Sunday, August 31, 2014

2014 Waldo 100k - Steadfast

After the Lake Sonoma 50 and the culmination of my '14 Spring racing season, I hit a low. I pulled out of the Gold Rush 100k in May, I was mentally burned out from racing so hard that Spring off such little mileage, the track season at WJU was over, and I found myself feeling 'worked'. It was also an awkward time because friends were still prepping for Western States, so I'd jump in some runs with them and feel so miserable. So I didn't really run, which was good. I "crammed" a few long runs the week before WS to be in a position to help Nick, but other than that, I was done. Pacing Nick at Western States was interesting ..... His account really grasps the day, but it was a day we were both not expecting. All in all, I was with him for 10hrs and he got to he finish line. Super proud of him for finishing, but would have been equally as proud had he chose not to finish.

That day left me even more worked because while it wasn't physically daunting, I was emotionally drained from focusing so much on Nick and his needs. And then it hit me: Let go, stop focusing on "doing", and get restored and refreshed. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. So I stopped running altogether. Just stopped. I spent time with Sara and Sadie, worked, and met with friends. Kept it simple.

This was all fine and dandy, but I still had to do something with Waldo approaching.  So I tried running again. Wasn't happening. The weather here in Northern California decided it wanted to stay at 100deg's all throughout July so it made running pretty tricky. Many-a-runs I found myself so thirsty and just walking. Light-headed and dreading Waldo. Let go. So I did, again. I took a week off of what little training I had done (well all that "work" is gone again) and decided I needed to start afresh and in cooler temps.

Three weeks out from Waldo we took our annual family vacay to Cannon Beach, Oregon. This was my sixth time going with Sara's family (+grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), it's where I proposed to her on July 23, '08 and where I have some of the fondest memories and times of spiritual refreshment (we stay at the Christian Conference Center) as there is a speaker(s) for the week who is/are usually both challenging and encouraging. Also, it would be Sadie's first trip which made it even more special.

The runs were as gorgeous as ever and the temps were perfect (60-70deg's). With some newly found motivation and a kick-start to actual training, I put in a few more decent weeks in the 30mi range  - "reverse tapering" my way all the way to 5 days before the event. Fitness was "decent", but what I didn't realize heading in, was how important being mentally rested, emotionally filled, and spiritually healthy would be come race day.

I won't bore you with all the details, it ended up being a "non-impressive" result, but spectacular day overall. Prior to Waldo, I expected to SUFFER - and while there was an unavoidable element to that - I found myself super joyful and full of faith that day. I was "in the moment" almost all day - thankful just to be out there on this gorgeous course with my fellow runners and volunteers - and relying on mental toughness and pure joy (+ a good stride) to guide me. I ended up 7th overall in 10hrs56min (40min spent "not caring" = relaxing at aid-stations, + stretching some tight knees, & peeing a ton out there).

It has been a bizarre year of racing. Less miles, better results, and more enjoyment of the sport. What have I learned this year?

1. Family First - My wife Sara and daughter Sadie are so important to me. Everyone who knows me knows how much I love my girls. Could I have put in more miles this Spring and possibly done even better? Maybe? Probably? But at what cost to the most important relationships I have? With working full-time and coaching at WJU on top of that, I have to be very careful how I spend what time I do have. I don't want to look back and regret: "I wish I would've spent more time with family", but I guarantee I will never regret saying, "I'm so glad I spent more time with family." I see Sadie growing up so fast and both Sara and I realize that we'll never get this time back that we have with her. It's precious time and I don't know what her future holds, but I'm thankful I get to be Daddy each day.

2. Steadfastness - "Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4)

One of my goals heading into this year was to be consistent no matter the circumstance. In other words, steadfast. One physical way to do this to mirror a spiritual reality was that I decided I was gonna read through the Bible again. I've probably read through its entirety twice in my life, but I wanted to be consistent with reading. I've tried in the past and have always failed. You miss a day here and there, feel tired, and all of a sudden, you stop. I didn't want to be that roller-coaster this year, so no matter how I was feeling, I read. And I tried to apply this to my everyday life. Through success and failure, Lord willing, I hope to continue to be steadfast in all that I do: In relationship to God, in the way I love Sara and Sadie, as a co-worker, coach, etc....

And I think It's not a coincidence I've probably raced more steadfast than I ever have. Not giving into trials as easily, but taking the time to work them out, so that, I can continue moving forward. Same with life. And 100-milers, right? :)

3. Being the best vs Being the best

When I entered this sport in 2010, I wanted to be the best. To win races, be a "sponsored ultrarunner", and "live the dream". Then reality hits, the dream crumbles, and you realize: There are some serious sacrifices I would need to make to make that happen. And I've realized, I don't want that anymore, at least that way. Of course I want to be the best I can be, but do I really want to be away from my wife and daughter, the WJU team, to get better at a sport that, it seems lately, has a very short life-span in terms of "being on the top". For me, I'd rather be the best: Husband, father, and coach I can be. And if through that, I run well, great; if not, so it goes. I think of Tim Twietmeyer as an example of this. Got into the sport for the love of it and happened to get better and better. But I know that Tim has a family and works full-time and is committed to them, first and foremost. In fact, he had multiple WS100 finishes under him before he ever won his first cougar. I like that approach because it is more realistic to where I'm at. While I'm able and have the drive to compete and have the passion to run, I want to keep doing this - I simply love it. But as I've said before, I want to make sure my priorities are in line first and foremost and whatever results from that in ultrarunning, so be it.

4. I Need New Challenges

I've been thinking more and more that if I am going to commit the time to train, why not do it for a distance that I still haven't figured out. A distance that still scares me somewhat. A distance that has humbled me like no other. A distance that I'll definitely need to average more than 30mpw in order to finish. Therefore, as of now, next year I am only committing to 2 races and 1 distance: Rocky Raccoon 100 and Western States 100. The plan right now is to do Rocky whether I get into the WS lottery or not (for experience) and to hopefully run WS next June. If WS is a no-go again, then Tahoe Rim 100. TRT100 was my first and I'd like to improve upon that performance if need be. But of course, gaining redemption at WS still looms over my head. I want another chance to run from Squaw Valley to Auburn - to do it right - on all fronts.

Friday, April 18, 2014

2014 Lake Sonoma 50 - Fearless, Free, and Full of Faith

Just before the turnaround. Photo: Myles Smythe/UltraSportsLive.TV

At the beginning of the year, I sat down and wrote out goals for 2014. Ever since my '13 Western States meltdown, I had a hunger and thirst to be intentional and purposeful in the most important areas of my life, for the sake of being fruitful in my life. Therefore, I asked myself, "If I could have a fruitful year, what would I need to be DOING?" And wrote down goals accordingly - beginning with my relationship with God, my marriage, as a father, coach, co-worker, runner and so on. Like I've mentioned before, last year, my priorities were completely unbalanced .... and it showed. This year, I really wanted my priorities in line - to be fruitful, purposeful, and intentional - for the betterment of others and for my own personal growth as a man.

Running has taken a back seat, to an extent, but so far this year, I've had more joy, blessing, peace, and faith than maybe I've ever had. And I believe it has manifested itself in my running, despite running significantly less miles compared to previous years. A win and CR in my first ultra this year, followed by an unexpected 3rd place podium position at the always-competitive Way Too Cool 50k, and as I prepped for Lake Sonoma, this mantra was at the forefront of my mind: Run fearless, Run free, and Run full of faith.

I felt that if I could do that, I would run really well amidst an assembled field that quite possibly may be the most competitive 50mi field we see this year. With that framework in mind, this was a race to remember.

After my excited nerves finally subsided and I caught some winks, 4:20am came quickly and both Joe and I were up and about doing our usual pre-race rituals. On the way to Lake Sonoma, Joe was clutch in his choice of music - some 2006 Red Hot Chili Peppers - which set the chill vibe.

