Chasing the sun since 2010

Chasing the sun since 2010
Chasing the sun since 2010

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Jbob's Western States 100 mile Endurance Run - June 28, 2014

"Everybody hurts...sometimes." ~ R.E.M.


Photo used by Ultralive.net
MINDSET

I got this. There's so much to say about this race. For one thing, it's one of the most revered 100 mile races in the world, and I was fortunate enough to be selected via lottery to run it. A week before the race, I was starting to get anxious, but I wasn't nervous. My training was as good as it could have been, and I was confident that I could attain my goal of 19 hours...so long as nothing went horribly wrong during the race (i.e. sprained ankle, epic chafing, cougar attacks (animal and/or human), stomach issues, explosive diarrhea, etc). Leading up to the race, I was sleeping like a baby knowing that I was as prepared as I wanted to be.


Wearing cheetah shorts IS my heat training.
CREW

My family! Both my parents and two sisters traveled from the Bay Area and Portland to crew me. They decorated the car, had custom t-shirts and hats made, and brought the nice camera to take pictures with. I'm blessed to have such a loving family to come and support me, and I Love them dearly for it.


Portland Sister, Dad, California Sister, and Mum!
PACER

The "kid" from Corvallis, Andrew Miller. He's a stud, and he's won most of the races that he's ran this year including the Waldo 100k. Though he's only 18, he was 3rd place at the Pine to Palm 100 miler last year. With his speed, 100 mile experience, and positive attitude, I was stoked to have him pace me for the last 40 miles of Western States.


Andrew, on his way to winning the Orcas Island 50k.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
GEAR
  • Shoes: Saucony Peregrine 4
  • Water Source: double fisting 26oz bottles
  • Hat: Trail Butter Trucker Hat
  • Headlamp: Petzl Myo RXP (this headlamp spent 20 seconds drowning in the Rucky Chucky River, and still worked afterwards)
  • Shirt: Animal Athletics Patagonia Capilene 1
  • Socks: Drymax socks (the Peterson Ridge Rumble finisher's prize)
  • Bandana: White with a sewn pocket for ice to be inserted
  • Arm Sleeves: Mountain Hardware
  • Nipple Tape: Sexy Rock Tape
  • Lube: None

THE COURSE

The course starts in Squaw Valley, CA (near Lake Tahoe) and ends in Auburn, CA (near Sacramento). After going through the high country, much of the the trail goes in and out of the American River Canyons.

Western States Race Profile.
Read from RIGHT to LEFT.
RACE MORNING

The start at Squaw Valley was cold at 4:45 am, but it was tolerable in shorts and a t-shirt. As I joined the rest of the nervous runners at the start, I greeted as many friends that I could. It was easy to tell which of my friends were too nervous to sleep the night before. As the clock counted down, Gordy gave some last words of encouragement, challenging female elites like Pam Smith to beat every runner but one (as Ann Trason did in 1994). Then the gun went off.

Photo by Brooks Leman.
RACE BEGINS - 5:00 AM

Hundreds of journeys (not the band) led to this moment. Photo by Brooks Leman.
There were so many friends and family lined up to cheer on the runners as we all started running up the mountain, it was impossible to tell which yelling faces belonged to my family. Onward and upward! Soon enough, the running turned to hiking, and I mimicked almost every step of Monkey Boy and AJW, two smart runners who know this course inside and out (this was AJW's 10th Western States). When they ran, I ran. When they hiked, I hiked. It definitely helped restrain my tapered legs from chasing runners who I wanted to beat...Run smart, be efficient, and have patience...it's 100 f***ing miles, not 20. After committing to the idea of allowing runners to outrun me for the first 50 miles, I settled in and focused on controlling my breathing and heart rate.

