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25 2013 San Diego 100: A Burner

First steps of the 2013 San Diego 100 Miler. Photo: Jeff Johnson

First steps of the 2013 San Diego 100 Miler. Photo: Jeff Johnson

What a tough race. A heat wave hit the mountains for a 48-hour period during the heart of the race to create one of the lower 100-mile finish rates in the past few decades  — 45%. In contrast, San Diego 100 usually has nearly a 70% finisher rate. Conditions with the heat and the exposure — a large chunk of the race being at 5,000-6,000 feet with no shade — made for a very challenging day.

The Course

Stonewall Peak at sunset. Photo: Stephanie Helguera Plomarity

The course is about 50 miles inland from San Diego with approximately 15,800 feet of climbing at elevations ranging from 4,000-6,000 feet. The terrain is rocky, exposed with very little shade for a majority of the race. The course’s main vain is on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and other trails the spur off the PCT. Temperatures tend to be in the high 80s to low 90s with higher temps in Noble Canyon (mile 25-44). This year’s heat wave made sure those “norms” were not the case. It was a scorcher.

The Race

At 7am sharp, we were off from Al Bahr Campground and Bandit (aka Rod Bien) took it out at a pretty healthy clip. First mile was 7:15 pace. I told Rod, “I’ve been worried about Dave (Mackey) taking it out hard, when all along it’s you I should worry about.” A little surprised by his fast pace, I gave Rod a little space, took it back one notch and settled into running behind him about 50-60 yards and Dave doing the same behind me. This stayed status quo into the first aid station at 7.5 miles with Rod gapping Dave and I a bit, as he kept on the slightly quicker pace. My split into Meadows Aid Station was 54 minutes (5 minutes faster than last year). WAY too fast. This had me pace check myself leaving the aid station. We left in the same order and off down the trail. Dave caught up to me and we ran together chatting about mountain biking. We could still see Rod on longer, open sections, but he was definitely still putting time on us every mile.

Just after race morning check-in. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Dave seemed antsy with Rod pulling away, so when we hit some double track, Dave pulled up next to me and took the lead on a mellow climb. We had pretty much quit chatting at this point and as we went into a series of little grunt ups, I quit trying to run Dave’s pace, as it felt like he’d picked it up a bit. I figured he was itching to go after Rod. So, I settled into a more comfortable early pace and took a deep breath. I felt like the race had now sorted the 3 of us out and this evening we’d see where we were. We were only 10 miles in and I felt the heat hitting and didn’t want to push too much too early. After letting Dave mentally go, I relaxed and just concentrated on taking care of myself and not racing yet.

We soon came into Red Tail Roost Aid at 13 miles with Rod, Dave and I about a minute apart. Still ahead of last year’s splits. Josh Nordell was there and gave me some words of encouragement. I just gave him a “mellow, it’s early” comment. More to verbalize this to myself than to him. This was my mental reminder over the next few miles as I ran down the double track to pick up the trail and run the PCT to Todd’s Cabin.

I got into Todd’s aid and they told me Dave had taken the lead by 1 minute and Rod was 4 minutes in front of me. I was still over 5 minutes up on last year’s splits and it was much hotter, which meant they were 9 and 10 minutes ahead of my course record pace from last year. I felt like we were pushing too hard for this early. And, to reinforce this, a little mental math also told me that Dave had run the last section over a minute a mile faster than me and Rod about 40 seconds a mile faster. It being a 100 miler, this is where I really had to trust my own pacing and not get caught up in racing. I felt like I was moving well and if I went faster, I’d be pushing too hard. Hopefully those guys were pushing too hard. Time would tell.

7am start...and we're off. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Leaving Meadows Aid Station (mile 7.4). Patagonia Teammate Keira Henninger handing off fresh bottles. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Getting close to the 3rd aid station, Penny Pines, There is a sweeping switchback and the trail backtracks up a ravine then back up another bare ridge where you can see the trail across the ravine well ahead of yourself. I happened to catch a glimpse of Mackey climbing. I made a quick watch check and a mental note of where he was. When I arrived at that spot, he was about 9 minutes ahead of me. Still going faster and it was getting hot.

I arrived Penny Pines (23.6 miles) still ahead of course record (CR) splits, got into my drop bag, new gels and was off with Mackey up 10 minutes and Rod up 9. The next section was where the heat hit hard. It’s a long downhill into Noble Canyon that gets increasingly more rocky, technical and more hot. When I got 2/3 of the way down, I passed some hikers at a creek crossing where I was stopping and dunking my hat and taking the time to get my shoulders, neck, and quads wet before leaving. They told me Rod was only a couple minutes in front of me. Early hot pace was catching up to him looked like. I was carrying two 24 ouncers and I was draining them by every aid station.

When we were just about a 1/2 mile from Pine Creek aid station (mile 30) I saw Rod ahead. He was in the aid station when I arrived. I had been rationing water for about the last mile or two but had not run out. Rod said he’d run out of water and looked at me, “you?” I said, “No, but it’s really freakin’ hot.” With that, we both went to the task of getting ourselves taken care of. This would be the last I saw of Rod, he had a rough time in the heat and his stomach went south and was throwing up. He dropped at Sunrise 1 (mile 51.3) — his first DNF ever in over 80 ultras. My heart goes out to him on that one. Rod is a fierce competitor and I really, really respect that dude. He’s a stud and hated to see it get that bad for him. He had a stellar and commanding PCT 50 miler a month ago where he crushed the course record.

Volunteers sponged cold water over my quads, neck, shoulders and head while I chugged 3 glasses of Gu Brew and got moving again for the hot 4.5 mile loop back to the same aid station in a very toasty Noble Canyon (NOTE: temperature reports were varying, but Noble Canyon reports were anywhere from 101 to 107 at the aid station. I would wager hotter pockets existed on the 4.5 mile section we loop, especially on the south facing side of the butte the course loops around).

This section I ran in just over 43 minutes last year and it was probably 15 degrees cooler. I felt I was moving pretty well and sure enough, came through this split 3 minutes faster than last year. I arrived back to Pine Creek just finishing my bottles and got really cooled down with the help of volunteers. I chugged water, ate a banana, and left with ice in my hat to grind out the 8-mile, 2,200 foot climb back up to the PCT.

I got moving up the old single lane paved road with some hiking and running transitions and let all the liquid I chugged settling in. About a mile up the road there is a bee hive in the base of an old dead tree right on the edge of the road. I was skirting that side of the road trying to grab any tiny bit of shade I possibly could get when I walked within 2 feet of the hive. I was immediately swarmed with at least a dozen bees. I started running up the road swatting bees away. Once I was a good distance, they gave up the chase only to be stung — BAM — by a single bee another mile up the road, right in the middle of my back.

I shook it off and was almost out of water 2 miles up the road when I hit the water/popsicle minimal aid station. Filled bottles, grabbed a mango popsicle and started up the road. I kept plugging away and soon was getting close to Pioneer Mail aid to pick the PCT back up. Hard climb in the exposed sun and heat. I was again rationing water the last 2 miles.

Arriving Pioneer Mail Aid station (mile 44.1), after the gnarly heat of Noble Canyon. Jesse Haynes ready to give me water to chug and swap fresh handheld Ultraspire bottles. Photo: Jeff Johnson

I arrived Pioneer Mail at mile 44.1, 19 minutes behind Dave. My crew said Dave was looking hammered and weaving. I was hot, but felt like I had got through the crazy heat in semi-one-piece. I knew Dave’s style and he likes to push it and was sure he’d keep putting time on me through through halfway, then I’d hopefully be able to start closing that gap. I got my core temps cooled down and drank a ton of water, I ran the next stretch to Sunrise aid 1 minute slower than last year. It was hot for sure at this point. I was just getting close when I had some hikers tell me Dave was 28 minutes ahead. Dang. he’d run that section pretty fast. But, my crew said he’d arrived and sat for 10 minutes and I’d only been there less than 3. So, he’d only really gained another 3 or 4 minutes on me…a little more than 20 minutes ahead, not 28. Manageable.