To further add to the ambiance, once we got to the start/finish area, we were greeted with a serene marine layer of chilly fog. Perfect. Let's do this.

Joe: "Why do my legs look so tan but not my upper body?" Photo: Meredith Stevens

Run Fearless

Tropical John blasted the horn and it was off to the races. I shot off hard down the hill, hung a right, and settled in with the front group of Vargo, Sage, Varner, Krar, and Max. Then, that little voice began to nudge me mentally, "Dude, what are you doing up here?...You don't belong up here, you're not fast enough!" Run Fearless. The mental nudging stopped.

It felt comfortable, so I went with it. Without Cam Clayton's presence, the pace was not as ferocious as last year, but it was still honest (Varner's STRAVA stats has the effort at 5:49 pace for the opening mile).

Eventually, the trio of THE Vargo, Sage, and Max pulled away, while I still hung in with Varner and Krar as we peeled off the road at the 2.5mi mark (16:00), and began the twisty 800' drop onto the beautiful single-track that traverses and weaves around Lake Sonoma. I hung on their heels, but meter-by-meter and seemingly effortlessly, they began to put some distance on me. I kept my head in the game and refused to back off and just focused on running smart, but competitive.

Eventually, we bottomed out by the lake and from there, it's a non-stop charade of 50'-100'+ steep ups and downs. Last year, these hills owned me, but this year, I came prepared and trained specifically for them and it paid off.

Krar and Varner finally got out of sight and then a train of Bob Shebest, Thomas Sanchez, Ryan Ghelfi, and Dan Kraft went by me. Luckily, I was able to hang onto the train of Thomas, Ryan, and Kraft, and it helped to have folks to run with who were running about the pace I wanted to.

However, it became quite clear that Ghelfi, Thomas, and Kraft's anaerobic-strength skills are far superior to mine. I'd lose them on the ups, but then regain them on the flats and downs. This yo-yoing continued on for a good 5+mi's, until they finally got out of sight on a section that included a bunch of steep uphills.

Nevertheless, I came through Warm Springs Aid #1 (11.6mi's) in 1:26+ and started to feel fatigued as I climbed out of there. What I forgot to mention was that for breakfast, I had peanut butter, coconut oil, and half of an avocado; and it sat in my stomach for the first hour - super heavy. I didn't take my first gel until ~1hr 15min and it seems my body was a little peeved that I wasn't feeding it consistent calories, given the pace I was running. Thankfully, I threw down a gel and that seemed to perk things up.

Now that I was truly alone, I was able to just be at peace and run my own race. Over and over, I thanked God for allowing me to take part in this sport, to run these races, and to push myself, for His glory. It's humbling how good He is.

A few miles out from Wulfow Aid (16.9mi's), I caught a glimpse of Thomas Sanchez and just focused on keeping the pedal pressed and him in sights. I thought for sure I'd reel him in shortly, but man, this kid is TOUGH! I couldn't catch him, but then told myself that there was plenty of miles left.

I pulled into Wulfow real quick and it was cool to see Chris Wehan there helping at the aid. A few more ups and downs, and it's a quick 1.9mi hop to the next aid at Madrone (mi 18.8). With how fatigued my climbing was starting to get (in retrospect, I was still way behind on calories), I was sort of dreading the 2nd biggest climb of the course (~600' in ~3/4mi). So as I pulled into the aid, Meghan Arboghast asked me, "Jake, how are you doing?!" I don't even know if I responded as my eyes were locked forward, sort of dreading this climb for some reason. "Sigh. Uh, Ok."

And yeah, it wasn't a pretty climb for me, but I could see Thomas ahead and that motivated me to not let up…..Then, all of a sudden, around a bend, Thomas was sitting on the ground.

"Dude, you ok?"

"Yeah man, blisters! Got my pit crew here!"

"Well alright, see you later!"

And with that, I crested the climb, and started to bomb downhill. I threw down some more calories and my energy levels started to come back (as my heart-rate dropped as well). You can definitely fly through this section and my watch was reading 6:30 mi's which was cool.

Next up was the biggest climb of the course up to the 25mi turnaround. Last year, I was in rough shape coming up this and like the previous climb, was not looking forward to it again. Run Fearless.

I'm not sure if it was a sense of Thomas' presence behind me or the hunger for those ahead of me, but I ran up this steep climb strongly. It felt good and I was thankful.

I ran into No-Name Flat Aid at 25mi's (3:16), talked some smack to Mr. Maravilla for being at a Giants Game all night, and got out of there. A few min up the trail and Thomas was on his way in so I knew I had at least 4min up on him. And it was here, that things got even better.

Run Free

I had my I-Pod tucked in the side pocket of my PI Ultra Shorts and now it was time for the tuneZ. I put the budZ in and by chance, this song was first on my shuffle list. Hillsong United's, "Oceans" has been on my mind for awhile because I think it speaks deeply to the desires of my heart.

                                                                       "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)"

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

I know, for me, I desire transparency, trust, intimacy, and a free heart. To not be bound or burdened by life's circumstances. To look beyond the trials in front of me and to have faith that will endure. I remember, at the age of ~19, trying to find purpose and freedom in drugs, sex, girls; you name it. More and more, I "needed it", but more and more, I felt empty. It wasn't sustainable. It was like always eating, but never full; always drinking, but never without thirst. Then I met Christ and my heart exploded - my life was turned upside down - light was finally shined into the darkness of my heart and it radically transformed me. I'm so so so thankful for what God has done in my life. Seriously. 

So I had this song blaring in my ears, a smile on my face, and a green, misty landscape to enjoy. I was at peace.

As I meandered up and down back to Madrone Aid (mi 30.9), I was getting SO into the music I had blasting (Luke Bryan, Randy Houser, One Direction, N'SYNC, Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men) that I found myself singing at the top of my lungs to the oncoming array of runners. Most shook their heads with laughter, some gave me funny glances, but all seemed to reflect on their faces the reality that I was having fun, singing, running, and being free. Run Free.

Just as N'SYNC's "It's Gonna Be Me" was ending, I spotted a runner just ahead leaving the aid-station. Shortly thereafter, I pulled up behind Bob Shebest - who was having a stellar day and running strong - he wished me well and he stayed pretty close all the way up to Wulfow Aid (mi32.8). 

Up to this point, I was shocked that I hadn't cramped yet (last year was a total cramp-fest). Then, of course, they hit in full-force. Right quad/inner-thigh, same spot as last year. I stopped. Flexed the quad (which made it worse). Walked and just focused on positive thoughts and popped a gel in order to put the brain at ease. It worked like a charm. Last year, the constant cramping put me in such a mental funk. This year, I embraced it, worked through it, and continued on running strong. Run Free.

"Baby when you fi-na-lyyyy, get to love some-bod-yyyyy, guess what?! IT'S GONNA BE ME!" Photo: Gary Wang

Then, another minor blip occurred. Literally right before Warm Springs 2 (mi 38), as I was descending, I whipped around the corner, hit some loose dirt and my legs went straight up in the air. I landed HARD on my right shoulder/back/leg. It scraped me pretty good and stung like a mother, but I had to ignore the pain. I had to keep moving, not sinking, but keeping my eyes above the waves like the song says.

I rolled into Warms Springs to a cheer from Joe's Mom and crew - took my first salt tab of the day just to be safe - and had an intent focus on finishing strong. I was still running hard and well on the flats and downs, but the ups were pure survival. I had no more power or strength and had to hike more than I would've liked through here.

Just before I reached Island View 2 (mi 45.5), I saw another body! It was Dan Kraft. I chatted with him for a bit and it seems his butt was cramping and he was working through some issues he had earlier. We both rolled into the aid together and neither of us were rushing to get out of there. We took our time. I pounded coke, grabbed 3 gels and got out of there a step ahead of him.

