Sunday, June 27, 2010

Western States Triumph

After four years of trying to even get into the race, I finally had my chance to take it to the Sierra Nevada. I think a few of my fellow runners are intrigued by my "cool as a cucumber" .. Not nervous, anxious or excited approach to the race this past weekend. I was gladly just hanging out in Cali with my family and wonderful friends.

The excitement finally set in when I knew I finally had a finish within my grasp. Sarah ran with my that finally 1.3 miles down hill to Placer High, where I crossed the Western States 100 with a time of 28 hours and 29 minutes. I did it...

I did it!

The report will come in due time, but for now I am enjoying a week in Las Vegas. Stay tuned!

Grand Slam race number 1 = complete.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Race Preview: Western States 100

Grand Slam Race #1
Project 2010 Race #3
Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA
100.2 Miles
18,040' of climb : 21,970' of descent
June 26-27, 2010
---------------------------------------------
It's finally here.. my chance to run the oldest 100 mile race in the country. What a long painful road it has been to even have my chance to run in this race. And by painful I mean, emotionally painful. I first qualified for the race with my first 50 mile run at the Vermont 50 in 2006. I applied to the lottery and became a one time loser. The following year, I qualified, applied and lost the lottery again to become a two time loser. Because there were more two time losers then spots available on what would have been my 3rd and automatic year.. I went into another lottery, lost, and became a 3 time loser. Then, the race was cancelled because of forest fires in 2008, putting me into yet another lottery where my name was finally drawn to run this race in 2010.

Western States is the Boston Marathon of 100 mile races. It's the big dance, where it all began when Gordy Ainsleigh ran 100 miles in under 24 hours during the Tevas Cup horse race. He received a belt buckle, typically reserved for the horse-riders, and the tradition was created. I'm excited beyond words to head out West again, finally, to run amongst the Western Peaks. This time the Sierra Nevada, 100 miles from near Lake Tahoe to near Sacramento. I'll have to handle extreme temps from the 30's to over 100 degrees. Snow, dust and frigid rivers. Rattlesnakes, cougars, bears and a whole host of other dangerous wildlife all in my mission to run 100 miles on the Western States Trail.

Project 2010 - Race #3 - Goals:
1.) Finish
2.) Sub 30 Hours
3.) Sub 24 Hours

My bib # is 279

Sunday, June 20, 2010

WS100 Interview: David A. Snipes


Name:
David A. Snipes "Sniper"
Age: 42
Hometown: Mechanicsville, VA
Years Running Ultras: 8
100 Mile Finishes (& Names): 26 100 mile races and several 24 hour events over 100 miles. Massanutten Mountain Trail 7 times, Old Dominion 6 times, Burning River 2 times
Ultra-Achievements: East Coast Slam 2005, 3 100 mile races back to back to back weekends in 2007

SJ: Sniper, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about the upcoming Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.
DS: My pleasure Sherpa John, always good to talk with you.

SJ: David, you've been running ultra's since 2003 and since then you've run over 100 ultra's yet this will be your first Western States 100.. how does this make you feel?
DS: I was a 2 time loser in the lottery and then the fire year when it was cancelled. I was picked for 2011 in the TTL list and got lucky in the lottery this year, so this year will be a "recon" year on the course. I will learn it's secrets and really try alot harder next year.

SJ: So far this year you've competed in 9 events, one of those being your 7th straight Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, arguably the hardest 100 in the East; how have these events helped you prepare for Western States?
DS: It has definitely helped with the mental aspect of running a 100 mile race. Old Dominion was tough early on mentally and I recovered and got back into it and took care of business.

SJ: So what are you most looking forward to about Western States?
DS: The different trails and this will be the biggest field of runners in a 100 mile race for me, so there will be lots of time to meet new people.
SJ: What are your strengths heading into the race and what are your weaknesses?
DS: I would say my strengths are being able to bounce back from having issues mental or physical, and being able to motivate others along the trail and working as a team to get to the finish line. Using strategy is one of my strengths as well. My weaknesses are sometimes the mental demons sneek inside your head and make it tough but that's when I work harder to overcome it.

SJ: Coming from the East Coast sniper, what do you think are going to be your biggest challenges in California?
DS: I have never been above 6600 feet of elevation, but I don't think that is going to be an issue. The biggest thing for me is that I have never been on the the trail before. I have run so many races and know the courses well and help others and this course is alien to me.

SJ: You've also completed The Vermont 100 and The Old Dominion 100; two races that do (or have) comprised part of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning; how do you suspect your experiences at these races to compare to Western States?
DS: To me, those are more road races since there is a lot of the course that is gravel roads. I prefer trails and do better on predominant trail courses.

SJ: Will you be bringing a crew and/or pacer to WS? If yes, who?
DS: Yes to both. John Straub from Seattle, WAwill be my pacer, he and I
have run many races together and work well as a team. Neil Hiltz and his girlfriend will be my crew, this will be their first ultra experience so I'm hoping they will have a lot of fun.

SJ: What are your goals for the race? Do you have a time goal in mind?
DS: My goal is to finish. I would like to finish under 24 hours like everyone else, but also at the end of the race it's social hour. So I would like to finish the race and be able to sit around and talk with everyone else and cheer on the runners as they come in. The main goal is to treat it like any other 100 miler and not get caught up in the "hoopla" of the race.