The runners stampede up the mountain,
as my Sister and Mum watch.
Photo by Brooks Leman
The legs felt heavy, but I attributed that to the altitude (9,000'). The first 3 miles were fairly gradual on an uphill cat track, followed by some single track through a field of wildflowers as the sun was rising. It was ├╝ber pretty, and I was filled with gratefulness.
Photo by Luis Escobar.
The high country trail was very single track, crossing little runoff streams and rolling mostly downward. The AJW and Monkey Boy party train was at least 10 runners strong, without much chatter. The  people who were talking the most were Stephanie Howe and Nikki Kimball, and they were chatting up a storm! The group started spreading out after the Lions Ridge aid station (mile 10), and that's when Stephanie made her move. As she bounded down the trail in front of me, I politely yelled at her to keep the dust down. She laughed, I think. That was the last I saw of her, and Stephanie would eventually finish first place woman.

The high country was filled with big leafed plants that were definitely not poison oak. Knowing that the inevitable would happen soon, I grabbed a handful of leaves and shoved them in my shorts for future use as toilet paper. Seriously, those leaves were the Charmin of the forest! The Red Star Ridge aid station volunteers laughed at my ingenuity after they saw the ration of leaves poking out of my shorts. The leaves were put to good use around mile 22.

Running with the likes of Pam Smith (she won Western States last year), I felt like I was finally in a rhythm. I did my best to keep Pam in sight, knowing that she was a smart runner and probably trying to win the race. As we climbed out of Duncan Canyon towards Robinson Flat, I saw the first carnage of the day. James Bonnett, aka fast motherfucker, was walking slowly with a hamstring issue. I wished him well as I pressed on to Robinson Flat.


ROBINSON FLAT - MILE 29.7 - 43rd Place Overall


It felt amazing to see my family and Andrew at the aid station, and it gave me a huge emotional boost. My legs felt like they just ran 30 miles (go figure), and my family helped me replenish my pockets with GU, replaced my ice bandana, and handed me my precious Coconut Water. I left the aid station full of food, water, and life.


Robinson Flat. Photo by Brooks Leman.
Shortly after Robinson flat, the trail begins a loooong gradual 15 mile downhill to the swinging bridge. Yay, lots of downhill running! Wait a minute, why do I feel like throwing up? Feeling a disturbance in my gut, I stopped for a brief second to take a deep breath. Using my superior problem solving skills, I realized that I had broken one of the golden rules of 100-mile races:

"Don't do anything different on race day that you aren't used to doing!"


Having consumed an S-cap (salt pill) at the previous two consecutive aid stations, my stomach was like "WTF?". S-caps contain a ton of sodium, and I wasn't sweating nearly enough salt to warrant taking the supplement. Also, I never use S-caps during training or in races, probably because I don't sweat that much (thank you, Pacific Northwest weather). So of course, popping salt pills made me feel bloated in the gut and nauseous, therefore causing me great discomfort. Of course I eventually recovered, but I went through at least 1 hour of discomfort, as seen in this photo by Glenn Tachiyama.


Feeling Terrible. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama before Dusty Corners.
After Dusty Corners, the trail leveled off for a while before dropping down towards Swinging Bridge. On the way down (at about mile 40), I noticed a sharp pain in both knees isolated directly beneath the knee cap. Perhaps my form was a a bit off, or maybe my glutes weren't absorbing the downhill impact like they should, but my knees were hurting on all steep downhill grades. Crap! Downhills are my favorite! Why is this happening? Is it getting aggravated or staying the same? Will this cause me to drop out of the race? Lots of thoughts were going through my head. I tried braking less on the downhills, but the pain was mostly inevitable. The good thing was, the uphills and flats didn't hurt. So after soaking in the river crossing below Swinging Bridge, I knew I had 2 more excruciating canyon downhills and 3 more climbs before arriving at Foresthill (mile 62) where the trail becomes more gradual. Come on knees, get to Foresthill!

After passing an uncharacteristically slow Emily Harrison, I feared that her day was over. I resolved then to get to the finish line, even if my knees forced me to walk. Come on body, don't blow up.

Just beyond the Swinging Bridge creek crossing (mile 44), is a climb called Devil's Thumb that leads out of the canyon. There's something like 37 switchbacks before reaching the top, and so I started counting the switchbacks one by one...then I lost count...then I just kind of fell into a groove. The climb up Devil's Thumb wasn't terribly steep (by Columbia River Gorge standards), and I was able to catch several people on the climb. After arriving at the top, I was weighed, sweet talked by Ma Boggess, encouraged by Denise (saying I was in 41st place), sponged by volunteers, hugged by Trail Butter Jeff, and got my bandana iced by good friend Joe Uhan. After getting stoked on their positive energy, I was feeling more optimistic about my race. Just 2 more canyon descents...


