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Each runner follows a different plan in preparing for a big race, yet these plans all seem to have a similar structure. There is a slow buildup, a ramp up in intensity, some tune up races, a taper and then the target race itself. This is the type of program I was doing this year in preparation for the Waldo 100K. The plan, however, took an unexpected turn when I broke my foot in July.

Initially I felt that the timing couldn’t have been worse–just 6 weeks before my big race. But the more I thought about it (and believe me, I thought about it a lot) the more I realized that I was already 90% of the way there. In the first half of the year everything had gone according to plan. The only variation would be that instead of the usual two week pre-race taper in training, it would now be six weeks.

The top priority was to make sure my foot healed properly, which meant no running at all. The second priority was to minimize fitness loss, so I started swimming everyday at this outdoor pool nearby.  It was a great way to enjoy the crazy hot summer we had here in Portland.

By swimming I was able to maintain a certain level of fitness, but more importantly it took my mind off the race. My foot healed quickly and I was able to start doing a few short runs. To minimize the impact on my heel I ran with trekking poles. European mountain runners often race with poles and it was fun to have something purposeful to do with my arms.

Going into the race I really didn’t know what to expect. My foot felt fine, but it’d only been tested on a few short runs. Who knows how it would hold up over 62 miles of mountainous trail. Eliminating the need to compete was liberating and as a result I felt calm and relaxed. I looked at it as just a long day of moving slowly and deliberately through beautiful wilderness.

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The Waldo 100k is now in its 14th year. The race starts and finishes at Willamette Pass Ski Resort and goes over three mountains (Fuji Mountain, The Twins and Maiden Peak). Much of the race is along the smooth single track of the Pacific Crest Trail and passes by numerous alpine lakes. Each year the Wet Waldo award is given to the runner who takes a dip in the most lakes over the course of the day.

The USFS permit allows only 135 runners and a lottery in March determines who gets in. The race starts in the dark at 5am and runners are given 16 hours to finish. There is also an early start option for those who may need an extra 2 hours to beat the 9pm cutoff.

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I ran a conservative race, power hiking the hills and running the flats and descents. I spent a lot of time at the aid stations, enjoying all the yummy high calorie fuel. The grilled cheeses, pierogies and popsicles were some of my favorites.

There was plenty of time to meet and chat with other runners along the way. A personal highlight was getting to run with Gordy Ainsleigh. In 1974 Gordy cemented his status as an ultrarunning legend at the Tevis Cup, a hundred mile horse race through the Sierra Nevada mountains. He completed the race on foot, without a horse, finishing in under 24 hours and thus “inventing” the 100 mile trail running race.

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Gordy is now 68 years old and runs with a twinkle in his eye like a jolly St. Nick. At Waldo, he took advantage of the early start and I caught up with him late in the race when he was struggling on the hills. However, he soon came rumbling back like a runaway train on the descents. We passed each other twice and then a few miles from the finish he caught me one last time. As he went by he said, “If you were a beautiful woman, I’d follow you till the ends of the earth, but you’re not, so I’ll leave you in the dust.” I hope to be half the runner he is at that age.

Overall I was really pleased with how the race played out. I moved consistently all day long without hitting any real low points. It wasn’t an easy race, but it wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be either. It was also interesting to discover that despite having taken so much time off in the weeks leading up to the race, I was still able to finish (and with 42 minutes to spare!). I look forward to returning to Waldo again and next time with a full training cycle under my belt.

"Waldo 100 k at finish 2015"

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Some races, like certain individuals, are preceded by formidable reputations.  I first heard of the White River 50 when I lived in Seattle in the early 90’s.  One of my roommate’s co-workers at REI was an early adapter of the endurance junkie lifestyle.  He spent every non-working hour climbing glaciated peaks, cycle touring the Pacific coast and running Forrest Gump-like distances.  When he told me that he was doing a 50 mile mountain race, I assumed it was one of those multi-day Eco Challenge events.  I couldn’t imagine anyone running that far in a single day.

These were the days when the marathon had yet to go mainstream–before Oprah inspired thousands of her followers to take up the challenge.  At the time I considered myself to be a serious runner because I used to jog around Green Lake a few times a week.  And like many others I thought 26.2 miles to be the ultimate running goal.  The thought of going nearly twice that far seemed absurd.

When this guy told me how fun it was to spend the whole day running through the mountains, I can remember thinking, “Yeah, I’d like to do that someday (not a real soon kind of someday, more like an eventually kind of someday).”  Well, twenty years later that someday has finally come.  A few weeks ago I ran the White River 50 and now it’s my turn to try and convince you how fun can be to run up and over mountains.

white_river_50My buddy Greg and I drove up there the day before and camped just outside of Mt. Rainier National Park.  The campground was beautiful, right on the White River and filled with old growth Douglas fir, including a 700 year old behemoth with a 9.5 foot diameter.

The 6am starting time corresponded perfectly with sunrise, so there was no need for a headlamp.  At the pre-race briefing the director described the course as having only two hills and then pointed to the pair of mountains towering over us on either side.  Race veterans smiled and chuckled to themselves, while us virgins adopted looks of greater concern.

The starting line with the first "hill" above us

The starting line with the first “hill” 3300 feet above us

My goal was to start out slow, get up and down that first hill and save as much energy as possible for the second half of the race.  There were more than 300 people who started the race this year, making it one the biggest 50 mile trail races in the country.  It was fun having so many people to run with and gave the race a real social feel to it.

Early on I met a guy from Portland who lives just a few minutes away from me.  We spent several miles talking about some of our favorite bars and restaurants, which helped to make the elevation gain seem a bit easier.  The climb up that first hill was long (about 8 miles) and steep in places.  Many times we were reduced to power hiking.

The top had some great views of Mt. Rainier and the White River valley below us.  Just before the second aid station we were greeted by Glenn Tachiyama, probably the most famous trail running photographer.  I don’t normally buy race photos, but I could resist one of Glenn’s classics.

