Nov 21

2017 Autumn Leaves 50 Miler (by Rychen)

The annual Autumn Leaves 50k/50mile put on by the Oregon Road Runners Club is a great race for anyone looking to try their hand at an ultra distance for the first time or for someone like me, who looks forward to it year after year because of how easy they make it to want to come back. The course consists of a 10k loop, run five and eight times, respectively. It’s a very clean course, on well-maintained bike paths through the beautiful color-changing trees of the mid-Willamette Valley and along the Willamette River. There’s a turnaround about three miles out, but on the way back in the course veers off onto a single trail for the final 1.25 miles of the loop. This was my sixth time running the 50 miler in the last seven years, and after 48 loops around the course, its still interesting and beautiful and a great run.

I was out there this year to support a buddy of mine, who was running the 50k (his first ultra). I took the early start at 6am with a goal of getting through the first lap in an hour so that when he started at 7am, we could run together for as long as possible, like we do on many Saturday mornings. Because I’m a numbers nerd, I know my lap splits for every lap of every year, and my first two laps each year are always in the 64-66 minute range. So when I hit the end of the first loop at 56 minutes, I was both excited and a little nervous, wondering if I had gone out too fast with so many miles left. I made a stop in the port-a-potty, but the 50k race was still two minutes from starting, I was feeling good, and I didn’t want to stand around and get cold. I gave my buddy a waive, told him he’d catch up to me, and took off again. He never caught up (that’s no knock on him, he ran a great race and finished his first ultra strong, that’s just the kind of day it was for me).

Lap 2 was more of the same. I felt great, I ran toward a perfect sunrise over the river, hit the aid station at mile 1.4 of the loop (also at mile 4.75 on the way back in) for a brief cup of tri-berry Nuun (my favorite) and finished Lap 2 in 58 minutes.

At mile two of Lap 3 I was passed by a guy and gal running the 50k. I didn’t think much of it but a minute or so later I had the thought to catch up and run with them. I knew I would probably spend a good amount of the day running by myself, so the opportunity to run with others sounded like a good idea. To do that though, I had to make up the 40-yard gap they had on me. This was either going to be really good or it was going to be the reason for a crash later on in the day, I wasn’t sure which. They were running at a pretty good clip but when we got to the hill prior to the turnaround, the guy dropped back and walked while the gal powered up the hill. I followed her step for step. We cruised back in and I finished Lap 3 in 55 minutes. What?!?

Lap 4 I started to feel the first signs of fatigue and ran a conservative (well, for this day anyway, not compared to any other year) 60 minute lap, putting me at 3:50 for the first 25 miles. Did not see that coming. More than that, as Lap 5 got underway, I hit the 26.2 mark right at four hours, something I’ve never been able to do in an actual marathon. Satisfying, but still a long 24 miles to go on this day. I finished Lap 5 in 67 minutes and geared up for what historically has been the most difficult lap of the race, Lap 6.

Prior to the race I had budgeted walk breaks at various landmarks around the course in increasingly frequency. Usually just one minute, but in later laps I budgeted two or three minutes at the aid stations. I really was feeling good though and cut my aid station and walk times down to a minimum, 20-30 seconds at most. I just kept telling myself, “you can’t stay here, get moving!” There are very distinct landmarks around the course, the aid station, a bridge, the hill/turnaround, the bridge, the aid station, and then back to the start line. For 50 miles I managed the course 8-12 minutes at a time. I knew where the next landmark was, I knew about how long it would take me to get there, and I knew I could run for just nine minutes to the bridge, for instance, where I could catch a quick breather, before running nine more minutes to the hill. I managed to stay in the present and run, as I mentioned, in 8-12 minute sections all day. That, combined with the brief walk breaks, made a huge difference (you can waste a lot of time walking over 50 miles if you’re not disciplined about it. The worst feeling every is getting to the end, looking at your time, and realize you spent more than and hour or so just walking when you probably didn’t need to! It all just adds up).

By the start of Lap 7 I knew if I could just run two laps of 83 minutes or better that I would match my PR set in 2013 (when Steve beat me by 3 minutes in his first ultra!). Just don’t crash, I kept thinking. 12 minutes to the aid station. Nine minutes to the bridge, nine minutes to the hill, turnaround and run down the hill….Don’t stand here, grab some food and eat it while you’re moving….

A 75-minute Lap 7 and all I needed to match my PR was a 90-minute final lap. Just don’t do anything stupid. Keep moving, don’t go too fast. I still felt surprisingly good, all things considered. In the past my knees have been shot by this point in the race, but though I was tired and sore all over, nothing was debilitating. I just kept moving. As I hit the final aid station on the way back in, I knew I was going to do it. I had 1.25 miles left, about 15 minutes through the trees on the trail. As I emerged and ran through the finish line the clock read 8:38:47…a 17-minute PR!

I made a it a few more feet before falling to my knees and with my head in my hands, wept. It’s been a difficult few months for me as I’ve battled to overcome depression. You can read about it HERE, and watch my post-race video HERE.

If someone had asked me to write down what I thought my best possible time would be on my best day, I maybe would have written 8:50. Going in, my long runs had been a couple of 15 milers and a 17 miler. I knew I would finish, I just didn’t know if it would be nine hours? 10? So to see how the day progressed, and to come in at 8:38…man, I’m getting a little misty-eyed just thinking about it again. In short, I ran my perfect race. My perfect run.

Onto the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon in February. (Come join me there! Promo code “SaturdayMarathons10” saves you some money on the registration!)