Mortally wounded in vain.
Running downhill strong, but not terribly fast because of my knees, the temperature was getting noticeably hotter as I dove deeper into the canyon. Poison oak was becoming a constant border for the trail, and I was being careful not to OOF!...ouch...system check...bottles still in hand, legs fine...what did I land on, rebar? Shit, stupid stick. Not knowing what I tripped on, I face planted into a poison oak bush near the edge of the trail, nearly impaling my shoulder on a stick that was sticking out of the ground. With my arms, shoulder, bottles (and consequently my mouth) draped in poison oak, I was going to find out soon how allergic I was. Lucky me, I'm apparently not allergic. Smiley face.

MILE 50 - HALFWAY


At the bottom of the canyon was the El Dorado Creek aid station. It wasn't so hot that I needed to jump into the creek, but I decided to anyways. It took some scrambling to get down to the water's edge, and I was happy to be feeling so limber at the 50 mile mark of the race. After getting pleasantly soaked from a refreshing submersion, I left the aid station wet, refreshed, and ready to hike hard to get to Michigan Bluff (3 miles away). AJW had passed me at the aid station, but I was able to hike past him and a few others on the uphill. My climbing legs still felt great, and hiking was easy. Just before Michigan Bluff, I began feeling the energy of the aid station and started running towards the noise.


AID STATION #10 - MICHIGAN BLUFF - MILE 53-ish - 40th Place Overall

Coconut water, new GUs, knee straps for my knees, a sunscreen rub down from my family and Todd Janssen, a first and last sip of Perpetuem, lots of water melon, and off I go.


Flamingos. Were. Everywhere.
Photo by Brooks Leman.
My first and last sip of Perpetuem. Bleh. Photo by Brooks Leman.
My face leaving the Aid Station was that of an internal systems check for my knees, gauging the usefulness of the knee straps. There was only one more steep downhill left before reaching Foresthill, so hopefully this would be the last of the excruciating descents. I ran as much as I could, but the steepness definitely slowed me down in places. Frustration ensued, because I LOVE running technical downhill...but I was almost walking downhill at this point.

More carnage. The Pixie Ninja (Kaci Lickteig) stepped aside to let me, AJW, and one other pass by. She was struggling with hip flexor issues, I think.

At the bottom of the descent was a stream just big enough to soak in. I'm starting to really enjoy these streams! Finally beginning the ascent, I unambitiously hiked behind AJW until we reached Bath Road, where my pacer Andrew was waiting for me. This moment was my turning point, and I enthusiastically ran most of the uphill portion of the road without feeling any fatigue. Perhaps my slowness in the canyons was a blessing in disguise, for my legs still felt fresh as I was was approaching mile 62.

AID STATION #13-ish - FORESTHILL - MILE 62 - 38th Place Overall


Photo by Brooks Leman.
Foresthill was packed with crews and pacers awaiting their runners, and the energy was incredibly uplifting. My family was perfectly addressing my needs, and the aid station volunteers were very professional. 

Family: "Hey Jason, do you need a sponge bath?"
Me: "Depends on who's doing it...*sees two cute volunteers holding sponges*...YES!"

After getting my neck rubbed down, I collected by replenished bottles from my family and began tearing down Foresthill Road towards Cal Street with Andrew.


Stride for stride, picking up the pace for the final 38 miles. Photo by Brooks Leman.
As we ran, I gave Andrew the rundown of my first 62 miles and how my legs were feeling. He took the lead and we scampered down the trail at a solid pace. AJW suddenly flew by us with his pacer, Bryon Powell. There's a man who knows when to kick it in gear. Before long, AJW was out of sight, out of mind. But slowly, Andrew and I began passing other runners one by one. We flew by Nick Clark (paced by Jacob Rydman) who looked absolutely blown up. We gave him some encouragement as we passed by.