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The long cruise back down into the valley was not as fun as you’d think.  The trail was super technical and a momentary lapse of concentration could easily result in some airtime.  A group of 5 of us charged down the trail together like a runaway train.  We got into a collective zone state, not talking at all and just concentrating on the feet of the runner in front of each of us.

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I was happy when the trail eventually leveled out just before the 4th aid station.  The first half of the race was now finished and I was feeling a bit more beat up than I should have at that point.  Psychologically it was tough to be back where we’d started and for a moment I thought how nice it would be to stop now, go back to camp and take an afternoon nap.  But no, there was still one more hill that needed to be climbed before any naps could be embarked upon.

The trail up to Sun Top Mountain was 8.5 miles and had nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain.  It was now almost noon and the climb was long, hot and exposed.  I started to get frustrated and feel sorry for myself.  These are the times when I begin to wonder why I don’t partake in more typical middle aged pursuits like golf or tennis.  Or maybe I should grow a goatee and a ponytail and buy a Harley.  With every step these ideas sounded better and better.

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The volunteers at the aid station on the summit of Sun Top Mountain were having a blast watching our battered bodies roll in.  I chowed down on two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before announcing that these were the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.  That mix of sweet and salty, carb and protein was just what my body was craving.  I grabbed one more for the long descent down into the valley.

The last 13 miles were a bit of a death march.  Even though there were no more climbs, the downhills trashed my quads.  The goal now was to just hang on and keep it together through the finish.  I eventually lost track of the distance and asked a guy hiking the trail how much further till the finish.  He said, “half mile, three quarters of a mile at the most.”  I don’t normally place too much trust in other people’s estimates, but this guy’s answer was so definite.

I cranked up the pace now knowing that there were only about 5 more minutes of suffering to endure.  I passed a runner, then another and then a third and fourth.  The last “half mile” was more like two miles and wanted to kill that guy and his seriously flawed estimate.  But I also wanted to thank him for inadvertently causing me to push harder and finish strong.

Nine hours and thirty six minutes is a long time to run through the mountains (and unfortunately didn’t leave me with enough afternoon for an afternoon nap).  It was, however, a lot of fun and a completely different feel than the rolling hills of many of the ultras I’ve done in the last few years.  In two weeks, I’ll get the chance to see how much fun mountain running really can be when I take on twice the distance in the Cascade Crest 100.  Wish me luck…I’ll definitely need it.

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Few people outside of the climbing community realize that one the best rock climbing areas in the world can be found just a few hours from Portland at Smith Rock in central Oregon.  In the mid-80’s pioneers like Alan Watts began putting up bolted routes and Smith (as it’s known locally) became a mecca for climbers willing to push it to new levels.

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You don’t, however, need to a be a climber to enjoy this wonderful state park.  There are miles of hiking trails along the aptly named Crooked River with views of the snow-capped Cascade volcanoes lined up along the horizon.  For the rock climbing curious, I’d highly recommend a hike up Misery Ridge for a look up at the iconic Monkey Face tower.  The exhilarating view will either turn you into a climbing junkie or put you off of the sport forever.

'Monkey Face'

In 2013 Go Beyond Racing organized the inaugural 15 mile Smith Rock Ascent.  It was so successful that this year they added a 32 mile option.  Both races are part of the popular Northwest Mountain Trail Series.

My buddy Greg and I drove down the day before and camped at Pelton Park.  The campground is managed by PGE (Portland General Electric), which built a dam that created Lake Simtustus.  Our site was right across from a friendly family from Guam that was spending the whole month camping, partying and catching up with various members of their large extended family.

The day of the race turned out to be cool, cloudy and with a recent dose of rain to keep the high desert dust under control.  For the first time in a long time I didn’t feel nervous beforehand.  My plan was to use this race as part of the buildup towards my ultimate goal for the year, the Cascade Crest 100 in August.

I recognized a few faces at the starting line including Kami Semick, a North Face sponsored athlete who lives in nearby Bend.  One look at the muscles in her twisted cable-like legs and you immediately understand why she’s one of the top trail runners in the country.

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The race started out with a nice meander along the Crooked River before gaining 2000 feet up to Grey Butte.  From there it was a gradual descent down into the grasslands north of Smith.  At around mile twelve I got into a groove and was content in my solitude.  But then a blond ponytail cruised by me like I was standing still.  Well, actually I was standing still, peeing behind a bush alongside the trail.

My ego doesn’t like to be passed and it forced me to catch up with her.  She looked strong and had great form.  I snuck by her on a technical section and thought that would be the last I’d see of her.  But sure enough she caught up few miles later on a wide forest road and I figured we might as well have a chat.

The first thing she said was, ‘Wow, I thought this was going to be harder.”  That’s an idea that honestly has never popped into my head while running long distances.  She went on to say that this was her first race.  Not her first ultra race…her first running race…at any distance.

It turns out that she’s an elite level rower and after ten years of extensive training narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Olympics.  That made me feel a little better.  We had a nice conversation over the next few miles, talking about traveling, books (including The Boys in the Boat) and this crazy sport of running.  Eventually I got to a point where I couldn’t focus on the trail and the conversation at the same time, so I moved on ahead.

The last aid station at mile 27 was run by the fine folks at Animal Athletics, a Portland-based running club whose Thursday night social runs are always a good time.  We exchanged a few hi’s and goodbye’s and they told me that if I pushed it I could still break five hours.

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This next section had some great views of the Cascade volcanoes and as much as I wanted to stop and admire the view I knew I had to keep cranking it.  The last few miles turned out to be a quad-burning descent down a rocky forest road.  I was happy to pass a couple of guys, but still really wanted to finish in under five hours.

After huffing it up the final hill I turned the corner just as the first digit on the finish line clock turned from 4 to 5.  I crossed the line at 5:00:04 and the first thought that entered my head was, “Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have stopped to pee.”

The rower got in a few minutes later and I congratulated her on running a great race and being the third place women’s finisher.  This girl has a serious future in ultra running.