Finish Line! Look at that clock!!

Speeding along (trying to keep up) in Lap 3

Perfect sunrise

Oct 04

Stagecoach 100 Miler by Steve

After the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler, I wasn’t sure if I could run another 100 miler within a relatively short period of time. I allowed myself a month to recover, and eventually felt drawn to running another hundo I was trying to decide between the Stagecoach 100 miler (obviously from the title) and the Javelina Jundred. The timing of Stagecoach made more sense. Also, Ian Torrence does my training plans and he’s the Race Director for Stagecoach, so I felt he would have some special insight for my training.

Recovery/Training/Sharpening for Stagecoach went fairly well. Ian had transitioned me from altitude/vert training for Tahoe to some flatter, faster runs to get me running legs back under me vs my climbing/hiking legs for Tahoe. I felt pretty good. I wasn’t sure how running 100 milers so close together would affect me but I wanted to give this race a solid effort.

The full race name of the Stagecoach 100 miler is the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Line 100 mile. Ian said it’s the longest 100 mile race name, although I’m not sure if that was just a joke. It is also one of the few races (the Appalachian Trail being the other one) that is run on a National Trail, which in this case is the Arizona Trail.

My friends Ron and Marie were also doing the 100 miler. My friends Natalia and Kimberly were doing the 55k. Ron was just coming off a strong run at the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler, taking 11th. For some reason, ultrasignup had me ranked ahead of him, so some teasing ensued, even though I knew he would likely beat me (but you never know what’ll happen in a 100 miler… am I foreshadowing? No, I’m not. Haha).

Random phone booth at Flagstaff. Felt like a piece of history!

The race started at the beautiful town of Flagstaff. I had never been to Flagstaff before. I loved it! I finally got to meet Ian Torrence in person at race check in.

I also got to meet Jim Walmsley. He was running the 55k.

Ian told Ron and me that the field for the 100 miler was wide open and he was counting on us. No pressure, right? For added pressure, he gave Ron the #1 bib. Ha!

The start of the race was chilly! I believe it was in the 20s. I used layers because I knew it would start out chilly, warm up during the day, and then get cold again during the night. I also prepared my dropbags with extra warm clothes.

After some words from Ian (while Ron did some sort of angry chicken dance [see below]), we were ready to start.

Ron and I ran together in the beginning for quite a bit in the lead pack. It was so beautiful out there. Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures. I felt like I was quite focused on racing this one well.

It didn’t take long for the lead pack of 55k runners, including Jim Walmsley, to catch up to our lead pack of 100 mile runners. Jim Walmsley passed me right when there was a course photographer and I was rewarded with this perfect photo:

I did a quick turnaround at the first aid station because there was a water drop a mile away and that was all I needed. I didn’t want to get delayed by the other goodies at the aid station.

Unfortunately, when I got to the water drop, I asked where it was and someone told me there was no aid there (although one of the runners later told me there were water jugs there that I guess I had completely missed). So, I was running low on water way too early in the race. I knew I would be okay but it messed with me a bit mentally.

I made it to the Kelly Tank aid station (mile 21) just fine and felt revived a bit. After the race, I heard Rob Krar was at this aid station and I totally missed him. Bummer! After I left, I decided to drop back from the lead pack so I didn’t overextend myself.

Still, I was able to maintain a good position in the race. One other runner, Brad, passed me during this time. It was kind of funny because we were both on this open plain with the wind whipping across it. The wind gusts were so strong that you couldn’t even run. We were both walking into the wind as he eventually caught up to me. We had a friendly conversation for a while. It was his first 100 miler and I told him he was doing really well so far (mentally I hoped he hadn’t overextended himself, making it so he would be ill-prepared for those difficult last 30 miles).

He moved ahead and I found a new runner to chat with, Raymond, that was closing in on his 55k finish. He was struggling a bit and I encouraged him. We also chatted about shoes since he was wearing Altras. I didn’t think much of it but he later looked me up on Strava and thanked me for the encouragement to finish his 55k strong. I guess sometimes we don’t realize the power of a few polite words to another human being.

Eventually, I made it to Cedar Ranch (mile 34). Ian was there so I could chat with him a bit. I told him about my error with the water and he assured me I was fine and could make it up. It was good to hear that from him to help get me back into it mentally. Also, I want to add that the volunteers at the aid stations were outstanding! They were all so helpful in getting me in and out of the aid stations quickly. After refueling, I was on my way out, giving fellow Altra ambassador, Breanna, a high five as I left.

I continued to maintain my position (5th place) in the rankings through Boundary aid station (mile 55), where I picked up my headlamp.

I’ve noticed in these 100 milers that I usually do well at night. Night fell by the time I reached Russell Tank (mile 68). I felt good. The volunteers at the aid station said a runner had just left and he didn’t look great. I knew it was time for me to push a bit in the race.

I did my best to continue my upbeat attitude that helped me so much at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler.

Not long after I left the aid station, I came upon Brad and his pacer. I chatted with him for a bit and ran off into the night. I try to put some distance between runners in these situations (if I can) because I don’t want to get caught in some cat and mouse game where they’re using me as motivation to try and catch up.

Again, not long after Brad, I was surprised to pass another runner, Adam, and his pacer. Adam was with the lead pack in the beginning and I know he was pushing hard. I hope he wasn’t blowing up after such a strong start. Again, I stopped and chatted with Adam for a bit and then ran off strong. I came upon a steep downhill section after passing him that I pushed hard on to put some distance between us. It didn’t feel great on quads that had nearly 80 miles on them.