Arriving Sunrise 1 Aid Station (mile 51.3). Photo: Jeff Johnson

Jugging water at Sunrise Aid. I drank nearly 60 ounces of water at this checkpoint. And volunteers worked hard to get me cooled down. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Sunrise Aid Station at a little over halfway mark. Hot. Trying to get cooled down. Just chugged A LOT of water. Photo: Jeff Johnson

I took time to really cool down, left with a bandana with ice (thanks to Patagonia Teammate Denise Bourassa). The next section was REALLY hot as you run toward Lake Cuyamaca into the afternoon sun with absolutely no shade. I kept plugging along and focusing on taking care of myself. Again, rationing water the last few miles.

I was looking forward to hitting the the climb up Stonewall peak, after Stonewall Mine aid station. It’s the first spot you start to get a little tree cover, albeit sporadic. I got into Stonewall Mine Aid station (mile 58) to find out that Dave had taken a wrong turn at the main intersection of the start of the 29 mile northern loop just after the last aid station. This really surprised me. A veteran like Dave taking a wrong turn at a key spot on the course. It was marked well, with at least 4 or 5 ribbons and chalk dots on the ground. Not sure how he blew through it. Bummer for Dave.

I would like to give the course marking folks a little credit. It was marked. Brett Rivers — who ended up in 2nd place — confirmed it was well marked too. This was before they went out and “over” marked it. A good to reminder to everyone. This is a very important part of running 100 mile trail races. Not only studying the course to know key intersections, but also stopping at intersections to make sure you make a good choice and go the right way. Making good decisions, course recon (via in person or via map) is essential.

I spent the next section over Stonewall Peak just really going slow, I hiked most of the climb and ran the down at a mellow pace in kind of a distracted mental state, reflecting on how bummed I was for Dave and the fact that I wasn’t getting a chance to beat him fair and square. I’d held back in the heat and was ready to roll on this 29 mile loop and had started to see him come back to me at the last checkpoint. So it goes.

Arriving Paso Picacho Aid Station (mile 64.2). Photo: Jeff Johnson

Ice water on the quads at Paso Aid Station. Photo: Jeff Johnson

I arrived Paso aid station at mile 64 to a huge entourage. George, a good fried, Patagonia Team rep and crew master at last year’s race, was attempting his first 100. However, he had dropped early due to some stomach issues and was there to greet me with my crew. Awesome to see him. Scotty Mills (the RD) was there to ask me about course markings and I told him it was marked with chalk and ribbons. He seemed relieved. Knowing Scotty, he’ll OVER mark that spot next year. He also said Dave was making his way around the loop backwards.

I had some avocado, resupplied my gels, and got headed for Sweetwater. About a mile out of Sweetwater (about halfway around the loop) I ran into Dave coming the other way. I apologized to him and gave him a hug. As I jogged off, I stopped, looked back and asked “Rematch at Run Rabbit Run?” Hopefully he’ll take me up on it. I really meant it. He’s a good guy and I was bummed he took a wrong turn.

Running into Sweetwater checkpoint in the evening, mile 72. Photo: Jeff Johnson

I cruised along the next section still reflecting on Dave and that situation. I guess I ran that section okay, even though I felt like I wasn’t pushing at all. I ran 3 minutes slower than last year (where I felt like I was really pushing that section). At sweetwater, I sat down to eat. The only place I sat all day. It really mirrored my mental state. With Dave out, I was not pushing at all. I was just cruising along, finding reasons to take walk breaks and generally not having my head in the race. Enter George…

He bends down as I’m eating, looks me square in the eyes and tells me Brett gained 10 minutes on me on the last section and was in and out in less than a minute at Paso looking very good and very focused. He later told me my entire countenance changed at that moment and saw complete focus. I immediately got up and left and proceeded to run 85% of the next 8-mile climb back up to Sunrise 2 aid station. 5 minutes faster than last year.

I arrived mile 80 at Sunrise 2 at 8:11pm, at dusk. I got my lights, soup, new bottles and gels and was out of there with Jesse pacing me the last 20. He’s only the 3rd pacer I’ve had in fifteen hundreds, but he wanted get in a long night run so I was fine with having some company. We ran really hard until we had to turn on lights. I told Jesse at this point, we should have a good enough lead on Brett to just cruise it in. My quads were sore from fighting some form of dehydration on and off all day and were more tender than normal at this point in a 100. I knew from the last 10 minutes of going hard I could bring it if I had to, but wanted to save my legs and coast it in. He said cool and we silently cruised with me in front. The rest of the run was pretty uneventful besides a couple of good wildlife encounters.

Leaving Sunrise 2 Aid Station with lights on, ready to head into the night. 20 miles to go. Photo: Jeff Johnson

On the way to Pioneer Mail 2 on the PCT, we stopped to check out a huge Tarantula on the trail that went down a hole in the middle of the trail. Then, at mile 97 a skunk jumped onto the trail in front of us running down the trail about 20-30 yards in front of us. Jesse jumped in front of me and tried to scare it off the trail. It wouldn’t budge, just kept running down the trail. It’s a section of tall grass and shrubs and every time the skunk would run around a bend in the trail, we’d slow to a hike. Jesse would peer around the corner, then wave me to proceed. This went of for a 1/4 mile, until we hit a double track section and he threw a rock at it and it hissed and ran off the road so we could run by (fast).

Then, less than a mile later, we were traversing the meadow in the trees when I caught movement in my light to my left. I looked over just in time to catch a long brown animal on top of a big granite boulder jump down and look at me—green eyes. Cat. Brain processing…cougar! I yelled back to Jesse, cougar! He said, where?!” I yelled, “40 yards in the brush!” We were walking and looking and he caught it in his headlamp too. He yells, “I see it, I see it!” We started grunting loudly and making a bunch of noise as we hiked and Jesse picked up a large size rock. Just in case. I started running again and yelled back over my shoulder, “stop and check behind us every once in a while to make sure it isn’t tracking us!” He did and we didn’t have any other issues. I heard later that a cougar had been sighted in the campground the night before. This was less than a mile from the western edge of the campground, so I’m sure it was the same one.

We kept plugging away and I glanced at my watch to see that I had a shot at sneaking under 17 hours. I didn’t mention it to Jesse, but this was in my head, which helped me push a little through the last mile to the finish. We soon had the finish line in sight and I crossed the line in 16 hours, 59 minutes, 24 seconds for my 10th 100 mile win and 15th 100 mile finish. Hard but good day.

At the finish, a little girl came up and said in a cute little voice, “Congratulations.” I have a daughter about the same age and held my hand up for a high five. She kinda missed so I held my hand out to her level and asked her to “give me five.” She gave me a little slap and I said, “Oh come on, give me another!” She did but it was still a little weak cause she kinda missed. So, I said, “C’mon, ONE MORE TIME!” This time she had gained some confidence with practice and laid a hard SLAP on my hand. I said, “Ah YEAH!” and she walked away beaming. KIds are so cool, great way to end a 100 miler, connecting with a future little runner. Giddyup.

A little girl at the finish givin' me five. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Thanks

Big shout out to my wife and kids for all their love, prayer and support during the race and putting up with my training. I do try to minimize the impact on the family time as much as humanly possible and I appreciate their patience and understanding. Thank you, Jennifer. A special thanks to Patagonia and the decade of support they’ve given me…awesome pocketed shorts and some wickedly sweet shoes for this race…and the old school duck bill cap is back, baby! The gear is awesome. It’s an honor to represent such a responsible company. Big thanks to Keira Henninger and Jesse Haynes for crewing and Jesse for jumping into pace the last 20 miles.

Thanks to Rocho at Black Diamond for the stellar bright lights so I could get a good look at that cougar. Ultraspire for awesome handhelds and night time running would be a lot blurrier without Rudy Project glasses. Also, Barlean’s for the supplements. What a cool suite of products they have. Teague and all the folks at FootZone in Bend — if you’re in Bend, check out their new expanded space downtown. G5 for a long leash during the business day so I can live life. Mark DeJohn for the ART (Active Release Technique) and massage both pre- and post-race. Tracy at Ruby’s Lube (this stuff rocks the house, all natural anti-chafe balm…no gross, cancer-causing ingredients like all the other lubes out there), check it out. And, especially the Big Man upstairs for keeping my path safe, stink-free and avoiding being kitty dinner.