Pretty soon, we caught up to Adam Hewey (and pacer), who I'd been leapfrogging with all day. We were running the same pace, and I wasn't too keen on passing him just yet. Knowing that he walked after every aid station in order to help digest his food, we decided to make our move at Cal 3 aid station.  By calculating ahead of time what I needed (watermelon and some electrolyte beverage), we were able to make a quick aid station transition and ran past Adam on the downhill thereafter. We also passed AJW as he was yakking on the side of the trail, which is only fair, since earlier he passed me while I was taking a shit in front of him.

Heads down, we pushed hard to put space between me and Adam, and we consequently caught a couple more runners as we made our way to the Rucky Chucky River Crossing. In 2013, I was hanging out at this aid station where I witnessed Jeremy Humphrey getting pulled from the race by the medical staff because he had a head rush and blacked out for a second. I was feeling fine, but I made sure that I was hydrated and fueled enough so that my body would at least appear functional when I arrived at the aid station.

AID STATION #17 - RUCKY CHUCKY RIVER CROSSING (near) - MILE 78 - 32nd Place Overall

"Hold me closer, Joe! Seriously, I need to get a rock out of my shoe, hold on to me for a sec."
My family, pacer, and Joe Uhan at the Rucky Chucky (near) Aid Station.
Photo by Brooks Leman
Moments before my headlamp fell in the water.
Photo by Facchino Photography.
Andrew, holding my headlamp. Photo by Facchino Photography.
HIGH FIVE! Photo by Facchino Photography.
After crossing the river, Andrew and I hiked for a little ways while our balls recovered from the cold river crossing. Then we began run/hiking up the gradual climb to Green Gate, focusing on putting more space between me and Adam. Little did we know we were untouchable.

Reaching the Green Gate aid station (ironically, the gate wasn't green), the trail leveled off, and I jumped in front of Andrew. The sun was fast approaching sunset, and the temperatures were dropping lower and lower. Maybe it was the refreshing river crossing, or the dusk air, but my legs felt phenomenal. My legs had very little fatigue, and there were no signs of imminent cramping. We were flying, and we were both surprised by how fast we were moving.

One by one, we were catching runners. As soon as our headlamps came on, it became easier to hunt the runners ahead of us. At times, we turned our headlamps off so we could sneak up on runners before blowing by them at a demoralizing pace. I never thought I could have so much fun 80 miles into a 100 mile race. Unfortunately, one of the runners we passed was our friend Pam Smith and her pacer Dennis. She was having quad issues, and her pursuit of a repeat championship was now yesterday's dream. As with everyone we passed, we gave them words of encouragement.

AID STATION #22 - HIGHWAY 49 CROSSING - MILE 93.5 - 28th Place Overall


Blazing through the Highway 49 Aid Station.
Photo by Brooks Leman.
After a quick transition, we ran out the aid station like blood thirsty cheetahs. We could smell the barn, and we were going to catch as many people as possible between Highway 49 and the finish line. My stomach was full of Coconut Water, potatoes, salt, and watermelon. As we climbed out of the aid station, I tried burping...unsuccessfully. On my third attempt, I threw up everything in my stomach. When I was done, we hiked, then we ran. I soon ingested a GU to see if my stomach was still upset, but thankfully the GU stayed down. Everything still felt good, so we continued to push. Hmm...perhaps the coconut water and salt didn't agree with one another. Doesn't matter now. Carry on, my wayward son!

Hammering down to "No Hands Bridge", we passed Jorge Maravilla, Mauclair Nathalie, and Yoshikazu Hara. As we crossed the bridge, I made Andrew look behind us to see if anybody posed a threat. To my delight, he wasn't worried. We ran everything until the final steep climb to Robie Point. With a mile left, we received word that the next runner was 2 minutes ahead. We turned off our headlamps (stealth mode) and climbed the road in the dark, surprising several of the neighbors as they sat and cheered for us. The last thing I said to Andrew as we neared the finish line at Placer High School track: "Thanks man. Let my family know that I may throw up." I then ran hard around the track and sprinted through the finishers shoot. The entire race, I never knew what time of day it was, or any of my splits until I saw the clock at the finish line. It was a nice surprise.