The next aid station was Hull Cabin (mile 80) where they confirmed I was in 3rd place. Yes! I just needed to hold on to this. There was an out and back to Hull Cabin and as I ran out past Adam, I did my best to run strong (to hopefully discourage further chasing).

That mile 88 smile

I cruised into Watson Tank (mile 88) where my friends, Aaron, Doug, and Jean from Las Vegas, were crewing. It was a boost to see them. Doug assured me that 4th place wasn’t close to me. I got my jacket on (because it was getting really cold!) and headed out. Before the jacket, I was only wearing a shirt, arm sleeves and gloves. I had felt fine. But, suddenly, the temperatures plummeted. I got really cold. It didn’t help that I was struggling a bit so I wasn’t moving fast (which would warm me up).

My headlamp started dimming a bit and I thought I should replace the batteries but my fingers were cold. I wish I had because at about mile 94, I turned around and saw two headlamps coming towards me. I let out an audible, “Nooo!!” and, out of pure instinct, I bolted. I was struggling before this but now I was running with whatever I had left. My headlamp was dying so I turned on the flashlight from my iphone for more light. I knew they saw my headlamp because they were chasing too. I kept it up, mile after mile, but I couldn’t drop them! I didn’t know how much longer I could keep it up. I didn’t know how much longer my headlamp was going to last. My iphone battery was nearly at 0%. Was I about to lose the podium spot at the very end of the race? Were my lights about to die at the very end of the race causing me to replace batteries mid-chase? I couldn’t think about that. I had to just keep moving as best as I could.

I finally put some distance between us on the last mile or so. What a relief and elation as I cruised into the finish in 3rd place overall! I had set a new PR for myself for 100 miles of 20:18. I asked Ian if he was a hugger and gave him a big hug. I was so pumped. I got a sweet copper buckle, a water bottle, and a $75 gift card to Run Flagstaff (which I used for my newfound Goodr sunglasses addiction). My friend Ron took 1st place overall with a time of 18:08. Our friend Marie took 3rd female. It was really cool to see Las Vegas trail/ultra-runners on 3 of the 6 podium spots. We also had some great training plans (Thanks, Ian!).


I also noticed later that my time was 8th on the all-time Stagecoach 100 mile times. Ron and Marie’s times are up there too!

It ended up that the headlamps behind me were from relay runners, not 100 mile runners! I wouldn’t have guessed that because the relay runners always run by themselves (that I saw) and I knew the 100 miler runners behind me had pacers. Oh well, it pushed me to a strong finish and a PR!

Copper Buckle!

Gear: Altra Timp shoes, Altra shirt, Desert Dash Trail Junkie hat, Patagonia Strider Pro shorts, Injinji socks, Salomon Sense Ultra 5 set pack.

Nutrition: Gu Roctane Energy Mix, Honey Stinger waffles, Honey Stinger chews, GU gels, fruit squeezes, and various items from aid stations, especially coke.

Jul 27

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Miler by Steve

It’s funny that when a race goes really well, it doesn’t always make for entertaining stories (or blog posts), but I’ll happily take it every time.

My first experience with the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler in 2014 was not ideal. I was relatively new to trail and ultra running. The weather made it quite difficult too. This experience soured my perception on the race.

When a couple of friends suggested doing the 100 miler in 2017, I balked. I wasn’t enthusiastic. The 100 mile course is doing the 50 mile course twice. However, I listened to my friend Doug talk about the race and he loved it so much. He had already registered for the 100 miler. His experience was vastly different from my own. He mentioned how cool the finishers’ buckles are too. They even have a video on their website showing how it is made. I decided I would go ahead and register for the lottery to get into the race. Besides, I figured I might not get in anyways, haha. If did get in, this would also give me an opportunity to redeem myself from the poor experience on the 50 miler and also it would be a step up in difficulty for me doing a mountain 100 miler versus the flatter two 100 milers I had done previously.

This profile, twice. Sounds fun, right?

I ended up getting into the race, as you can tell. I had Ian Torrence create another training plan for me specifically for this race. I had to recover properly from the Miwok 100k and then ramp up training again to prepare for Tahoe. I hoped the efforts from the Miwok training & race would carry forward and really help me. My training includes a lot of mountain runs to help mimic the conditions in Tahoe. Near Las Vegas, where I live, I would drive to the Mt Charleston area to do summit runs. I love that area so much. It gives me an opportunity to escape the Vegas heat and enjoy the beauty of the mountains. On those runs, I can get a lot of miles, climbing, and altitude (the Mt Charleston summit is at about 11,900 ft).

Mt Charleston Peak. I love it here!

Of course, training doesn’t always go perfectly according to plan. I had to be flexible. I missed some days when I got really frustrated with my quad strain but then it was magically fine again, haha. Probably the worst part was while I had that quad strain, I felt like I didn’t even want to run. That was the most concerning thing. Injuries can do that. They can take the joy out of the activity. Fortunately, some days off with yoga really helped me feel better and get in the right mindset. Then, I got back into training for the peak weeks.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say I’m “ready” for a 100 miler right before the race. I felt good but it’s such a difficult undertaking and there are so many variables; things that could potentially go wrong that I think it’ll be tough to ever say I’m truly ready. Still, I received some positive encouragement from local friends and Ian. Ian told me that I’m more fit than I think I am. That comment really helped. I always wonder about goals heading into a race. I knew that a sub 24 would be very difficult and few runners achieve it in this race. I talked to my friend, Ron Hammett, who is an amazing ultrarunner – far better than myself. I asked him what a reasonable goal time might be and he simply replied, “finishing.” That just made me realize I shouldn’t even attempt to fixate on any goal for this race. The problem with that is if I select an unrealistic goal arbitrarily and then I can’t achieve it. What does that do? It only puts me in a negative place mentally because I didn’t reach some goal that wasn’t realistic to begin with.

