Wednesday, October 10, 2018

2018 Mighty Quail 100k

That. Was. The. Hardest. Race. I've. Ever. Run. 

I'm half-tempted to leave my race report to just that. What else is there to say? I could go on and on about the verticality of the first half. How this hill was steep and that hill was steep and the hill after that was also steep. I could describe the punishment I felt on each and every downhill in excruciating detail. But in all honesty, it wouldn't be worth repeating the word steep in every single sentence. 

You know how the inuit people have so many different words for snow? I feel the word steep needs more synonyms to describe the ups and downs of this course. Sure we have up and vertical but they lack that pow factor. Up, up and beyond? Bingo. This race was up, up and beyond steep. And being the reckless climber I am, I chose to push the initial ascents as hard as I could. 

I guess I should back up here for a sec and set the scene. 

4:00 AM. My alarm goes off and pre race jitters immediately dart through my body. I try calming myself down, rationalizing to myself that I can do this. It's only 12 miles further than Kaniksu. It's downhill from the last aid station to the finish. It's going to be ok. Luckily, the encouraging words of my great friend Adam were able to calm my nerves and allow me to focus on the race. And what a race it was. 

6:00 AM. Go! I tucked myself into the lead pack of runners as we climbed via asphalt into suburbia. I'd like to point out here that Penticton, British Columbia is a drop dead gorgeous city. The scenery in the early morning light was quite stunning as Skaha Lake came into view. While the sights were amazing, the course needed my full attention.

Asphalt soon gave way to the familiar feel of rock and earth as the course travelled up and down several ravines. In this early section, ropes were placed on some of the steeper ravines which I neglected to use since I was trying to maintain contact with the leaders. At times the trail was faint but flagging was prolific so anytime the course seemed to disappear off a ledge, there was always a lovely pink flag there, reassuring me that yes, indeed the course goes down that cliff, proceed. 

Quickly, I found my downhill legs to be non-complacent. While this wasn't much of a problem now, since the first half has so much more climbing than descending. I knew eventually I would have to go down, and it wasn't going to be pretty. 

8:00AM. I checked into the first aid station with wobbly quads controlled by a determined mind, obnoxiously pushing them way too early. I let Adam(my crew) know of my downhill problem, filled up the "required" two liters of fluid, and began the biggest climbs of the day.

Up, up and beyond steep. Each climb seemingly worse than the one before. Words simply, don't do this section justice. 

Initially, I felt great. For a very brief period of time, I was able to take the lead on one of the climbs, but as soon as the course flattened a bit, I was overtaken by two runners who would go on to finish 1st and 2nd. Slowly, my body began to tire and my body temperature began to drop. I quickly pulled my "required" jacket from my vest and began plodding down the forest road to the next aid. 

During this long downhill I was contemplating taking a DNF and returning home with plenty of energy and regret. I did not listen. Sure, my legs hurt and sure, I was cold. But that's what I signed up for. That's why I'm here. To get cold, to get sore, to want to quit and through all of it, keep going. 

Soon, I was able to put these dark thoughts in the back of my mind and then I saw them. The leaders. They were leaving just as I was pulling into the second aid station, I knew if I could blast through and grab only what I needed, I could catch them. In my panic, I almost left a bottle here but luckily I didn't get far until I noticed my mistake. The race was on!

You can do this! No pain, no gain! Keep running! I quickly churned my legs along the hard packed dirt road that would lead me to the Ellis Canyon trail. Come on!!! Unfortunately, my legs simply didn't have the speed needed to close on the leaders. As soon as I made it to the canyon, my mind was made up. It's about finishing, not winning. 

I realized that I had barely eaten anything on the road and diligently pulled out a pack of fruit snacks. Yum! I began picking my head up more often to soak in the views. The canyon, although very exposed at times, was amazing. Fall colors speckled the surrounding hills as deer darted in and out of the trees. My legs may have been full of pain, but my heart was full of joy. 

1:00 PM. I checked in at the 3rd aid station with nothing left in the tank. I'll take some mashed potatoes please! An amazing soul handed me a caffeinated goo from her car. I let Adam know that my hopeful times were going to be way off but to expect me at the next aid in a couple hours. With a full bag of taters in hand, I was off!

As I descended further into the canyon, the ground began to change in consistency. Thick dust that had been severally eroded by cattle, choked the trail leading down to the stream crossing. Sometimes sinking halfway up my calf, this stuff sucked to run down! Finally I made it to the water, crossed, and within 10 minutes I heared a low pitched buzzing sound in front of me. 