Just before we popped back out on the main trail, I glanced back and saw Dan a few meters behind. I knew I had to surge up the next hill and hammer downhill to try and get some distance and get out of sight. Sure enough, I tried to muster up any strength I had left and it seemed to be working.

This last stretch is brutal. It's starting to get warm, there's some decent climbing sections, and you just want to be done. I kept looking down at my watch every few minutes: "2.5mi's to go…Now 2mi's to go…Now 1.5mi's to go" ….. "WHERE is that 1mi to go sign?!?!" I thought in my head :)

And there it was. And there *they* were. I cramped again! I stopped, thought about Dan catching me, and shuffled so awkwardly until they went away (it was like a side-shuffle). I've GOT to keep moving! 

Thank goodness they went away and from there, I counted every tenth of a mile until I could see the parking lot. Ah, finally! I made it! I popped out off the trail, put a fist in the air, and a smile on my face, and crossed the finish line in 8th place with a time of 6:52:06. My first top-ten at a majorly competitive 50-miler.

I did it. Thank you God. Photo: Rachel Ekberg

Full of Faith

Like 2012's Way Too Cool 50k and last years Lake Sonoma 50, I faced a lot of the same trials and challenges this year in both those races. But unlike the previous two attempts, I'm a different person this year - spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically - and have handled the trials that have come this year with more faith and action as opposed to crippling fear. Last year, it seemed, I was shaken much more so - things during a race would get to me mentally and bog me down temporarily. This year, while I haven't been perfect - and there's always room for more growth and learning - I've kept my eyes forward more and my feet have followed. I even had a reminder "tattoo'd" on my forearm.

Hebrews 11:1

As I mentioned in the intro, heading into 2014, I wanted to be healthy in all areas of my life. I was tired of being a roller coaster, feeling inadequate and like a hypocrite. I wanted to be steadfast, disciplined, and consistent in the way I lived my life. I wanted to be a husband who was consistent in loving his wife, a father who was steadfast in taking care of his daughter, and a follower of Christ who had a consistent heart-to-heart connection with God and the fruit to show for it by loving others. I'm thankful for the man God is continually trying to grow me into being. He's got A LOT of grace and patience for someone like me :) I need it.

Daddy's Girl!

Mine and Joe's family/crew

-- Lastly, I want to thank my wife Sara for her constant sharpening and support. She challenges and encourages me daily and I've said it before: I am the man I am, largely due to the woman she is. A true blessing and gift from God.

-- A big thank you to my family who comes to every race! Wow. They've been doing it my whole life and that kind of love and support makes a difference. I can't thank them enough for their sacrifice.

-- The William Jessup Cross-Country/Track Team and Coach Parker Daniells. We are family. Their prayers, encouragement, and community they provide has played a huge role in my growth. Thanks guys!

-- Joe. That picture above in the beginning captures it well. Truly a great friend who I am so thankful for. He's done so much for me and been there countless times. We both desire to continue to grow into better men and try to help one another along that journey as well. #BFF

-- Tropical John and Lisa for their genuine hospitality, time, and sacrifice. This race is the standard for all other 50's, on all levels. Thank you both!

-- My sponsor Pearl Izumi. All I need is a pair of shorts and a good pair of shoes and I'm set. The PI Ultra Shorts speak for themselves - the pockets I need and the comfort I desire - can't go wrong. I also ran in the N1 Trail shoes. Enough said, you guys know how solid this shoe is.

-- Friends who supported near and from afar, thank you! Especially my co-worker Jackie who came all the way with her mom to come watch and support. She is intrigued by ultra running which I think is so cool.

Results w/ Splits

Sunday, February 23, 2014

2014 American Canyon 50k - Peace in the Storm

The funny thing about storms is that they are inevitable. Whether in gale force or a light spattering - no matter how much we will against them, love them, or have ill-feelings toward them - they come. And it's not so much the storm that "rains on our parade", I believe; but our perspective and/or preparation for this inevitable earthly cycle that ultimately makes the difference whether something turns out "good" or "bad."

Just like with life. "Storms" and/or trials will come. There's absolutely no avoiding it. A wise college professor once told me, "You're either entering a trial, in one, or coming out of one. So be prepared, always."

Jesus' kid-brother James even had something to say about this when writing to dispersed, persecuted Christians all-over the Greek and Roman world. These believers were being put to death for their faith. For them, they knew trials were coming. And James is writing to these folks to comfort them, to encourage them, and in some way, build up their faith.

In the Book of James 1:2-4, he opens with: "Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way" (The Message Translation).

And that is the sheer beauty of storms and trials. They test us to our core. Like a goldsmith putting intense heat to the kettle, the impurities WILL rise. The goodness AND ugliness are both exposed. But, with the hopeful intention we will deal with what is ugly, so that, more of what is good can shine.

For me, this has been a challenging season of life. As you may or may not know, I had a daughter (Sadie) on November 8, 2013. An indescribable joy for both Sara and I. And when discussing who would raise our daughter, it was a no-brainer that Sara wanted to and was gonna stay home and raise Sadie. Because lets be honest, if there's anyone I'd want my daughter to grow up to be like, it's Sara. No question. 

However, this meant I would be the sole bread-winner. Our income would drop, obviously, but the sacrifice and long-term vision made absolute sense. Yet, no matter how good-intentioned our hearts were, this didn't prevent the storms from coming. And they came.

Mostly financially, but man, God provided in unbelievable ways. We were always taken care of. And I wish I could say I always had the best attitude or was always full of faith. It was challenging. Having that "pressure" to pay the bills with just my income from Starbucks and William Jessup University stole my joy at times. But, by God's grace, we have stuck together as a family, communicated needs, and have grown stronger through this. There were some tough storms in December and January; and I know there will be many more ahead. But, to paraphrase James, "Let it come, deal with it, so you can mature and grow" (easier said than done, right???) :)

So ….. what does this have to do with a 50k?

Well, as we were all huddled under a tent before the start of the race, we all knew we would have to venture out into this storm and deal with it. The weather in California, as you know, has been near-perfect in terms of dryness and sunshine. But, of course, the weekend of the American Canyon 50k, the floodgates of Heaven opened.

This would be my first race since Western States, so even though the conditions were not going to be favorable, I had the perspective of "I'm just happy to race again and have those feelings and challenges all over again." And thankfully, I had the preparation of previous trials that had been overcome so I was entering the race with a lot of joy and peace. 

My race itself wasn't anything to gloat over. I was pretty much by myself for nearly all of it, just cruising out there, so there wasn't really any racing going on. But, again, internally, I was just able to be free out there - wet, muddy, slipping, and sliding around in the same pair of PI Trail N2's I wore at Western States - and not caring what was going on around me. I didn't focus on the storm, but rather, having peace in and through the storm. Not ignoring it, but not letting it define me. It was, by far, the wettest and muddiest conditions I've ever raced in, but it didn't matter. Just being present, listening to music (mostly One Direction's "Story of my Life!" HA!….And Mumford and Sons) and thanking God for the beauty of the day and the gift of running he's given me. 

This external detachment, but internal presence and awareness is something I hope to race with moving forward as the competition will undoubtedly become more and more apparent and therefore, the trials will be more ferocious.

So all in all, this race was just a good reminder for me to be prepared for the storms when they come, to deal with the storms when they come - with faith, hope, joy, and love - and to GROW through and out of the storms when they *temporarily* go.

A big thanks to those who tried to stay dry out there to come support or who supported from afar: Sara and Sadie, My Mom, In-Laws (Mike and Tracy) and brother-in-law (Ryan), the WJU distance team + Coach Parker and his wife Maria, and Craig Thornley and Meghan Arbogast. And Scott Jaime of Pearl - much thanks brother for all you've done to support us! Connor Curley, too, for helping a brother out pre-race.