17 San Diego 100 Race Report: Course Record Run

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.

Stonewall Peak at mile 60ish of the course. We went up and over this bad boy.

The 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).

The Race

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.

A few laughs before the start with Adam Hewey. Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

The start at Al Bahr Campground, 7am sharp. L to R: Tim Long (foreground, end up in 3rd place in 19:01), Jeff Browning (aka, me), Luke Nelson, Adam Hewey (looking at watch, 2nd place under the old course record too in 17:54), Fabrice Hardel (long hair in black). Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

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.

Approaching Meadows Aid Station at mile 7. Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

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.

Rooster Aid Station, mile 13.8. Crewin' in style, George, gettin' me the goods on the drive-by. Photo by Krissy Moehl.

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.

Leaving Paso Picacho at mile 65. Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

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.

Coming into Sweetwater at mile 72. Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

The bridge and creek coming into Sweetwater Aid Station. Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

Chowing rice balls at Sweetwater aid station. George giving me the stats...split compare to the record, where Hewey is. Like I said, he's the man. Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

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.

Arriving into Sunrise Aid Station, mile 80 at dusk. Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

Sunrise Aid Station ahead at mile 80. Last rays of the day hitting the rocky outcropping in the distance. Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

Leaving Sunrise Aid at mile 80 with Allen Skytta at road crossing (one of the Seattle ultra homies). He gave me big hug and shouted, "Man, you're crushing it!" Photo by Stephanie Helguera.

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.

Big Thanks

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.

Tired but happy at the finish line with a new course record of 16:38:59. Photo by Stephanie Helguera.


2 Spring Racing and San Diego 100 Training

Early spring training at Smith Rock. Photo by Ian Sharman.

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.

April Training
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.

About Bronco

Photo: Tyler Roemer

Ultra Marathon Career Highlights

  • 1st 2017 Bear 100
  • 4th 2017 Western States 100 (1st Masters)
  • ​1st 2017 Yakima Skyline 50K
  • 1st 2017 Coyote Backbone 68 Mile (FKT)
  • ​1st 2017 Hagg Lake 50K
  • 1st 2016 Frozen Trails 50K
  • 2016 Western States 100/Hardrock 100 Double Record (Fastest Combined Time) Watch Documentary
  • 3rd 2016 Western States 100
  • 1st 2016 Free State 100K (course record)
  • 1st 2016 HURT 100 (Oahu, Hawaii)
  • 3rd 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (105-miler, Japan)
  • 1st 2015 Ultra Fiord 174K (108-miler, Patagonia Chile)
  • 1st 2014 Grindstone 100
  • 3rd 2014 Run Rabbit Run 100 (1st Masters)
  • 1st 2014 Smith Rock 50k
  • 1st 2014 Zion 100 (course record)
  • 3rd 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100
  • 1st 2013 San Diego 100
  • 1st 2012 Wasatch Front 100
  • 1st 2012 San Diego 100 (course record)
  • 1st 2012 Silver State 50k
  • 2011 USATF Master's 50k Trail Champion 
  • 1st 2010 Cascade Crest 100
  • 1st 2010 Silver State 50
  • 1st 2009 Ozark Trail 100
  • 1st 2009 Virgil Crest 100 (course record)
  • 1st 2008 Bighorn 100
  • 1st 2007 Mt. Diablo 50k
  • 1st 2007 Arkansas Traveller 100
  • 1st 2006 Bighorn 100
  • 1st 2005 Bighorn 100

​About Jeff Browning

​I'm an endurance coach, ultra athlete, designer, husband and father of three kids. I live to run in wild places, as well as fighting to protect them.  

I found running naturally by roaming free as a kid, exploring our 700-acre farm in Missouri. No matter the weather — I was always moving. And that hasn’t changed. For me, running through the wild is pure. It provides the remedy to this fast-paced, always-connected world of ours.

Why Bronco Billy?

In my early ultra days, a running buddy came up with the nickname due to my tendency to yell "Yee-Haw" and "Giddyup" when my stoke was high on a running adventure. Others started calling me it too and it just kinda stuck.

I’m also a tinkerer. Gear can always be better, lighter — more dialed. I can often be found cutting or drilling my shoes, charting their weight, or begging my wife to break out her sewing machine to test out a new idea. Over 21 years in the graphic design industry has fine-tuned my creative skills; while 17 years of competitive ultra running and over 100 ultramarathon finishes have polished my training and racing strategies — including nutrition. I believe in organic whole foods (primal/bulletproof/LCHF), that fat is the optimum fuel, and that Hippocrates was spot on when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” 

Running thousands of miles through the world’s untamed lands has also instilled in me a passion for conservation — helping to protect the places we play. I was thrilled to help celebrate a conservation win in Chile by running through the new Patagonia National Park as documented in the short film, Mile for Mile.

Bronco's Sponsors


15 2014 Zion 100 Mile Race Report: Laid Back

If there was any mantra for my 17th hundred miler, it was “Laid Back.” This was the most chill I’ve ever felt going into a 100. George, aka Surf Monkey, is definitely “my brutha from another mutha.” He also happens to be Patagonia Ultrarunning Team Manager. Surf Monkey was my crew man and I was stoked. He’s been with me for both San Diego 100 wins the past 2 years and we’re dialed. He even mentioned how chill I was acting. Part of it was the fact that I’m attempting to run four 100 milers this year — an adventure I’m coining The Bronco Billy Suffer Better Tour. (I’ve only done 2 in a year, so new territory for me this season). The other reason was that Karl had dropped back to the 100K so it was not stacking up to be a show down. Speedgoat and I are good bros and similar in racing styles — consistent, good closing old dudes. I guess the experience a decade of running 100s brings doesn’t hurt, but just the same, I was bummed he dropped back to the 100K. Who knows what we would have run, time-wise. Definitely would have upped the anty a bit. Karl always runs strong, as he proved by easily taking the 100K course record and win.

Monday before though, I did find out Michael Aish would be in the race. I met Mike at TRE (The Running Event) in Austin in December. Both being shoe geeks and runners, we talked styles and philosophies. Mike is quite the accomplished track and road runner. A New Zealander living in the states…he’s qualified for 3 New Zealand Olympic teams (the 10K in ’00, the 5K in ’04 and the marathon in ’08. With a PR of 13:22 for 5K and 2:13 for the marathon, he obviously has good leg speed. That lit a fire under me a few days before. It was shaping up to be a race. But, ultra mountain running is different than running flat and fast and Mike’s pretty new to 100s. I was hoping my experience could even it out in the later in the technical stuff. I was glad I’d been doing some speed work this spring though.

I figured Mike would take it out fast, but instead he took it out mellow. I didn’t know if he had started for sure until 16 miles into the race. A good reminder as to how running 100s tend to be weird and unpredictable. Gotta learn to roll with it.

Jonathan Byers Photography

The starting line in Virgin, Utah on Friday morning. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Friday, 6AM. With my Black Diamond headlamp shining in the pre-dawn dark, we headed out through the little town of Virgin and up a road. The course quickly picks up ATV trails winding through the desert on our way to the base of Smith Mesa, the first major climb. First mile or so, I was leap-frogging with the 2nd place 100K runner and Karl (in 100K). By the time we started climbing Smith Mesa, Karl quickly gapped us by a couple 100 meters. By the top, I was thinking Aish didn’t show up for the 100 miler, as I was alone up front with only 100K front runners.

The morning dawned cloudy right when we topped out Smith Mesa, I dropped my lights at the aid station at mile 7 and started the dirt road and old paved road descent off the mesa 2,000 feet below at Sheeps Bridge Aid Station at mile 14. This is where I would see crew (George) for the first time.