Snake! A small rattlesnake was sun bathing several feet in front of me and was proudly letting me know, don't touch this. Heeding its warning, I shyly skirted to the other side of the trail and immediately put the insuing adrenaline rush to use. Power hiking up the other side of the canyon, I felt confident about finishing and maintaining my 3rd place position. The descent down to the 4th aid station however, made me question if I was even going to finish. Stiff, stutter steps sent shots of pain into my lower back. Finally, I heard the cheers of the aid station and made my way over to Adam's car. 

3:30 PM. I slowly took my time as I changed my shoes and socks while aid station volunteers ferryed over cups of cola and broth. My stomach was beginning to show signs of trouble. Liquid calories were my bread and butter from here on out. I knew the next climb would be the last grand undertaking of the day. Climb up then run back down to Penticton, that's it. I collected all my "required" items and started to plod up good ol' Greyback Mountain Rd. 

Clangy-clang-clang-diddy-clang! Cowbells erupted before I was even out of the parking lot. One, two, three runners were all working together and looking much better than me. I'm sure each of them could smell blood as they looked at my beleagured face. Uh-oh. Gonna have to work now. I ferociously pushed down on my quads, popped a few salt-sticks, and greedly chugged my zipfizz/maltodextrin concoction as I worked my way up Greyback. Luckily, only one of the trailing runners was able to pass me on this climb. We exchanged courtesys and I painfully watched while he effortessly gapped me further up the hill. Nothing could be done. No gear to shift down to. I was spent. 

The climb relented and I now knew that only a few short climbs were left. My abysmal form was barely keeping my toes from catching each and every root and rock that appeared on the trail. I plodded on. Fortunately for me, you don't get points for style in running. Upon reaching the very top of the very last climb, I noticed course flagging veering off into the woods. Being the stupid idiot I am, I followed these flags into oblivion. Hahaha, very funny. 

Since they had reflective stripes and were placed in an obvious line, I honestly thought I was on course so I descended further into oblivion. Well this is fun. Down, down I went until I popped out onto a trail lined with more course flags and signs. Except these were no ordinary signs. They were all backwards! That's odd, somebody must have marked the course incorrectly. I continued in this fashion, seeing atleast three backwards signs until I pulled out my "required" cell phone, opened TrailForks and saw my blunder. I had travelled about a half-mile backwards, albeit on course, but now I had to climb that last climb, one last time. 

5:30 PM. I checked in to the last aid station in 4th place with a sick feeling in my stomach knowing it would be all downhill from here. Not good. I grabbed another pair of bottles and got on my merry way. 5th place was hot on my heels and 6th and 7th were not much further back. How was I possibly going to stagger my way down to the finish!?

Soon I was constantly hearing the bear bells adorning 5th place's pack. And then he passed me. Dejected, hollow, but most importantly pissed off, I was able to maintain a half-decent pace while the course zigged and zagged it's way down to Penticton. With every long straight away, I was looking back for headlights to get a gage on the gap to 6th and 7th. Nothing, good, keep going. 

The trail switched to crushed gravel as the course weaved through the beautiful vineyards of northern Penticton. I pulled out my phone to see I was only one mile from the finish. Joy rushed through my body. I was beginning to hear the waves of the lake lap up against the shore. And just like that, it was over. 13 hours later, 5th place, and finished doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Trust the Process

In just 9 days I will toe the line for my first 100 kilometer(62 mile) race. Wowzers! It's a surreal feeling. Am I ready? What's the weather going to be like? How about the competition from the rest of the field? To be completely honest, I have no real answer for any of these questions. All I can do is trust the process and believe that I can reach the finish line!

With 15 grand of vertical gain, The Mighty Quail 100k(can we pause for a second to recognize how awesome the name of this race is!?) will be not only the furthest I have ever ran, but also the tallest I have ever climbed. Cue the goosebumps, this is gonna be a wild ride! The majority of the course is on mt. bike single track, so I'm expecting burms, dug out switchbacks, and the occasional jump. Reaching just ~5250' the Quail isn't a high altitude test, but the race more than makes up for it with brutally steep climbs and long stretches without aid or crew support. The Mighty Quail will indeed be a mighty test of both my physical and mental endurance.