Over burgers and beers I caught up with a few local runners, including the men’s winner, Jeff Browning.  Jeff is a 100 mile specialist (he’s won more than ten races at that distance).  What I find even more impressive in following his blog is how he manages to balance family, work and running.  That is a greater accomplishment than any 100 mile victory.

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It’s been another long wet winter here in the Pacific Northwest.  I took an extended break from running and was slow to begin training again.  There were some dark times when I seriously began to question the role running plays in my life.  But I have since seen the error in my ways and have once again embraced the long run as a path to a higher consciousness.  It’s good to be back.

Last week I was in San Antonio for a children’s book conference and thought it would be fun to kick off the season with a race in the Lone Star State.  There’s a series of ultra distance races there called Tejas Trails that are run by a guy named Joe Prusaitis.  Joe puts on well organized races, including several national championships and is known for his unique sense of humor (“If you get lost during the race, please be sure to tell me afterwards so I can charge you for the extra distance.”)

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Hell’s Hills is a multi-distance trail race in Smithville, Texas, about 40 miles south of Austin.  It was my first race in six months and I really didn’t know what to expect.  My goal was to put in a decent showing so I’d have the confidence to keep training and racing hard through the summer.

The 50k (31 miles) started at 6am, which meant that we’d be running the twisty trails for an hour before sunrise.  I don’t run well in the dark, so I decided to take it out at a slow pace and wait for the sun to rise.

During the first mile, there was a guy running right on my heels.  I asked him if he wanted to pass.  He said that he had forgotten his headlamp and asked if I wouldn’t mind if we ran together until it was light out.  No worries, I had certainly forgotten a fair bit a gear in races past.  He was a nice kid, an engineer from France named Victor.  This was his first ultra trail run, making the transition from being a road marathon runner.

We hit the first aid station at mile 6, just as the sun was starting to peek through the pine trees.  Victor took off, no longer in need of me and my handlamp.  I went with him and we ran a few miles together with me doing the tailgating this time.  Eventually we caught up to another speedster and the three of us started to really push it.  I soon realized, however, they were taking it way too fast for me and I let them go.

When they took off I remember thinking, “Go on boys.  You have your fun.  But just you remember that this old buck’s got some hair on his antlers and I just might have to teach you youngins a thing or two before this day is done.”  For some weird reason this thought had a Texas accent.  My thoughts don’t usually have accents, do yours?

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The most beautiful section of that first 15.5 mile loop was a field exploding with Texas bluebonnet wildflowers.  It was like running through a dream.  Everyone slowed down and had big smiles plastered across their faces.  If I wasn’t running this race I would have rolled around in the meadow like a big old labrador retriever.

After the first loop I dropped off my headlamp and grabbed a few energy gels to get me through round two.  The sun was now fully up, but luckily the temperature still remained pretty comfortable.  I got unto a zone and tried to run at a consistent pace.  The miles fly by at the beginning of a race, but the closer you get to the finish, the more…they seem…to drag.  The field of bluebonnets once again picked up my spirits.  Come on man, only 5 more miles to go.

Soon thereafter I saw Victor and the speedster still running together.  I wasn’t feeling that great, but  figured if I had caught up to them they must be feeling even worse.  I bid my time, trying to keep my heart rate in check, waiting for the perfect moment.  I snuck up on them at the base of a little hill and zoomed by without any of the normal, “how’s it going?” “looking good” or “almost there” pleasantries.  I wanted to appear strong (even though I was far from it) and put as much distance between them and me as possible.

Cheetah Antelope

I was now running scared and fear, I’ve found, is a very effective motivator.  The antelope has a greater incentive to escape than the cheetah does to capture.  Survival will always trump hunger when push comes to shove.  With a mile to go the trail left the pine forest and opened up onto a wide dirt road.  If I was still in sight of the speedsters I knew they would hunt me down.  Finally with about a half mile to go I took a quick glance over my shoulder.  The cheetahs were no where to be found.  I would survive another day.

Even though the ultra scene in Texas is not quite at the same level as it is here in Oregon, I was still happy to finish in 8th place overall.  Victor finished two minutes behind me and said that he enjoyed the friendly competition during the race.  We hung out together afterwards, sharing snacks and stories about running and traveling.  I’m convinced that he won’t be going back to road racing.  Another happy trail running convert.

 

 

fur-ther   adverb   1. at or to a greater distance.  2. at or to a more advanced point.  3. the psychedelic bus populated by the Merry Pranksters and immortalized in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

On October 28th at 5:44am, I could go no further.  For almost 24 hours I’d been running up, down and around Arizona’s McDowell Mountain Park.  After 101.4 miles(nearly half a million steps), I could finally stop.

Someone handed me a belt buckle and gave me a place to sit.  I knew I should eat, drink and stretch, but all I wanted to do was curl up in my tent and sleep.  At that point I felt no joy, just relief to have finally finished.

It’s been over a week since I returned from Arizona and it’s taken awhile to process the whole experience.  I’ve been asked lots of questions since I gotten back and I’ve finally wrapped my head around some of the answers.  Here are my thoughts.

Why would anyone want to run 100 miles?

Good question, one I often asked myself at Javelina.  I signed up for this race because I was looking for a new challenge and one hundred miles in one day had a nice symmetry to it.  It sounds like a long way to run and it is a long way, but with proper training and the right mindset, it’s a distance that anyone can complete in a single day.

Did you run the whole time?

Some 100 mile races are more runnable than others. The Javelina 100 takes place on a relatively smooth trail with lots of rolling hills, but nothing too long or steep.  I ran about 95% of the course, only walking the rocky sections at night.  A few of the top competitors ran the whole race, while others walked quite a bit.  To be honest, I wish I would have walked more to give my running muscles a break.  Towards the end I was passed by a walker and realized:  A)  Walking can be more efficient than running.  B)  Damn, I’m running slow.

What did you eat?

It’s important to have a consistent fueling and hydration plan.  I tried to take in 100 calories every 20-30 minutes, mostly by eating energy gels/bars and munching on fruit at the aid stations.  I alternating water and Gatoraid in my handheld water bottle and took salt tabs every 2 hours to keep my electrolytes in balance.  When I got burned out on the energy gels/bars, I starting eating a piece of pizza every few hours.  It was a well-needed injection of carbs, protein, fat and calories.  You can probably imagine how good it tasted.