As I came into the aid, I grabbed my fresh bottles from George and headed out to run the rolling mountain bike trails that wind over to Virgin Dam. After a couple of miles, the 100K course went left and we continued snaking along the lip of the Virgin River canyon. Soon after that intersection, I saw a guy catching up at a good clip and figured it had to be Mike. And sure enough, he caught up to me and asked who was in front of us. I replied, “We’re it.” I explained that Karl was in the 100K (he was not aware as Karl’s name was still on the 100 mile entrants list online).

Virgin Dam

Mike and I arriving into Virgin Dam aid station at mile 23. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Virgin Dam trails

Mike and I leaving Virgin Dam aid station. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Mike and I talked training and experience for a bit. We came into Virgin Dam aid station at mile 23 together. I was in and out faster and he soon caught back up to me. We ran together chatting as we started the traverse over to the base of Gooseberry Mesa. The old dirt 4WD road was choked full of steep, winding rollers and we soon were having sporadic conversation as we power hiked up 30 yard grunt climbs only to top it out and roll another steep 30 yards off the back side into another roller.

We hit the intersection and the right turn up the canyon that looks like the scene from Star Wars when the Jawas attack Luke’s landspeeder. Luckily, we avoided Jawas and Sand People and started the steep singletrack climb up to Goosebump aid. A dainty little 1,200 foot climb in less than a mile.

I led up the steep climb mostly power hiking with my hands on my quads. We topped out the climb and right into Goosebump aid station where George was waiting with my fresh Ultraspire handheld bottles. We hiked through the aid station and exchanged bottles and I got a fresh Gu Roctane Gel flask and took off before Mike. I glanced a few times over my shoulder, expecting Mike to do another surge to catch up, but the sandstone trail is windy through low junipers and pines.

Goosebump Aid Station

Arriving Goosebump aid station at mile 31. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Running along the top of Gooseberry Mesa, mile 31. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

Running along the top of Gooseberry Mesa, mile 31. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

The next 11 mile loop is out to Gooseberry Point and around the top of Gooseberry Mesa on a Sandstone mountain bike trail. If you’ve ever been to the Slickrock Trail in Moab, this is essentially what the loop is kinda like. Almost entirely on solid, gritty sandstone rock (aka slickrock) following white paint blazes on the rock. Running on slickrock is challenging since it’s built for the rolling rhythm of a mountain bike. The running rhythm of sandstone is kind of an anti-rhythm.

Four miles later I was at the ½ mile out and back to Gooseberry Point. There was supposed to be a remote aid station at the point, but later we found out a few of us up front beat the aid station staff to it and it wasn’t set up yet. When I reached the sheer cliff face turnaround at the point (literally no where else to go), I glanced at my watch to see how far back Mike was. I soon passed him about 4 minutes back on this little out and back section of trail.

Since the aid station wasn’t set up, I spent the next 7 miles conserving water. I had scouted this portion the day before and knew that once I saw an old windmill, I was within a few minutes of the aid station. I soon had the windmill in sight and was into the aid and out with new bottles and Gu flask from George and running the slightly rolling 7 mile dirt road to Grafton Mesa.

Since Mike is a very fast track and road runner, I was trying to keep pushing my pace on this section, as I figured he’d be able to make up that 4 minute gap quickly on this runnable section. I was a few miles down the road when George drove by and leaned out the window and said he stayed 20 minutes at the aid after I left and Mike hadn’t shown up yet. Wasn’t sure what to make of that, but kept plugging away. I got in and out of Grafton Mesa at mile 49 and around the 5 mile technical singletrack loop on top of the mesa and back to the same aid station at mile 54 to find out that Mike had dropped from the race at mile 43.

At this point, I had at least an 1 hour and 20 minute lead on the new 2nd place and I was ahead of course record pace. So, I decided to keep pushing for the record.

I took off down Grafton Road’s steep gravel road descent to meet George at the Grafton Road intersection. I got to the crew-only spot to find George kicking a soccer ball around in the middle of the road by himself. I had a big enough lead all day that he ended up by himself most of the time. He’s a trooper.

After a quick bottle swap, I was off to Eagle Crag and the turnaround at mile 60. I tried to pump this section out. Soon enough I was heading up the climb to the radio towers at Eagle Crag where I downed some broth (thanks Turd’l Miller). Turd’l and I had a quick chat and I was off.

There was a mom with her young son and daughter walking along the dirt road when I got to the aid station and I met them on my way back out. They cheered and I held out my hand for a high five and said, “Don’t leave me hangin’!” They both slapped my hand, even the mom. The kids were stoked and it gave me a little boost.

I was soon bombing down off the ridge and back the paved road toward the historic old west cemetery of Grafton before the long steep singletrack climb up the north side of Grafton Mesa.

I topped the climb out and made the double track route back to Grafton Mesa aid station at mile 68 an hour and a half ahead of course record pace. George was pumped and reminded me I could PR for 100 miles. I said I’d try, but my stomach was acting a little squirrely at this point.

It had been off and on all day and I think the culprit was the meal the day before. My son and I both have a subtle soy allergy and I suspect the soup I had at the pub the night before had some soy in it. I forgot to ask (I tend to get lazy about it sometimes), but I had all the usual symptoms. Whatcha gonna do. Roll with it.

I climbed up the Grafton Mesa Road and just as I arrived at the intersection to turn west to head the last 4 miles toward Gooseberry Mesa, a car stopped and Jesse Haynes jumped out to say good job. Jesse paced me the last 20 mile of San Diego 100 last year.

He was crewing Keira Henninger, a Patagonia Ultrarunning Teammate, who fell on sandstone and dislocated her hip! (She’s okay and will make a full recovery).

After seeing Jesse, I turned west and headed back up the gravel road to Goosebump aid. This was a tough 4-mile section that’s slightly uphill with a headwind. This part of a 100 is always slightly tough. It’s kind of no-man’s land. I still had over a marathon to go, evening was fast approaching and my stomach was a little off. It’s also probably one of the least scenic portions of the course. You’re up on top of a wide rolling mesa with just shrubs and a dusty gravel road with crew cars going by and kicking up dust. It’s only a 4 mile section but it seems to take FOREVER.

Also, I started meeting 100 mile back of the packers at this point too. This is always a bittersweet aspect of being up front. I was 70+ miles into the race and these folks were not even halfway yet. I feel for them, they’re so dang tough. That’s a long time to be out there. Much respect.

I finally got to Goosebump to find Geof Hasegawa, a local Bend runner who was running the 50K on Saturday but crewing his wife for the 100K. He helped me locate my drop bag, I grabbed my Ultraspire Alpha Vest and dropped off the steep descent from Goosebump to the valley floor. A section we had come up 43 miles earlier.

Goosebump Return

Dropping off Gooseberry Mesa in the late afternoon, mile 74. Photo by Jonathan Byers / jonathanbyers.com

I was soon hitting the dead-straight dirt road back toward the Virgin River. I was still trying to run strong but could feel the early season lack of volume training in my legs. I soon was running the ¼ mile highway section up to Dalton Wash where I’d see George again.

About a ¼ mile up the gravel road of Dalton Wash, I came running up to George and Jesse Haynes, who had a bouldering crash pad they were lounging on with cold beers in their hands. Oh man did those look good.

We had a quick bottle swap and I chugged some water as the 3 of us started hiking. My kiddos all had cold in the month before the race and of course it made it’s way through my wife and I too. I had just quit hacking a week before the race. The 2nd half of the race, I kept hacking up a little junk every once in a while when all the breathing was loosening up the leftover cold in my lungs. Well, I started a coughing spell and some junk came up and evoked my gag reflex and I puked up all the broth and water I’d downed in the last hour or two in 3 quick ralphs.

After it passed, I started hiking again, sipping water and my stomach felt a lot better. Within 5 minutes I downed a electrolyte pill and a Gu and felt good. I gave George and Jesse a Giddyup and took off up the gravel road climb to do the final lollipop loop on top of the last mesa (82 to 91 miles). When I got to Guacamole aid station, I downed some orange wedges and got my bottles refilled and took off into the sandstone formations.