SJ: What is it that has inspired you to run as many races as you have all these years?
DS: I like to push myself, it took me a couple of years to be able to run back to back weekend races and sometimes 2 races in one weekend. I really like the atmosphere of ultras and the people are really cool. I have almost completed 200 ultras and I have so many fond memories and stories from each one. I have met so many people while running an ultra. I still remember when you and I met at Massanutten in 2008. Good times.

SJ: What races would you like to run in the future?
DS: Badwater is on the radar, as are Hardrock and someday I would like to run the Last Great Race.

SJ: As someone who has been in the sport for 7 years, is the growth trend in the sport as big as people make it sound? How does the growth make you feel?
DS: I Think there has definitely been a spike in growth recently, but I have also noticed that more and more runners are going from a 50K to a 100 miler in a matter of a couple of races. I ran about 20 ultras before I ran my first 100 miler. Alot of these runners tend to be under prepared either mentally or physically and have trouble. That's when I usually help them out and get them to an aid station.

SJ: Sniper, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Good luck to you at Western States. I want to let folks know that they can follow your progress online at: http://ws100.com and your bib # is 412. Good luck!
DS: Thanks for talking with me. Good luck to you also. I look forward to towing the starting line with you and working our way to the finish line.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

WS100 Interview: Christian Griffith

Name: Christian Griffith
Age: 39
Hometown: Myrtle Beach, SC (now living in Atlanta)
Occupation: Internet Janitor
Years Running Ultras: 3.5
100 Mile Finishes (& Names): Superior Sawtooth 100, Pinhoti 100, Cascade Crest 100
Ultra-Achievements: My favorite ultra achievement (and most difficult) would have to be the Fuego Y Agua 100K in Nicaragua

SJ: Christian, thanks for taking the time to talk me about your upcoming run at the 2010 Western States 100. I'm certain you're excited about the event so we're excited to talk to you.
CG: Waz up Sherp?! - Of course I'm excited for Western States. To me, the WS100 is the Super Bowl of ultrarunning.

SJ: You've had a very interesting ultra-running career thus far Christian, can you tell us a little bit about how you even got into ultra running?
CG: I was 240-250 lbs (depending on the scale and the day) and living an unhealthy life as an unhappy workaholic. I think it was July 12, 2006, and I was on my way to the airport, headed on a business trip to Las Vegas. I stopped at Borders Books next to my office to find something to read on the plane. I picked up "Ultramarathon Man" by Dean Karnazes and read the back of it. I was intrigued, and bought the book for the long flight from Atlanta to Vegas. Dean's early prose in the book regarding how he had also become a workaholic and dissatisfied with what he had become really spoke to me. I read that entire book in 4.5 hours. All the stories of changing his life and focusing on the fun things and things that made him feel "real" again were very powerful for me. By the time I checked into the Venetian Hotel, I had made a personal commitment to start running ...and start training to become an ultrarunner. By November of that same year, I ran my first marathon (painfully slow), and completed my first ultra, the Black Warrior 50K, in February 2007.

SJ: Of all the races you've run so far, which was your favorite and why?
CG: I would have to say that Fuego Y Agua 100K on the Isle de Ometepe in Nicaragua was my all-time favorite thus far. Running in a foreign, third world country like that was just incredible. The terrain was the most challenging I've ever experienced and the course was just this crazy, technical, incredible tropical tour of the island. Scorpians, tarantulas, monkeys, volcanoes, cool people, chill locals, ...pigs, chickens, stray dogs just running around --- it was all very crazy, but very cool. Many of the runners particpated in helping the RD put on a local 5K for the kids the day after the race. This part of the race experience was something I will never, ever forget. If you want a race experience like no other, jump into the 2011 Fuego - I'll be there.

SJ: You've run a variety of events to date, how do you think your experiences at these events are going to help, or hamper, your efforts at Western States?
CG: I guess most importantly, I know and understand the drama and trauma that comes along with attempting 100-milers. I know I will hurt. I know I will suffer. I know I will want to quit over and over and over again - so, it's nice to at least know these things are coming. One area of concern for me is my feet, so its important I get a handle on this for Western States since its well-known for chewing up the kicks and eating runners for lunch.

SJ: Now you went to Tennessee this past spring and ran in a little event known as The Barkley, completing one loop there. Tell us a little bit about that experience, what it meant to you and how you think that has helped you prepare for Western States?
CG: The majority of The Barkley, as you know, is run "off-trail" and at incline/decline grades that are incredibly steep and technical. While Western States is actually run on a discernible trail, it also goes up-n-down pretty much the whole race, so having this Barkley experience was certainly helpful. I still believe that the best training I've participated in for Western States would be the many trail runs along the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.
SJ: So what about Western States are you most looking forward to?
CG: One might think "the finish", but not really. When I sit back and picture it in my head, I can't wait to be running through the Sierra's and thinking to myself, "wow man, I'm running Western States!"

SJ: What are your strengths heading into this event and what are your weaknesses?
CG: Strengths - I'm very strong and healthy right now (let's hope it stays this way). I had a bad day at the Keys 100 a month ago, May 15, and I have been spending time healing my body, swimming, and strength-training. It really would be almost impossible for me to gain much more running fitness in the six weeks between the Keys and Western States, so I've been focused on running fitness management coupled with improvement in overall recovery and mind/body strength. Weaknesses - I expect to show up to Western States at least 10 lbs heavier than I raced during the 2009 winter and 2010 spring. Also, it's most likely that I will be running solo, without any crew or handlers.