Was it hot?

This was the 10th annual Javelina 100 and this year was the one of the hottest ever.  The temperatures got into the low 90’s and even though it was a dry heat, out in the desert there is no shade to protect you from the sun.  At times I felt like the vultures were circling overhead as we struggled through the afternoon heat.  Of the 400 starters only 160 finished before the 30 hour cutoff, a finishing rate of just 40%.

What did you think about?

Through I didn’t really make a conscience effort to do so, my mind for most of the day was almost completely empty.  I didn’t think about my time or the distance or the heat or the pain.  I was somehow able turn off the random thoughts in my head and focus only on eating, drinking and moving forward.  Towards the end, the mix of dehydration, hunger, exhaustion, and sleep deprivation created a real psychedelic experience.  The shadows caused by my headlamp and the full moon made the saguaro cactus look like other runners.  It was pretty trippy.

One of the coolest things for me was to see all the different kinds of runners at Javelina, various shapes and sizes, ages and races.  Most of the participants were in their 30’s and 40’s, yet surprisingly there was more in their 50’s than in their 20’s.  There was even a handful of runners in their 60’s and one 70 year old guy from San Diego.

How did you train?

If you want to run a marathon, there are dozens of books that will tell you exactly what you need to do to get to the finish line.  In comparison, there’s very little information available about training for an ultra.  The only book I could find is called Relentless Forward Progress (a good mantra, by the way) by Bryon Powell, who started the popular irunfar.com website.  In the last few months I bumped up my mileage to about 60 miles a week, ran 50k and 50 mile tune-up races, and did a couple of all-day runs in the Columbia Gorge and around Mt. Hood to get used to being on my feet for extended periods of time.  It’s also important to make sure that all of your equipment and fueling/hydration systems are dialed in.  Something as simple as a blister or a cramp can jeopardize the whole race.

What would you do differently?

Many of the runners had support crews and pacers to help out during the race.  Yoshimi was in Japan visiting her family, so she wasn’t able to come with me to Arizona, so my support team was made up of just my amigo, Lobo.

Just a couple of lone wolves, me and Lobo.  During the race I was fine on my own, but it would have been great to have someone help afterwards with packing up camp, driving to Phoenix, dealing with all the motel, restaurant, rental car and airline stuff.

Would you do it again?

The pain is still pretty fresh, so it’s a bit too soon to say for sure, but yeah, I probably would at some point.  Javelina takes place in a beautiful desert setting and its 15.4 mile loop course made things logistically easy for a 100 mile virgin.  If I do run another 100 miler, I’d like to do a race on a more aesthetically pleasing point-to-point course in a dramatic mountain setting like the Rockies or the Alps.

To see the sun rise, then set and then rise again, all while running through the Sonoran desert was a unique experience I’ll never forget.  It was amazing to be part of a community of runners who set lofty goals and put in the time and effort to realize those dreams.  In the last few days the soreness in my muscles has finally subsided and the relief I felt initially has since faded.  Now all that remains is a lingering glow of joy.

Last year I ran my first 50 mile race.  This was nearly twice as far as I’d ever run previously and I had no idea what to expect.  Understandably, I was a bit nervous beforehand, however, there was a certain bliss to my ignorance.  Before my next 50 miler, I knew exactly what to except and just how much it would hurt.  The bliss had faded.

That second 50 miler was two weeks ago in central Oregon.  In honor of its 25th anniversary the organizers of the McKenzie River Trail Run (MRTR) decided to add a 50 mile option to go along with their usual 50k race.  I ran the 50k last year and had so much fun that this year I decided to up the ante.  However, about a week before the start of the race, doubts started to creep into my head.  Fifty miles now seemed like a ridiculously long way to run.  Maybe signing up for this race was a bad idea.

To ease my nerves, I sat down one morning with a french press of Nossa Familia coffee and made a list of my goals for the race.  The simple process of sorting out my motives and committing then to paper made me feel better.  Here are my eight commandments for the MRTR:

Start Slow:  Going out too fast may be a considered a beginner’s mistake, but everyone, even the pros, fall into this trap at some point.  The adrenaline is usually pumping at the start of a race and as a result “too fast” does not feel that fast at all.  Luckily the MRTR started at 5am, which meant that the first hour and a half would be in the dark.  I’ve never done any trail running with a headlamp before, so starting slow would probably not be a problem for me.

Have Fun:  A few hours into a long race, when you’re huffing up a big hill, sweat pouring down your face, stomach cramping up, blisters brewing between your toes, you’re probably thinking, “there’s got to be a better way to have fun.”  But you have to remember the big picture.  You’re in nature, far from the city and that little cubical where you work forty hours a week.  You’re on a beautiful trail surrounded by old growth forest and glacier-fed streams.  All you have to do is run.  I can’t think of a more simple and enjoyable way to spend the day.

Control Competitive Instincts:  Being super competitive has allowed me to accomplish many things in life.  However, there are times when I wish this fuel burned with a little less intensity.  I strive to do well in every race I run, but caring too much about the result makes it difficult to enjoy the process.

Thank Volunteers:  Ultra events always seem to have the best volunteers.  They fill up your handheld water bottles, help you find your drop bags, and tell you that you’re looking good, when clearly you’re not.  Many of them are ultra runners themselves, so they understand what it’s like to try and function with a carb-depleted brain.  I always make a point to thank them at every aid station, but sometimes I forget when I slip into a zombie state at the end of a race.

Run Smart:  There are many components that go into running a smart race.  Starting slow (#1) and controlling competitive instincts (#3) are a couple, but you also need to have a consistent fueling and hydration plan.  In addition, you must be able to adapt to the current weather conditions and adjust your race strategy accordingly.