Little more can be done in the form of training. Some strides and a couple trail runs around Camp Caro are all I have planned. That and sleeping in, eating good food(can you say homemade kimchi) and staying positive. I finished my last big effort yesterday. The day before, I carried a very full backpack with a tent and way too much food all the way from Spokane Valley to the base of Mt. Spokane. From there I set up camp, ate, slept, woke up, and ran 12 miles up and around the mountain. And then I called in a ride from my wonderful girlfriend who graciously picked me up at the bottom so I didn't have to carry that awful backpack all the way to the valley. Whew! From here on out, it's just single digit mileage with lots of kimchi in between!

Watch out! I'm coming for you Mighty Quail 100k! It's going to be a brutal test. Luckily I've decided to actually study for this one(weird concept) and hopefully I am adaptable enough to deal with the struggles that come my way during this journey. Im pumped! The stoke is high and I just can't wait to toe the line and see what happens. Cue the Chariots of Fire theme song. Let's do this!

Saturday, August 4, 2018


Recovery is fickle. No pill, plan, or massage can guarantee you will feel fresh in x amount of time. Some may even extend your recovery time and potentially leave you injured and off the trail. Time is the only remedy. Sleep in, eat more, run none, and energy will slowly creep into your legs. While some runners need only a few days to fully recover, others may need as much as two weeks or longer to feel back up to par. You simply have to give your legs and body the time and energy they need to heal.  

Shortly after a long, difficult workout or race, my legs feel worked but are generally loose. Im able to walk, albeit slightly bow legged, and thoughts of real food swim through my head. Then I sit down. Muscles tighten, blood fights to circulate, and ultimately my legs turn into pegs. For the next several  days, my legs are stiff and reluctant to do any real physical activity. Sometime during this period of stiffness, I usually go for a small run just to shake out the cobwebs and get the blood pumping again. Relief!!! A nice stretch and a hot shower turn my legs back into snappy rubberbands with boundless energy. I'm cured!!! Immediately I begin planning my next big workout. 20 miles? Better make it 22. Vert? Oh yeah, all the vert. An Everest amount of vert. And then I go run this crazy thing and surprise, surprise my legs feel like crap.

If only I had taken it lighter and gone for a 2 mile jog instead of a 22 all out blitz, my recovery would have been much different.  There is a threshold where more miles start hurting you rather than helping you.  Long, fast efforts are an essential tool for any ultra runner but they must be undertaken with the right perspective. A week after a big 50k is not the time for an LFD(long fast distance). Go for 7 miles, see how the legs feel, go home, EAT, SLEEP, and hang out with friends. Say no to the "recovery" pills and turbo shakes and say yes to time with good friends and good food. That is all.          

Sunday, July 29, 2018

2018 Mt Spokane Vertical Challenge 50k

Woooooohoooooooo!!!! This course has everything. Epic mountain views, steep climbs, steep sends, and did I mention fresh huckleberries within arms distance of the trail!? And that's just the course. Trail Maniacs always put on a great event with excellent aid station volunteers and plenty of post race food and beer. You guys rock!

Let's dive into the 50k race from my perspective. I came, I ran, I won. The End. Ok, I guess more occurred than just running and winning. At the start, my legs were ready to go so I let them shake themselves out. Quickly gaining a gap on the feild, the reality of a hot lonely day began to set in. Mt. Spokane looked like a golden pyramid as the morning sun streaked down its flanks. I pushed the climb up Quartz Mt and made a mental note to reserve the fire lookout for a future night of fun with friends but partying would have to wait. There was still a lot of race in front of me and the heat of the day was already making things difficult. Working my way through and stopping for fluids and gel at the Nova Hut around mile 14, I started to think that the day may turn out really well. With added confidence I began to push and get some speed up for the massive descent down to Bear Creek lodge.

Holy people! As soon as I reached the start/finish, a large mass of humans clogged the race. The 25k had just begun. I screamed as my legs began to turn over. "Heads up!" "On your left!" "Move!" I think I made  exactly zero friends as I dodged and weaved through the back of the field of this newly started race. Eventually, I settled in with a few fast minded individuals and did a quick mental check. Am I in first? Probably. Fluids? Good, water on the head and lytes in the shed. Food? Salted caramel gu is sooooooooo goooooood. Stride? Loose and fluid. Attitude? Let's catch every person in my way!!!! I filled my bottles and ate some banana at Bear Creek aid. Looking up I knew the real work of this race was staring me right in the face. 