SJ: Western States is considered by many as the Boston Marathon of Ultra-Running.. do you agree with this sentiment and what are your thoughts on future entry procedures and the growth of the race?
CG: This is the first time I've ever tried to get in, so I'm ok with the how they handle entry into race; but even if I didn't get in, I wouldn't pass judgement on whether the RD (and other decision-makers) are handling entry correctly or not. Ultimately, it's their race and they can dictate the rules and entry procedures as they see fit. I'm just happy to get a shot this time around.

SJ: Are you bringing a crew or pacer to the event this year and if so.. who are they?
CG: I was hoping for my crew chief from Cascade Crest, Victor Zamudio, but he has some work obligations which may prevent his arrival to Squaw in time. I will have a great local runner, George McAllister who has agreed to pace me from Forest Hill, and for that I am grateful.

SJ: What are your goals/time goals for the race?
CG: Dream goal is a sub-24, but that will have to happen on its own. As a Western States first-timer, I'm simply pushing for a finish and to have and hold that sweet buckle. Silver or bronze doesn't matter to me.

SJ: As a first time runner at Western States, what is your race mantra going to be heading into the event?
CG: I'm not going to have a mantra. Mantras cause me stress. I'm coming to Western States with a goal to meet as many people as I can, shake hands, give and get hugs, and submerge myself 100% into the event. I believe that generating as much positive energy as I can will only make obtaining the ultimate goal that much easier.

SJ: Christian, you did a hell of a job redesigning the Hardrock 100 Website. Are you running that race this year?
CG: Technically, I am #10 on the waiting list, but I decided it would be in my best interest to focus on Western States and try to get into Hardrock again next year. Only 11 days separate the two races and that's simply not enough time to recover.

SJ: What other races or runs are on your horizon after Western States?
CG: After Western States I plan to run one of my favorite races of all time, the Laurel Valley Whitewater Run, a 35-ish (nobody knows for sure) self-supported trail race in South Carolina right smack dab in the August heat. It's truly a tough, tough race that makes 35 run like 50, but it carries a vibe with it that is unmatched in the ultrarunning world for me.

SJ: Christian, thanks so much for talking to us about your upcoming run at the Western States 100. We wish you the very best of luck at the event and we'll see you in Auburn at the finish line. I want to let folks know that they can follow your progress during the race LIVE at http://www.ws100.com Your bib # is 218. Good Luck!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

WS100 Interview: Jeff Genova





Name: Jeff Genova
Age: 42
Hometown: Bentonville, AR (Current) Ann Arbor, MI (Original)
Years Running Ultras: 5
100 Mile Finishes: (3) Heartland 100, McNaughton Park 100, Rocky Racoon
Ultra-Achievements: 5th overall 2nd Master at the Ouchita Trail 50 last year, Finishing McNaughton Parks with my little buddy Sherpa John getting him his first 100 mile finish.

SJ: Jeff, I really want to thank you for taking the time to have this discussion about your upcoming run at the Western States 100.
JG: No problem. Anything for you Sherpa.

SJ: So Jeff, in 2009 you were pulled from the Western States course late in the race, can you tell us a little bit about what happened?
JG: Well that is a long story. It all started when my flight got cancelled on the way to the race, I should have seen it coming. The first thirty miles of the race I wore the wrong shoes for the hills, too much grip, and this caused black toenails and blisters. The foot problems then caused me to travel slower on the course and have to stop at the aid stations for extra assistance from the medical staff. I then started chasing the clock to beat the cutoffs and that caused me to stop eating and drinking any sports drink at the aid stations. All of this caused me to start throwing up everything I put into my body from Foresthill aid station to the end, approximately 11 hours. So my body decided it had enough punishment around mile 99.1 and I told my pacer (I don't remember saying it but he does) that I needed to sit down. I did and rolled over in a driveway and that was the end of my Western States 2009, 3/4 of a mile short of the finish, passed out in a driveway.

SJ: With that being said Jeff, 2010 is your shot at redemption. How do you feel about that heading into this years event?
JG: I feel very good about my training and my crew it set to help me get to the finish strong.

SJ: What is it that you plan to do differently in this years event to help you avoid the issues you experienced in 2009?
JG: Well first of all I have the right shoes for the job, two pairs of Brooks Cascadias, and I plan on fueling better along the way.

SJ: You've finished a few other 100 Milers over the years, running your first in 2006 (Heartland). How does Western States compare to the other 100s that you've run?
JG: HOT! The race is very hot and hard to really prepare for with most of us coming out of winter right before the race. There are a lot of long downhills that are hard to comprehend until you get to run them.

SJ: Lets talk about Western States, it is undeniably the Boston Marathon of Ultra-Running and you've been to both Boston and Western States.. how do those two events compare?
JG: Boston is like going to a Convention for runners and WS is like a big family reunion. Everyone is so friendly and you get to see all of those people that you talk to through-out the year and hear about all of there accomplishments. It is a great time and there is really no comparison of the two.

SJ: What would you consider to be the toughest section of the Western States course and what about Western States (as a whole) makes it tough?
JG: The long downhills and Duncan Canyon because it is so exposed to the sun and the heat.