Check Out The Scenery:  Two weeks before the race, Yoshimi and I along with a friend on break from the Peace Corps camped along the McKenzie River.  We hiked several sections of the the course and I was blown away by the beauty of this amazing trail, most of which seemed new to me despite the fact I had raced here in 2011.  This year I would make a point to be more aware and to better appreciate my surroundings.

Smile:  This one might seem simple, but it’s easy to forget.  I feel lucky to be healthy enough and fit enough to run these types of races.  When I’m out there alone, cruising along on a silky smooth trail, the morning sun just starting to filter through the trees, I feel that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing and no where else I’d rather be.  Why wouldn’t I smile.

Finish Strong:  We’ve all run races that looked good on paper (fast time/placed well), but without a strong finish, you know in your heart that something was missing.  To finish strong, it’s important to run a smart race (#5), but you also have to remember that a little bit of extra suffering in the end is much preferable to the regret of knowing you could have done better.

So, how did it all play out?  Well, my buddy Greg and I drove down there on Friday and camped at the same spot we did last year.  It’s one of the best car camping spots in the state.  But don’t even think about poaching our turf cause I already have it booked for next year.

Running the first ten miles in the dark was tough.  It required a lot of mental energy to move at a consistent pace and avoid all the trail obstacles.   Psychologically, I felt better once the sun started to rise.

All day long those eight commandments bounced around in my head along with a depressing Tom Waits song that I just couldn’t seem to shake.  “A Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” has to be one of the least motivating songs ever written, but for some reason today was the day it decided to get lodged in my brain.

I ran with three other guys for a couple hours.  Time passed quickly as we chit-chatted about this and that.  For the first half of the race I cruised along at a comfortable 10 minute per mile pace, but then decided to crank it up a bit.

The second half was pure fun, maybe because I remembered to smile, check out the scenery and joke around with the volunteers at the aid stations.  I started to run out of gas towards the end, but was able to hold on and really push it the last mile.  Wouldn’t want to forget that last commandment.

I finished in 8 hours 27 minutes and got 9th place overall.  The 50 miler was won by a 16 year old kid form Corvallis in 7 hours 12 minutes…crazy.  A big thank you to Greg for his support and for taking these photos.  I’m already looking forward to doing some more trips together next year.  Just have to remember to put together a list of commandments for every race from here on out.


A few weeks ago I ran the Timberline Marathon, one of my focus races for the year.  For the first time in a long time I felt well-rested, well-trained and injury-free.  The weather was perfect: overcast and cool.  The course was a soft, smooth single-track trail, twice looping around beautiful Timothy Lake.  At the starting line, I was nervous, but excited, confident, but not cocky.  The stars seemed to be aligned and I had the Mountain Man Mojo.

An old climbing buddy first turned me on to this expression.  He coined the term to describe the attitude he needed to adopt before taking on a climb that demanded his full commitment.  The thing with the Mountain Man Mojo is that it cannot be chosen at will.  It has to be earned.  You can fool others into thinking you’re unstoppable, but you can’t fool the Mountain Man.  I try to channel the Mojo before every important race, but I’ve only been able to fully embrace it a handful of times.  And each time I did, I ran well and placed high.

For the first six miles of the Timberline Marathon I was in third place, just a few yards behind the number two guy.  I recognized him from a previous race and knew that we were at a similar level.  It was nice to mindlessly follow, not worry about pace and conserve mental energy for later.

The course had only three aid stations, each with a single volunteer and several self-serve thermoses.  After filling up my handheld water bottle at the first aid station, I cranked up the pace and took over second place.  In trail races you want to pass decisively, put some space between you and the next runner.  Once you’re out of sight, they have no way of knowing whether you’re two minutes or twenty minutes ahead.  After laying down a few sub-seven minute miles, I began to wonder, just how far behind the leader was I?

At around mile 16, the trail passed through a campsite, I asked some sleepy-eyed campers how long ago the lead runner came through.  “Oh, about a minute or so.”  I got fired up, knowing I could chip away at that lead over the next 10 miles.  Could I actually win this thing?

While shooting hoops in the driveway as a kid, I used to love to play “Three…Two…One…Final Shot…IT’S GOOD…Buzzer Beater wins the NCAA Championship!”  Forty two years old and I’m still playing the same kind of games.  On the last lap of my track workouts at Grant High School, I imagine being in second place at the Olympics…just a few yards out of first…slowly gaining, gaining…I give it my all…it’s going to be a sprint finish…could go either way…and…YES, Donley wins the gold medal with a lean at the tape…the crowd goes wild…USA! USA! USA!

For the next few miles I really push the pace, thinking that just around the next twist and turn I’ll catch a glimpse of the lead runner.  I’m about to give up hope when suddenly, there he is.  He’s going slow, must be hurting.  I gain on him quickly, but don’t want to pass him too soon.  As I get closer, I can see that he’s kind of chubby and out of shape.  That’s not the leader.  It’s just some camper out on a jog before breakfast.   Discouraged, I ask a couple of fishermen if they saw the lead runner come through.  “Yeah, about ten minutes ago.”

There’s no way I’m going to make up that kind of time with less than 5 miles to go, unless he gets lost or something. But if I can’t get first place, I definitely want to hold onto second.  Last year after running more than 25 miles in second place I got passed in the last half mile of the Pacific Crest Marathon.  My carb-depleted brain didn’t register what was happening until it was too late.  Don’t want that to happen again.

The last few miles are a blur.  I’m running scared, checking over my shoulder every couple of minutes to see if anyone is gaining on me.  Must have looked like a character in one of those Friday the 13th movies, getting chased by Jason through the woods.  I red-line it right through the finish and double over after crossing the line, trying to catch my breath.  Out of the corner of my eye I see someone sprinting.  It’s the third place runner, finishing just 16 seconds behind me.  My paranoia was justified.

My running in the last year has followed a predictable and not-so-desirable pattern:  a successful race followed up almost immediately with an injury.  Instead of resting on my laurels, I wonder, “Well, if I got second place training 50 miles a week, what would happen if I ran 60 or 70 miles?”  This attitude has led to a stress fracture, a pulled hamstring and several twisted ankles.  My latest injury, a broken wrist from a bicycle accident, is not directly related to running, but I can’t help but think that fate is playing a role in keeping my overly ambitious goals in check.