At the pre-race check in

I went up to the race the day before because it’s required to check in, get my bib, leave my dropbags, have a medical check done (they weighed me), and listen to a briefing. All of the pre-race stuff is located at the Nevada Capitol building, which was fun to see. I met up with friends and some of us ate together. I also checked out the local running store in Reno. I even picked up some absurdly short shorts with the NV flag on them (#TeamShortyShorts), Haha! I had been on an early flight to Reno so I crashed early that night, which worked out really well because I got some decent rest the night before the race (a rarity), even though Doug and I had to be at the starting line by 5am for the 100 miler.

At the starting line with Doug. PC: Rebecca Thomas

I wasn’t super nervous at the starting line. I think it’s because 100 miles is such a daunting task that I can’t wrap my mind around it. All I can do is start running when it begins and take the race a bit at a time as it unfolds before me.

After the race began, Doug and I ran along in the dark. We didn’t have headlamps but there was enough pre-sunrise light and light from other runners’ headlamps that we were fine. We only ran together for a few miles before I drifted ahead at a comfortable pace. I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea since Doug is so much more experienced than me. Still, I did my best to keep my effort easy and stay within my own ability.

It was a solid climb to the first aid station, Hobart, at 7 miles. I moved through the aid station fast. I was using the GU Roctane Energy Mix in my bottles to get a base amount of calories. I just had to get to my drop bag, put the mix in the bottle, fill with water, maybe grab some small food items, and I was on my way. I’m usually good about getting enough fluid. I knew that if I could at least drink a bottle per hour, it would help make sure I got in at least a base amount of calories and it would help maintain my energy level. Plus, I could supplement with gels, food, and such without getting fuel fatigue.

The views from the course weren’t too bad

The next 5 miles to Tunnel Creek had such beautiful views on the lake as we ran along smooth singletrack. After Tunnel Creek was the Red House loop, which included some steep and technical (at times) downhill. The bottom of this loop is the lowest portion of the race altitude-wise. There were a few streams to cross near the bottom. The last time I ran this course, doing the 50 miler, I could simply jump over these streams. This year, there was so much snow melt that the streams were much larger. I couldn’t jump all the way over them. I had to ford through them with the water above my knees at times. My feet, shoes, and socks were completely soaked. Fortunately, I packed extra socks at my Tunnel Creek dropbag. However, by the time I returned to Tunnel Creek my shoes and socks were nearly completely dry so opted to not change them at that time.

No way around it, go straight across

Next, I did quite a bit more climbing up to the Bull Wheel aid station and then some fun downhill into the Diamond Peak aid station at mile 30. I saw my friends Kris and Shannon at the aid station. They’re both ultrarunners themselves and they helped me get my stuff, refuel, and take care of things quickly. Kris asked some really good, direct questions about how I was doing.

Me at Diamond Peak aid station. PC: Kristopher Cargile

After leaving that aid station, I began a 1,700 ft climb in under 2 miles. It’s a sandy dirt road. I grabbed my trekking poles at the Diamond Peak aid station for this climb. I just dug in, put one foot in front of another, and got it done. It was funny when I looked back at the runners going up it and nobody looked happy, haha.

The start of the climb. PC: Kristopher Cargile

I should say that the weather was perfect for this race. It was warm during the day and it wasn’t too cold at night. It felt so good at night. It didn’t rain and there was even a nice breeze at times.

The run back to Tunnel Creek and Hobart went well. I enjoyed the views coming the other way. There were also quite a few snow fields to cross near Hobart and near Diamond Peak. The snow was tough to run on because this isn’t something I have much experience with in Las Vegas. I did slip and fall on one of the snow fields and hurt my knee a bit. On the way back, the poles helped with crossing the snow fields. Still, there was one part where it was steep and the footing was poor, so I had to slide down the snow on my booty, haha.

Snow fields like this. PC: Maia Detmer

After Hobart, I headed toward Snow Valley Peak. It was a tough (but not too bad) climb up to the next aid station. The views up there were spectacular. I loved it. It was cool because the Boy Scouts were running the aid station. They used binoculars to spy my bib # and when I got there, one of them called me by name saying, “Stephen, what do you need?”

The descent from the peak was nice and speedy except for the part where I tripped and somersaulted to the side of the trail. It was a steep descent off the side of the trail, but fortunately not a sheer cliff. I’m also happy that when I tripped, I chose to roll on some wildflowers as I rolled down the hill a bit. After I got up and ran again, I noticed there were some sections with big rocks that would have been much worse places to fall (whew).

Beautiful. Photo Credit: Rebecca Thomas

After getting to the 50 mile aid station, I could hear the 50 mile runners finishing their races at the finish line nearby. I actually found out that my friend, Maia, finished her 50 miler as I was leaving that aid station. It was tough mentally to think about doing that whole 50 mile course a second time. At the 30 mile, 80 mile, and here at the 50 mile aid station, I had reception on my phone. So, I would check messages, read Facebook for words of encouragement, and let friends and family know where I was at and how I was doing. My friends Kris and Rob teased me about checking my phone mid-race. Still, doing this as I walked out of the 50 mile aid station helped me space out a bit to avoid thinking about embarking on the next 50 miles. Before I knew it, I was well on my way into the second half of the race.