RESULTS: 18:36:51 - 24th overall out of 296 finishers - 22nd male
PACE: ~11:08 min/mile


Photo by Brooks Leman.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
Hugging Andrew. Thanks Seven Hills Running Shop for featuring this photo on your wall.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama. 
Hugging Siiri. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
My crew. Teresa, Mum, Andrew, Brooks, me, and Christine.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
Elated. Proud. Grateful. Stiff. Hungry. Nauseous. Happy. That race was an crazy awesome experience, and I felt unbelievably incredible the last 40 miles of the race. I finished almost wishing I had 5 more miles to catch more runners, I was having that much fun. Luckily, my knees didn't slow me down for the last 40 miles. I'm not sure why they were hurting so bad in the canyons, but perhaps it was due to some slight overtraining.

RECEIVING THE SUB-24 HOUR SILVER BUCKLE


The Silver Buckle with the Western States Cougar.

SPECIAL THANKS

Craig Thornley & Co, and Volunteers. Never have I run a race with more energy, hype, and prestige. This truly is the Boston Marathon of ultramarathons, and I had a blast running this race. Thank you Craig Thornley (RD), Western States Board members, Aid Station Captains, Volunteers, and those who did trail work and helped remedy the damage done by last summer's fire. The organization of this race was exceptional and professional. Thank you for the experience of a lifetime.

My Family. Thank you for traveling to support me in my 100-mile endeavor. It was a blast having you all around, and you were a huge help to me throughout the race. I couldn't have asked for a better crew. I Love you all unconditionally.

Andrew. Andrew, you were the perfect pacer. You were always positive, encouraging, and fun to run with. Thanks for the journey, you got me running faster than I thought possible at the end of a 100-miler.

My Friends. Thank you to those of you who followed my progress throughout the race. I felt your energy every time you hit the refresh button. 

Seven Hills Running Shop of Seattle. I bought my Saucony Peregrines at your store! And thanks for making sure my pacer had a shirt to wear.

Trail Butter. Thanks for the pre-race fuel that kept me running all day long.

Animal Athletics & Ultra U.  Thank you for the encouragement and support throughout the past year. You guys are awesome!

Float Shoppe. Floating has become essential in helping me recover and relieve the stresses of training for a 100-mile race. I can't say enough about the benefits I've been feeling by continually floating between races and long runs.

Dr. Brad Farra, Sports Chiropractor. Thank you for helping me stay strong and injury-free throughout my training. My life would suck without you.

24-Hour Fitness. All those awkward Sauna conversations paid off and helped prepare me for running hot weather. Also, now I know that lathering my body in Honey while in a sauna will make my skin look sexy and amazing. I learned that from a dude.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This race has opened up a whole new can of confidence for me at the 100-mile distance. As I continue to improve through the years, I hope one day I'll be able to compete with the elites when they're having a good day. I'm getting closer...

Though this race now has a special place in my heart, I will not be applying for the 2015 lottery. Instead I'll be chasing other things on my "To Do" list.


Much Love,

Jbob

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jbob's Volcanic 50k Race Report - Mt. St. Helens - September 6, 2014

Holy shit, this thing is still active?!


The race runs entirely on the Loowit Trail,
plus the trail connecting it to Marble Mountain Snow Park. 
First things first, this race runs like a 50 miler, despite that fact that it's only 32+ miles. The terrain is breathtaking, leaving you breathless by its beauty and breathing hard by its ruggedness. The trail is a complete variety of everything, and I'll try to break it down in my report below. But here's a short video of the course if you'd rather not read: Course Preview



The forecast for the nearby town of Cougar, WA was 95 degrees, which is kind of hot. Despite the heat, I still felt like I could break the 6 hour mark for the course (my 2012 course record was 6:03:54, and the 2013 course record was 6:01:19 by friend/teammate/competitor Jacob Puzey). Having ran around the mountain on 4 different occasions, I knew the course well enough to know exactly what I had to do to break the course record. Nobody was going to push me to run faster or slower than I wanted to, I had a plan and I was going to stick with it. It was just a matter if my legs would stay cramp-free for the final push.

