was a little rough for me, but beautiful. You are traversing the ridge on it’s eastern side, just below the top and looking off into the Anza Borrego desert to the east, thousands of feet below. Awesome views into a dry wasteland. Very stark and beautiful. It was super windy too. Had to be 40+ mph gusts and just hot, sunny, no shade and wind burn to top it off. This was a challenging section for me mentally. I had no idea how far back 2nd was, I wasn’t halfway yet and was getting sunburned with no hope of shade for hours and hours. Buck up, Bronco, quit feeling sorry for yourself. Sometimes half the battle of a 100 miler is staying mentally in your “happy place” even when your conditions are pure fodder. Good life lesson.
I got into Sunrise (mile 51) around 2:56pm, 13 minutes up on course record pace, and was told by George that Adam Hewey came into Pioneer (the last aid station) 7 minutes back and was looking good and was in and out. Dang, Hewey. He’s a good closer and knew he was due for a good one. He’s a 100 mile runner that has been under the radar because his insanely fast 19:05 at Cascade Crest 100 last year was overshadowed by Rod Bien’s course record run. I knew he’d be a player.
Hewey. That got me motivated. I got moving over to Stonewall Mine looking over my shoulder with a little fire in my step. This section again was a hard section mentally. It drops down into a open, dry, yellow grass meadow near Lake Cuyamaca. You’re running on flat, dry, sandy trail and double track dirt road where horses have been and it’s soft, sandy, choppy and hot and you run into the afternoon blazing sun. Plus, I was pushing the pace to put some time into Hewey.
A couple of miles out of Sunrise, I went to take a salt pill and it went down sideways and got stuck and I gagged and threw up. Not a ton, but a chunk of orange pulp from the last aid station. Whatever, I didn’t need that fiber anyway. I waited a minute or two, took another salt, took a gel and then seemed to be fine. Phew. I kept on the pedal through this section and got into Stonewall Mine 30 minutes up on the CR, around 4:04pm and George and Steph were lounging in their vehicle. They were surprised to see me, as I’d gained another 17 minutes on the record there. They got me in and out and I was on my way to climb up and over Stonewall Peak.
This section I started feeling really good, as I started to get some shady sections along the lake, then more shade on the northside climb up Stonewall and when I hit the summit, I bombed down the 1,000 foot descent to Paso Picacho aid, arriving at 5:05pm, gaining another 5 minutes on the record. I was also told by George that Hewey came into Stonewall 20 minutes back and looked worked and immediately sat down. I was stoked. I felt good, I was gaining time on the record at every checkpoint and putting time on 2nd. I grabbed my lightweight single headlamp in case I didn’t make it back to Sunrise before dark (where my good lights were in my drop bag). I told George I was going to push to get to Sunrise at mile 80 before dark. With a fist bump to G-man, I was off to make it up the 3 mile gradual climb, before you finally get a 5 mile rolling, technical downhill to Sweetwater Aid. This was almost all in the shade and was a welcome change from the exposed sun I’d been dealing with ALL day.
I really felt good here. It was my kind of technical, narrow, rocky singletrack descent and the music was good on my iPod and I just got in a rhythm here and flowed. Before I knew it, I arrived into Sweetwater (mile 72) at 6:23pm — almost an hour faster than CR splits. This was a pretty minimal aid station but they had rice balls (salted white sticky rice). Man oh man were those tasty (whoever you are that made those, thank you). I ate 2, chugged some more gatorade and got moving again to beat the sunset to Sunrise aid at mile 80.
I was a little slow starting on this section, but once I got out of the sandy lower sections and onto the old dirt road, I started motoring again. I ran 85% of this climb, with only an occasional short hike break. It was nice and cool and I just concentrated on a good rhythm and soon was merging onto the trail section of the course that shares the exit and approach to Sunrise aid. Here I started meeting people just leaving mile 51 and I was almost to 80. I have to say, I did feel for them, but they gave me some good juice. It was nice to see people. I’d been solo all day. Lots of cheers and a couple of “Hey, you’re going the wrong way!”…uh, nope. Sorry, not doing that loop again. I’m starting to smell the barn and a sub 17 finish y’all. Giddyup.
I got into Sunrise at 7:52pm, still a full hour ahead of CR splits with a little daylight left. The wind was still whipping up on the ridge and with the sun setting, it was getting cool. I changed out of my Patagonia Cap 1 sleeveless jersey and into long sleeve Cap 1, my favorite lightweight Patagonia merino wool gloves, dialed in my superfly Black Diamond light set up (thanks Rocho) and with George keeping me eating during all this, I chugged some chicken noodle soup and got moving. As I checked out, the aid station staff was like, “Whoa, wait, wait, wrong way,” and George set them straight… “No, he’s the leader, he’s heading back!” Giddyup, George.