As night fell, some mosquitoes came out. After I saw some, of course, every itch I felt was a mosquito in my mind, haha. I’m even itching while writing/thinking about this. When I got to the next aid station, I asked for some bug spray. I told the volunteer, “The mosquitoes love my calves, but can you blame them, knowmsayin?” She didn’t think that was funny but I did. Haha! That’s okay. Most of the time I’m laughing at my own jokes anyway.

Speaking of jokes, the 50 mile runners I would see heading towards the finish as I was out on the second 50 mile “lap” would say things like, “Have a good night!” They knew full well I would be out there running all night. I remembered what Emily Harrison Torrence wrote on her blog about when she was having a tough time at Western States. Her crew member said they had nothing else to do tonight. So, I replied to the 50 miler runners saying, “It’s not like I have any other plans tonight.”

At the Tunnel Creek aid station, I met with a super volunteer named EJ. He knew exactly how to help me. I would see him again at Tunnel Creek, Diamond Peak, and even at the finish line. He knew my gear and how to help with my bottles and energy mix. I really appreciate volunteers like that who are so helpful and so encouraging and are really putting in extra effort to help you succeed. I know he saved me a lot of time out there. He even gave me a hug during the race and at the finish! I may not be able to specifically help him as a volunteer at a future race but I hope I’m able to pay that forward to other runners. That’s how the trail and ultra running community works.

As I headed down the Redhouse loop again, I was chatting with another runner named Jason. As we talked, we were losing sunlight, and I noticed what looked like a photographer on the side of the trail holding their camera sideways. As I got closer, I realized it was just a couple of logs and shadows. As I got even closer, I thought it actually was a photographer! Then, when I got right up next to it, I realized it definitely was a log. Then, Jason suddenly says, “Did that log look a lot like a photographer to you?” Holy crap! It was like he read my mind. I was so glad he said something, haha. Did we just have a group hallucination?!

Speaking of my mind playing tricks on me, when it got really late and I was alone, I imagined every sound I heard to be a bear. I knew there were bears in the area. I didn’t think it’d be a major threat, but I didn’t want to run right up on one. Even a pine cone that fell behind me while I was running at night startled me. A week after the race, I saw a friend of mine post online that they came across a bear up a tree in the area. I didn’t end up seeing any bears myself, but maybe it was the bear up in the tree that threw a pinecone at me. 😉

I cruised along through the night. Sure, I slowed down but I kept moving. I did my best not to spend long in aid stations. One thing that helped me a lot is that I kept a good attitude throughout the race. I laughed and joked with people I met. I feel like I was able to pass quite a few runners through the night simply because I kept making consistent progress. Even when I came to the big climb at Diamond Peak aid station for the second time, I just dug in again and got it done. At night, I couldn’t see how far I had left to go on the climb so I just put my head down and kept climbing… until I was finally done. Even when someone asked me how it was, I replied, “Even better the second time.”

My attitude was upbeat, my forward progress was consistent, I wasn’t having any major issues, and my nutrition was on point. The GU Roctane Energy Mix in my bottles with additional things like gels, Honey Stinger chews, waffles, and aid station fare like fruit, smoothies (yum), PB&J, Coke, and Mt. Dew was working well. This system also helped stave off the fuel fatigue I get sometimes at ultras from trying to consume so many calories so often. I didn’t get sick and maintained good energy throughout the race.

Still, the race wasn’t without minor issues. I mentioned my graceful falls earlier. I also had an issue with my headlamp running out of battery during the night. I think I had it on too bright of a setting and it drained the battery too quickly. My backup battery didn’t work either! Still, I had a portable fuel cell that I used earlier to charge my Garmin 935 on the run (I really like having the race all in one dataset. It’s so nice to see triple digit miles on the watch face). I used the fuel cell to charge my headlamp while I used my phone as a light. It wasn’t bad because I did this while going uphill, so I wasn’t moving too quickly. Another thing, I felt a hot spot on my big toe during the race. After the race, when I took my shoes & socks off, I had a huge blister covering my entire big toe. It was like another big toe was growing on my big toe.

I may not be great at many things when it comes to running ultras, but I’m pretty good at staying awake. Fortunately, I was able to run through at the night and not get sleepy. It helped because this was my longest (time-wise) race yet.

Cheerleaders cheering on runners on the course!

As I neared the finish line after the sun had already risen a second time during the race, my body was beginning to hurt quite a bit. Still, I kept moving forward. I was excited to nearly be finished. From across the lake where the finish is located, runners can see the finish line long before they get there. On one hand, I was happy to see it. On the other hand, I wished I was on the other side of that lake, haha.

Here I am coming into the finish line. One of the Altra reps said, “Stop looking so happy running 100mi ;)” when he saw this picture.

I cruised in at 26:09 (33rd overall) to the cheering of friends, race officials, and volunteers. I was so happy to get to sit in a chair! I got my finisher’s cup and stumbled around to get some food and drink at the finisher’s “ultra lounge,” while chatting with friends and other runners. What an experience.