SJ: If you could give any of those first time Western States runners any advice heading into this years race, what would it be?
JG: Pace yourself and run your race don't get caught up in the clock and chasing the buckle. Run to finish first then if the race is going well and as you planned then and only then run for the silver buckle.

SJ: Are you bringing a crew with you to this years race and if yes, who are they?
JG: Yes I am bringing a crew with me. Ultra runners from Arkansas Ryan Holler and Tom Lane.

SJ: Pacer?
JG: Yes, Tom Fassbender.
SJ: What are your goals for this years race? Do you have a time goal?
JG: First and foremost is to finish the race! Then I would like to finish the race in around 26 hours so that I do not have to deal with the heat on Sunday morning.

SJ: Jeff, before you were an ultra-runner you raced in Iron-Man events. Do the two sports compare and if not.. which do you think is tougher?
JG: Ultras because the time it takes to complete an ultra is twice as long as it takes to complete an Ironman.

SJ: With that in mind Jeff and looking ahead beyond Western States... where do your athletic aspirations take you? What races would you like to do next?
JG: I have not even thought past WS. I just want to get that race behind me, then I will be able to focus on future endeavors.

SJ: Jeff, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your past and future Western States experiences. Good luck to you this year as you get your shot at redemption. I want to point out to folks that they can follow your progress LIVE during the race by visiting the WS100 Website. http://www.ws100.com Your bib # for the 2010 race is 314. Good Luck Jeff and we'll see you in Auburn at the finish line!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning

The real meat and potatoes of Team Sherpa's Project 2010, consists of the races encompassing The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. I understand that many of you reading this may not be privy to what the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is, why it's important or why this summer is the summer I've chosen to run it. So, without further adieu, I'd like to shed some light on the subject as we continue to head into Race #1, Western States.

History:
Former editor of Ultrarunning Magazine, Fred Pilon, first contrived the idea of a Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 1985. His idea was to run the four oldest 100 mile races in the country in one summer. In that very year, his first attempt at running the slam was unsuccessful. In 1986, Tom Green, a painter from Columbia, MD became the first person to complete the slam.

The races first included The Old Dominion 100, Western States 100, Leadville 100 and Wasatch 100. In 1989, when the Vermont 100 came onto the 100 mile scene, it became accepted as an alternative to Old Dominion. In 2003, Old Dominion was eliminated as one of the Grand Slam races and the list of races now remains Western, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch. In 2008, forest fires forced the cancellation of The Western States 100. Because of the race cancellation and thanks to the help from Arakansas Traveller 100 race staff, the AT100 served as the fourth race in the series for this year only.

By the Numbers:
Since 1985, the Grand Slam has been completed a total of 226 times by 197 people. Only 18 people have ever completed the slam on more then one occasion. A testament to the commitment to train as well as the difficulty to even enter these races. The average age of a Grand Slammer is 44.89 years old.
The fastest time of the current slam is 75 Hours 7 minutes by Joe Kulak in 2003 and Ann Trason in 1998 with a time of 79 Hours 23 Minutes 21 seconds.
(Stats from: http://www.run100s.com/slamstats.txt)


2010:
This year, 27 individuals have officially registered as entrants into the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, aspiring to take on these 4 races in 4 months.

No runner from New Hampshire has ever completed the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. This year, I am the youngest runner registered in the Grand Slam and the youngest since 2006.

Entry:
In order to gain entry into the Grand Slam, runners must complete an application and pay an $80 fee which will be used to cover the cost of the finishers awards. Runners must be official entrants into all four races and have paid this $80 fee and filled out the application prior to Western States.

Awards:
Any runner who officially completes all four 100 mile races in one summer will receive a beautifully sculpted eagle head trophy and their name will be among the few hundred who have accomplished this arduous and adventurous task.

The Races:
(Keith Kniplings GPS Profiles from 2006)
June 26-27, 2010 - Squaw Valley, CA
100.2 Miles : 18,040' of climb : 21,970' of descent
Highest Point: 8,720' : Lowest Point: 581'
Entry: Lottery +$395

July 17-18, 2010 - Woodstock, VT
100 Miles :14,160' of climb : 14,160' of descent
Highest Point: 1,945' : Lowest Point: 492'
Entry: $200

August 21-22, 2010 - Leadville, CO
100 Miles : 15,600' of climb : 15,600' of descent
Highest Point: 12,260' : Lowest Point: 9,200'
Entry: $300

September 10-11, 2010 - Layton, UT
100 Miles : 26,882' of climb : 26,131' of descent
Highest Point: 10,450' : Lowest Point: 4,880'(Start)
Entry: Lottery + $175

Friday, June 11, 2010

Looking Ahead...

I want to start by giving you folks an update. After the official results were released from this past weekends Pittsfield Peaks 54 Miler, I officially finished in 8th place. For only the 2nd time in my ultra-running career, I have a top 10 finish. I cannot tell you how elated this makes me heading into Western States and the rest of the Grand Slam of Ultra-Running. I want to acknowledge those of you who have shared excitement and support these last few months with your positive affirmations. I whole heartedly accept your support and appreciate it very much. Of course, it goes without saying that there are still a few cowards out there in the world who love to try to bring a man down when he's high. Not going to happen here pup. While at times I have felt undertrained, I have stuck to my game plan heading into the summer. Lower miles, more concentrated training and allowing each race to be a stepping stone for the next. Finishing a loop at Barkley, having the maturity to bow out of McNaughton in May and then to pour it on in June. You can say what you want but I'm ready and I'm still standing tall.
I am about to embark on one of the most amazing summers of my lifetime, one epic run after another from now through September, with what I hope to be an exclamation point in October. I'm super pumped, beyond excited and feeling ready to roll on this adventure of mine, this adventure in ultra-running.