I guess running injuries are just a part of the game.  All the competitive runners I know seem to spend half their time dealing with various injuries.  There’s a fine line between training hard enough to improve and training so hard that you hurt yourself.  Kind of a goofy way to spend your free time, huh?

But how can I complain.  It’s summer in Oregon.  Everyday is just about perfect.  The accident could have been much worse.  It could have been my dominant hand or my leg.  I got a cool purple cast to match the one my niece Reagan has on her broken wrist (monkey bars). We are now the founding members of Team Purple Power.  Luckily, I’m still able to run even though the cast is a bit hot, heavy and starting to get pretty damn stinky.

This weekend I have a big race in southern Oregon (the Siskiyou Outback 50k).  Not sure if Mr. Mountain Man Mojo is going to be making an appearance.  It’s hard to say.  He doesn’t like to be told what to do or where to be.  Plus, he’s not a big fan of purple.  I’m starting to worry that the dude may already have other plans.

In the last two years, I’ve run about 20 races, in distances from 5 kilometers to 50 miles.  I felt varying degrees of nervousness before each those races, usually proportional to the anticipated level of hurt.  Last Saturday was the most nervous I’ve every been before a race, not because it was going to be especially tough, but because I didn’t know what to expect.  Running fast and long are known variables.  Swimming, then biking, then running is terra incognito for me.

On May 26th, I joined 170 participants in the 3rd annual McMinnville Sprint Triathlon.  The month of May falls in the early part of triathlon season here, so the swimming section is done in a pool instead of a lake or river.  The advantages are that the water is warm & clear and it was comforting for me to know that if I got tired I could always hold on to the wall and catch my breath.  The disadvantage of a pool swim is that not everyone can start at the same time.  It must be organized in waves.

When I signed up for the race a few months ago, I was asked to predict my 500 yard swimming  time.  The problem was that I’d never swim 500 yards before and honestly wasn’t quite sure if I could.  So I timed myself for 100 yards, multiplied by 5, and then added a couple extra minutes.  It was pretty rough estimate.

When I showed up at the McMinnville Aquatic Center, I saw that they had put me in Wave 3(out of 5), smack dab in the middle, not the fastest or the slowest, which is exactly how I’d describe my swimming ability.  Wave 1 was for the slowest swimmers and I was surprised at just how slow they were. There were some people floating on their backs and taking long breaks after each lap.  One guy was actually walking up and down the length of the pool.  Is that legal?

Wave 2 was noticeably faster, but still in the slower end of the spectrum.  It was looking like wave 3 would be the perfect fit for me.  I shared a lane with three women about my age who all swam back in high school.  Since they were more experienced, I let them go first and then tucked in behind #3 and tried to match her pace.  While swimming I really have to stay focused on remaining calm and relaxed.  It helped having three others in the lane swimming at a similar pace.

After about 15 lengths, the first two women caught up with me.  I let them pass, preferring to follow rather than lead.  When they finished their 20th lap and hopped out of the pool, I wanted to join them, but still had two laps to go.  The pool was nearly empty by the time I finished my last lap, but nevertheless there was a big smile on my face as I crawled out of the pool.  I had managed to survive the swimming segment.

Most of the training I did for this triathlon had been focused on swimming. I hadn’t thought much about the biking, the running or the transitions between the three events.  As good as it felt to be done with the swimming, it was still quite a shock to run barefoot and dripping wet outside to the transition area.  I tried to dry off and then fumbled with my socks, shoes, shirt and helmet.  It probably only took a few minutes, but with my heart racing, it felt like half an hour.

It’s weird, just a few minutes before, I was in a pool, struggling through the water, and now I’m on a bicycle, peddling as fast as I can.  What an odd sensation.  I didn’t change out of my swimsuit(and no, it wasn’t a Speedo), so it was still soaking wet and dripping down my legs as I rode away from the transition area.  Oh well, it would dry eventually.

Cycling was the one event I didn’t practice at all. I ride my bike everyday to work (3 miles each way), but I never go very fast, unless I’m late.  I was surprised at the full spectrum of bicycles on display in the transition area.  There were tandems, recumbents, 20 year old mountain bikes, as well a bunch of those crazy hi-tech bikes Lance Armstrong uses.  I didn’t feel the need to buy a special bike just for this event, so I made due with my single-speed commuter bike.  When one of those serious tri guys would cruise by me on his $10,000 rocket ship , I felt like a soccer dad driving a minivan in the Indy 500.  But I didn’t care, I’d catch them on the run, where there are no technological advantages to be had.

The 12 miles on the bike was fun, my only worry was the possibility of getting a flat.  I didn’t bring a pump or a patch kit and wouldn’t know how to use them if I did.  Even though cycling has been my primary means of transportation for almost 20 years now , I still don’t know how to change a flat tire.  Maybe my New Year’s resolution next year should be to learn how to do some basic bicycle repair.

I finished the bike segment in just over 38 minutes.  Alright, two down, one to go.  After ditching the bike and helmet in the transition area, I was off and running.  And damn, it felt so good, so natural.  It’s like I had been struggling all morning to speak French, and then Spanish, and now finally, I could switch back to my native English.  The running segment was only 5 kilometers, so I didn’t have much time to make up for my deficiencies in the other disciplines.  There were lots of spectators on the short out-and-back course and plenty of high-fives to go around.  I was actually sad to see the finish line.

The McMinnville Triathlon was a fun, supportive, family-focused event and a wonderful introduction to the sport.  There were participants of many different ages, sizes and levels of seriousness.  I had a great time, met some nice people, and was pleased to have done relatively well(107th place in swimming, 31st in cycling, 7th in running and 28th overall).  I signed up for this race as a motivator to help reach my goal of learning to swim.  The triathlon itself was my reward for achieving that goal. I wasn’t sure what to expect beforehand, but I now know that triathlons are not for me.  I may do another one at some point in the future, but currently, running is where my real passion lies.  I wish we had the time and energy to do all the things that interest us in life, but ultimately we have to pick and choose.  And for me, right now, running is my choice.