Here’s a link to a video of me finishing

Later that day, I hobbled back to the finisher’s area to pick up my buckle. Boy, it is beauty! They engrave the year and finish time on the back. As a proud Nevadan, I love how the buckle is made with the silver coin (since we’re the Silver State) minted in the oldest mint in Carson City. The craftsmanship is just so special to hold in your hands after earning it in a race like that. I’m not usually too big on finisher’s medals or other things like that but I really like buckles, especially this one. I immediately put it on!

I’m happy I went back to this race and had a great 100 mile experience. It is a beautiful location. The race is so well organized with fantastic volunteers.

I was also interviewed by Rebecca Thomas about this race and ultrarunning in general on her podcast (Episode 11), Trail Tales. Check it out!

Gear/Nutrition Used:

Altra Olympus shoes, Altra shirt, Desert Dash Trail Junkie hat, Pearl Izumi shorts, Injinji/Drymax socks, Columbia arm sleeves, NV Battle Born hoorag, Black Diamond Z Trekking Poles, Garmin Forerunner 935.

GU Roctane Energy Mix, GU gels, Honey Stinger waffles and chews, applesauce, smoothie, PB&J, Coke, and Mt Dew.

Thanks for reading!





Jun 27

Desert Dash Beginner’s Luck 55k by Steve

As I was preparing for the Miwok 100k, my mileage was ramping up. On the training plan Ian Torrence prepared for me was this 55k. He knew I wanted to do the race and it fit the need for a long run at this point in my plan. I was to run it as a ‘B’ or training race.

I was glad for the chance to do this race because I don’t think it will be around next year. The race is put on by Desert Dash in Henderson, NV. It takes place on the Sloan Canyon trail system incorporating the McCullough Hills trails, Anthem East, and Park Peak.

I had been struggling with a quad strain for a while so I knew this wouldn’t be a strong race for me. I was hoping to get through it and get a solid run in.

I started the race and didn’t even consider trying to stay close to the lead pack. I knew I had to start easy in hope my quad would loosen up. I ran with my buddy John Music, who was preparing for his first hundred miler. I enjoyed chatting with him and shared some of my thoughts and experiences with the 100 mile distance. John eventually went on to finish his 100 miler and achieve his goal. I was so happy for him and loved seeing his success. He later thanked me for that talk we had.

Here I am with John Music after the race

A group of us came to a junction in the trails but we hadn’t seen any flags or trail markers in a while. As the group spread out a bit looking for the right trail, I pulled out my phone and brought up the map. I had downloaded the course map because it was very windy the night before. I was worried that the course markers and flags would get blown off course. I was glad I did! I found the right direction and called the group over. We found the right way and saved ourselves some frustration.

At this point, my quad started to loosen up a bit and I moved forward at a faster pace. I mostly ran alone for the rest of the race. The trails on McCullough Hills roll along smoothly. I did see my friend Lawrence (who was running the 30k) in a battle with two other fast runners. Lawrence is very fast and they were all moving quickly. It was cool to see them pushing each other. I cheered him on and kept moving the other direction to an aid station.

Around this time, I saw Nike elite trail runner Keely Henninger flying along the trails. She looked like she was having a blast and exclaimed how beautiful it was out there. I tried to creep a pic of her but she’s too fast for creepers. That’d make a great hashtag.

This is my “Wow, that girl is fast” face as Keely Henninger flies by.

As I started running towards Park Peak, I encountered some tough climbs in Anthem East. I just kept moving along at a steady pace. The climb up to Park Peak was tough in the middle of a 55k but rewarding with a magnificent view at the top. It was super windy too. The resulting awkward selfie can be seen below.

“Super windy, super tired, and I’m not good at selfies” face

I cruised along seeing friends at aid stations and just tried to enjoy the day. This race is during my busy time at work so it was definitely better than being at the office.

I encountered my friend Matt on the trails and I thought he was going the wrong way. I called out to him and tried to help him. He was really confused until I realized I was the one turned around! Oops, my bad. I didn’t realize I was that far along on the course. Fortunately, Matt understood how ultra-brain works sometimes and didn’t think I was trying to sabotage his race or something, haha.

Later, at an aid station, I saw my friend Rich. He said he was dropping saying he just wasn’t ready for this race. I couldn’t believe it. Rich is such a strong runner. I offered to run with him to the finish because it’s not like I was crushing the course or anything. He would probably still out-run me. However, he declined. I hoped to convince him to continue but he has enough experience to know when he’s done for the day.

I headed back out on the McCullough Hills trails. This race was going about as expected. I didn’t crush it but I got it done. I got the miles in. My training plan called for a fast finish on this run today. At first, I was feeling fast coming closer to the finish but I hit some hills and that fast finish stopped in its tracks… until much closer to the finish line, haha.

This is a really nice ultra course. I like the rolling hills with the peak mixed in. There’s a good amount of vert. It’s too bad this race won’t be around next year. I hope to see it return in the future.

The overall winner for the 55k was Emily Harrison Torrence. She beat all the boys! I ended up with 6th overall.

May 09

Miwok 100k Race Report by Steve

I’m blogging a bit out of order. I still need to do a writeup for the Desert Dash Beginner’s Luck 55k.

When I first looked at and registered for the Miwok 100k lottery, I thought it was an easy (relatively) race. I thought this because I looked at the Western States qualifying time of 15 hours 30 minutes (it’s usually 17 hours for a 100k), and I also looked at previous years’ finishing times and saw a lot of fast times. Based on that limited information that I gathered too hastily, I thought this would be a relatively easy 100k. Boy was I wrong! I think I was blinded by all the beautiful race photos that I didn’t look deeper into the details of the race.

