Jun 02

Mojave Death Race by Steve

When I signed up for the Mojave Death Race, I thought I was getting into an easy fun run type experience. The race involves 20 teams out in the Mojave desert. The relay legs are made up of road bike, mountain bike, road running, and trail running. I had no idea how fierce the competition would be for this race.

Around 3am Saturday morning, Josh (a great trail runner) and I carpooled out to Primm, NV to meet the team. We picked up Chad along the way, whom I met that morning for the first time. Chad is another local runner and Ragnar ambassador with great speed. We met up with the rest of the team at Primm. Joseph, another local runner and Ragnar trail warrior, and Matt, crazy Australian runner, were there to round out the runners. I met Rich (our cyclist and team captain), Rob (road and mountain biker with penchant for long endurance rides), and Donovan (an amazing mountain biker who can also kill it on the road). This completed our team, The Running Dead. We had a sweet team RV so we would be riding in this race in style. We tossed our stuff in and carpooled out to Nipton, CA, a small town where the race would begin.

Matt had said that based on the competition from last year, he was confident we could win this race. The race began at 6am on a warm Saturday morning. It was already warm in the morning? The forecast said temperatures would be over 100 degrees. Chad started us off and I could tell right away this would be a tough race. These people were fast!

In the beginning we bounced around between 6th and 3rd. Matt seemed a little bummed out as the first place team, with one of the top local cyclists, was pulling away significantly. Still, we decided we would continue to give it our best and hope for at least a podium position in 3rd place.

I got ready for my first run, which was a 9.1 mile road run. By this time, it was hot outside. I put some ice in my hat and in a bandana around my neck. I was amped up for the run and I took off. I ran my first mile in 6:20 and my second mile in 6:35 then suddenly someone passed me! It turns out a nationally ranked track athlete from Cal State was running the same leg as me! He must have been doing 5 minute miles! I cranked out my run in the heat. The heat really started to wear on me by mile 6. I poured some water on my head and pushed through.

Mojave Desert Running

Mojave Desert Running

Fortunately, I passed someone else on my run and retained my team’s position in the race. Later, in Baker, I saw on the world’s largest thermometer that it was 102 degrees!

World's Largest Thermometer

We kept giving it our best (and later we were glad we did). Our cyclists were amazing. Shortly after this, Rob crushed a long 34 mile ride in the heat. I knew that a guy that loves doing long endurance rides would have no problem with this kind of adversity. Later Josh had to do his 8 mile run in the heat. The heat was so intense, it got to the point that we didn’t even want to step out of the RV into it, let alone race in it. We kept giving Josh water to pour on his head and I gave him some ice to put in his hat as our team continued along the sufferfest.

We were back and forth, just trying to hold onto 3rd or 4th. As night approached, we were in 4th place, hoping to get back 3rd and hold it for a podium position. The temps began to cool off. Then the night came…

As Rich, would later say, we should adopt the Army’s motto, “We own the night.”

I also thought that much like our team name…

We don’t stop, we keep coming, we don’t slow down, we are relentless…

We’re coming for you…

We are The Running Dead!

Zombies

As I relaxed in the RV, Rob raced through his mountain bike leg, taking back 3rd place. By this time, the second place team was 45 minutes ahead of us still! Chad and Joseph tore through their legs. The second place team remained 40 minutes ahead. Such a huge gap.

Matt, Josh, and I completed the next three legs. I ran hard on my 6.5 mile leg but I had to be careful because I had another 7.5 mile leg next. By the time we finished our legs, we were only 20 minutes behind second place, Team Nuckin Futs. Wow! We were really gaining. We also found out that 4th place, Team Riff Raff, was only 10 minutes behind us and pushing hard.

Donovan, who had already done so well on 3 legs, got ready for his 4th leg, a mountain bike leg. He was tired but he said to me, “This is my stuff right here. On the mountain bike.” I knew he would kill it. When Donovan got back, Rob was amped for his mountain bike leg and declared he would beat his projected time.