The average temperature for Boston in the middle of April is a cool comfortable 47 degrees–just about perfect for slogging through a marathon.  This year, unfortunately, things turned out to be a bit warmer.

In the days leading up to the marathon I checked the weather report every few hours, finding it hard to believe that temperatures would actually be in the high 80’s.  The event organizers were freaking out.  There was talk that the race might even be cancelled.  From a liability standpoint they must have been worried about having 25,000 goal-obsessed fitness freaks running themselves to death.

The day before the race an email was sent out guaranteeing entry to anyone who wanted to defer until next year.  A few hundred runners took them up on the offer, but most of us had trained hard all winter for this race and flown long distances just to be here.  We weren’t going to miss out on this opportunity.

The flight from Portland to Boston was weird.  Walking down the aisle I saw passenger after passenger with that hollowed cheek look that all competitive runners seem to have.  It felt like a chartered flight to an anorexia rehab center.  Everyone drank water and got up frequently to stretch and use the bathroom.  I recognized a few runners from local races, including Morgan, the manager of the Foot Traffic running store.  The airline probably should have given us a kickback with all the gas they saved flying these super skinny runners cross country.

Yoshimi and I stayed in private room at the Berkeley Hostel, a bargain at $80/night.  We didn’t realize it when we booked the room, but this hostel is just a few hundred yards from the finish line.  This would definitely come in handy later.  The place was filled with groups of runners from all over the world:  Spain, China, Brazil, Japan, Italy.  I had breakfast the first morning with a guy from Denmark who told me he trained for Boston’s notorious hills by running up and down Denmark’s highest mountain…all 561 feet of it.

The whole city of Boston felt like a big running convention.  Every year Adidas, one of the sponsors of the marathon, designs commemorative clothing they sell at the Expo.  This year’s gear was bright orange and black.  You couldn’t go anywhere in town without seeing runners proudly showing off their Boston Marathon schwag.  At the Expo, I saw Dean Karnazes, the Ultramarathon Man.  This is a guy who used to do all-night training runs and have pizzas delivered to him mid-workout.  Like many famous people (Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, the Mona Lisa), Dean was much smaller in person than you would imagine him to be.

The night before the marathon we went out for a typical Boston seafood extravaganza.  We started out with bowls clam chowder, followed by yummy lobster-stuffed ravioli, and then a whole 2 lb. lobster for the main course.  The waiter even gave us bibs so wouldn’t make a mess of ourselves.  We washed it all down with a couple a pints of Sam Adams (the beer, not the mayor of Portland).  Just as we were finishing up, a giant 7 lb. lobster was wheeled out to the table next ours.  It made our 2 pounder look like a little crawfish.

The logistics of organizing something like the Boston Marathon is enough to boggle the mind.  There are thousands of runners, volunteers, spectators, sponsors, media, security, medical personal, transportation, hydration, nutrition.  Just think of all the porta potties you need–it’s crazy.

School buses took us from Boston to the start of the race in Hopkinton.  The runners arrived in waves and some of us had to wait more than 3 hours for the 10am start time.  At Hopkinton High School they set up what is called the Athlete’s Village, where there was coffee, bagels, bananas, Gatorade and pre-race massages.  Shade, however, was in short supply and even at 7am the sun was already beating down on us.  The experienced Boston runners brought camping mats and caught a couple extra hours of sleep.  All in all, it felt like a giant runner’s Woodstock.

The Boston Marathon is a point-to-point course that travels east through the towns of Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline before arriving in Boston.  Because the roads through these historic towns are so narrow, the marathon must organize it’s 25,000 participants into three waves, each starting 20 minutes apart.  I was in the first wave, not too far from those Kenyan and Ethiopian speedsters.  While waiting for the start, I met a guy from New Orleans–a fellow alumni of my alma mater, Tulane University.  He said the heat reminded him of a steamy summer morning in Louisiana.

The first five miles of the course are mostly downhill, which normally wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it’s easy to go out too fast and trash the quads.  I managed to keep my pace under control, helped no doubt by the oppressive sun.  The heat was a bummer, but there wasn’t anything you could do about it, so I resigned myself to running slow and smart.  In a way it was kind of a relief not to have any time pressure and to be able to just savor the whole experience.

And what an experience it was.  Every inch of the course was lined with cheering spectators.  To help us combat the heat, they broke out the garden hoses and the super soaker squirt guns.  Little kids handed out those push up freezer pops.  It had probably been 30 years since I had a popsicle and I totally forgot how that icy-cold sugary-sweetness really hits the spot on a hot day.  My favorites were the blueberry flavored ones.  Remember how they turned your tongue that freaky blue color?

I ran a few miles with a guy from Portland, a member of our local Red Lizards running club.  We tried to keep the conversation going to help the miles pass by, but it was just too hot to concentrate.  Later I passed Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick.  Even though Rick is confined to a wheelchair, together they have completed hundreds of races, including the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.  These guys are local legends and this year was their 30th Boston Marathon.

At the halfway point we passed Wellesley College.  The girls were out in full force, cheering us on and offering kisses for support.  I had to stop when I saw a sign that said, “Kiss me I’m from Oregon!”  It’s not every day you get a chance to kiss a college girl at my age.

After Wellesley I really started to struggle.  At every water stop I would grab two cups, one to drink and the other to pour over my head.  But still I couldn’t keep cool.  Even when a little breeze would kick up, it would be hot, like a wave of heat escaping from an open oven.  Every few miles I’d pass a couple of soldiers walking the course in full Desert Storm gear.  It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself after seeing these guys trudging along.

At around mile 20 in Newton is the start of the famous Heartbreak Hill.  It’s not a huge hill by Oregon standards, but it’s long and steady and comes at a point when you’re just starting to hit the wall.  I was surprised to see so many competitive runners reduced to walking.  Upon reaching the top I caught a second wind.  I put my head down, started pumping my arms and passing other runners.  Only five miles left to go.