RD Harlan Reymont had everything dialed from what I could tell. I can't imagine how hard it would be to put on a race in those conditions. But he did it with excellence. And so did his volunteers. They all seemed happy to be out there. Appreciate that sacrifice and time. And all the finishers I talked to had a blast out there. Dealing with the elements, but making the most of it in true ultra-running fashion.

Awww she's getting so big!

That climb up Robie Point back to the Overlook was tiring!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Through Death, Comes Life

I've had numerous months to reflect on my 2013 Western States debacle. What I did wrong, what I've learned, and what I can apply moving forward. And herein lies the problem: ME.

At the beginning of 2013, very little in my life mattered more to me than running Western States. I finally earned the opportunity at Waldo and I was gonna go for broke in my attempt to showcase my abilities and mental toughness on one of biggest stages we have in our niche sport. Therefore, I poured countless hours, days, and months into myself. It was intoxicating. I pushed and pushed myself - on the track, on the roads, in the mountains - and developed a fitness I'd never had before. A gear I'd always strived for. Weapons in my arsenal that I knew would enhance my chances for a high-placing.

And, sadly, I showcased this all during Western States Training Camp in late-May.  Joe and I - staying at Carol Hewitt's in Michigan Bluff for the week - put in 198 miles in 6 days with well-over 50,000' of vertical gain. We set FKT's in the canyons, cut sub-3min 1k repeats on the track, and for myself, ran a sub-2:10 Cal Street split - at the end of Camp, at the end of a 48mi run. I felt strong and I was ready.

Or, so I thought.......

As both Joe and I will attest to, we left our race in those Canyons, at Placer High School Track, and at the River Crossing. We "spent" the huge bankroll we had amassed over the previous months, at Training Camp. Therefore - running a massive deficit - we had very little to spend when it truly mattered.

Not only that - and as I have alluded to - my priorities got completely out of whack - spiritually, maritally, and vocationally. Thankfully, I have an incredibly patient, loving, and understanding wife who knew how bad I wanted to "throw down" at 'States. However, I neglected the things that matter most in life: the relationships that matter most in my life.  My relationship with God, my wife, and the William Jessup University XC/Track team. I put those on the "back burner" and pressed on with my goals, my ambitions, my purpose. Though unconsciously, but expectantly, running Western States became sort of an identity. In that season of my life, honestly, it's what I lived for. I couldn't get my mind off of it, I couldn't wait to train for it, and I couldn't live without it (ok, a little extreme, but you get the point).

And, then, as you know, it all came crumbling down.

All the time, effort, sacrifice, and I had nothing to show for it. Ultimately, in terms of what really matters here on earth, it all meant nothing. In the following days after my DNF, I laid in bed and two things struck me: 1. You can spend a considerable amount of time; shoot, even a lifetime, focusing your time and energy on things that ultimately don't matter in this world. Temporal things. 2. I had to take the focus off myself. I was the problem. That's hard to admit because often we look inside ourselves for the answer, the solution, but fail to realize that often, the more we focus on ourselves (aka the problem), the unhappier we become. Often, the solution is to focus on others. This act of humility can open our hearts and minds to not only give, but be more open to receive. When we are so FULL of ourselves, there isn't much room TO BE FILLED.

With that said, there were people I neglected that I needed to spend a season of my life focusing all my time and energy on. Here's what that looked like practically:

--From July to mid-October, I essentially didn't run. I did some things here and there, but overall, running was not my focus. I set it aside and knew there were more important things to focus on.

Here's what I focused on: My relationship with God, my wife, friends, my co-workers, and the WJU Cross-Country team. Whatever time and energy I would normally spend on myself running, I spent on others.  Being emptied, God was able to fill me in order to give to others. I tried to love my wife to an even higher degree, something I think she really appreciated (as we were getting ready to have a baby!). I checked in with co-workers "annoyingly" often and invited them over for dinner, listened to their "boy problems" and helped them however I could. I spent a ridiculous amount of time with the WJU XC team, pouring into those guys with the heart and desire to see them mature in their faith, as runners, and as men.

I gave and gave and gave. Sometimes, I'd hit a wall and need "me time" in order to be refilled, but thankfully, more often than not, I found a groove and enjoyed pouring the gifts, talents, and abilities I have for the betterment of others.  And, what I found through all this, was that I was growing a ton. My wife noticed it immediately. I'm so thankful I know a God, who, looked down on me, laying in the bushes at mi85 of Western States - broken beyond repair, defeated - yet, unknowingly to me, He knew I was right where I needed to be, humbled and open to what he wanted to do in me and through me, moving forward.

What did the fruit of all this look like?

- A closeness and deeper love with God and my wife Sara.
- Changed lives in the workplace, co-workers taking brave steps to take ownership of their lives and acting to solve their own life problems.
- The WJU XC team winning Cal-Pac championships for the 3rd consecutive year in a row amidst the deepest and toughest competition the conference has ever seen.
- The XC guys telling me that this season was by far the most enjoyable and one in which they felt the most spiritually challenged and encouraged. It was the closest they've ever felt as brothers and as a team.

Oh yeah, and one more added bonus to the mix:

Sadie May Rydman. Born: November 8, 2013 @ 10:21pm. 6lbs, 14oz, 20"

As I've come to realize, absolutely nothing in life can and will prepare you for that moment when your child is born into the world. And, you can't begin to fathom how much you will LOVE that little one. It's beyond comprehension. #SADEZLOVE !!

In closing, I certainly "died" out on that course back in June. But what has been birthed and what has come to life, I wouldn't change. As I wrote in my race report, I knew I needed to be humbled, I needed to "die". Now, seeing the fruit of all that, it completely makes sense. God knew what he was doing. He, once again, delivered me from myself and opened my heart and eyes to those around me. Looking ahead to 2014, I still have that urge and desire to compete, to push myself. I would love to go back to Western States and do it right. And that's the key: DO. IT. RIGHT. -- Priorities in line, relationships in balance, smart training, and smart execution.

Here's what I got so far for a '14 schedule:

-- Feb: American Canyon Ultra 50k
-- Mar: Way Too Cool 50k
-- Apr: Lake Sonoma 50m
-- June: Western States 100 or San Diego 100
-- Aug: Squamish 50m
-- Aug --> Nov: WJU XC

I know I've been off the radar for awhile. I needed to be. However, I've been running for about a month now. It feels great. Looking forward to reconnecting with the ultrarunning community and everyone at various races and events -- getting out on the trails and sharing life. Above all, though, I hope you get to meet my daughter!

Monday, July 1, 2013

2013 Western States 100 - Broken

This picture says it all. Photo: Rachel Ekberg (my sister)

Rather than launch into a wordy account of my Western States experience - from aid-station to aid-station; split-by-split - I thought, perhaps, I'd do my best to portray the raw emotion I'm feeling now, and was feeling throughout the day. Maybe I'll dive into minute details and play-by-play action, maybe I won't; like attempting to run 100 miles, we'll see where it goes.

To set the framework, however, I'll start by saying that in the week leading up to the race, I was addicted to the book, "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption". This heart-wrenching biography of Louis Zamperini recounts his unbelievable experiences as a world-class miler, WWII fighter pilot, prisoner of war, and redeemed soul. You see, as a POW under Japanese authority, Louis was faced with some of the most brutal beatings a human being can endure. Yet, time and time again, his will to live endured. Each day, he was starved, beaten, and brought to the brink of death - yet, somehow, found a way to press on. That is, until one day - after intentionally not allowing his will to be broken - it all came crashing down.

Possibly the most evil of Japanese prison guards, nicknamed "The Bird" would beat Louis daily (on purpose, for a purpose). Trying to break him. Trying to crumble him to pieces. Yet, Louis fought this evil daily, hourly, minute-by-minute. He would not allow The Bird the satisfaction of seeing his soul broken. He would not allow himself to be humbled like that. Until one day, Louis' beating from the Bird was so severe, that it broke him. His soul was finally crushed and he knew it. 

