Feb 18

Training Marathons: The San Diego Trail Marathon by Steve

Training marathons can be a lot of fun. There’s no pressure for PRs or times. It’s a day to just enjoy the course (trails in this case) in a low key way and get in a good workout. San Diego might be one of the best places for a training marathon. It’s a beautiful and fun city.

The San Diego Trail Marathon starts at the San Pasqual Valley Trailhead and takes place at the San Dieguito River Park and Black Mountain Open Space Park. It’s near the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The course is a mix of singletrack, fire road, and a little paved path.

I did the Red Rock Canyon 50k the week before this marathon. I knew I wouldn’t be able to push the pace on this one. The weather was nice for the race in the morning but got a little warm (for this time of year) towards the end the race.

At the start of the race I cruised along, taking in the views. There were some areas with beautiful views, especially along Lake Hodges. However, there were some fairly flat, non-technical sections of the course. Maybe my expectations were too high because I like the San Diego area so much, heh.

I felt pretty good throughout the beginning of the race. My quad (the one that bothered me during the beginning of last year) was tightening up on me a bit. Still, I kept moving steadily. After reaching the halfway point and turning around, the cumulative fatigue from the 50k the week before began to catch up to me. I knew I didn’t have much left in the tank. I slowed down but did my best to keep a slow, but steady pace.

Despite the fatigue, I was able to finish with 4:25:24, which I was satisfied with for training pace. Upon finishing, I received a nice wooden “medal” as the finisher’s award and a sweet pint glass. They also gave out a really nice long sleeve cotton shirt. Their logo on all these items is really cool!

I should mention that the course markings for this race were fantastic. There was never a point where I was unsure about where to go. It was also fun to run through an orange (I think they were those little oranges called ‘cuties’ рџ™‚ orchard near the start and finish area.

Dec 22

Ray Miller 50 Miler

This is one of Keira Henniger’s races. It offers a 30k, 50k, and 50 miler. It starts at Point Mugu State Park at the Ray Miller Trailhead. The race start is right by the ocean. It’s such a beautiful place. You can hear the waves while admiring the Santa Monica Mountains.

I chose to do the 50 miler. This race is near the end of my race season. I felt like I was in good shape from the other races I’ve done this year like the 100k and two 100 milers. I didn’t really specifically train for this race. I was mostly trying to maintain my fitness while winding down for the offseason. Still, it’s a 50 mile ultramarathon with 9,587 ft of elevation gain (according to my Strava), so I couldn’t just wing it.

Photo credit: Howie Stern

With this race in Malibu, CA, we had a lot of runners from Las Vegas travel out for it. It’s fun how it happened. There were a few folks that signed up for it in our local trail running group, TrailRunning.Vegas, on Facebook. Later, a few more signed up. Then, friends of those people signed up. It really took on a life of its own with a lot of fun encouragement and a bit of peer pressure. At one point, we had 60+ people planning on going. As the event neared, that number was whittled down to 50+, which is still amazing. We at Desert Dash even had custom-made Trail Junkies hats in unique colors with Ray Miller 50/50 and the date on them.

It was a lot of fun traveling out to the race with friends (telling silly inside jokes and John Music making Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “September” the song of our race, haha), seeing so many familiar faces at packet pickup and at the starting line, and, best of all, there was such a large group of Las Vegas runners cheering for each other at the start/finish line. It was really special to see so many local runners setting PRs, running their first ultra, running their first 50 miler, and other notable achievements. One of the runners brought a #VegasStrong sign that was used in many of the photos.

Running the 50 miler meant that I would be starting before and finishing after the runners doing the other distances. Still, it was fun to see some of the other locals crossing paths out on the trails. It was dark at the starting line, and I knew the sun would be coming up soon. I opted not to bring a headlamp and just rely on the light of other runners if I needed it. It probably wasn’t the greatest idea but it worked out fine.

There was a nice climb at the start of the race. Many of the runners took off fast from the start! I was content to take it easy on that first climb because there was plenty of race left. As the sun came up, the sunrise with the mountain and ocean views created the kind of moment that trail runners cherish.