The rest of the race was a bit of a blur.  I remember passing Boston College, seeing the giant Citgo sign and then the John Hancock Tower.  In the last mile I passed a guy dressed up like Minnie Mouse.  It doesn’t matter how bad I feel, I’m not going to let myself get beat by a cartoon character.  I crossed the finish line in 3:32:55 in 3,446th place.  It was the slowest, the hardest and the most enjoyable marathon I’ve run.

The temperatures maxed out at 89 degrees that day and over 2000 runners needed medical attention.  It’s a miracle no one died.  The winning time of 2:12:40 was almost ten minutes slower than last year (that’s a distance of more than two miles for those guys).  Geoffrey Mutai, who ran the fastest marathon ever last year, dropped out of this year’s race at mile 18.  So, basically I beat the world’s fastest marathon runner.  Don’t let it get you down, Geoffrey.  Keep training hard and maybe you can beat me next time.

The following day Boston looked like the zombie apocalypse with thousands of battered and abused runners limping around town.  Yoshimi and I went to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.  This year is Fenway’s 100th anniversary and even though the Sox got crushed 18-3, it was awesome to see the Green Monster up close and personal.

The Boston Marathon is on almost every serious runner’s life list.  I went into this race with some pretty high expectations, yet still the overall experience blew me away.  The history, the crowd support, the organization, the prestige all combine to make each and every runner feel like a superstar.  Even though my legs are still a bit sore, I’ve already started dreaming about my next Boston Marathon.

I’ve never been a big believer in the “couples that play together, stay together” concept.  To have a healthy relationship I think you need to spend quality time together and apart.   Yoshimi and I enjoy many of the same activities, but we have also tried to cultivate separate interests.  Even though running has had an incredibly positive affect on my life, I’ve never tried to push it upon her.  I did once talk her into joining me on my sister’s Hood to Coast team.  It was a fun couple of days, but after we arrived in Seaside, Yoshimi declared she would never run again.  While it’s common to make such proclamations after a difficult experience, she was serious and did not run a single step in the next ten years.

Since then she’s been extremely supportive of my running obsession-cheering me on at races in Tokyo, Montana and Buenos Aires, but has showed no sign of changing her mind.  It wasn’t until I started doing more trail running that I noticed her interest slowly starting to blossom.  One day out of the blue she said that she wondered what it was like to run through the woods like a wild animal.  That’s when I knew she was coming around.  A few days later I came home from work to see a brand new pair of Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes.  Hmmm, I wonder who wears size 7 in this apartment.

Remaining true to her strong mindedness, Yoshimi has no interest in racing and will only run on trail, as opposed to me, who will run on anything: trail, road, sidewalk, treadmill, track.  I’ve even run up-and-down airport concourses during extended layovers.  You should try it.  Everyone just assumes you’re running to catch a flight.

Portland is a great place to be a trail running purist or surface snob, as she likes to call herself.  There are dozens of trails less than a 15 minute drive from our apartment.  Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to go away for a trail running weekend.  Nothing more romantic than a weekend of mud and sweat, I say.

We decided to rent a cabin in Champoeg State Park, 40 minutes south of Portland.  We timed the trip to correspond with the Oregon Road Runners Club’s Champoeg 30K(18.6 miles).  There was also a 10k, which is part of their 10k Series-7 races for $90, a pretty sweet deal.  Unfortunately this series has become so popular that a large percentage of the state park permit limits are filled with series participants.  This year only 29 of us 30k-ers were able to signup before the quota was filled.

Once again the weather turned out to be decent–no rain, not too cold.  During the first mile I struck up a conversation with a guy named Eric Kelso (chatting with other runners during long races is a great strategy for not going out at too fast a pace).  Eric and I talked about past and futures races.  It turns out that he is also a fan of destination marathons and we discovered that we both ran the Tokyo Marathon last February.  He’s also run marathons in Singapore, New York, Bangkok, Chicago, Berlin and Boston.  Before we knew it we were already at the halfway point.  I decided to pick up the pace a bit, but was sad to leave Eric behind, knowing that running is so much easier when you have someone interesting  to talk to.

With all the 10k-ers already finished, the course was nearly empty and kind of lonely.  I cranked it up to a 7 minute per mile pace and felt pretty good.  My stress fracture now seemed like a long ways away.  I crossed the line in 2 hours 15 minutes and finished in 2nd place overall.  Placing well in a race I’ve realized is not just a matter of running fast, but also choosing one with less participants.  Now if I can just  find a race where I’m the only runner, than victory will finally be mine.

After the race we checked into the rustic little cabin.  It’s located right along the Willamette River and connected to miles of biking and hiking trails.  We spent the rest of the day reading, writing, walking and relaxing.

For dinner Yoshimi made one of her classic Japanese nabe hot pot stews.  This perfect post-race meal is nourishing, warming, hydrating and delicious.  Afterwards we crawled into our sleeping bags and slipped into a deep cozy winter coma.

The next morning we woke up to clear skies and decided to  drive out to Silver Falls State Park.  I had been dying to return to this wonderful park since running a half marathon there in November.  This time the park was covered in a fresh blanket of snow, making the whole place seem even more magical.  My legs were still sore from the race, so I left the running shoes behind, but Yoshimi attacked the trails like a wild animal.  Later the sun came out, illuminating the falls and brightening everyone’s spirits.

On the way back from Silver Falls we stopped off in Woodburn for a bite to eat.  There are dozens of little Mexican restaurants in town, but we decided to check out the Guacamole Market, a place recommended in an Oregonian article on the best taquerias in the outer Portland metro area.  We walked in the door and immediately the sights, sounds and smells transported us to a local mercado in rural Mexico.  Though it wasn’t on the menu, we ordered a tlayuda, a giant tortilla covered in meat, cheese, veggies, salsa and other goodies.  This Oaxacan specialty is the size and shape of a giant pizza-easily enough for two and a bargain at $10.99.  It was the perfect end to our first romantic running weekend.  I look forward to many happy returns.