I got ready on a quick turnaround for my third and final leg. I didn’t get as much recovery as I would have preferred. My legs were tired but I had to get this done. As I got to the exchange, I saw the college runner there. I casually asked if he was doing this leg and he was. He asked me what team I was on and he said, “Oh. So you’re the runner I’m about to pass.” Wow. I can’t believe he  just said that. The pressure was on. I told Rich that I was running against their elite runner and we could lose some time and our position. Just then, I saw Rob riding into the exchange. I ran towards the exchange,  grabbed the GPS baton out of his hand and took off. I pushed hard during that uphill 7.5 miles. I was motivated. I ran hard despite my tired legs and my lungs burning with the dust of the Mojave desert. I kept checking over my shoulder to see if anyone was catching up to me. I knew that each mile I stayed ahead, was extra time I could give my team. Finally, when I got to 7 miles, I kicked towards the end. YEAH! I was all like:

Shall not pass

I handed off to Matt, who took off. I told my team what happened and that they likely gained some significant time on us. Sure enough, shortly after, we saw the headlamp of the college runner coming towards the exchange. He handed off to his track coach, who took off hard! We had to warn Matt!

We jumped in the RV. We could see in the track coach’s face that he was pushing hard. He wanted this. We caught up to Matt and warned him that 4th place was chasing him hard. The big Australian charged down that leg with a ton of heart. As we leapfrogged ahead, we couldn’t believe our eyes. 2nd place, Nuckin Futs, was right there! We had pushed so hard to keep 3rd from the 4th place guys that we caught up to 2nd place. We told Matt they were right there! As Matt passed and brought us into 2nd place, the RV erupted into cheers!

Chad was next up. He was nervous. The pressure was on. Just like me, he didn’t want to be the guy to give up a position. At the next exchange, all the teams waited to see how things sorted out. Who would arrive next? Matt arrived first. Joseph and I cheered and everyone else at the exchange was dead silent. Chad took off with a fury.

As we pushed ahead to make sure our runner was okay, we heard a distance noise. A train was coming! The train was going to cross right in front of Chad. We couldn’t believe this. We could lose all of our lead if the runners bunched up at the train. It was dark and we couldn’t see how long the train was. It seemed to go on forever. Fortunately it passed and Chad hadn’t made it to the tracks yet so he wasn’t impeded.

Ahead at the last leg, Rich had no idea what had happened. He was trying to get a little sleep waiting for his last leg. We rushed ahead and woke up him up with the news. We were now in second with a slim lead. Two other teams were gunning for us and it was coming down to this. He got ready in a flash and Chad came flying in. Chad was exhausted from the effort. He looked at his watch and we realized, in an immense show of heart, he had run faster on his last leg than his first. Rich was off and we waited for the next team so we could tell Rich how much of a lead he had.

I saw the college kid there at the exchange and couldn’t resist saying, “You didn’t pass me, by the way.” He laughed and said, “I was trying to get in your head. I made up some time though.” He certainly did get in my head. He motivated me. The track coach laughed and said he really wanted to pass Matt and was pushing hard. The coach asked me where I ran in college, and I replied, “I didn’t run in college. I just do this for fun.” hehe

Riff Raff came in 8 minutes behind us and took off. We went ahead and told Rich how much of a lead he had. He was pushing hard and I could see he was as stressed as we were during our legs. It looked like we had 2nd but you never want to say it until it’s actually happened. We went ahead to the finish line. As we waited so close to the finish, we heard a familiar noise.

A train?! Again?!

Rich came riding up and the race officials yelled at him not to try to beat the train. He couldn’t do it anyways. The lights came on and gates came down. Once again, the train seemed to last forever. I think the conductor looked like this:

 

Trollface

 

Just kidding, but it felt like the trains were trolling us.

Eventually the train passed, Rich was still in the lead and he cruised across the finish line. We all cheered! As Matt later remarked, “This is the proudest I’ve ever been of coming second!”

It was a memorable experience. Our team was great. Nobody bickered. It was great making new friends too. Everyone was uplifting and a great time to be with. The whole relay took about 22 1/2 hours.

Looking back, every little bit we pushed… it all mattered.

May 29

Book Review: Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall

Natural Born Heroes

 

My Review of “Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance” by Christopher McDougall

I really enjoyed Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run.” Although I didn’t eschew my shoes and take up barefoot running, I appreciated the story telling and anecdotes. It was a page-turner that pulled me in and kept my attention in the world of running and ultra-running.

I was excited for his newest book, “Natural Born Heroes.” The title intrigued me and I purchased the book right away. Unfortunately, the book didn’t live up to my expectations. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Still, it wasn’t quite the page-turner that “Born to Run” was to me. Don’t get me wrong. “Natural Born Heroes” has some great stories and is still worth reading.