As the race approached, I looked further into the details of the race. I saw that it had 11,800 feet of elevation gain. Wait a minute… I thought this was an easy 100k. What about the Western States qualifying time of 15 hours and 30 minutes? Oh. That’s the cut off for the entire race. Also, the other cut offs for the race are tight! What about all those fast times? Oh. Those are the only people that actually finished the race. Upon further investigation, I saw a long list of DNFs each year. Uh oh.

Fortunately, I had pro ultrarunner/coach Ian Torrence create a custom training plan for me. I felt this would help shake up my training a bit because I had been feeling a bit stale. I really enjoyed the training plan.

I had some unavoidable struggles of my own during this training cycle. My job as a tax CPA meant I was putting in huge work hours during the weeks leading up to the race. I was also dealing with a nasty quad strain for most of my training cycle, which limited my hard workouts. Fortunately, local PT, Ron Gallagher with Maximum Velocity, was able to meet with me at times that fit my insane work schedule. I also got pretty sick at one point, which wasn’t fun for work (no days off during tax season) and training.

Fortunately, Ian’s plan helped get my training on track and Ron was able to get my quad issue fixed before the race. I felt pretty good heading into this race. I wasn’t entirely sure what my goal time should be. My time at the Cuyamaca 100k was 11:59 and the Miwok 100k appeared to be easier so I thought perhaps I could do similar or better than 12 hours. Still, I knew the Cuyamaca 100k was a great race effort for me so I wasn’t sure if it could be duplicated.

The Miwok 100k really is an iconic ultramarathon. The course is incredibly beautiful. It starts at Stinson Beach, on the north side of the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco.

I flew in early with my family and got a chance to play tourist in San Francisco before the race. I found a carpool that would pick me up from my hotel en route to the start of the race. One of the other members of the carpool also picked up my bib.

I was picked up at 3am so we could pick up the other members of the carpool and get to the starting area at Stinson Beach by 4am in order to be ready for the race start by 5am. For the other three members of my carpool, it was their first 100k.

The check in and pre-race set up was very efficient. It was still dark at the start. I was milling around and someone asked me where I was from. I replied that I was from Las Vegas and someone else nearby said, “Massey?” It was Matt Clark (or ‘ultratrailmatt’) whom I knew from Instagram and must have figured I was the only one there from Vegas, haha. It was nice to meet him and we had a good chat.

I wished Matt well and moved up towards the front of the starting line in hopes to avoid too much of a bottleneck on the Dipsea trail. No such luck! After the start, everyone except maybe the very front of the pack were clogged up climbing the Dipsea. That was a tough climb to start a race! Those steps seemed to keep going as I climbed in the dark trying to avoid poison oak (it was everywhere!). As I was approaching the top of the Cardiac knoll and the light was just beginning to appear, I heard a sound…

A bagpiper! It was so cool.

As the race went on, I felt really good. There were some tough climbs and I was doing my best to keep my effort relatively easy.

The course is very hilly. So many rollers with some very steep climbs. Many of the climbs are towards the beginning of the race. I was just hoping that after all the climbs, I would still have something left at mile 50.

As you can see, the views were unreal and it just kept getting better.

I loved descending down to Muir Beach (even though I knew I would have to come back up that climb). The aid stations were fantastic. They were so efficient. They weren’t gimmicky. The volunteers were very knowledgable, super friendly, and so helpful. They were so focused on making sure you did your best. It was really appropriate for this race.

This race is intense. The cut offs are tough. So, the races draws some fast runners. It is very competitive. It makes the race a challenge for everyone. I felt like I would be fine with the cut offs, but anything can happen in an ultra. If I had a bad day, I could easily find myself chasing cut offs. The challenge adds to the experience. We do ultras because they’re hard.

Back to the views…

What’s that in the distance?

An awesome view of the Golden Gate Bridge during the race! So cool!

It was just nonstop scenery. For the first 30 miles, I was feeling great.

I tried to take some pictures while I ran, but they turned out terrible. I was glad I stopped to take some. I think I took more pictures during this race than any other race I’ve done.

Remember how I mentioned the volunteers being amazing? YiOu Wang, professional ultrarunner (sponsored by Under Armour) was there to greet me and help fill my water bottles at the Cardiac aid station. I was a little dumbstruck at the moment, thinking, is this really happening? Seriously, in what other sport do you have pros volunteering at events to help some nobody like me?

I regret not getting a picture. I’m usually *that guy* that asks for a picture. I have no shame.

Instead, more scenery:

I felt like I was still doing okay through mile 40. I had just gotten through the big climb out of Muir Beach and I was heading towards the Muir Woods. I knew I would pick up my pacer, get through one last climb, and then the final stretch.

Let me tell you about my pacer. I had mentioned on my Instagram about doing the Miwok 100k and an ultrarunner friend I only knew from Instagram that is local to the area agreed to come out and pace me. It was helpful because he had the experience and has run those trails many times. I wasn’t sure how having someone pacing me that I didn’t know well might turn out but I was optimistic.

I was hoping to make it to the Randall aid station to meet my pacer within the timeframe I told him but I was starting to cut it close to the schedule I had given him.

I met a lot of cool people out on the trails and had some great conversations. It was at this point (the picture above) that the leaders of the race came flying by back towards the finish. I was amazed at how they could be moving so well after so many miles.