The section is extremely winding and hard to get a rhythm. It was still light so I pushed on and made it almost halfway around the 9 mile loop before I turned on my lights. That’s when I slowed down a ton. Route finding in the winding sandstone was hard in the dark. I ended up running 20-40 yards at a time and then hiking and scanning the terrain for find the next course marker. This section went forever.

I soon got back to the lollipop and saw a headlamp coming my way. It ended up being Jason Koop in 2nd place just heading out onto the loop I was just ending. He was having a solid, steady race. His good pacing and patience were paying off. We chatted for a second about the day and Hardrock 100. He was in and I was #1 on the waitlist (I just found out I got in officially!). Anyway, we parted ways and I soon was in and out of Guacamole aid again and heading down the road off the mesa to run the last 9 miles.

The road drops steeply off the mesa to an upper pretty flat basin, then drops another pitch down Dalton Wash to the highway below. I was just starting down the final pitch when I caught glowing eyes about 70 meters off the road in a rock outcropping. Golden eyes blinking at me in a little alcove in the rock formation that jutted out to my left. I had my Black Diamond Icon headlamp on high beam and couldn’t quite pick up what it was.

That’s when it jumped up onto the rock and slinked along the top of the rock formation paralleling my movement. That’s when I realized it was a cougar! I stopped and yelled and grunted like a maniac and yelled, “You don’t want any piece of me!” It just stood there crouching and staring at me.

So, I started walking down the road with my light on it and the road quickly dropped away steeply and the left side of the road become a steep hillside into the canyon below. Once it was out of sight I took off with a good adrenaline rush.

I came back down to George and Jesse in the dark and we swapped bottles. They hiked with me for a minute or two and I took off for the last 3.5 miles to the finish.

The course from Dalton Wash Road heads up an old ATV trail along a little canyon a short ways, then bushwacks straight up a hillside off trail. The route gains the hillside above the highway and picks up a faint trail along some power lines. Soon you drop down off the hill and jump on an ATV trail. This soon spits you out north of Virgin on a paved road I was heading back into town on the road and finally was winding my way a few blocks through town and into Virgin’s city park and the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 16 hours, 49 minutes — setting a new course record by 1 hour and 3 minutes. And did the first thing I wanted to do all day — sit down. Stoked to win my 11th 100 miler. Can’t believe I’ve been running these crazy things for 14 years now. Giddyup.

Race Gear: Patagonia Duck Bill Cap, Patagonia Cap 1 Sleeveless Jersey, Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts, Patagonia EVERlong shoes, Ultraspire handhelds (new lids!) and the Alpha Pack, Rudy Project Zyon Frame with Rx UV Sensitive Lenses, Black Diamond Icon Headlamp. Nutrition was mainly Gu Gels and a little Roctane Energy Drink.

Post Race: Barlean’s Organic Greens and Omega 3-6-9 blend, Gu Recovery Brew (oh, chocolate), Patagonia Stretch Board Shorts, Injinji compression toesocks coupled with Patagonia flip flops — my must-have uniform for days after a 100.

Thanks: Shout out to Surf Monkey for putting up with me and being THE crew man. He’s a stud. Also to my wife and kids for their unwavering support of my little running “hobby.” I love you guys. Also my stellar sponsors — Patagonia, Ultraspire, Rudy Project, Gu Energy Labs, Black Diamond, Barlean’s and my peeps at FootZone in Bend. Special thanks to G5, the tech company I work for. They give me a long leash with my schedule for both training and racing. Work hard. Play hard. Also Mark DeJohn for the last minute ART bodywork sessions before I left town for the race (highly recommended technique for problem spots). Last but not least, the Big Man upstairs for keeping my steps safe out there, especially with a big cat lurking in the sandstone.

 

4 Summer Training, OR, and Run Rabbit Run 100 pre-race

As usual my busy life has left me with only my travel day to update my blog. I’m sitting in Portland airport on a layover before I fly to Denver today. Run Rabbit Run 100 is on Friday and I’m feeling excited to throw down with a solid field of runners.

I always have the intention of posting more often, but fatherhood, training, and work seem to take up every hour and when I finally hit the sack, I have nothing left. Thank goodness for Instagram and smartphones. Follow me there for more timely updates. Since San Diego, I’ve had a busy few months of training, racing and working my tail off at G5, plus design consulting.

Patagonia Everlong Trail running shoe

The new Patagonia EVERlong. Love this shoe.

SOB 50
I traveled a few hours to Ashland with the family to get a weekend in Ashland and jump in the Siskuyou Outback 50 Miler at Mt. Ashland in southern Oregon. I’ve made this kind of an annual trip. One, it’s in my home state so it’s easy and two, it’s an awesome course and event. Not to mention, my wife and I love Ashland and don’ t miss a chance to get down to visit.

I was able to rally to a 2nd place finish in the 50 miler and enjoyed a good day on the trails, even though a little forest fire haze was lingering from local fires.

Outdoor Retailer
I got back from Ashland on Sunday night and flew out for Salt Lake City on Monday to spend the week at OR and the launch of the shoe I’ve been working on with Patagonia Footwear, the EVERlong. A lightweight trail shoe I’ve been working closely on since June 2012. I’m on my 13th pair and have been exclusively in the shoe since December ’12. I’m loving it, it’s solid and I think we really got a good first edition. Feedback has been positive and should hit shelves in some key retailers in late November and fully hit in February ’14. I’m stoked to have a shoe I’m excited about from Patagonia. It’s solid and I’m happy with what we came up with. Hung out at the Ultraspire booth too. Awesome hydration stuff coming out from them as well in ’14. And as always, OR is a good time to catch up with other Patagonia Ultrarunning Team members Luke Nelson, Ty Draney and Krissy Moehl. Luke, Ty and I got out for a couple of good runs, one of which was a dawn patrol run up Mt. Olympus. Stellar.

August training
I jammed out a solid month of training after SOB 50, keeping it local. I borrowed a friend’s altitude tent and have been sleeping at 10,000+ feet for 4 weeks to get ready for RRR100.

Mt. Hood run

West side of Mt. Hood on our one day 40-mile circumnavigation.

Brett running above the clouds at Mt. Hood.

As for running, the Cascades open up from snow by August, so, that short window of time to get in the high country in the Central Cascades is a must. I spent some time running up into Broken Top Crater, Tumalo Falls area, South Sister a couple of times and hitting sections of the Flagline 50k course. Never a disappointment. Absolutely love the access to beautiful country Bend living affords a trail runner.

My last 3 weeks leading up RRR100 has been awesome. A local mountaineer and runner, Brett Yost and I ran around Mt. Hood in a day. A must do for any ultrarunner. A 40 mile circumnavigation of the mountain with nearly 10,000 feet of climbing. Such a cool, diverse mountain to explore.

Looking north from the summit of South Sister

On my local trails, I topped off my training with a last adventure of riding my ‘cross bike 26 miles from my house to Green Lakes Trailhead at the foot of South Sister, running the 15 mile roundtrip/5,200 foot climb up South Sister and biking the 26 miles back home. Solid training day 2 weeks out from the upcoming race.

I feel as ready as I can be coming into this race. Minus maybe quitting my job and sleeping more. A fleeting thought. Giddyup.

Spring 100 Mile Training — Staying Local

I’m traveling today and finally getting a deep breath to post. All in all, working on the new house, getting garden beds built and making a  house a home. Working full time, coaching, parenting 3 kids with my hardworking wife and training my rear off to get ready for San Diego 100. 34 hours to the start. Here’s a little look back at my spring.

March: Gorge Waterfalls 50k

After recovering and building mileage back up after Bandera 100k in January, I decided to stay close to home the beginning half of the spring and run local. A return to Rainshadow Running’s Gorge Waterfalls 50k was in order. This is such a beautiful race James puts on. Not only do you get a awesome sampling of the heart of the waterfalls that the Columbia River Gorge has to offer, it also boasts a deep field for a “low-key” race, great micro brews, bluegrass, and handmade pizzas at the finish line. Not to mention the weather was off-the-hook-stellar. 70s and bluebird skies. Unheard of this time of the year in the Gorge.