The issue I have with “Natural Born Heroes” is that it didn’t quite gel together. The author has interesting pieces on the nature of Greek heroes. I particularly liked the discussion on the emphasis of all around skills and being a protector. Everyday people can become heroes by being physically and mentally prepared when the situation arises. There is a particular touching story about Norina Bentzel, a teacher, protecting the children at her school.

There is some brief discussion on the usage of fascia. I’m skeptical about his claims regarding fascia. I never felt like this was fully explored in the book. I’m a bit skeptical on the author’s discussion of which martial art is the most effective. There will be so many different opinions depending on who you ask.

There are interesting pieces on the Natural Method and parkour. The origin of the Natural Method is fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the mantra of training to “be useful.” I found the connection to modern day obstacle course racing (OCR) to be intriguing. The discussion of the business of gyms being built on people ‘not going’ is something I whole-heartedly agree with along with the transition into the modern day “work outs” focused on physique versus usefulness. He also touches on CrossFit.

The story of the ‘daring band of misfits’ from WW2 on Crete is also fantastic. This was a story I hadn’t heard before. It was so daring and fascinating. It was such an amazing feat in the face of great danger. It would make a great movie. I really don’t want to go into too many details at the risk of sharing spoilers.

In addition to these topics, Christopher McDougall discusses the Maffetone Method of fat-as-fuel. He also goes into the overconsumption of carbohydrates and the paleo diet. I predict a large number of endurance athletes will begin toying with the Maffetone Method because of this book.

The author goes about tying this all together. They seem to be connected but it just doesn’t feel complete and is a bit forced. Perhaps this book tries to combine too much. Throughout the book, it felt like there was this big secret the author was going to share. It felt like this secret was teased and strung the reader along. In the end, it didn’t feel like a big reveal.

The author wasn’t overly technical when discussing some of the various ideas. I believe this was for the more casual reader. I would have preferred a more technical approach. I suppose those looking for more will delve into these various topics on their own.

In the afterword, Christopher McDougall says he was working on two separate books and felt like they were connected. However, as I read, I felt like the book kept bouncing around to all these different ideas and they never seem to come together throughout the book in a satisfying way. In the end, the author does go about bringing them together and I’m a bit skeptical about how they coalesced in the end.

May 07

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim Run (R2R2R)

Ever since I heard about the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim run (R2R2R), I had been drawn to it. The allure of running in one of the great natural wonders of the world was too great. I didn’t care that it wasn’t any type of race or event. This is something I wanted to do for myself.

Grand Canyon View

I spent time researching, planning, and training (of course) for the run. I tried to train as if for 50 miler and get as much elevation gain as I could in my runs. I searched online for information about the run and joined the Grand Canyon R2R2R run group on Facebook.

To be honest, the Grand Canyon can be a dangerous place. This is a self-supported run. No aid stations. Limited cell service. The weather is unpredictable. The taxi driver warned us that two runners had to be pulled out of Phantom Ranch recently; one of them needed an IV due to the heat. There are areas with sheer drops. Every year, a number of people die at the Grand Canyon, some from falling. I took every precaution. I made sure I was prepared and I had back up plans if things went poorly.

Warning

The route I chose was starting at South Kaibab trailhead, running down to Phantom Ranch, up to the North Rim, then back down, and up Bright Angel. This seems to be a popular route for the R2R2R run.

I scheduled my run for early May. This wasn’t ideal since it could possibly be getting hot but it fit my schedule. It was still before the north rim opens so it wouldn’t be as busy.

South Kaibab Trailhead

I stayed in the Grand Canyon village the night before and took a taxi to the South Kaibab trailhead around 4am in order to get started before the mules. I didn’t want to get stuck behind a mule train. Mules are still used today to bring supplies down to Phantom Ranch. They are also used to deliver the mail from the ranch. It’s great to see the postcards stamped, “Mailed by Mule at Phantom Ranch, The Bottom of the Grand Canyon.” The mule trains start a first light so I got there an hour before sunrise to be safe.

A number of friends were going to do the run with me but one-by-one things didn’t work out. This happens with scheduling trips like this. Peoples’ schedules interfere or injuries happen. Nonetheless, I wanted to do this and I was going no matter what, even if I had to do it solo. As it turns out, I ended up going solo on the run.

At the trailhead, I met another very nice group of runners. It always impresses me how inclusive, personable, and courteous the trail and ultra-running community is. A number of them had been on this run before. They allowed me to join with them. I appreciated the company and their experience.  The temperature at the trailhead was cool but not cold. I considered bringing arm sleeves and gloves but opted not to. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be.