Many times throughout the day at Western States on Saturday I thought I was done. I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my physical limits. "The Bird" - the course, the competition, the heat - beating me down - seeing if I would submit to its rule. And yes, my body felt like it had had enough, numerous times. But, by God's grace, my Spirit continued to endure.

Shortly after leaving Miller's Defeat Aid Station (mi 35), Yassine Diboun took off and I hit an absolute low. On a point in the course that is ridiculously easy, flat, and downhill; I was stumbling along at 10min pace, my quads completely shot, and already prepared to tell Connor Curley that I was dropping at Dusty Corners (mi 38).

Yet, after getting refreshed by Connor (and Dom Grossman), I had new life breathed into me and ran a decent stretch from Dusty to Last Chance (mi 43). There, Jesse Haynes and Karl Meltzer came into the aid just after me and Karl and I set off together down into Deadwood Canyon. I had never chatted with Karl before (for those unfamiliar, Karl has run over SIXTY 100-milers and has won 35 of them - the most of anyone, ever).

Karl's experience and words were timely. He provided the right words at the right time and got me moving along with him pretty well. That is, until we hit the steep, switchbacked descent down to Swinging Bridge. My quads just couldn't bear the grade and I slowly, painfully tip-toed my way downhill. Jesse Haynes passed me and once I reached the bottom, I walked all the way up Devil's Thumb.

At Devil's Thumb, I saw Dave Mackey sitting in a chair, dealing with stomach issues. He offered me some Ibuprofen to help off-set the pain and I was hydrated enough, so I took it. After cooling off, I tried to run out of Devil's Thumb (mi 47.7), but couldn't. My brain - probably sensing some sort of danger - completely shut my body down. In what is an almost all-downhill 5.5mi stretch to the bottom of El Dorado Canyon - I walked everything.

Again, formulating the excuses in my head of why I was gonna drop at Michigan Bluff - beaten down again. "The Bird" taunting me in my desperation. It's funny though, not once did I become negative. Not once did I lose my joy. I accepted that my body was shut down for whatever reason and tried to find the utmost joy in the midst of my suffering - encouraging other runners as they passed and trying to crack a few jokes here and there.

In fact, along Deadwood ridge - Luis Escobar was there taking pictures. I laughed because here I was walking a flat section while one of the most respected photographers in all of ultrarunning was snapping photos of me. Pretty uneventful. Although, he did have a few Coors Lights' on hand.

As an IPA guy, I hate Coors Light. Tastes like piss-water. Yet, to try and add some excitement to my dire circumstance, I asked Louis for a beer. This seemed to excite him tremendously and he put one in my hand immediately. I popped the top and chugged half of the can. Delicious (did I really just say that?). Seriously. It hit the spot. This pumped up the guys and I continued walking. No life in my legs, but a good portion of beer in my stomach.

Another :30 of walking and all of a sudden Scott Wolfe passes me (aka "Monkey Boy").

"BGD! Fix yourself! Do you need anything!"

"Actually I do, do you have any S Caps?!"

"I went swimming in the river so I might not, but let me check.....Looks like I do! There ya go!"

Monkey Boy handed me 3 S Caps and I devoured them. Trying anything to get the brain back on board so that, hopefully, the body would come around.

Nothing. Therefore, I prayed, "God, if you want me to continue, send me a miracle. I need one!"

Shortly after, Rory Bosio came down the trail - smiling and showering me with positivity.

And then, it happened. I was running again!

My brain latched on to her kind words and like a timely drug in my veins, whatever she "injected" into me was taking effect.

I started running behind her, both of us laughing at the absurdity of running 100mi's in this heat, but both set on finishing.

I pulled ahead of Rory and then started catching other people near the bottom of El Dorado Creek. I rolled into El Dorado feeling fresh and after a few min of sponges, dousing, and ice (and a quick glance at the thermometer which read 95deg's in the shade!) I ran every step of the climb up to Michigan Bluff (mi 55.7).

I reached the top in :39 and jogged easily to the aid where my crew of family and friends were waiting (much longer than they expected! ha!). It was exciting. I was back from the dead, running strong, and convinced I was going to top-10.

All of my loved ones there were incredible. Although, I was shocked to hear that Joe had to drop. .....Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em ..... as he likes to say.

I set off from Michigan Bluff running strong. Passing more people and running everything and it feeling effortless.

Again, I ran every step from the 'Bluff to Foresthill (mi 62). But shortly after Bath Rd aid (mi 60), my pacer Mike met me partially up the road and we started running together.

I filled him in on what happened, jokingly apologized for taking so long and told him I was focused on getting it done. Again, all of my loved ones - friends and family - were there at Foresthill and their presence - whether I coherently acknowledged it or not - was invaluable. I felt the love more so than the heat and it fueled me beyond words.

Mike and I set off from Foresthill and I just barely caught a glimpse of Joe and his family/friends and Joe gave me the look of, "You got this. Go get it."

I told Mike that I was weary of this section to Cal-1 (mi 65) because of how much downhill it involved and my quads - as they had been just after Robinson Flat (mi 30) - were still destroyed, but I wanted to try and manage this section the best I could.

We made good work and Mike reassured me that we were moving well. We really were as the split to Cal-1 showed a :32. Very good in this heat with blown quads.

The aid workers - as they had been all day - were absolutely phenomenal in anticipating our needs and acting quickly. We got what we needed at the aid, cooled off and set off for this tough section from Cal-1 to Cal-2 (mi 70).

Again, I ran every uphill and moved well on the flats. Then, danger began to creep in again. 2 miles out from Cal-2, my body started shutting down again. The quads just couldn't take anymore pounding which made elevator shaft quite comical as it took me maybe :10 to get down it.

I stumbled into Cal-2 (:50) and lingered. I was fearing this next section as there is a good portion of downhill running so Mike and I started walking out from the aid. Then, Monkey Boy and his pacer Julie Fingar went by! I was so pumped for MB that he was absolutely nailing this course and this hot day. He was moving impressively.

I tried to get my legs moving, but as had been the case previously after Devil's Thumb, nothing was working. So we walked. Multiple times I tried to run, but couldn't. It's weird because again, I was in a great mental spot, but for some reason, the body would not respond. It completely shut down again so Mike and I enjoyed the luxury of a nice casual walk to the river.

However, in an attempt to get something going I started power-walking. Mike commented that I looked like one of those race-walkers in the Olympics and we both laughed. Yet, in this desperate attempt, for maybe 3 miles, I averaged 14min miles, just walking (not bad!).

As we approached the River Crossing (mi 78). Walking 22 more miles just didn't sound appealing (as it shouldn't!). Not only that, but in the back of my mind, I feared doing something to jeopardize my health as there was obviously a reason why my body kept shutting me down. I'm sure the body sensed some sort of perceived danger that was going on and the brain made the ultimate decision to try and stop me.

And there, in the distance, I saw my wife Sara. She started walking toward me and we just embraced. We held each other there. I wanted to break down and weep. I had experienced more pain in the last 40 miles than I ever had in any race previously, by far. "The Bird" continued to beat on me and by my wife holding me, she was letting me know its ok; its ok to hurt; its ok that you feel like you've had enough. I needed that love and reassurance from her. She's an amazing wife.

I couldn't give in though. I wanted to. I wanted to say I was defeated. The Bird's lashings had finally gotten to me. I wanted to admit that. But my Spirit, again, endured. My body was further broken, but something inside me was still holding on.

I looked across the river to Connor and said, "Do you want to walk to Auburn?" He did. Not sure why, but he was down. What a loyal friend. Again, blown away by the love and support I received from everyone out there.