I cruised throughout the beginning of the race, taking it easy on the climbs, and trying to stay loose on the descents. I moved through aid stations quickly and did my best to stay relaxed. There were some tough climbs near the beginning but I knew the biggest climb was closer to the end. The climb near the end makes the earlier ones look easy!

Around mile 13, I was cruising down a fun descent and I must have lost focus (I have no idea what I tripped on) because I fell pretty hard with my left shoulder and arm absorbing most of the fall, also banging my head on the ground too. At first, I thought that my race could be over now. But, I got up quickly, assessed the damage, and I seemed to be okay. My arm and shoulder were bleeding and hurt a bit but I seemed to be functional (my shoulder ended up hurting throughout the race, making it tough to maintain good arm swing form). Another silly frustration was all the brush, tree branches, and such hanging over the trail that would poke the boo-boo on my shoulder as I ran by, haha. Throughout the race, I would get questions and comments from people asking if I was okay and such.

I carried on and made it to the next aid station. Fortunately, I knew a friend whom I had only previously known from Instagram was at that main aid station. It was fun to see and meet her there. It was also nice that she could help wash and clean the blood and mud off my arm. Thank you, Tam!

I kept up a consistent effort, fueling regularly throughout the race. My fuel and stomach seemed to be on point. I had no issues there. Even during the big climb, I kept grinding my way up it. I passed a lot of people with consistent intentional movement. There was a drop before reaching the aid station after the big climb. Just when you think you’ll get a break from all the climbing, you have to climb your way out of that aid station, haha.

The big descent was a lot of fun. I was happy that I had the energy to push down it. My Altra Lone Peaks held up well and felt great throughout the 50 miler, even during the pounding downhill. I saw a bunch of local trail running friends on the way back. Some of the singletrack on the last section was absolutely stunning. I wish I had taken some pictures but I was enjoying the moment while keeping constant movement. One funny thing that happened around this time was when I passed a group of older women hiking, they turned and looked at my 1” in-seam split shorts, and one remarked appreciatively, “Would you look at THAT!” and a chorus of giggles followed. Hehe

I also checked my phone and texted throughout the race (there wasn’t much signal) to see how other friends were doing on their races. This probably isn’t the most efficient thing to do during a race but I couldn’t help it. I love hearing about their achievements.

As I approached the last aid station, someone was excitedly cheering for me, until she realized I was not her son (whom she said I looked a lot like). The cheering was nice though, haha. She also told me I was in 10th place. I was a bit skeptical of that but I appreciated the news.

I rolled through the last aid station and I noticed a couple of runners that I pushed past on the aggressive downhill section making their way towards me. They were moving well. I was moving decently, but I felt like they were moving better. I kept consistently pushing, but they reeled me in. I was okay with this because I hadn’t simply given up, I made them work for it, and they earned it. That’s how it goes sometimes.

Photo Credit: Howie Stern

Still, I came into the finish under 10 hours, which is better than I was estimating for this course with all that vert. I ended up finishing 12th overall with a time of 9:55. The finish was a lot of fun because all the people milling around the finish area can see which runner is approaching on the singletrack. It was sweet to hear the local Vegas runners cheering loudly. Overall, I’m very pleased with how the race went (aside from the fall). My time was better than expected. My effort level was solid and I felt decent after the event. I would definitely attribute the results to my training throughout the year, thanks to Ian Torrence with Sundog Running. The course was beautiful and it was an experience shared with friends.

After the race, I joked around with medical as they cleaned me up a bit.В  I also made a point to compliment Keira on one of the most well-marked courses I have ever raced on.

I would definitely recommend this race to others for many of the reasons I have mentioned in this write-up.

Gear: Altra Lone Peak shoes, Altra singlet, Desert Dash Trail Junkie trucker hat, Goodr sunglasses, BOA shorts, Darn Tough socks, Salomon hydration vest, Garmin 935

Nutrition/Hydration: Nuun Hydration, Honey Stinger chews and waffles, GU (mmmm toasted mashmallow), Coke, fruit puree squeezes, bananas

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 recoverВ 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.В 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!