With that being said, we're going to start taking a closer look at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run coming up on June 26th. It took me four years of qualifying and entering the lottery to even get into this race, and given then once again changed entry procedures, who knows how many years it will be before I get in again. Given this harsh reality is why I'm most excited to be able to run in the Grand Slam this year.

As Western States gets closer the interviews are starting to appear across the web. On websites, other runners blogs, in race programs, podcasts. But per the usual, the only people getting interviewed are the front runners. This both bores me and frustrates me to no avail. In my mind and in my eyes, the real stories come from the middle and the back of the pack. The folks who fight for every step, are out there nearly twice as long as the winner and those who fit running into their lives when they can. Between work, family, etc.. these are the resilient runners. While I know the front runners lead normal lives as well.. I do not think that just because they train more, have big sponsors and are gifted genetically makes their stories any more interesting or impressive. So.. in the next 2 weeks I'm happy to be bringing to you candid interviews with some of my fellow mid-pack runners. Jeff Genova from Arkansas returns to Western States to duel with a course that left him on the ground in 2009 with mere miles to go. Christian Griffith from Georgia is a first time runner, super stoked to get his legs under him on those hills and David "Sniper" Snipes, a grizzled ultra-veteran who will take on the Western States course himself. I'm also working on Jan Welford, if I can contact him, about his 1st time running in the event. Jan hold the record for hiking the Adirondack 46ers the fastest. Very interesting runners with compelling stories and a lot to share. I hope you'll tune in and read what they have to say.

We'll also be taking a closer look at not only this races but the rest of the races in the Grand Slam. I am the youngest runner entered in the Slam this year and the youngest runner since 2006 (21). With much excitement, we'll talk about how these races compare, what to expect, entry and all the other facets of what makes this series a unique sporting event.

SJ

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

RR: Pittsfield Peaks 2010

Race Report
Pittsfield Peaks Ultra Challenge
Pittsfield, VT - 54 Miles
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Lightning Crashes
It was a quarter to three in the morning and lightning lit up the sky like it was the Fourth of July. So much for getting any sleep, laying in my new NEMO Mio tent, having shoved two people inside, attempting to stop sweating in the humid air. Thunder crashes and the rain pounds down out of the sky. The flood gates have opened and my mind is still fixed on one thing.. the race. I lay awake between intermittent spurts of sleep and laying in the dark. I hear the thunder continue in the distance, it ebbs and flows. It gets closer and closer.. then another storm. Thats what this stuff is about isn't it? Weathering the storm? So is life I suppose... and I've been weathering lately for sure. Trying to hold my umbrella upright, looking ahead to try and see the future...

I run to the general store to grab some breakfast which consisted of one Strawberry Pop-Tart and a bottle of orange juice. I get my bib number on and start running for the farm. Once there, it's still raining buckets. The runners are all huddled under an overhang next to the barn trying to stay dry. I just don't give a crap. I know I'm going to be wet and stay wet all day, so why avoid the inevitable. Andy Weinberg pointed out that I had showed up.. and that on Wednesday I had spent 6 hours out on the course, marking the 20 mile Blood Root section. Just then, while the crowd gave me a nice round of applause to thank me... I started thinking how awful this is going to be. Just 3 days prior to this 54 mile race, I had run 20 of the toughest miles anywhere. I'm going to have to drag my ass across these mountains if I'm lucky.. so lets just do it.

Up, Up and Away
I get over to the starting area and shake hands with a few more friends I haven't seen in awhile. It's like a family reunion and I miss my relatives a lot. I get in for a picture with Phil Rosenstein and Cherie Yanek and then Andy yells for us to go. I try running up the first hill but I know better, I ease off rather quickly and let those who don't know better.. take off. The rain continues to pour out of the sky while thunder rumbles gently across the hills. We enter the woods and work our way up the first bushwhack section. It's muddy and slick and the runners have all ready bottle necked. I wait patiently for my turn to climb, I'm in no rush. My mind is still thinking about the plan for the day. The previous 3 years that I've run this race, I've run with someone else. This is the first time I'm alone and not tied to anyone for training purposes. People keep asking me if I'm ready for Western States and the answer I don't know. I guess now is the day to find out.. now is the day to let my legs do the talking... I put my head down and continue to focus and remain driven.

The first 8 miles of the course are a roller coaster of ups and downs, mostly on jeep roads and dirt roads. Some of the roads in Pittsfield have been paved over the last year, driveways I think, which surprised me a bit but helped me accelerate for a few yards before getting back out onto the mushy mud. I settle into a race pace with a runner whose name I do not know or remember. He wore yellow mostly and we talked about Barkley, this race and other races. Another runner joined us.. it was his first 50 and we talked about Pompei and the brothels they found buried under centuries of ash. As we wound our way around the Contest trail, the clouds were beginning to lift and the rain was letting up slowly. I was enjoying the conversation as we ran into an aid station where Bill Stillson was hanging out with water on the back of his truck. I filled up quickly and then took off and as I continued to run down Liberty Hill I felt a surge of energy in my legs and a calmness about my mind. I was experiencing flow early, I smiled as I knew... today was going to be the day.