I feel like I didn’t over-extend my effort early in this race. I felt like my hydration was going well. I was doing my best to consume a lot of calories. I did well with the calories early on in the race but I was falling off a bit towards the end of the race. Still, I wasn’t doing too bad. I was getting tired and sore. I was wearing my Altra Lone Peaks and my feet felt about as good as I could expect them to feel. But, I was slowing down. I felt if I could just get to my pacer, get some more calories, finish that last big climb, and then I would be ready to crush those last miles to the finish.

The Muir Woods (see above) were so beautiful and fun to run through. It was at this point of the race that Jesse Haynes, one of the Team Altra elite runners, came flying by. Also, later in my trek through the woods, Eric Byrnes, former professional baseball player, came running by.

There was a punishing descent down to the Randall aid station. As I went down, I dreaded the thought of coming back up it. At the aid station, I met my pacer who helped me refill my bottles and get ready. Off we went back uphill. We chatted for a bit, getting to know each other. It helped to take my mind of the running. I told him I was in bad shape at this point of the race (as if it wasn’t obvious, haha). Once we got to the top of the climb, I was alternating walking the uphills and running the downhills on the rollers. Those downhills were starting to hurt! So, I was getting too fatigued for the uphills and the downhills hurt too much, haha. This is definitely NOT the course for that to happen on because it’s rarely flat.

On we went…

My pacer did a great job of encouraging me and motivating me to run a bit more each time. I think he tricked me a bit pulling out his camera and taking pictures of me running because he knew (like most runners), that I didn’t want pictures of me walking, so I would pick up the pace when he did that, haha.

It was tough because mentally, I was still in the race. I really wanted to do well but I just couldn’t physically get myself to do it.

So. Many. Rollers.

My pacer noticed I wasn’t getting quite enough calories and offered me a gel. I hadn’t had that type of gel before but I figured that I needed something to shake me out of my rut. At least it tasted great! As I got closer to the finish (it still seemed so far away), I tried to run more when I could. I think the gel was pulling me out of it or I was just excited to be close to the finish.

As we started the final descent down Matt Davis trail, I knew it would be a punishing few miles. Still, I was determined to cruise down it as best as I could. There was another runner that had been behind me most of the previous 3-4 miles. As we started the final descent, he tucked in behind me and my pacer. I could just sense that he was going to tuck in there and wait until the end to make his move. I didn’t like the idea of that so I picked up the pace even more. My pacer was excited and we were passing more and more people on these last few miles. I had to be careful because there were so many roots, stone steps, and wooden steps (those hurt). I asked him if anyone was coming up behind and he assured me nobody was… until the final moment (my pacer warned me he was making his move) when we crossed the final bridge coming towards the finish, the runner who had tried tucking in behind me strode ahead of me looking strong.


He was getting far ahead of me but then I put down one of the biggest finish line kicks of my life at the end of a 62 mile run. People saw me sprinting towards the end. The cheers got louder. The guy in front of me must have assumed the cheers were for him because he never looked behind him. I came flying in and finished ONE SECOND ahead of him. That was satisfying.

It was a nice way to finish a really tough day. I finished 13:34:33 qualifying again for the Western States Endurance Run. I’ll have two tickets next year.

In summary… it’s hard to evaluate this race. Was I hoping to have a better finishing time? Yes, a much better finishing time. Still, I should be happy with finishing at all, getting WS100 qualifier, and having such a unique experience. Why did I get so fatigued at the end? Maybe it was the quad strain, the heavy work hours, or some other factors or combination of factors. I was still in the race mentally. I usually find that some of my races right after my heavy work season aren’t my best performances. So perhaps I should take that into consideration when evaluating how this race went. It was also hard for me to pick a goal time for this race so I feel like my goal was a bit open-ended. Considering the long list of DNFs I saw posted, I should be happy that I finished at all. Out of the 3 people I carpooled with in the morning doing their first 100k, only one of them finished. Yeah, it was tough.

Nonetheless, I got through it and I was hungry! My pacer was helpful in encouraging me to focus on getting food after the race, and we totally forgot to get a picture together. Bummer! Oh well, I’m sure we’ll meet again at a future event. Maybe I’ll get to pace him!

The meal at the finish line was fantastic! I sat near the finish and watched people come in. Before I left, the time on the clock was nearly 15:30 and there were some folks that finished less than a minute before the cut off and that was so exciting! There were also some folks that finished just after the cut off. It was heart-wrenching to see their reactions upon realizing they had just barely missed it.

I love this little unique medal. It represents a lot of hard work and a beautiful experience. I also got a runrabbit tech shirt (it’s really nice!), a Miwok/Golden Gate buff, a mug, Tecnu, and some other nice goodies.

I also made sure to use Tecnu to (hopefully) get rid of the poison oak oils that may have rubbed on me during the race. There was poison oak everywhere! It was interesting hobbling around after a 100k and then having Tecnu hosed off with cold water, haha. Still, it’s been a couple days and no poison oak rash so far (fingers crossed).

Apparently I missed Magda Boulet at the finish line visiting people. I finished too late! I would have really liked to have met her. However, I did get to meet (and I remembered to ask for a picture) The Rocket!

Really nice guy!

Some of the gear/nutrition I used: Altra Lone Peaks 3.0, Nuun Hydration, Honey Stinger, Injinji socks, Desert Dash Trail Junkie hat, Salomon ultra vest, GU gels, and some foraging at the aid stations for super ultra nutrition like Mt Dew and Coke.

The next day was spent doing some active recovery walking around San Francisco.

This is such a great race. The organization and volunteers were superb. If you want to do one of the most beautiful races that is also quite challenging, check this one out.