I went out easy with Patagonia teammate Ty Draney, who was coming from only snowshoeing and running in sub 20 degree snowy weather since the fall in Wyoming. 70s was feeling mighty hot for Ty and he slowed around 10 miles in, so I took it as an opportunity to pick up the pace a bit.

When we got to the out and back road section toward the turnaround, I had pretty good legs and picked a couple of guys off. I could see Hal Koerner ahead of me a minute or so and at the turnaround as I met Hal, he jokingly said, “What’d you do, turn into some kind of road runner?!” Ha. I yelled over my shoulder, “I’m coming to get you Koerner!” I grabbed my poker ship out of the bucket at the turnaround and soon popped off the trail, dropped my chip to a volunteer and took off down the road with the short term goal of reeling in GQ (aka Hal).

Hal doesn’t go down easy, so I put my head down and tried to hold a sub 6:30 pace. I had been doing some good long tempo workout and was even able to throw a 5:58 mile split in on the road. I gained ground, but he was still 30 seconds up when we hit the singletrack again. After a few short climbs and windy turns I finally caught him. Usually I can’t keep up with GQ in a 50k, but he’d been fighting a foot thing again. I feel for him, I hate when you’re fighting little stuff. I’ve had both PF and Morton’s Neuroma over the years. Not a fun thing to be dealing with. After catching Hal, I just kept rolling and soon picked off another guy. I ended up moving from 12th to 6th by the finish and taking the Master’s win.  Great trainer and good to hang out at the finish with Stephanie Howe, Zach, Hal, Ty, and Ian Sharman — whom I’ve trained  quite a few long runs this spring with before he moved back to the Bay Area.

Capped the Easter weekend off by staying at the Hood River Hotel with the family and hanging with my wife and kids in Hood River. Such a cool town and a gorgeous weekend to be enjoying the shorts weather.

Zion Nation Park

April: Patagonia Design Offsite, Rolled Ankle and Ultraspire Retreat

The week after Gorge, I headed to Portland for a design offsite with Patagonia to check out the Spring ‘14 line and talk design ideas for the future. It was a great 2-day session at the Ace Hotel geeking out on gear and hanging with the Patagonia design team and some of the Ultrarunning Team. Awesome and productive. I truly love supporting this responsible company.

After the design offsite, the plan was to train right up to Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 Miler in Sisters, OR and do a mini 4 or 5 day taper and use it as a build up for Ice Age 50 in May in Wisconsin. 2-days before the race, I was cruising in my neighborhood park  and was cruising on a buff section of trail while scouting a 1 mile trail loop for my kids to run (complete with quarter miles markers), when BAM stepped on the only rock on the trail while gawking and rolled my right ankle all the way to the side. I immediately hopped on one foot and knew it was a bad one — one that makes you sit down until your foot stops trembling. Sucked. I walked on it for about 10 minutes and it was ballooning. So, ice-backward treadmill hiking rehab regimen immediately, no Rumble 40. So it goes.

I have a pretty good rolled ankle rehab program, so I got to work on my ice-treadmill routine and had Mark DeJohn do some light work on it. 2 days after I walked 4 miles with no pain (gently), biked 5 days in a row, so no “endurance” days off and by 6 days, I was lightly jogging on a taped and still swollen ankle.

That Thursday (day 5) I was flying to St. George, UT for a design and testing retreat for Ultraspire in Zion National Park. I spent Friday hiking and jogging 8 miles, super mellow, and exploring a dome and a canyon with Speedgoat Karl. He’d just come off racing Lake Sonoma 50 miler Saturday before. Good to hang with the old goat as usual. We always have good times. Ankle was still visually swollen and purple below the ankle bone.

Day 2 I was able to run 3 times (morning, noon, and evening) — all 4 milers for 12 miles total. Ankle was coming around. I kept compression on it when not running and by Sunday Karl, Ashley Nordell, Scott Jaime and I ran an easy 15 miler to check out an arch. Ankle was fine on everything. Still had to go gentle on the downs, but swelling was lots better after all the running on it to flush out the fluid and bruising was gone.

After getting back, I kept training hard at Smith Rock to get ready for Ice Age 50.

Shake out run after travel day with Patagonia peeps. With George, Rod and Katie, and Ken.

May: Ice Age 50 Miler, The EVERlong, and Every Day May

May was a big month: peak training month, Ice Age 50 Miler, Patagonia Footwear meetings and my self-imposed training regimen of no running days off in may…”Every Day May.”

Second weekend in May I flew to Wisconsin with teammate Denise Bourassa and her husband Ken. Fun to hang with them for the race weekend. We had a cloudy and rainy weekend, but got a good couple of last shakeout runs in before the race.

The race went well. Super fast field this year. The race director, Jeff, mentioned it was the fastest top 10 race in the race’s 30+ year history. I had been doing some good, long tempo workouts all spring and they came into play on race day. The first 9 miles I was hitting 6:45-7:15 pace on the rolling XC ski trails in Kettle Moraine Forest and was in 14th place. I settled in and just concentrated on nutrition and turnover and good form. This course consists of a loop, then two out and backs (turnarounds at 26 miles and 40 miles). A great place to see competition and see how your doing in the pack.

At the first turn I was in 12th and the guys up front were running well (Josh Brimhall, Zach Bitter, and David Riddle). They looked strong when we passed on the trail. I picked off a few more guys on my way out to the next turnaround and by the turnaround at 40 miles, I had moved up to 9th place. About 2 minutes out of the turnaround, I met the first place woman, Cassie Scallon (on course record pace). I was kind of in a funky headspace here and that snapped me out of it. Funny how a little assault on the male ego can light a fire. I was quickly running a minute a mile faster and picking off a guy in front of me. I hammered it in and finished 8th place in 6:36 and good enough for the Master’s win. (Cassie ended smashing the 15 year old women’s course record by 18 minutes! A stellar 6:46…watch out for her.)

After the race, I jumped a plane to Grand Rapids, MI for the annual Patagonia Footwear meetings. It was an awesome week of geeky running shoe talk and trail running with The Dirty Herd and West Michigan Trail Runners, as well as Gazelle Sports. Highly recommend stopping in their shop if you’re in town. Met some great folks in Michigan and ran some great trails.

It was also a chance to show the Sales Reps the shoe I’ve been helping Patagonia develop the past 8 months. The EVERlong — a stellar trail shoe coming from Patagonia in Spring ‘14. It’s good. I’m stoked. It’s been my only shoe since last fall. I’ve run in NOTHING else. And anyone that knows me (yep, you know what I mean FootZone folks), this is not normal.

So, now I’m tapered and ready to roll at San Diego inside of 48 hours. Every Day May is complete (35 straight running days, capping off my final week of peak training with 96 miles and almost 15,000 feet of climbing). I feel ready — mentally, physically, and spiritually. I’m stoked to come back to this race. Great course, great volunteers and a great event. Love supporting it. Looks like it’s gonna be sunny and hot in the mountains on race day. I’ve done 5 sauna sessions the past 2 weeks. Let’s do this. Giddyup.

4 The Chuck-n-Gorge Double (Gorge Waterfalls 50K)

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.

Hardrock Hundred: High Elevation Never-Never Land

Roch Horton, Krissy Moehl, and I before the start in Silverton HS Gym (photo by Ben Moon)

Well, this was the big daddy of all 100 milers—the Hardrock Hundred. It starts and finishes in Silverton, Colorado. 33,000 feet of climbing and descending, average elevation 11,100 feet, five 13,000+ ft. passes, summit 14,048 ft Handies Peak—one big 100 mile loop through the San Juan Mountains. As the race manual reads: This is NOT a beginner race! Uh, yeah. It definitely lives up to it’s name. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done—hands down. I have to say I was humbled. Even though it was my 5th hundred, it felt like my first again. Killer.

I went in as prepared as I could be, having never seen the course and given I couldn’t come out early or train on the course (phew, I wish I could have in hindsight). For the month leading up to the race, I rented my buddy Steve’s Altitude Tent and slept in it at the foot of our bed on the floor. My son, Benjamin, coined it “the alien pod”— dialed in to 9500 feet. This helped, but going early is obviously the best way to prepare, especially the experience of getting on the course.