As we made it up to Colton Camp I saw Courtney Desena's Dad, checked in and just kept going. The first BIG climb of the race is here and word was that it's changed a bit this year because people cut the course last year. The climb is at about a 80 degree angle for a few hundred feet. Hands and knees almost in getting to the top, clawing at the mud was a guarantee as your feet slid from under you. At the top.. we went higher then year before and into the woods. Yes.. it was a bushwhack and it was here that I put some distance on the runners behind me.. and cut up some time on those in front. Back out on the trail I let gravity take me. My legs flew wildly about and mud sprayed up behind me. As I passed folks going up, while I ran down, I stayed focused and said hi to those I saw in a flash. I was rockin' it.. and lovin' it.
Pedal to the Medal
Running out of Colton's I put my head down and let the rain fall a little more. There was one more downpour before it finally let up. Out on the road heading into Upper Michigan I felt great and continued to run as far in as I could. I'd never really run up this road before but today I was.. and was getting worried. I kept telling myself not to get burned out, but I wasn't running at a blistering pace. I was in one fixed gear, an easy pace, just letting the miles click by, breathing calmly and smoothly. I ran into Upper Michigan where Sarah helped me make a quick transition in and out. Refilled my bottles, asked her to find some zip lock bags for my return and headed out further up the road.
I ran up Upper Michigan even further, no runners coming my way, by about 5 or so minutes into this loop usually, the lead runners come blazing by. But today, it took me 2 miles to finally see Brian come out of the woods. Was I really that close to the lead 14 miles in? Just a mere 2 miles back?

I pushed my way up into the Hayes Brook woods, up and up and up we climbed, yet for some reason I still wasn't walking. I ran as much as I could. I was laying it all out there and not holding back. We weaved in and out of the woods up high, in mud, through mud around mud.. I kept running. I topped out  and then began running downhill again. I've always been a great downhill runner, it's my strength and I'm capitalizing on it today. As I got half way back down I saw a runner ahead of me.. and then I passed him. I kept pouring it on, emptying back out onto the road and heading back to the aid station. I saw all the runners still coming up the hill, many friends cheering me on and giving me a hand for a high five. I was stoked, focused and on a mission.. thoughts of easing off were all ready turning towards HANG ON.

It's Called Hell.. but no where close to it
I headed out of the aid station chasing Loni Allen. She was heading up to Hayes Brook on her way during the 50K. I told her if I caught her, I'd slap her in the butt.. thankfully for her I didn't. I took my left and headed down the hill to Caryl Brook and the start of what is known as the toughest section of the course. Blood Root, miles 18-37. Upon leaving the aid station, Andy Weinberg had warned me that the aid station at the top of the climb wasn't there because of the rain. There is no way in hell a 4 Wheeler could have towed any aid up the steep 2 mile climb, it's hard enough for the humans. So with this information in mind, I decided to be careful with how much I drank for now. Despite this, my pace didn't slow and I kept running.

The initial hills up along Caryl Brook are mellow and gentle. I saw a runner ahead of me. I had passed him coming out of Hayes Brook and he retook his lead at the aid station. As we climbed Caryl Brook, I watched him closely, when he ran I ran, when he walked.. I ran a little more then started hiking. The best part of this section was being able to run some of the hills, and proving to myself that I can still climb with a mission. After reaching the guard rail at the top of the Brook, I saw him ahead on the road and about a mile later, I found myself running side by side with him, talking about the race. Side by side we took the hard left back into the woods off of the road and entered the aid station that was in the clearing. This station is usually just a water jug out in an open field. Today, it's Blood Root Aid. I stopped and grabbed some food. I refilled my bottles and got ready for the climb. It's mile 24, the next 3 miles are all up hill and the next aid station is 7 miles away. I've done this many times now.. I know what I need to do.. I stay focused.

Stairway to Heaven
The climb up Blood Root is steeper then steep. It starts kind of mellow but the further in you get, the more you climb, the harder it gets. The grade goes from a 35 degree angle all the way to an 85 degree angle. The grasses are high, the mud is getting deeper. The higher we climb, the foggier it gets. We're in the clouds now, getting soaked. We catch another runner named Paul. The runner I had caught earlier takes off ahead while I hang back with Paul from New York. The climb is quiet, no one talks really. It's head down and get to work. Your legs burn, you gasp for air, you are drenched with sweat. Around every turn you stop, rear your head back and see you still have a ways to go. It's evil, it's torture. Is this heaven? Or is this hell?