South Kaibab Trail

As I descended down South Kaibab in the dark, I was so excited. This was really happening. Throughout the run, I was filled with a sense of gratitude to be able to do this. I was grateful to be healthy, physically capable, and that the Grand Canyon allows runners to do this.

The trail down South Kaibab was quite cut out. They have these wooded logs spaced out and it’s difficult to get a good running rhythm on this part of the trail. One runner remarked how the logs push up on ball of your foot. This little push (over and over again) can wear on your calves on the downhill. I noticed this early on.

Looking down South Kaibab

As the sun broke over the horizon, I was treated to spectacular views of the canyon. I couldn’t help but stop every so often to take pictures. It was quite overwhelming and the pictures simply don’t do it justice.

South Kaibab Bridge

After the downhill running of Kaibab Trail, we reached the tunnel and bridge to cross the river. The inner canyon was beautiful to run through alongside the river. We saw a small herd of deer that allowed us to come right up to them. We passed Phantom Ranch but they weren’t open quite yet. I had begun sweating already as we descended and the temperature was warmer at the bottom. This concerned me because the temperature would likely get hot later in the day when I returned to the bottom from North Rim.

Friendly Deer

The inner canyon offered a different perspective but equally amazing views. I ended up pulling ahead of the initial group I ran with and ran solo for a while. At the cottonwood campground, I refilled my hydration pack. I was doing well with water but I didn’t want to take any chances so I refilled often. Overall, for water, there was no water availability coming down South Kaibab. There was water at Phantom Ranch but I didn’t need it. Overall, I was fortunate that the water was flowing in many locations along the way. This isn’t always the case and you have to check the water availability before you go. I packed a lifestraw just in case I needed to drink from the river.

Grand Canyon Bottom

Grand Canyon Bottom

Grand Canyon Bottom

I encountered a couple of solo runners on the miles to the North Rim. I chatted a bit with John, who was approaching his 60th birthday. He had made a number of goals before he reached 60. One of those goals was completing the R2R2R and he had lost over 70 lbs in order to complete his goals. Very inspiring! I am impressed by individuals that envision these goals and really put in the work, changing their lives even, to make it happen. I also encountered Mike from Colorado, who was really making great time. We chatted a bit and trotted up towards the North Rim. (In the picture below, you can see me running in the lower right)

Ledge

The route up to the North Rim was more exposed to the sun. The ascent was steep. I took out the trekking poles to help with the push to the top. On the way up, I encountered another group of ultra-runners from California. They were making good time and really enjoying themselves.

Once I reached the top of the North Rim, I felt wrecked. This concerned me as there were a lot of miles left. Still, it was fun at the North Rim. There was a nice group of us all refilling water, hydrating, fueling, and taking a breather. Everyone joked around and talked about the run. The temperature at the North Rim was refreshing. There was snow on the ground nearby but it didn’t feel cold. It was nice to get my body temperature back down. The water there was refreshingly cold. It was difficult to leave.

North Rim

After taking this break, I felt rejuvenated. I was ready to tackle the rest of this run. I ran at a comfortable pace back down towards the inner canyon. I stopped at the pumphouse to refill my water. On the way down, it was hot but I was still feeling good. Upon reaching the bottom, it was hotter but not unbearable. I continued to hydrate, take salt, and eat ginger to keep the stomach under control. The miles were adding up and I was getting tired but I pushed through. I would dip my hat and buff in the river/water each chance I got. I was tempted to jump in the river to cool off.

North Kaibab

I arrived at Phantom Ranch and the canteen was open. I had planned on sending a few postcards to friends from here. I sent one to myself too as a keepsake. I grabbed a bag of M&Ms and two lemonades. They tasted glorious after running for about 38 miles thus far. As I did this, I chatted with a couple of folks from the Dirtbag Runners group that happened also be in the Grand Canyon. They were doing a shorter run to Ribbon Falls (a place I’d like to visit in the future).

Phantom Ranch

It was time get to the final ascent. I took the path towards Bright Angel and crossed the beautiful silver bridge. The river looks like a lot of fun. I would love to do a rafting trip through the canyon. As the path got steeper, I ran slower. Eventually, I pulled out the trekking poles and got into a good rhythm pushing towards the top. The top never seemed to come. I came across more and more hikers as got closer to the top. I got more and more excited to complete this journey. When I reached the top, I was greeted by my cheering family. I had done it! It felt so good. It was time to eat! Even days after completing this run, it is still sinking in just how special it was.