Pre Race
I flew into Salt Lake City to ride down with my friends Roch and Catherine Horton. They picked me up in their old Landcruiser and we headed for their friend’s house in Grand Junction, our destination for Wednesday night. It was blazing hot on our midday drive with no air conditioning (well, it has it, we just didn’t use it). Roch’s philosophy that “everyone should adapt to their surroundings” left me with a soaked backside and drinking like a fish across the desert of eastern Utah.

To top it off, Roch told me of an oasis in the little dusty desert town of Green River—a gay dude from Salt Lake had moved to Green River and opened up an ice cream shop and it was “the place” to stop in Green River, he was just there a few weeks ago. Complete with an old timey juke box with Johnny Cash playing on old records…the real deal. I was dreaming of this oasis for 40 miles, drenched in sweat as we pulled into the deserted dusty town on I-70. We rounded the corner to the shop and BAM! Closed. Out of business! Suddenly the shimmering oasis faded to the reality of 100+ degrees as we trudged on to Grand Junction. I guess Green River IS a dusty “old” town after all.

We arrived in Grand Junction to cloudy skies and hot weather. After a meal at a Mexican Restaurant, a little practice session on guitar and Roch on the banjo (more on this later), we retired early at their friends house (who happened to be out of town).

The next morning we headed out early for the 2 1/2 hour drive south to Silverton to race headquarters for check-in. We had a new passenger, one of Roch’s friend who came in to pace him from Sand Diego, Jim. He’d flown in the night before, late. We had a good ride down and stopped off at a Western Store in Montrose to pick me a good cowboy hat out, as I forgot mine (come to find out later, Benjamin had hidden it under our bed), and as you’ll see, I’ll be needin’ that little hat (this ties into the guitar and banjo).

As we approached the San Juan Mountains looming to the south, I first noticed how big they were. It had been a few years since I’ve been to them, back in the 90s when Jennifer and I lived in Colorado. Also, there were some serious looking clouds on the mountains. The forecast was for isolated thunderstorms, and anyone who has any experience with the Rockies, that means crazy afternoon weather with lightening. Not a good recipe if you’re running above tree line.

We arrived at Silverton High School gymnasium just in time, 10:52am. Cut-off time for check-in is 11am. If you don’t check in by 11, they give your slot to the one of many folks that come to the race from the waiting list. Yes, people actually come just in the hopes of nabbing a slot right before the race. And, on race morning, a guy got in 25 minutes before the start! We checked in just in time and caught up to a few friends and hung out for a bit. I set up a tent in the backyard of a rental house that Roch was staying at. They were sharing a house with Betsy Nye and Paul Sweeney and friends and family. After a community dinner that evening, I retired to my tent out back. It rained off and on all night and I awoke at 4am to clear skies overhead and a large cloud bank sitting on the north of town like a wall.

6am: The start in downtown Silverton, bring on the pain! (photo by Ben Moon)

Hardrock Begins
It was just getting light out when we all walked out of the high school gym and out onto the gravel street filled with mud puddles to line up for the 6am start. We took off and made our way through the town of Silverton to the edge of town and up onto a double track trail and into the woods.

I was running in fourth place behind Scott Jurek, Karl Meltzer, and Mark Hartell. After the first creek crossing (~mile 3), we jumped on a 4wd road that we would climb to above treeline. About half way up the road, Ricky Denesik, who won the race back in ’98, caught and passed me, hiking like a fiend and was quickly reeling in Hartell too.

I was in 5th place going into the singletrack above treeline in Little Giant Basin. I heard Jurek give out a hoot and I answered with a “yee-hah” back at him. That’s the thing I like about Scott, he’s always hootin’ and hollerin’ and enjoying himself. He’s a fierce competitor, but humble and good at focusing on the happy place. I could see futher up and Karl was not far back from Scott, with Ricky in 3rd and Mark Hartell in 4th. I topped out Little Giant Pass (13,000 ft) and started to the steep 2700 ft descent in 2.2 miles down to Cunningham Gap. The markers were hard to follow and I soon passed Hartell, as he had lost the flags and as soon as I passed him, he was on my rear. We ran together down to Cunningham, which made me run that first descent a bit too fast. There was a lot of moisture from the rain and as I steep on a double log across the trail, my foot slipped between them and caught my heel and bruised it. This little mishap would prove to bother me the rest of the race on climbs, as my heel jammed the back of my shoes. I also, slipped once and banged my shin. So, I arrived Cunningham aid at mile 9 with a bloody, swollen shin and a bruised heel. Oh, and due to running it a bit too fast, my legs were a little shakey (I like to call it the Elvis leg)…”hold on now, thankyaverymuch!”

Mile 9: Arriving Cunningham Gap Aid Station (photo by Ben Moon)

Ben Moon and and Jason, my pacer, were there with my drop bag out and ready. I loaded up with more gel and was off. I started up the Green Mountain climb and was already feeling it a bit from the last descent, not a good sign at mile 10. I soon found my rhythm and settled in to powerhiking up the long climb to Stony Pass and then to Maggie Gulch aid station. During this section, I was passed by a couple of people and Ty Draney caught up to me and we ran together through the Pole Creek area and into Pole Creek Aid together. We left together and yo-yo’d through the whole upper area before you drop into the trees coming into Sherman. As we were getting into the trees, a storm blew in and started to hail. Luckily, I was on my way down into Sherman and in the trees. The pea size hail hurt a bit on my head, but I pulled ahead of Ty a bit, trying to get to the aid station quickly. I had some potato soup at the aid, replenished my gel and electrolyte pill supply, put on my arm warmers, gloves, and shell and left Sherman a little chilled. Phill Kiddoo and I left together and hung out for a bit as we ran and chatted. After we got up on the upper road the heads up to Bear Creek Trailhead, Phill pulled ahead. I relaxed and ran my own pace and soon arrived at the trailhead parking lot and say Catherine and Jim. They topped off my water and I hit the singletrack to start the long climb up Handies Peak (14,048 ft). Handies approach is long and I was having a bit of a rough patch as I got above treeline. I was running low on water and soon ran out by the summit.

Hardrock is different than many other races in that you can’t just rely on aid stations. You have to carry more stuff, plus, you have to dip in the snowmelt or fresh springs when they come along, even if you don’t need water at the time. I was learning as I raced and had not learned that little fact yet. So, I passed up many good springs and soon was on the upper flanks of Handies. Ty had caught back up to me and we ran together for a bit, but I ran out of water and he pulled a bit ahead. I kept him in sight and as we summited, I was only 50 yards back.

We started the 1600 ft descent off Handies together and hit the traverse over to American Basin, where I found a good spring coming out of the cliff band. I filled, chugged, filled, chugged and topped off my bottles. Then, with a bit of a sloshy belly, started the climb up to 13,020 ft American Grouse Pass and the 2300 ft rocky descent into Grouse Gulch.

Approaching Grouse Gulch Aid Station (photo by Ben Moon)

I sat down at Grouse, ate some soup, replenished supplies and heade up the road to Engineers Pass. This is a long, slow section and my stomach was a bit squirrelly. The storm and clouds had passed and the sun came out. I zapped through my water and was out by the upper section of the road. I was pretty slow through here, as I had run out of water twice in 10 miles and had cotton mouth. I started getting passed and soon Paul Sweeney caught up to me. He has won this race once and been 2nd place a couple of times. He’s really good at going out slow and coming on strong at the end. He and I hiked together and talked. Toward the top, one of my Patagonia teammates, Whit Rambach, caught up to us and he had extra water and gave me a 1/4 of a bottle. Thanks, buddy. Whit, Paul and I topped out together at Oh Point and started the cross country drop off to pick up Trail 242 and into Engineer Aid Station. I had to make a pit stop on the way to Engineer and lost contact with Paul and Whit. My stomach was not right after the two waterless sections.