We top out on Blood Root where I sit down and empty out my shoes. I clear out hard packed mud, grass, seeds, etc.. put them on and we start the quad crushed of a run down hill. Each step hurts. You can't stop. You just have to hold on and let the mountain take you back down to zero. All that climbing for nothing. Just to go up and over. It's frustrating yet, torture. It's amazing training, it's wild, it's fun, it's Peaks. As we reach the near bottom of the mountain, the mud gets deep as Paul and I leap huge puddles of deep dark mud. We take our hard left and the trail mellows out. I take a minute to walk, drink and eat. Paul follows closely, we keep talking about Recreation Therapy, New Yorkers we know, other races. And at one point, 29 miles into the race, Paul admits that after 10 years of ultra-running, this is the hardest one he's done. Harder then Jay, harder then the masochist.. and then... I pull ahead.. and I leave him.
(Phil Rosenstein out on Blood Root - Courtesy Cherie Yanek)
I keep my pace in mind. Just running in one speed and one speed only.. constant. I march around every turn. I power hike the hills, I jump the mud, run through the puddles and slice through the tall grasses. I motor down hills, I'm still in the zone. My legs are yet to get tired and I'm in absolute awe at my current condition. How has this happened to me? I feel like a well oiled machine, it's the perfect day, that perfect race. Everything is clicking, I'm still in flow, I'm experiencing my true potential. I run into Chittenden aid right behind that runner I had caught earlier. He runs out while I stop for food. I'm starving. This aid station was the best of the race. These kids from Green Mountain College were doing a hell of a job. In seconds I had a turkey and cheese sandwich in one hand and a coke in the other. I ate and drank. Enjoyed watermelon and talked to them about one of their professors I knew. I turn around and Paul was walking into the aid station. I looked into the guys eyes, they had that glazed over stare. He's tired, hungry an quiet. I smile.. I love seeing it... it's that time in a race where one is discovering who they are.. he's stripped himself clean.

Back to Michigan
As I run out of Chittenden a few folks were playing frisbee with a dog. I looked at the guy sitting on the back of the car and said, "lets go!" He gave me this puzzled look.. "Where?" To upper michigan, come on.. come with me. He was crewing for Deanna Stoppler but he and his friends offered me some encouragement. I appreciated their sentiments though I highly disagree. (They know). I head off down the trail, chasing down that runner from before.. always chasing him. I ran the entire way down the road, something I've never done before. I cannot believe I've been able to pick it up out of the aid station like that. My break there was some 10 minutes long. My only long break of the day. Back in the woods the sun has come out and it's getting hot. It's humid and the temp rises into the 80's rather quickly. I round the corner, see the reservoir in the distance and start to climb steeply back up to the Long Trail. I cross over and start pounding down the hills again, back up and over one last climb, then the next 2 miles are all down hill to the River. As I approach the river I see him again, damn it! I'm caught the guy again.. I see him in my sights, hit the road, take the left.. and he's gone. The guy can move on the flats.. but the hills I've got. Thankfully I know what's coming up on the course and I hold back. I step off the course and into the river where I wash off my legs, my shoes and soak my hat to cool off. I'm over heating. I've made it through Blood Root with my fastest split of the route ever and feeling GREAT.
Back at the Upper Michigan aid station I stop and change my shoes and socks. I look up and a kid has quit the race. He's run 38 miles, looks defeated and says his foot hurts. I tell him to stay in and come with me. Bill tells the kid to come along for the ride.. he's done. I stand up with a full waist pack, fueled and ready to run. I head off down the road and pat the kid on the back as he gets into his car, "See you next year" and I hope I do. I pick up the pace a bit and continue to chase down that guy I've been chasing all damn day. Sarah drives up behind me in the car and drives beside me a bit telling me some good stories from the aid stations. We laugh and then she takes off. I put my head down... and get serious.
On lower michigan road the sun is roasting everything now. It's like running in a brick oven. I get up to Hayden's and just run past the water jug and attack that hill. Its another steep climb that Jason put switchbacks into. Yet, those switchbacks don't help. They just taunt you. I feel something in my shoe, so near the top I stop and take care of it.. it's nothing, and I'm puzzled. I get up and try my best to run fast downhill without getting in the deep mud up here. I want to keep my feet as dry as possible. I get back on the road down low and kick right back into a run, the next climb, up and over, and as I start to head down to the driveway, I see a runner I hadn't seen before. I catch him on the pavement and we talk. His quads are shot. He can't run downhill or up, he's done, tired... I look at him, put my hand on his back and say, "John, just keep going. You can do this. You've got all day. One step at a time." He tells me he has no hills to run in Boston. I told him about the Blue Hills.. for him to contact me.. and we'll go. No rocks left on this course.. just running.

The Chase
Out on Tweed River Drive I've got that runner in front of me again and John behind me. I look ahead, I look behind. I get up onto Dove Drive and ask Sarah when the last runner, before the one in front of me had gone through, she say's "3 minutes." Up at Upper Michigan they told me I was in the top 10.. I wanted that bad.. I quickly refilled water, Saw Joe's Cousin Anthony and gave him a pounded fist. Then reentered the woods to the mind (bleep) that is Joe's and Fuster's. Different every year, always a surprise. It was time to go. They take us out onto Noodles Revenge, a series of what seems like a thousand never ending switch backs. You weave left and right for a long time and in the end, you've only climbed about 20 feet of the hill. It screws with you.. if you let it. I don't.. I keep running because I can see two runners above me and the one below me.
I make it to the Upper Tweed Aid station where Borden helps me refill my bottles. It's hotter then hell here and I'm cooked. My legs feel great, I've got some gas but my mind is starting to get tired. Borden tells me the two runners ahead of me look strong. I wince into the sun, stand there and think for a moment then simply thank him for his help and head off up the trail. I know this course now.. I guess it's going to be the same as it was in May from here on in. I know what time of day it is, I've got a PR.. but by how much? I know I can run it in from here in an hour.. thats the goal. I put my head back down.. and just start running.
I zig and zag some more then enter the labyrinth. I hear and see no one until I pop out of the other end. I see a runner in a black shirt and with glasses in front. I saw him on the earlier switchbacks.. but where is that other guy? I head up and over Joe's not stopping to see the view. I've seen it before.. time to play pacman. I have something in my shoe.. I opt to forget it. I continue to run and head over to Fusters. The switch backs are long now. Long sweeping sections to run. I slowly start to catch up to that runner. I don't care if I catch both of them, I just wanted one. I didn't want anyone to pass me. After 20 minutes, I finally get within reach. I come up behind the runner and stay on his heels. When he runs I run, when he walks I walk and then I find myself gauging how much he has left in the tank. In about 5 minutes I've determined I can walk faster and run faster right now. He's tired and plodding along.. I've go plenty of gas in these legs. I ease off and wait for my moment.