Silver Bridge

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail

Each ultra-runner should put this run on their list. Hopefully the Grand Canyon continues to allow runners to do this.

The total time to complete the run was about 14 hours. Per Strava, my moving time was about 11 hours. I stopped often for photos, water, and writing postcards, etc. With a run like this, I didn’t want to rush it. It wasn’t a race. My goal was simply to enjoy the experience, and I accomplished my goal.

 

Gear: Petzl Headlamp, Buff, Injinji socks, Hoka Challenger shoes, The North Face Better Than Naked shorts, FlipBelt, Nathan Hydration pack, Garmin 620.

Fuel/Hydration: Nuun Hydration, GU gels, Honey Stinger waffles, Gin-gins candy

Note: I was going to wear my The North Face Ultra Cardiacs on this run but I had muddied them up at Zion the week prior. They weren’t quite ready for this so I had to purchase the Hoka Challengers on late notice, slightly break them in, and trust them. They performed well, although they started coming apart a bit already. I took them back for an exchange when I got home (technically, I could say I had only worn them twice ;), although I did say one of those runs was R2R2R run).

Feb 26

Movie Review: Run Free – The True Story of Caballo Blanco

Movie Review: Run Free – The True Story of Caballo Blanco

If you, like so many other runners, enjoyed Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run,” you will enjoy the documentary “Run Free.” The movie adds great visuals to the storytelling. You get to see footage of Micah True, “Caballo Blanco,” before he passed away. You see the trails of Copper Canyon and the Tarahumara people. You see the various characters of the book in film.

I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign to help fund the production of the documentary. One of my rewards was receiving a copy of the DVD. We also received an early release viewing online at Vimeo. Additionally, I received a very cool t-shirt with the Run Free logo on it. I have to say, this has been one of my better Kickstarter experiences.

The movie includes various interviews of people associated with different phases of Micah True’s life, from his pre-Mexico days to the end of his life. You also get Micah himself talking about running, the race, and some of his personal philosophies. I really appreciated his minimal and happy approach to life. You see the emotions he displays on various topics, which you can’t quite fully obtain in the book.

It is also fascinating to see the beautiful trails of Copper Canyon. You can see why Micah True fell in love with this place. You can see the people, the Raramuri runners, and their spirit of Korima (sharing). Many runners talk about the culture of running and it is special to see a people embody so many of those aspects.

Sure, there’s a Hollywood movie coming out based on the book and starring Matthew McConaughey. For me, I appreciated seeing the actual people and places, rather than Hollywood’s dramatization.

I’m not sure when the film will be available for wider distribution, but if you enjoyed the book, you will appreciate this documentary.

Feb 23

2015 Oregon Saturday Select Series Race: Newport Marathon

We are happy to announce that the Newport Marathon has been added to our 2015 Saturday Select Series for the state of Oregon.

I (RJ) have a special place in my running heart for the Newport Marathon – it was my very first marathon back in 2010. I was fortunate enough to run it again in 2011 and had a great experience both years. The race is now in its 16th year and continues to improve and respond to an ever-changing running environment.

The race is always held the Saturday after Memorial Day, which this year is May 30th. Limited to 1000 participants, the 2015 race is nearly sold out, but there’s still time for you to jump in!

The gritty details:

  1. The course is USATF certified and sanctioned and a Boston Marathon (and Olympic Marathon Trials) qualifier.
  2. It’s chip timed
  3. It’s flat and at sea level (well, it does actually start at 60 feet, but pretty darn close.)
  4. It’s fast (assuming you actually train)
  5. Most of the course is along Yaquina Bay except for the part you’re running towards or along the Pacific Ocean (read: incredible views for 26 miles)
  6. There’s a post-race party with food, music and everything else you’d expect
  7. Out and back course with aid stations approximately every two miles
  8. All-you-can-eat oyster “shooters” at mile 11 and 19 (I’m not kidding. The record is 80, set in 2009)
  9. Sitting in the Pacific Ocean afterwards makes a great ice bath and feels great on the legs
  10. The medals. Hand-blown glass medals that will be the envy of all your running friends (my mom ran the race after seeing my two medals and deciding she had to have one for herself)

If you’ve never been to Oregon, Newport is a great place to visit and this is a great race to run. Head on over to the race website and get yourself (and a buddy) registered today!