Here’s where I was thinking I needed to bust a move and get as far toward Pioneer Mail aid (7.2 miles away) as I could before I had to turn on lights. So, that became my near-term goal. And, I was able to get about 25 minutes out of Sunrise before I had to flip on my lights. This was paramount in grabbing more time, because I came into Pioneer at mile 87 at 8:52pm — over an hour and a half on the record. From there, I was just being conservative and careful so as not to eat it on the technical PCT in the dark and just keep moving, running 90% of the climbs with a few short hike breaks here and there. The remaining 13 miles were pretty uneventful, just relentless forward motion to get done so I could sit down. The last 20 miles of a hundred are usually just moving forward, eating, drinking, taking salt — repeat. When I got to the last aid station at 96, I knew I had sub 17 locked up and was then just seeing how low I could get the record.
I was so psyched to get into that last section through the campground and see the finish line. Teammates Luke Nelson (who dropped in the 60s due to his cold) and Ty Draney (who was there to pace him) greeted me at the finish, as well as Scott Mills the Race Director, Glenn Tachiyama and George and Steph. I was so psyched. Definitely my best 100 mile performance to date and a PR for that distance as well. Awesome, awesome day.
Special thanks first and foremost to the Big Man Upstairs for keeping my path safe out there, my lovely wife and kids — without their support and love none of it would be possible — y’all are so lovely. And of course all my peeps: Patagonia…special thanks to the Michelle for the last minute customization to the Strider Pro shorts (look for them in Spring ‘13…pockets, baby, pockets), Ultraspire for the hydration handhelds, Rudy Project glasses, Black Diamond for the awesome lights, First Endurance, Teague Hatfield and all the peeps at FootZone, my awesome crew George and Steph, the race staff and volunteers. Giddyup.
This is a long but overdue post. I’ve been SO slammed this spring with work and family obligations (and training) that when I finally take a deep breath, usually near midnight or after, I don’t have a lot of time or energy to post anything. I’ve somehow managed to squeeze in four 50Ks and a 50 miler in 4 states in 4 months this spring and coached a 5-week session of Little Foot Running Club, been a husband and father to 3 kids and a beautiful wife. How I get to the start line of a 100 miler well-trained sometimes is a miracle. But, by the grace of God (and a very supportive wife and kids), I somehow pulled it off again.
This was a solid month of training where I built cycling into the training volume. After the bike commuting incident in November, I traded up the cyclocross commuter for a Marin Nail Trail 29er mountain bike with Old Man Mountain rack and pannier packs. It’s bad to the bone. Totally dig the set up, can’t believe I didn’t do this years ago.
I now steer clear of the “scene of the crime” roundabout where I tried to punch a SUV out of a roundabout and only got a broken hand with 3 pins and a cracked rib for my effort. I now take a more scenic route consisting of back roads and the Deschutes River Trail — a much more relaxing commute and only 6/10s of a mile longer than my old 8-mile bike commute in traffic.
Ultraspire Training Camp
First week of April I got the true influenza and the upper respiratory illness that stuck with me for a good 4 weeks with junk in the lungs that had me sounding like a 3 pack a day Morboro Reds smoker. After a weekend in bed, I healed up just enough to take a trip a few days later to St. George, Utah for a 4-day training camp with Ultraspire. It was great to hook up with a good group of other ultrarunners for a few days of geeking out on hydration systems. We culminated the camp with a point-to-point run through Zion National Park on the Zion Rim Trail. Awesome. Meltzer and I opted on the “shorter” option of 24 miles since he was just off another 100 Mile win at Antelope Island and I was a week from running Sonoma 50. And, of course, I was still hardcore hacking my head off during this trip. But, always good to hang with speedgoat. The Goat and Billy Show. Good laughs over my coughing fits. He’d look at me like, “you alright buddy?” Uh, I think…is that my lung, can you dust it off, yeah thanks — I kinda need it for the next climb. Giddyup Goat.
Lake Sonoma 50 Miler
The Ultraspire camp made me semi-train through Lake Sonoma 50 Miler, as I ran it a week after my 24 miler with Karl. It was a beautiful course with a deep field. I attempted to race with a hydration pack. I always, always use handhelds. And, in hindsight, should have at Sonoma. I ran well through the high 30s, but then my race unraveled at the seams. It was hot (coming from chilly Central Oregon…we’re still in winter mode in April). I just didn’t drink enough and got behind on my hydration. Once behind, I just wasn’t used to the pack and couldn’t catch back up. I ended up walking the last climb and coupled with the fact that I was still hacking my head off (Had some coughing/gagging and two pukes) — respiratory thing lingered.
