Race Day Report


A trail race is not a road race. Two marathons do not a 50-mile race make. Two 50-mile races don’t make a 100-mile race. And a “typical” 100-mile trail race is not a Western States Endurance Run.

For runners, climbing 18,000 feet and descending 23,000 feet across 100 miles of treacherous mountain trails during the heat of the day and chill of the night requires a totally different level of physical, mental, and logistical preparation. For the race director, orchestrating 1,500 volunteers across 25 aid stations in the Sierra Nevada to serve 400 runners during more than 30 hours is simply mind-boggling. But somehow, for 30 years now, it all comes together for the runners and the race director on the last weekend of every June.

Originally used by the Paiute and Washoe Indians, the Western States trail served for many years as the most direct route from the silver mines of Nevada to the gold camps of California. In 1955 a horse race was organized to prove that the 100-mile path from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California could be completed in 24 hours. This race, known as the Tevis Cup, became an annual event. In 1974, Gordy Ainsworth was the first man to join the horses on foot and completed the race even ahead of some of the horses. By 1977 the foot race had become an organized event and a year later was held separately from the horse race. Today, both races are held about three weeks apart, attracting contestants from across the world. Some 3,500 endurance athletes have finished the foot race and some have even finished both!

My race started about 18-months back when I qualified to Western States by running the, now in hindsight very easy, JFK 50-mile race in 8 ½ hours. Because there are more applicants than spots to the Western States race, an annual lottery is conducted to grant entries to the race. Being a non-profit organization that is always looking for funds to maintain and protect the trail, it also sells tickets to a raffle for two of the spots every year. With the purchase of enough raffle tickets, I knew I would have a better than a fifty-fifty chance at a winning entry, which is in fact exactly what happened.

With a race entry in hand and eighteen months to the race, all I needed to do was train. But how in the world do you train to run 100 miles across mountains, particularly for someone with very average running talent? For me, there was only one answer: learn from the best. So I hired seven-time Western States champion and course record holder, Scott Jurek, as my coach. Too bad he couldn’t also do the running for me.

Training for any race is a process of building a base, then sharpening and finally peaking on race day. Building a base requires months of long, slow distance running. Sharpening increases the intensity of the runs, including interval training and runs at lactate threshold. If done correctly, a runner should be able to peak on race day. These phases are completed through a process of stress and recovery during which the intensity of the workouts increase every week for three weeks followed by a one-week recovery at about half the intensity of the prior week. The four-week training cycle is repeated over and over (and over and over), at ever increasing intensities. Add to that a twice a week weight, strength-training program, an occasional 50-mile training race, hydration and nutrition testing while running, and you’ve got yourself the equivalent of a full-time job. Culminating a month before the race with about 20 hours of running per week, I often wondered which was more difficult and required higher discipline, the training or the race itself.

There is also a fine balance between injury and training. At such high mileage, the average body is prone to many injuries. I had my share of them, including a severely dislocated ankle (as in the bone out of the socket) just three months before the race. There is a saying at Western States that it is better to arrive to the race a little under-trained than a little injured, unfortunately most of us arrive there under-trained with injuries which the terrain has a phenomenal ability to uncover and exploit to increase its arduousness.

Eighteen months of training is a lifetime -- a lifetime during which I lost two of my closest friends to cancer, my father and my sister. The race took on a new meaning. It became my way to close these chapters of my life. It would also serve to rediscover my mental fortitude and to create a passage to a new phase of my professional career.

I spent the month prior to the race sleeping at 6,200 feet of altitude in Squaw Valley and training in the canyons during the heat of the day. It became apparent very quickly that the lack of mountains in Connecticut (where I live) was going to present a challenge during race day. I had tried to find the most difficult terrain in Connecticut, but the toughest mountains there are but gentle hills at Western States. During this last month, I met a good training buddy with whom I repeatedly trained on the last 70 miles of the course, including the last 20 at night. Coincidentally, we both had identical VO2 max levels and could run 1000-meter intervals at exactly the same speed, but his mountain training had made him a much stronger endurance runner. He would seemingly effortlessly run up the mountains, as I was left gasping for air far behind. He would run graciously down the steep slopes as if his steps had been choreographed to dance between the stones, while heavy-footedly, I would clumsily hold on for dear life.