Goal #1: Break the course record
Goal #2: Win
Goal #3: Don't break anything below the belt

7:00 AM START

An uphill climb is never an easy way to start a race. Matt Palilla, Taylor Spike, several others, and myself ran a steady pace for the 2.25 mile climb to the Loowit trail. Taylor jumped in front briefly, but I re-attained the lead when he missed the turn onto the Loowit (easy to do). It didn't matter, we all ran and hiked together and made good company. Plus, the scenery was stunning.

Photo I took in 2012. This is about mile 3, looking towards Mt. Adams
As the trail leveled out, I let my stride go a little bit to run a good pace before getting to the field of lava rocks. For anyone wanting to know what it's like to navigate through the lava rocks, imagine Indiana Jones spelling "Jahovah" in Latin with his feet. You need to pick your footing well, otherwise you could seriously twist your ankle or fall into an endless abyss (not really, but you get the idea).

The beginning of the lava rocks, about mile 4. Photo by Paul Nelson.
The beginning of the lava rocks, about mile 4. Photo by Paul Nelson.
Photo I took in 2012.
There ended up being 5 of us who were navigating the rocks together. The previous weekend, I went for a training run through this section of the course, so the memory was pretty fresh for me. Otherwise, it would have been very easy to make a wrong turn or to take an unnecessarily hard route to find the cairns or wooden posts. We made great time and didn't really make any wrong turns, except for that one time. After traversing two different fields of lava rocks and doing some technical dancing, our group of 5 runners arrived at Aid Station #1.

AID STATION #1 - Mile 6.32 - 1 hour 15 minutes Elapsed

After a quick water top off from sweethearts Anne Crispino-Taylor and TJ Ford (and company), we all jetted. The trail turned fun and twisty, going in and out of the mountain's many little valleys. We then came to a long downhill section, and I let it go like an ice princess. Hoping to make great time on the downhills, I hammered down the trail and pulled away from the guys behind me. After reaching the bottom and crossing a steep rocky river channel (completely dry), I expected the guys to catch up with me shortly thereafter on the climb. However, my hiking and sporadic running kept me steady enough to stay ahead, and when I arrived at the long descent to the Toutle River, I ran hard through the shaded forest with determination to get to Aid Station #2 faster than my split from the 2012 race.

AID STATION #2 - Mile 12.2 - 2 hours 8 minutes Elapsed (7 minutes faster than my 2012 split)

Photo taken in 2012 of the steep
and rocky Toutle channel crossing.
Situated on the south side of the Toutle River crossing was Aid Station #2, where Brian Donnelly filled my bottles with water. Brian is the current speed record holder for the Oregon Section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and he finished the 2012 Volcanic 50k in 6:14 with a cracked rib that he attained at this very same river crossing. He's a tough mother f***er, and an extremely modest and kind human being. Thanks Brian, Sarah, and everybody else for the sendoff. I only spent about 30 seconds at the aid station, but it gave me a lot of energy.

Knowing the next 8 miles were going to be hot, exposed, technical, and slow...I had 3 important To Do items at Aid Station #2: Quench my thirst before I leave, get both my 26 oz water bottles completely full, and get baptized in the Toutle River from head to toe. Having run out of water on this section before, I committed to using my water bottles for ONLY drinking. Being hot and uncomfortable is much more bearable when you're not dying of thirst, so any dousing of the head and neck would have to come from random silty streams that were somewhat few and far between.

Photo taken in 2012,
the sandy climb out of the Toutle basin.
Climbing out of the Toutle felt solid and steady, running most of the trail until the open and sandy section which sucks to run in. Whilst hiking, I took a shot of Trail Butter and made sure my fuel consumption was adequate. Nearing the top of the climb, I saw my friends far below on the first open switchback and climbing strong. I kept looking over my shoulder for the next 2 miles before I switched my focus solely on the trail ahead.