Actually crossing the river was interesting. From what I've heard, it took me the longest to cross the river out of everyone that day. It was pitiful. But I had to keep going. I'm not sure why. I should've stopped at the River, but I pressed on.

After was seemed like 10min, I finally got to the other side - a good friend by my side - and we walked up to Green Gate, now 9pm with the sun starting to fade behind the distant canyon walls. It was mostly light-hearted chatter. Rehashing the day, the unbelievable performances by some, and the not-so-great days for many.

Following the beams of our headlamps, in this lonely section away from civilization we made our way toward Auburn Lake Trails (ALT, mi85). Passed by numerous people. Until finally, a mile out from ALT, Matt Keyes came along.

"Jake, your running, c'mon lets get moving!"

"Dude, I've tried so many times, my body won't let me."

"Start slow, c'mon, start running."

And I tried as hard as I could. I tried to run again, for the hundredth time. Still not willing to give up hope. It just wasn't happening. Matt departed after some good words and finally, we reached ALT. It took quite awhile to "walk" the downhill into the aid and I told Connor I wanted to sit down. I hadn't sat down all day, and I knew I shouldn't, but I did.

For me, that last physical act was my breaking point. I finally reached my absolute limit after countless "perceived limits". I wasn't getting up. I was done. Connor knew it. He hugged me and let me know that it was ok. He knew what I had been through and he knew that if I didn't want to continue, there was no way anyone was going to convince me otherwise. It took me a moment to finally admit it, not wanting to still, but knowing I needed to be done. I needed to humble myself and accept the humility. My ego needed it. Something in me had to die. My pride had to die. Throughout the day, I kept finding ways to breathe life back into it. But I finally had to accept that my pride and ego had to be crucified, laid in the grave, and the stone rolled in front of it.

Sure, I absolutely could have walked for 6 or 7 more hours to Auburn, but I had had enough. My Spirit, my will, my determination to finish was broken. I was a broken man. And I needed to let that happen. Not everyone can understand what I mean by that. Some refuse to accept it. Some believe it's more honorable to crawl to the finish if you can. And they may be right. But for me, I had been humbled so many times that day, and finally had to experience the ultimate act of humility by willingly quitting. Nothing was wrong with me, ultimately. I just knew, for me, I needed to be done.

I wonder how Jesus felt when he knew he was going to die. He seemed to fight it at first, crying out, "Father, let this cup pass, but not my will, but your will be done." And he submitted, was beaten, drug to the cross, crucified, and died. Not a pretty picture. And certainly not the "American Dream" of a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and all the material possessions you could want.

Furthermore, in the Sermon on the Mount he says, "The way is hard and narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it. The way is wide and easy that leads to destruction and many enter into it." I still don't fully get that. I'm a work in progress and still growing in my faith, but its experiences like I had out there where you sort of get more of a picture of what that means on a physical level. Simple as you read it, mind-blowing trying to live it.

And there you have it. I laid down for hours at ALT, wrist-band still on. Still technically "in the race", but in those 4+ hours I was off in the bushes, laying down next to Connor, body in absolute pain and not able to sleep, blankets wrapped around me; nothing changed. My will and desire to finish never revived. I knew I made the right decision.

And at around 3:45am, my wrist-band was officially cut. DNF.


After finally falling asleep that morning at 6am and waking up around 12:30pm (sorry I wasn't able to make it to the awards, I had a very tired pregnant wife who needed sleep!) I was in such a positive mood. Its weird, I should've been "bummed" that I didn't finish. But, again, I pushed myself to my absolute limit that day and was satisfied with that. Even Sara was shocked by how well I was taking it.

Yesterday, it was nice to catch up with Joe and hear the details of how his day went. And also spend the day with Sara, the Curley brothers, Joe's family/friends/crew, and just relax - eating a ton of food.

And then, when I got home last night. Both Sara and I standing in our kitchen, I pulled up that photo of us embracing at the river, and I hugged my wife right there and just started weeping. Crying my eyes out. Even now - writing this report - I've probably cried about 20x's. It's healthy. All the pain and emotion I was trying "not to feel" out on the course on Saturday, I'm allowing myself to feel it now. To let it sink in. Tears of joy. I'm grieving my loss, the death in me that took place out there, but it's a part of moving on.

You see, even though The Bird inflicted a tremendous amount of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain on Louis while in the POW camps - and eventually he was broken - his story didn't end there. He survived the war, made it back home - and through even more trials with alcohol abuse, trying to cope and block out the pain that the war inflicted upon him - he found redemption. He found Christ. He found resurrection power.

Often with life, something must die so that something else may live. Our pride must die so that a humble spirit may live; hate must die so that love may live; unforgiveness must die so that peace may live in our hearts. And then I get a further glimpse and understanding into the deep and unfathomable mysteries of why Jesus had to that I may live. Me. The punk kid that I am. Weird. True love is truly eternal and other-worldly.

A big reason why I'm drawn to 100-milers is because of the spiritual parallels I see. The amount of faith, joy, love, hope, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, suffering it takes to do one of these is counter-intuitive and against our human nature, seemingly. Yet, there is a strange addiction, at least for me, to be brought as close to the "point of death" that I possibly can be in order to truly feel alive and experience life to its fullest. I'm not suggesting this is the only way, but it's how I get my kicks. To each their own.

Above all, something had to die inside me out on the course in my first Western States 100. By faith, I'm eager to see what is going to resurrect in its place. God's got a plan. And He is good.

Will I be back? Just yesterday Joe and I were trying to figure out a way back into the race. I hope I can run it again next year. I'd like to use the experiences I've gained to try and piece together the kind of 100-miler that I know I'm capable of running.

In the meantime, I'm taking a month off. It's time to let this sink in further, accept it, release it, move on, and see what the next season of life and adventure brings.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

2013 Lake Sonoma 50

Heading into this years running of the Lake Sonoma 50 -- I knew that while it was a stepping stone for Western States -- it was an event I wanted to do pretty well in. Although, with the star-studded field in attendance and having never set foot on the course, I wasn't sure what lofty goals to shoot for. Sub-7? Top 10? I mean, with this field, that would be a GOOD day, right? And lastly, and probably most notably, a solid second half of the race was what I really wanted.


Training had been very consistent with 80+mi weeks (and a few 7-day stretches of 95+mi's) with a good balance of climbing, flats, and downs. Mostly tempo-effort/efficiency stuff; I haven't really dove into much intensity yet (trying to time it just right come June 29th!).

Some notable outings leading up:

- An Ashland training weekend with Timmy and Joe back in late-Feb
- River City Marathon (2:45) in early March
- An 18.6mi Green Gate to Robie Point "race" on the WS trail with Mr. Wonderful (Senor Maravilla) which he was in "zone 1" the entire time, while I was in the "twilight zone" being woo'd by his El Salvadorian smile:)
- A Michigan Bluff to Pacific Slab Mine & Back (4+hrs, 23mi's, 7.8k' vert) in which I was fueled entirely by almonds and had a historic bonk a mile out from MB (I don't recommend *just* almonds.....)
- A rolling 19mi road run w/ ~1,400' of gain in 1:58 (just over 6min pace) 2wks out's been 8 months since my last serious ultra (Waldo 100k), it's GO TIME!

Channeling my inner Karate Kid at 5am on race morning.  Photo: Joe Uhan


Joe and I were up at  4:30am, scouring around for our gear, throwing back some coffee, and eating peanut butter (the idea was to trigger the body to start burning fat from the get-go, thus, preserving necessary carbs). I was pretty chipper and filled with child-like excitement simply for the fact that, for me, the 2013 ultra racing season had officially begun. So I wanted to kick-off the morning to this, but Joe had sour memories of it from '12 TNF50, so he protested ....."What a DEHCK!" :)

We rolled into the parking lot/starting area at Lake Sonoma around 5:40am and after a some time of chillaxin', followed by a brief jog, and deuce; here we were, on the starting line of one of the deepest fields ever assembled for a 50-miler (a common phrase now-a-days in this competitive era of ultrarunning).