Dammit Dave Hill lived up to its reputation. Steep, hot, and oh so much fun! Picking off a couple 25k runners put a pep in my step as I continued to climb up and up and up. Eventually the hill relented and a smooth singletrack took over the trail to bring us into Shang-rila aid station at Smith Gap. I don't know if it was the smell of bacon or the fact I had been on my feet for 2 and a half hours, but as I was reading one of the signs adorning the course, a tiny stump decided to grab my foot and hurl me to the ground. "Screw you, stupid stump!" Luckily no real damage was done so I restricted my retaliation to juat a few epithats and quickened my pace into the aid station.

Holy bacon! The smell, the look, the taste. While my mind wandered into a bacon filled orgy, my stomach reminded me that bacon is not a super food and salted caramel gu has been working well so why gunk up the works with salted pork product? After grabbing a couple aspirin from a volunteer I set off up Kit Carson minus bacon and determined to get this thing done. Soon enough we picked up a side trail taking the race over to the wildflower infested grasses of Day Mountain. My mind started to get ideas of stopping for a picture, laying down in the grass, and taking a nap. Man that sounds good! Luckily a 25k runner hot on my heels kept me honest and in the racing spirit. He's out here running, why shouldn't I? Surging on Kit Carson road I got a time check, 4 hrs in with just 6 miles to go. Lets finish this thing!

After dousing myself with water, the last major climb was right in front of me. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, that's all I gotta do. That and not die. The sun seared into my shoulders and back with each aching step. Every mantra I've ever heard began to flood my brain. "Run like the wind!" "When in doubt, run uphill." "No pain, no gain." Little by little the summit of Mt Spokane got closer and closer. A new ski run meant the few pockets of shade that existed on this climb were broken up by long stretches of treeless, sun baked trail. Keeping myself wet was the only way I could mantain a decent pace up this brutal ascent. Finally, I topped out, filled my bottles, and began bombing down to the finish. There was little I could do to keep my legs from flailing in every imaginable direction. Honestly, I didn't care. Future injury be damned, I was getting down NOW!!! And so I did. Dust flying, swerving from one side of trail to the other, and before I knew it, the bottom. Ahhhhhhh, now I just have to crusie back to the...  Wait, what!? Why does the race go up there!? There's another hill? What!? No, no, no. I already went all the way up. I don't wanna. As I started a lovely pity party for myself a family enjoying the bounty of huckleberries reminded me why I'm out here. The pain is temporary, the memory lasts forever. Do I want the memory of this race to be being picked off on this final, tiny climb. I think not. Keep pushing, you're almost there. With a new found attitude, I gave everything I had over that final stretch and sprinted through the finish. ~5h5m, 1st place. Thank you Dave and all of the great volunteers. I will never forget the pain and joy that was this challenge.             

Saturday, July 15, 2017

It Happens (2017 Kaniksu 50)

Squish. “Ah man, not on my new shoes.” Cow patties riddled the marshy meadow that I was running through. “This sucks! Where the hell did the pink flags go!” A little less than a half-marathon into this fifty mile race and I was already lost. “Ok, I remember there being a road somewhere around here on the course map. Could I really be that far off course? Maybe I should turn around.” My mind was racing faster than my legs could react. I was lost and the sooner I slowed down and took a big breath the better.

“Ok, calm down. Where do you need to go?” I quickly glanced at the sun for my heading and darted off in what I hoped was the right direction. “Sweet Jesus! A road! Surely this will take me back to civilization.” And if I had taken two seconds to think about which way I should go it certainly would have. I did not and ended up even further off course.

Honestly, the day could not have started out any better. An early morning thunderstorm had dampened all of the dust and created one of the most breathtaking sunrises I have ever seen. By race start, all of the storms had rolled through and the mercury was steadily climbing. It truly was the beginning of what could have been a perfect day.

After the starting yell was announced, a strong pack of three including myself, broke away from the rest of the pack. All of us knew that this was the easy part and conservatively made our way along the rolling trail. We arrived at the Forest Road 550 aid station within a minute of each other, eagerly consumed Peanut M&Ms, and then began picking up the pace for the mellow downhill back to the start/finish. The smooth dirt road was simply too much for my fresh legs to resist. The race was on!