Photo taken in 2012,
Old trees leveled by the blast
The North Side of the mountain is truly amazing. Old trees that were blown over during the eruption on 1980 were still lying down as petrified remnants of a past life. Two separate herds totaling 40+ elk were startled by my presence and galloped across the trail in front of me, so close that I had to stop to let them pass. The terrain soon changed from rolling hills to a flat lunar landscape, the remains of a 34 year old mountain landslide. Spirit Lake to the north was still full of floating trees that were blown away by the blast. And as if it were a mirage in a desert, a natural spring somehow appears with perfectly clean water bursting out of nearby rocks. At this spring lies Aid Station #3.

The blast zone, photo taken in 2013.

AID STATION #3 - Mile 20.25 - 3 hours 45 minutes Elapsed

Joe Kleffner (3rd place finisher in 2012), Bob Baker, and company were manning the aid station that literally takes hours to drive/hike to. There's no water in the world that tastes as good as the natural spring water that was bursting out of the ground, it's life giving shit. After some coke and a quick soak, off I ran...when all of a sudden I heard the sound of a helicopter.

Now, the RDs and the photographer were teasing the night before that a helicopter might show up to take photos of the racers, but I didn't think they were serious. Holy crap, I felt like I was running from the cops as they flew circles around me, with Paul hanging halfway out of the chopper with his 3' camera lens. It had to be one of the coolest race experiences I've ever had, getting chased by a chopper whilst running around an active volcano.

It's the cops!
Photo by Paul Nelson from the chopper.
Mile 21-ish. Photo by Paul Nelson from the chopper.
Terrain.
Photo by Paul Nelson from the chopper.
Running happy around Mile 21-ish. Photo by Paul Nelson from the chopper.
The climb up Windy Pass (the highest point in the course) has only a handful of switchbacks, and before long I was flying down the other side and through the flat Plains of Abraham. Soon, Aid Station #4 came into view at the Ape Canyon trail junction.

AID STATION #4 - MILE 24.3 - 4 hours 26 minutes Elapsed (9 minutes faster than my 2012 split) 

In 2012, it took me about 1 hour 30 minutes to get from this Aid Station to the finish on cramping legs. My legs were feeling great at the moment, so I felt like I had a decent shot at getting to the finish line significantly faster. With 8 crazy miles to go, I spent a good minute fueling up for the final push. There's no reason to hold back anything now.

Arriving at Aid Station #4.
Photo by Paul Nelson.
Photo by Paul Nelson.
As soon as I began running, my legs felt somewhat tired. There was some moderate climbing out of the aid station, and I couldn't push myself to run any of it. For the first time during the race, I freaked out. If I can't run hills, I'm screwed! Game over man! But after a short little downhill section, my legs began to recover on the downs enough to run most of the ups. My legs settled into a groove, and I was happy with how well I was moving in and out of the technical valleys and periodic forested trail. When I arrived at the final lava rock field, I kept looking at my watch. The rock field was a lot bigger than I remembered it being, and time was slipping away. Well, so much for breaking 5:45...can I still break 5:50?

Emerging from the field of lava rocks with 2.25 miles to go, I had 15 minutes to break 5:50. After some final frantic rock dodging and trail finding, I let loose a low 6-something pace on the rocky double-track trail. No matter what my legs were telling me, my mind was content to suffer with the goal in mind. It...was...the...longest...2....miles....ever...But at least it was downhill. When I finally saw the cars through the trees and heard the cowbells ringing, my watch said 5:49. Not knowing how many seconds I had left, I sprinted the final 100 meters and was beyond relieved to see the time clock with 23 seconds to spare!


RESULTS: 5:49:37 - 1st out of 192 Finishers
Pace: ~10:49 min/mile
New Course Record by 11 minutes and 42 seconds

Photos by Eric Lubell using Paul Nelson's camera.
Man hug from Moe Codino.
Photos by Eric Lubell using Paul Nelson's camera.
Proud, happy, and redeemed. My victory in 2012 never sat well with me, given that I took the lead because 3 of the front runners made a wrong turn. This time, I was able to raise the bar on my own terms with a time that I'm satisfied with. This record is by no means out of reach, and I expect someone to break it within the next couple years. But as soon as someone breaks it, I'll be back to try to reclaim it.