Finally.. the course hits a hard right out onto some double track and I make my move. I run past the runner and he says "Good finish." I tell him it was tough to catch him but appreciate his work. We run down the hill and I ask him if he's run here before. It'd been a few years, but I told him of that one last climb. He hates hearing this.. and starts to walk. I continue to run, head around one more turn and start barrel assing down one last hill. Just then I realize.. there is no last climb. They've taken it out.. the race is over and I have a mile to go. Just then I see Andy Hawley. He's hootin and hollerin as he always does. Illiana is pacing a 10 miler up ahead, they're all yelling and cheering. I stay focused and hit the bottom of the hill. The course goes over the bridge but I run straight into the Tweed River. I run through waist deep water to the other side, run out and walk a bit before Illiana kicks me in the butt on last time. I run some more.. and more.. and I run it in. Through the final section of rollers... and I see that final hill. I holler one last time and Sarah hears me, she starts yelling, I put my head down and take that final hill.. I run it.. every damn step of it. I want to throw up, I've left it all out there on the course... I'm done.
I cross the finish line in 11 hours and 22 minutes. 1 Hours and 5 minutes faster then my previous course best. I end up in 8th place, top 10 in only the second time of my running career with what some would consider to be one of my finest performances. I look up and take my medal, Jason Hayden shakes my hand and pats me on the back. I look up and the "faster crowd" is still there and clapping for me. I'm humbled and thankful for their support, "I never thought I'd finish in a time where I'd see ALL of you still here!" It as a great feeling. Finally letting the wind out of my sails, my back and legs cramp up. I'd done it.. exactly what I had come out there to do. I finished, sub 12.. and while not sub 11.. pretty damn close, with a course PR.. and a whole lotta steam heading into the Slam.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

SHAZAAM!

NEW COURSE PR!

Yesterday in Pittsfield, VT I ran one of my best races ever. Aid station transitions were all under 2 minutes. I ran more in this race then I've typically run in any race. I motored up hills, I crashed down hills, I flew through the mud... I really did finally just lay it all out there. My best effort. I was unsure how things were going to go after having marked the 20 mile Blood Root Loop on Wednesday... then running 6 miles of hills on Thursday and only taking Friday off. I felt like I was setting myself up for disaster. But this is peak week for Western States... it's do or die. It's time to put the miles in and see if I'm ready for the big dance in three weeks.

11 Hours and 22 minutes after the start I crossed the finish line in Pittsfield. I had run a new course personal best for myself by an hour and 5 minutes and I finished in 8th place. Crossing the finish line and seeing all of the faster runners still sitting there and clapping was an amazing feeling. I was focused.. I put it all out there and it paid off.

Report to come soon!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Race Preview: Pittsfield Peaks

Pittsfield Peaks Ultra Challenge
Pittsfield, VT - 54 Miles
13,122' of Gain
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One month ago I ran Joe's and Fuster's hill 6 times on my way to running just 60 miles of the McNaughton in Vermont 100 Mile Trail Run. I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that I'm seeking revenge on the town of Pittsfield. I feel like I have something unfinished here.. and there is no better way to get at it by running in Pittsfield Peaks. This is the 4th time this race is being held amongst the entire landscape of Pittsfield and Chittenden, VT. This past Wednesday I went up to Pittsfield and ran the Blood Root Loop, as I have the previous 3 years in the days before the race, to mark the course. The grasses are high out there and the mud deep. The deer flies and mosquitos are out and biting. The nettle is knee high, the moose tracks a plenty. The grouse are attacking.. yes... Mile 18-37 of the Peaks Course is in rare form. The mountains are angry and waiting. I'm ready... and going.

This race is the final test of strength, endurance and readiness as I head into the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and the rest of the Grand Slam of Ultra Running. This is merely a stepping stone, a training event.. just one more stop on the way to the big Project 2010. I'm ready. My weight is down 10 pounds from January, I feel great, I've emerged from 6 days in the mountains rugged, ready and reborn. It's time.

Weather:
Saturday: Showers likely. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 76. Southwest wind between 7 and 10 mph, with gusts as high as 33 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Goals:
1.) Finish
2.) Sub 12 Hours (Course PR 12:20)
3.) Sub 11 Hours

Note: There will be no twitter updates during the race. Though twitter will hold my finishing time as soon as I finish. http://www.twitter.com/sherpajohn