I arrived at Engineer, sat and drank 5 glasses of water and had a soup with crackers. I left there with a full belly and started the descent into Bear Creek Canyon. This canyon is extremely exposed. Most of the way down you’re running on a dynamite blasted shelf that miners created to make the upper mines in the canyon accessible. It’s rocky, loose choss with a huge exposed drop off to your left. I just focused on picking a good line and cruised down. Soon you go over the Hwy 550 Tunnel and down and cross the Uncompahgre River on a foot bridge, then run follow a pipeline road that drops you out on the edge of Ouray (mile 56). I arrived Ouray at around dusk and you have to run through town to the north end where a park is. I arrived the aid at 8:45pm to see Catherine and Jason who would be pacing me the next 16 miels to Telluride.

I got my lights, refills, new socks and soup and headed out with my pacer, Jason. Garrett Graubins had introduced Jason and I via email and he came out from Colorado Springs to pace me to Telluride. It was nice to have company, as I was feeling a bit sleepy as we headed up the Camp Bird Road. Toward the upper part of the road, Krissy Moehl and her pacer, Darcy, passed us like we were standing still, chatting, laughing. When she passed us I knew she was going to win the women’s race. She’s tough and is good at going out easy and bringing it the second half.

We arrived Governor Aid, sat for about 10 minutes and ate soup. I was starting some bad habits by sitting at every aid station. Once I was off my splits, I just started slowing down and sitting. The problem is by doing this, I was losing mental focus and drive. Bad. So, I continued to plug along on my way to the Virginius Pass wall.

We arrived at the start of the Virginius climb and I could see a line of headlamps floating in the dark way above us, and, as Roch had described, the aid station lantern wayyyyy up there. The Virginius Pass approach is a 3 pitch mix of snow and scree on the north facing gully of a knife ridge at 13,100 ft. It’s about a 50 degree grade of class 3 climbing. The first pitch is the longest and was a loose, muddy mix of snow and muddy scree. There are several big boulders to grab hold of on the climb. Soon we were through the first pitch then the second, which was more of the same and shorter. Finally we reached the last pitch, and there were several people on the straight ahead route where the fixed rope is. Roch had mentioned a single switchback route in the snow going 150 feet to the right then back along the rock band toward the 10 ft notch where the aid station is perched. Koop and I headed for the right route, which in hindsight was fairly sketchy, as it was super hard and icey and the upper part had very poor foot holds. I was glad to have some climbing experience through there.

We soon were at the aid, there is basically room for a couple people at a time, due to the exposure and small notch that this remote aid station sits on. It was windy too. So, I downed a quick potato soup, filled my bottles and dropped of the south side for the 4500 ft descent in 5 miles down to Telluride. After the first drop, you traverse over to Mendota Ridge to the west. There is some good exposure through this section and some straight down sections. It was slow going and loose. Finally we made it down to tree line and got on the old double track for the rest of the way to Telluride. We hit the aid station at the pavilion in Telluride around 2:45am.

I was extremely tired and could not keep my eyes open. I wanted to nap, but the aid station captain gave me trouble for “hanging out”…so, against my better judgement, I staggered out of Telluride solo (as Jason was only pacing to there). This proved to be a huge mistake, not taking a 15 minute power nap. I was dozing off on my feet the entire next section over Oscar’s Pass and it was quite a blur. It took me 4 hours and 40 minutes to go 9 miles.

The only cool thing that happened was coming up on a porcupine on the trail. I was dozing off while hiking, when all of the sudden this ball of spikes flares up 10 yards in front of me and makes me jump and yell. He waddled up the trail and I gave him room while talking to him and he cruised up into the grass and off the trail so I could pass. I reached Wasatch saddle at sunrise, traversed up to Oscar’s Pass and then the 3,000 ft in 3 miles down the knarly, rocky jeep road to Chapman. This was the worst section of the course. There are so many rocks, you can’t really run. Sometimes it’s so technical on this course it made me laugh out loud.

I got to Chapman with one goal, lots of food and a 15 minute power nap. When I got there, I found to my surprise, that Ty and Whit were both there. Whit had been throwing up and was trying to get his stomach straight and so was Ty. Ty was in a sleeping bag snoozing.

I got in my drop bag, situated my gear, at a breakfast burrito, two cups of potato soup, a sprite, water, wrapped up in a blanket in a camp chair and told them to wake me up in 15. I was out in 3 seconds. I woke myself up and asked them how long I’d been there. They told me 40 minutes.

Ah! I gotta get going. I asked for a hot tea, downed it and limped out of Chapman. The next section was okay. I felt better. I still hadn’t got any fire back, or rhythm, but it was morning and I wasn’t dozing off anymore. This was the second to last climb and it’s a long one, Grants Swamp Pass. It’s a long singletrack climb above treeline and into a basin to a 1/4 mile headwall of loose scree. It is hands and feet, take one step, loose a half step by sliding back down. It’s slow going, but I reached the top and sat down, took a gel and started the crazy, steep descent off the ridge.

I hit the Kamm Traverse and cruised into KT aid, sat down, ate a turkey sandwich and Ty and his pacer, Leland Barker arrived…Ty was back from the dead. I left following them and we cruised up the road that parallels the stream, after about a mile, Leland and Ty were about 100 yards ahead of me and I see them coming back toward me. They think we missed the turn. Bummer. We turned around, Ty and I hiked together while Leland ran ahead. We had missed the flag for the cross country turn off because a 4wd pick-up was blocking it.

We crossed the river and started the steep singletrack climb. I lost contact with Ty and Leland and settled into my slow-woe-is-me-hike (with a single breath stop break every 10-12 steps…again, another bad habit that had creeped in since Ouray. My mental game was horrible the second half. As I’m taking the bad-habit-mini-stop break, Betsy Nye caught me and passed me. A tiny fire lit in my brain when she passed. I decided it was time to buck up and get it together and get this thing done. I would just keep Betsy in sight. So, I started hiking with no stops allowed, just keep moving.

After about 15-20 minutes, I broke out of my mental blahs and started feeling better. I soon caught Betsy and Ty. We caught James Varner, who was looking happy, but hammered. James and I exchanged some small talk and I kept plugging away at the climb. The final pitch is cross country in some tundra straight up. Finally, Betsy, Ty and I topped out the ridge, traversed and started the final descent to Putnam Basin Aid.

I started off the top and passed Betsy and Ty. I wanted to be done. My quads were feeling hammered but I decided to push a bit. I arrived Putnam, refilled water, ate a piece of banana and left as Ty and Leland were arriving. I then decided my final motivating goal was to beat Ty.

So, I ran the final descent hard and hit the river crossing, crossed Hwy 550 and was hiking the short grunt up to the powerline trail that marks the last 2 miles of the course. As soon as I hit the dirt on the other side of the highway, Ty arrived at the river….50 yards behind me.

I hit the power line trail and pushed it hard enough to be out of Ty’s sight. Finally, I arrived at the final small road climb on the edge of town, dropped onto the singletrack across the meadow and the last 3 blocks to the finish line at the high school. I crossed the line in 33 hours and 18 minutes in 15th place. I kissed “the rock” (a tradition in this race) and sat down.

This is a great race…beautiful, hardcore, technical, aesthetically pleasing…the ultimate 100 miler. I’ll be back.

So, one last thing, the cowboy hat, guitar and banjo explanation. Roch and I were playing the Hardrock Song at the Awards Ceremony. Roch had been making up a song to himself about 5 or 6 years ago while running this race to the old tune “My Walking Shoes don’t Fit Me Anymore”…however, Roch’s version is “My Running Shoes Don’t Fit Me Anymore”. It’s become a tradition that he adds a verse every year. He’s up to 6 verses and upon hearing I was coming, recruited me to play guitar and sing harmony, while he sang and played banjo. It was a good time and came out pretty well.

All in all, an awesome and humbling race. But, you’re not really a Hardrocker until you’ve run it both ways…clockwise and counterclockwise. So, I’ll enter it again, in hopes of being picked in the lottery. Hopefully, my running shoes will fit me next year, just in time for Hardrock.