And then very shortly it wasn’t. One of the people in our lead pack passed an unmanned aid station at a forest road intersection about 30 seconds before me. Looking up the other road, he noticed pink flagging similar to those used to mark the course. Thinking nothing of it, he turned, and I followed. His quicker pace allowed him to get a couple of curves ahead of me. He then took another wrong turn following more pink flags and before I knew it I was lost, alone, and quickly running out of food and water.

Why I didn’t turn around here is still beyond me. Simply put, all I was doing was following pink flags. They had got me here so surely they would bring me home. Rookie mistake. Anybody who has hiked through any forest has seen pink flagging. I should have turned around but instead I plodded onward in the wrong direction.

“That looks like a clearing, maybe the start/finish is that way.” “No, not that way, that looks wrong.” Even writing this now I can’t believe my mind was actually making sense to me at this point. After running past several false hopes I slowly began to think I was never going to get back and now true survival became a real concern. “Dude, you don’t even have a knife. You’re screwed.” In my pack I had a rain jacket and a couple hours worth of nutrition. “Yeah, this is bad.”

Then suddenly a revelation hit me. “Didn’t you run north away from the highway to start? Shouldn’t you be running south to get back?” I had been lost for about a half an hour at this point and had been running the wrong way the entire time. I quickly turned around and took my time on the way back to the highway. Once I hit that hot asphalt I don't think I have ever been happier to see a paved road. Sweet civilization has never smelled so good.

I wanted to run my own race and in a certain way I did. Albeit it wasn’t the bona fide Kaniksu 50. More like the Kaniksu How Lost Can You Get Fun Run. But you know what? It happens. As Emory Corwine famously said, “Roll your damn shoulders up!” Thank you to all the amazing volunteers who were trying to track me down. Sorry for the added headache and confusion. Hope to see you all next year!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pop Goes the Ankle

In the beginning of my ascent, I couldn’t have been happier. Quickly, churning up Mount Spokane, smiling and waving at the occasional hiker or biker, the miles seemingly flew by. After reaching Kit Carson Road, a symbolic halfway point for this climb, the effects of the previous four miles began to sink in, deep.

Thank God for fruit snacks! Soft, lightly warmed, delicious, glorious fruit snacks. Two bags didn’t satisfy the great demon that had awakened in my belly so I went for the big guns... Thank God for Clif Bars! Fresh out of the oven that had become my waist pocket, I ferociously gobbled down an entire bar. The beast at last, was silenced.

Yo da lay he hoooo! Tired, thirsty and sweaty the summit was in sight. Finally, I could stick my flag pole in the top of this sucker. A very hot and exposed shortcut up the snowmobile corridor, exasperated most of my water. No time to dilly dally. This elevator is going down. And down I went.

Snap. Crackle. Pop. That’s usually not the sound you want to hear from your ankle. Ok quick risk assessment. Swelling? A little. Pain? A little. Delusional? A little. Three weeks out from my first race of the season and I decided to wear sunglasses through a heavily shaded, heavily rooted section of trail. I believe Mr. T has a catchphrase for people who get themselves into situations like this.

I really don’t want to start a pity party for myself though. It’s my own fault. Nothing can change the initial damage I have done to my ankle. All I can do is rest and treat the injury until it is fully healed. God only knows if I will be able to toe the line in three weeks. But I can tell you one thing for sure, I will never wear sunglasses through that section of trail again.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Run Like the Wind

I can still hear my Dad cheering me on as I race around the backyard. “Run like the wind Steve”, he would tell me as I try to catch my breath in between huge gulps of water. “Thanks Dad, watch this!” Zoom! Flying from tree to tree, glancing back for some sign of approval that I was indeed running like the wind. I would run and run until I simply had nothing left to give.

To this day, when I reach a low spot in a race or training session, this is one of my favorite mantras. It always brings a smile to my face and brings myself back to a time when running truly felt free. To a time when life was simple and the most stressful part of my day was gagging through the broccoli on my dinner plate. Blisters be damned, cramps be gone! Be light, be airy, BE THE WIND!

Sometimes it is these little things in life that have the most impact. As a kid, I never imagined anyone being able to run fifty miles. But when my Dad would tell me to run like the wind,  I fully believed that as long as the wind was blowing, I could run. Breathe, stride, stride, stride, breathe, be the wind, be the wind. Without these small words of encouragement, it is hard to picture what my life would be like now.

Thank you Dad. You're motivating voice will always be with me through thick and thin. Happy Father's Day.