Silver lining…good to get the miles on my legs for San Diego 100, but overall, disappointing performance-wise in 7:40ish. Net — I like handheld bottles. Simple as that. I’ve come to terms with it after a good ole “smack ya in the face” reminder. After 60+ ultras, the bottles work for me. I went home and settled on staying close to home to coach Little Foot Running Club for the next 5 weeks and training hard for the final peak for San Diego.
Silver State 50K — Last Minute Entry
Biendip and Ken Sinclair were heading down to Reno (3 weeks out from San Diego) to run Silver State 50 Miler. Rod asked me if I wanted to go down — actually had been bugging me to come. I didn’t even ask my better half after such a full spring of racing, but somehow Rod talked my wife into it. I never even asked. I think he’s a good salesman.
Rod and I train together and started running around the same time. He has to juggle 2 businesses and 3 kids — we are in a similar headspace in life. His plan was to make the 7-hour trip down to Reno Friday and make it back by 9am on Sunday (with an overnight camping on the return trip 2 hours from home at Summer Lake Hot Springs in SE Oregon). We both had to be back, as our oldest boys were on Kid Pole Peddle Paddle teams on Sunday at midday. He somehow sold my wife on the trip and she gave me the hall pass to go jump in the 50K as my last big training run before San Diego. I had just run a 102-mile week with an additional 4 hours of cycling. So, I jumped in the race 4 days before with the idea of a 3 day mini-taper (not sure 3 days can be considered a “taper”).
The 50K is a low-key event, as the 50 Miler is always the main event, so, I thought it a perfect mellow, race-specific training run. Plus, they were supposed to have a little hotter weather, so good SD100 simulator. At the start, I went out in 2nd, as this dude took off at 6-minute pace and lead on the first climb about a minute ahead of me the whole climb up Peavine Peak. I took it at a comfortable pace and I reeled him in off the backside of Peavine summit at about mile 13 and he was already looking not so smooth. I cruised by him and laid down a couple of 6:30s on a dirt road section and looked back and couldn’t see him. So, I then just settled in and ran a nice steady training pace for the win by 20 minutes in 4:13. Biendip was right — great trainer.
Last 3 Weeks
I came back after Silver State and took a few easy days and hit another 102 mile week and started to taper for SD100. Good trail running gear to check out at Patagonia offsite in Bend. Patagonia has some cool stuff coming out Spring 13, stay tuned. It’s been a busy but solid spring. I’m currently writing while on my final flight leg to San Diego on Thursday. I’m psyched. I love 100 milers, especially technical, hard ones. They’re so unpredictable and hard and crazy and epic. Good mirror of life. I can’t wait to toe the line on Saturday at 7am for my 61st ultramarathon. Giddyup.
PHOTO: Yeah, nice waterfalls. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama
I decided to combo Chuckanut 50k and Gorge Waterfalls 50k, since they’re back to back weekends—coining it the “Chuck-n-Gorge Double.” Coming off Chuckanut, I wasn’t sure how my legs would do going into Gorge Wateralls eight days later, but since I have San Diego 100 coming up beginning of June, I thought it a good idea to get some back to back training in and hammer my legs a bit.
With my wife and kids visiting family in Washington, I drove up to the gorge on Saturday evening and crashed in my car the night before Ainsworth State Park, just east of the race start off I-84. It was pretty darn warm the night before (48 and overcast).
On race morning, James (the RD) got a flat tire and was late getting set up for check-in. So, we got started about a 1/2 hour late. Which gave it a little longer to warm up. I didn’t mind. 30 more minutes of recovery from Chuckanut, right?
This course is beautiful. Even though James had to reroute some and make it a bit shorter this year due to snow and other issues out of his control. The normal course is 7000+ feet of climbing, but the revised course this year was a bit short, maybe 29 miles and 5000+ feet of climbing. So, times overall were much faster.
However, the aesthetics of this course is spectacular. Running by so many waterfalls, quite impressive. I believe it’s the highest concentration of waterfall in the United States. It does not disappoint.
The course is fairly technical and you have to be focused and engaged while on the trail. One of my favorite aspects of trail running anyway so the miles just flew by. Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good and when we hit the road section, I was able to clip off 6:30s.
I had no serious expectations for this one, just get it under the belt for training. And, the last climb ended up being a bit of a struggle for me and I was forced to hike most of it. I bonked a little. I needed to eat more calories coming off a 50k the weakend before. I was tapped out sooner than normal and my Chuckanut legs felt the final 5 or 6 miles. Luckily the last few miles are mostly downhill and I could just let gravity do the work. I ended up 3:55 in 10th overall, 1st masters. The Chuck-n-Gorge Double is highly recommended.
GEAR: Patagonia Forerunner Long Sleeve Jersey, Patagonia Merino Wool gloves, Patagonia Nine Trails short, Old Skool Patagonia hat (circa 2004), Ultraspire Isomeric Pocket handheld, Rudy Project Rx Noyz Frames glasses, RecoFit Calf Compression.