And then, after Tropical John sent us off, he we were, running the expected 6min+/mi pace up the road. I settled in with Joe and Nick, while a good group of ten or so guys were already off the front not too far ahead. I was interested to see where my legs were for the day and no sooner than that thought had left my mind, that I realized I was already falling back up the first (of a few) long rollers along this 2.4mi pavement section. No biggie, everyone's going out fast (as expected), I'm just gonna hover back here in 20th or so place and let everything warm up.

I let Joe, Nick, Mackey, and a bunch of other guys go while I tried to find a hard, but sustainable rhythm. Eventually, the pavement ended (:16) and we veered right to meet up with some sweet single-track and a fun, twisty-turvy little 800' drop.

Then, almost comically, carnage had already struck (ruh-really, bro??). Not two strides into the descent and I see the heavy pre-race favorite Miguel Heras limping back up (Oh snap! Miguel's already out!). Apparently he (re-?)injured his leg. Bummer dude.

I continued to flow downhill, scooting by Philip Reiter and a few others guys, starting to feel the groove of the trail. That is, until I hit the first (of many!) short, steep uphills. And then, my momentum (and legs) just felt like they hit a wall. No power or umph! on the steep ups, it seemed. And like that, I lost the train of Joe and the boys.

Things would smooth out on the flats and downs, but anything steep just stopped me in my tracks. When something throws a wrench in your race, you immediately go into problem-solve mode: Ok, the steeps aren't feeling good today, I can't control that. What can I control? My stride. Efficiency. Calories. Leg turnover.

So that's what I did. Just focused on the basics. I set my racing mentality aside and made sure that if I was going to do the best I could for what my legs were giving me today, I had to make the most what I could control. And luckily for me, I had some good guys to share this experience with. Yassine Diboun then came up behind me, peppering me with positive encouragement. "You're running a smart race, Jake!"

At that time, I really needed to hear that because it can be disheartening being left in the dust. So Yassine and I pushed together in tandem, mostly chatting and trying to help one another the best we could. Shortly thereafter the first aid (Island View, mi 4.2 - 30:00) we caught up to Gary Gellin and the three of us found a sustainable and fluid rhythm that would carry us through the next aid (Warm Springs, mi 11.5 - 1:26).

Photo: Willy Onate

It was here that Gary reassured us that we were definitely running sub-7hr pace and we came through a few min faster than last years group.  There was a brief climb out of the aid and it seemed Yassine was intent on making up some ground so he took off from Gary and I, while I tried to latch onto Yassine's stellar pace (and uplifting comments!).

It was not to be (for a while, that is), but I was able to pull away from Gary slightly on some of the flats/downs through this beautiful section. Running solo proved to be mentally refreshing for a bit as I was able to chill-out and take in the scenery. Although, as the trail started to undulate some more, I saw a guy up ahead moving decently well still.

Turned out to be Brian Tinder - who I had never met previously - and as both Yassine and Gary had been for me earlier, Brian proved to be a well-suited running partner as we neared the next aid. Brian was in good spirits, and like me, just soaking in the day and trying to run as smoothly as possible. We chatted quite a bit and I did my best to reassure him that we were moving at a smart pace and to stay relaxed and efficient.

I should mention that before I left Gary, he yelled ahead to me to get to the next aid (Wulfow, mi 16) in 2hrs12min to maintain that sub-7 effort. Sure enough, Brian and I came through in 2:09 and it pumped me up that I had been consistently right where I needed to be.  With the elation of such news, the flowy flatness of the trail and throwing down a Gu Roctaine, I felt SUPS' AWES'!

The next aid (Madrone, mi 18.8) was a mere 2mi hop down the trail and soon enough, I came through in 2:25 with the perfect view of Hal-Daddy up the climb ahead. From Madrone, we ran ~1/2mi up this SUPS' steep gravelly road and while I was huffin' up this baby, catching up to Hal was motivation to keep pushin'.

Hal was walking and I asked if he was ok? "Yeah man, I'll be ok. Foot problem." At that moment, I wished that I had some Lithia Water because I've heard, "It can cure a lot of things. This may cure my foot, actually!"

Atop the climb, we regained the trail to the right and it was a pretty sweet, rolling descent down toward the lake. I was solo again and curious who was ahead and by how far? After a weave in/out by the lake, I hit the beastly 800' climb that would take us up to the 25mi turnaround point. As had been my burden to bear all day, the steepness of this climb simply left me feeling like ground (DECAF) espresso beans. I BGD'd MYSELF! (Is that possible?). Therefore, again, I had to keep it simple. Use the butt, pelvis, and arms to get up this thing.

So I pumped away and soon enough, Max King comes flyin' downhill past me. And then, not ten seconds later, Cameron Clayton was in hot pursuit. Wow, what a race! Where's Sage Canaday? I wondered as I knew he was one of the other pre-race favorites. 5min later, He comes flyin' by, closely followed by Chris Vargo.

Then, a few minutes after that, to my surprise, Jorge Maravilla is pounding down the trail, too, in 5th place! I was stoked to see my amigo doing so well and knew that if I only saw the top 5 already heading back, there had to be a slew of guys within minutes ahead.

Not only was I looking forward to the turnaround in order to make the drive to the finish, but Sara would be there waiting. I was eager to see my baby's momma and after some encouragement from Chris Perillo, I shot into the 25mi aid at No-Name Flat in 3:15. Sara was a champ in handing me a new bottle and shoving gels into my pockets (WS crew chief right there!) and got me out of there within 30 seconds.

Coming into the turnaround. There's my wife (and 11 week old baby!) Photo: Willy Onate

Alright, moment of truth. Time to get it done. I climbed back out of the aid and was comforted to not see anyone coming in. Chris, again, provided some positive encouragement and I tried my best to work the descent back and get to Madrone again in one piece. The downs continued to feel good and thankfully, once at the bottom of the climb and back onto more flat-ish stuff, I saw Yassine again! Sweet!

I tried to muscle my way over the terrain and over to Yassine, but then everything came to a screeching halt. CRAMPS! Ouch. I began cramping in my inner right thigh. I've never cramped there before and I stopped as the seizing was pretty painful. I was probably stopped for a good minute (thank you to everyone who came by me and was positive) and again, went into problem-solve mode. What do I need to do to keep moving? It then hit me: I've been sweating a great deal today and have only taken 2 S Caps. Therefore, I swallowed 2 in haste and sure enough, the cramps disappeared. Thank you God!

Pretty sure I was cramping here. Photo: Gary Wang

While the cramps disappeared, a few still remained mentally. Having never, ever experienced cramps like that in a race before (I've been fortunate in my ultrarunning career to have only had minor blips that have lasted very briefly, yet weren't stride-inhibiting) I was worried that they'd come back. In retrospect, those cramps were probably the best thing that could've happened to me. Why? Knowing that cramps are part salt/electrolyte deficiency and part muscular fatigue-related, I touched up my stride some to make sure that I was as efficient as possible over the varying terrain. Any wasteful muscular energy at this point would be no bueno, therefore, I had to be almost perfect in my mechanics in order to have the best finish possible.

This seemed to work pretty well and for the remainder of the race, I let the cramps be the spokesperson on whether I needed salt again (it worked REALLY well!). As I made it through that rough patch (probably cost me ~4min overall with the stop and the super slow pace I adopted for a good 1/2mi as I was working out the mental cramps), I made it up to the gravelly road again and this time, enjoyed a nice, relaxing descent down to Madrone (mi 30.9).