Kudos to the Race Directors. Go Beyond Racing did an amazing job organizing this race! This race is so incredibly unique, it has a lot of potential to become a true classic. Trevor, Renee, and Todd had to deal with challenging logistics for this race to be the success that is was, and I'm grateful for their tireless passion to allow people to run in such beautiful places. Check out the rest of their races, they're all great.

Volunteers. Thank you for spending your Labor Day as sherpas, transporting hundreds of pounds of water on your backs to the aid stations. Thank you for spending your Friday marking the course. Thank you for spending all day Saturday hiking food to each of the aid stations, and for making sure everyone stayed fueled, hydrated, and safe. Thank you for the cooking at the finish line, the food was phenomenal, and the Ketchup was the best I ever had (Red Duck Ketchup, check it out, it's delicious and made locally in Eugene). I've never known a 50k to demand so much from its volunteers, and this race definitely couldn't happen without you.

Paul Nelson Photography. Thank you Paul for your passion in capturing the moments that get us hella likes on Facebook. You've got a great eye, and you give us all something to take away from one of the hardest 50K races out there.

Paul Nelson, everyone.

TIPS

If this race will be your first time around Mt. St. Helens, here are some general tips:

  • Figure our how long you think your splits will be between aid stations, and multiply that time by 1.5. This course is technical and will slow you down more than you'd expect. The gaps between Aid #2 to Aid #3 and from Aid #4 to the Finish are especially long and slow.
  • If it's a hot day, there's a good chance you'll run out of water from Aid #2 to Aid #3 and from Aid #4 to the Finish. It's happened to me several times during training runs, and most the streams are too silty to drink without a filter. Be smart with your water.
  • You have a 62% chance of making at least 1 wrong turn, whether it be in the lava rock field, or some trail junction. The lay of the land makes it hard to distinguish between trail junctions, and they're easy to miss. So when the sun is beating down on you, you're low on water, and you're really tired, make sure you pay attention to the course markers AND the Loowit Trail signs. The front runners from the 2012 race had ran around Mt. St. Helens just weeks before the race, and they all made a wrong turn during the race that cost them at least 10-15 minutes. It happens to everybody.
  • Don't let this be your first ultra. Some people have done it, but it's not recommended.
  • Be kind to the volunteers, they put in days of work for you to run this race.
  • Start out conservative. This year's 3rd place finisher, Nick Kopp, told me before the race that he was going to just take it easy and take a bunch of pictures. Because he started out in 20th place and ran easy at the start of the race, he had enough energy late in the race to finish 3rd while feeling great. This year's 2nd place finisher, the legendary Will Emerson, ran a similarly smart race.
  • Wear sunscreen (and maybe some kind of hat), this race is incredibly exposed.
  • Enjoy the views! I've never run a more scenic race.

MY SUPPORT

This is a special shout out to those who have helped me to greatly improve my running throughout the year:

Trail Butter is a Portland based company, and it's been my pre-race food for the past 2 years. It's a slow-burning fuel comprised of a blend of almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts (and other ingredients), and it's so freakin' delicious. I never go on a long run without it, especially since it's about 700-800 calories per pouch.


They have been incredibly supportive of my running this year. They both offer ultrarunning coaching, fitness classes, and adventure runs. They currently offer monthly memberships for endless bootcamp classes, speed sessions, yoga, and discounts at Fit Right NW, Udo's Oil, and apparel. Check it out the PACK membership if you're interested.


Floating has been a huge benefit to my training and recovery. I've been floating before and after my races for the past 2 years, and it's become something that my body frequently craves. It offers my body a chance to de-stress and relax both physically and mentally, and there are other lots of other benefits. Check out their website for more information.


Since 2012, this man has helped me through injuries including plantar fasciitis, IT band issues, morton's neuroma, and plenty others. His philosophy of treatment is based on long term healing and injury prevention practices that not only help me become more knowledgable about my injuries, but also help me understand how to prevent those injuries in the future. I trust this man with my life, and he's been a large reason why I've been able to stay injury free all year.



FINAL WORDS
Why does Taylor Swift announce her new album MONTHS before it's released? I've had it pre-ordered for weeks now, and I still have to wait 1.5 months. WTF.



Thanks everyone!

Much Love,

Jbob