As I neared the aid, I saw that familiar Salomon racing outfit just pulling in. It's Greg Vollet! That provided some encouragement that even though I was working through some low points, I was still catching people. Greg got out of the aid just before me (4:01), but a few strides along the single-track and I pulled up right behind him. We chatted for a little bit. He seemed to be hurting a good deal and I tried in earnest to encourage him the best I could.

He let me go and I pulled into Wulfow (~mi 33, 4:19), refilled quickly and got back to work. Looking back, this is where I really started to gain momentum. The trail was super fast, rolling, with many stretches of flat running, and I ate it up.

Cruisin' the bomb single-track that surrounds Lake Sonoma. Photo: Keli Kelemen

As my confidence grew, I knew that with how fast everyone went out, I should be catching people soon. Sure enough, just ahead up a small climb, I saw 2 people! One looked like Erik Skaggs, but the other made it over the hill before I could get a familiar glimpse. 1/4mi later and I started chatting with Erik. From what I could tell, his racing day was over and it was a matter of just getting to the finish. He was rockin' the NB 1400's while I was wearing the NB 890v2's. "How are the 1400's holding up?" I asked. "Pretty good, I wish I would've worn the 890's though!"

We laughed and I took off in pursuit of whoever was just ahead. After one of the 4 shin-deep creek crossings, I finally saw who it was.....Yassine! This raised the stoke-mometer a few degrees and right before the Warm Springs aid (mi 38.2), a spectator yelled out, "He's only 35 seconds ahead!"

As I dropped into the aid from above (5:05), I saw Yassine just leaving, but to my surprise, there was Rickey Gates still in the aid! Therefore, I yelled out, "Dude, Rickey, this is like '11 North Face 50 all over again!" (We had run a little bit together around the same mileage point that year). I bolted from the aid and prompted him to tag along. He seemed to be in "just finish" mode, which I respected, so I took off to see if I could catch Yassine.

After another creek crossing, I finally started to close the gap as I stuck to my simple plan: Efficient on the ups, push the flats, maintain on the downs. Soon enough, Yassine yelled some positive words to me and it was here that we fell into a really sustainable tandem. Like we had done before, we both knew that helping one another would help our respective races individually.

I'll be honest, though, I'm a fierce competitor and I tried my best to pull away from Yassine, but he continued to stay right on my tail. We both tried to keep the mood light as the temps started to rise (but it never felt that warm) and this stretch was probably the toughest mentally as there was a 7+mi stretch with no aid. Therefore, I gave myself 1hr-1:05 and every 10min, would look down at my watch and mentally reassure myself that I only had :xx amount of time left until the last aid station.

Trying to *stay forward* and remain efficient. Photo: ?

Probably 3mi's out from Island View (mi 45.5), Yassine mentioned that Tim Olson was only a few minutes ahead. This came as a surprise to me as I wasn't expecting to come upon Tim at all. Therefore, I kept to my plan and the cramps stayed at bay and I was able to move really well through here.

Sure enough, I saw Tim just up ahead and yelled some good words toward him. He told me that his knee was buggin' him and he was just gonna protect it the best he could. I wished him well, and not a 1/2mi later, there was someone else! Josh Brimhall was walking up a switchback climb and I tip-toed my way toward him as Yassine started to majorly deal with cramps here and fell back some.

I caught Josh and figured that I was now probably in 11th place. So in the last 15 or so miles, I had moved from 17th - 11th. Top 10 sounded really appealing at this point and I tried in earnest to keep the foot on the pedal without overdoing it.

The last :10-:15 before I reached Island View I ran out of water, but actually felt fine as I've been doing the majority of my training without fluids. In fact, on 70+ degree days, I've run 2 hours or more without feeling thirsty. I think without a doubt it has helped me mentally having been training with minimal intake.

I reached the turnoff down to Island View Aid (mi 45.5) and a 1/4mi later I was chugging Coke, drank half a bottle, and refilled my bottle and was off. I then saw Josh and Yassine just before I popped back out on the service road and estimated that I had roughly 4min on them.  However, it was a downer that I didn't see 10th place coming out of Island View before I had entered. Had I, I might have made it interesting for whoever the old chap was :)

Nevertheless, having just seen the guys again, this gave me some good adrenaline and I tried my best to push over the rollers to the turnoff which would signal 2.5mi's to go. I wound around the lake, literally counting every minute and estimating what my time would be. I really wanted to be done, but I really wanted to finish well, too.

I eventually made it to the turnoff and thought, OK, it's time to GO! I pushed the pace and dug deep, however, my left calf had thoughts otherwise. CRAMP! Dangit. I backed off the pace, threw down another S Cap and gel and chilled out for a bit to make sure it was ok. Looking back, that cramp was a real drag because I wanted to push as hard as I could, but at the same time, didn't want to risk tying up so close to the finish. So I played it safe and just tried to move swiftly over the rollers.

Eventually,  I hit the 1mi to go sign (such a nice touch Tropical John!) and thought, might as well time my last mile. So I picked it up some and was relieved that my calf cramp wasn't rearing its ugly head.  After seeing the bridge, I crossed the pavement intersection, and "kicked it" into the finishing chute in a time of 6:57:38 which was good enough for 11th place (8:08 last mile).....4min behind 10th place finisher, Lord Nick Clark of Canterbury :)
A much-appreciated congratulatory hand-shake from RD Tropical John Medinger. Photo: Mom

Phew. What a day. Photo: Mom

"So do you want to run tomorrow?" "Sure, I'm down." (We did....11.4mi's) Photo: Mom
"Dark Chocolate" is key for post-race recovery. Mi amigo. Photo: Mom

It's always nice to sit down post-race. Photo: Mom

The three of us. So glad many got to meet this woman last weekend. Photo: Mom

Full Results

Full Splits

Shorts - 3" NB split short (modified w/ pockets)
Shirt - NB Momentum Short Sleeve (Cut sleeves off)
Socks - Injinji Trail 2.0's (Green)
             EX-Celerator Compression Socks post-race (Black)
Head - Injinji Buff (Soooo Sweet!)
Shoes - New Balance 890v2's (Orange/Black/Grey) - 250mi's on this pair heading in

Calories - ~2,100 (1 gel/:20, 5oz Coke/hr in the last 3hrs)
Water - ~30oz/hr
Salt - 8-9 S Caps


Already, I'm thinking about coming back next year. Thank you Tropical John (and volunteers) for putting on such a high-quality event. Every aspect of this race was dialed. Impressive.

How do I feel about my performance at LS50? Overall, very satisfied. Being a slight perfectionist, I know I could've done better, but I ran sub-7, *almost* top-10, finished strong, and had a strong 2nd half of the race. I did what I needed to do. The focus is WS.

Also, very proud of Joe Uhan and his performance. As most know, he and I have grown to be very good friends and I was so thrilled for him that he absolutely killed it at Sonoma. Watch out. Joe will be a legitimate threat to the top 5 at WS. Proud of you, Joe!

New Balance Roseville continually provides what I need to do what I love. It's been 2.5 years partnering with them and it continues to get better. Thank you Chris Ross and team at NBR.

5th race in a row with no blisters. Continually impressed with the Team at Injinji. Not only do they care about providing the best product for their customers, but they value relationships with their athletes and go above and beyond to meet their needs. Humbled by their support.

What's next? A nice recovery week this week followed by an intense 7-8 weeks laying the finishing touches on my Western States preparation. Very encouraged by what went down at Sonoma. I didn't kill myself out there; ran smart, within myself, and efficient; and am hungry for the big dance and to really lay it all out there.

Thank you friends, family, and loved ones for your support. Above all, I thank God for this gift to enjoy. His love is overwhelming and is shown in so many subtle ways. Sometimes I don't feel worthy to be his child, knowing who I am and what I've done in the past, but then I see what he did on the cross, and am humbled and reminded that his love is unconditional, real, and radical.