My family and crew joined me at Squaw Valley a few days before the race. We spent a day visiting five of the twenty-five aid stations where they would crew for me. Because of the distance between the aid stations and times of the day during which I would pass by them, we spread aid-station responsibility among the crew. My pacer would take the aid station at mile 30 and then pace me from mile 60 to the finish line. Everyone would see me at miles 55, 62 and 100. And my nephew and his friend would handle night duty at miles 80 and 93.

Even though I had planned on retiring to bed early the night before the race, all the preparations with my crew prevented me from getting to bed before 11 pm. It was difficult to know exactly what I would need when, so my crew had to be ready for all eventualities. Change of shoes, change of socks, extra salt tablets, food which I might or might not want, blister repair kits, hot weather gear, cold weather gear, ice for my cap and bandana, toilet paper kits (baby wipes and paper towels), extra bottles, insect repellent, tylenol, tums, gas tablets, etc. Each member of my crew of five had a specific responsibility and each had to know what was expected of them. Everyone had to know what was in the crew bag, where it was, and when was I likely to ask for it. “Keep the large ice cooler in the car with all the food and carry small coolers to the aid stations. Give me the flashlights and headlight at mile 62, unless I arrive after 8:00 pm at mile 55, in which case I need them then.” Even with five pages of written instructions, the logistics can be unnerving for the crew, which must be attentively waiting at the aid stations for hours, ready to crew for a minute or two at most.

I laid out all my gear at a table before retiring to bed. Though I was staying right at Olympic Village, within a 5-minute walk of the 5:00 am start, I still made plans to wake up at 3:00 am, as I needed sufficient time to have some breakfast and tape certain portions of my feet to prevent blisters. In bed by 11:00, I was still tossing and turning by 1:00 am as my mind was being haunted by self-doubt. I had volunteered at a 100k race in Connecticut three months back. The director for that race, an accomplished ultra-marathoner who had even finished Badwater, the infamous 135-mile ultra across Death Valley, had failed to advance past mile 30 at Western States the prior year. The other volunteer at my aid station there had attempted Western States five times, and never gotten past Devil’s Thumb (mile 49), yet he had completed more than twenty-five, 100-mile races. The winner of that 100k race, an athlete from Monroe, Connecticut was also running Western States this year; I, on the other hand, had never run past 50 miles (80k). An ultragirl friend of mine running Western States this year for the first time was already a veteran of ten Leadville 100-mile races. My much stronger training buddy had run the 50-mile Leona Divide a full one hour faster than me. All these self-doubting thoughts had me tossing and turning until I finally managed to clear my mind by 2:00 am, barely catching an hour of sleep before all three alarms went off at 3:00 am.

I was at the starting line by 4:20 am. All I needed to do was to get my bib number. The mandatory medical check-ups and the weigh-in had been completed the day before. The large chronometer at the starting line counts backwards. With ten minutes to go, all 400 runners assemble outside. The sun has yet to rise and at 6200 feet of elevation, it’s cold. Five minutes to go. The crewmembers, fans, and news media jostle for position at either side past the starting line to cheer the runners. With ten seconds to go, everyone starts counting backwards… and at the gun, we all hit our chronometers and go.

The adrenaline is high and it takes the runners 2,000 feet uphill over three miles to the first aid station unnoticeably fast. Each aid station has a sign at its entrance with the times for the 24 and 30-hour paces and the absolute cut-off at the next aid station. The lead runners run well ahead of the 24-hour pace. Experienced runners and many veterans of this race (3,500 runners have crossed the finish line 6,000 times) try to keep just under the 24-hour pace. Less experienced runners and novices of this race, like myself, try to keep their pace somewhere in between. Those struggling for a multitude of reasons, simply try to make the cut-off’s from aid station to aid station. Arrivals past the cut-off time to any aid station are automatically disqualified and must stop. Many, of course, arrive to the aid stations well before the cut-off but drop anyway from exhaustion, injury, or even total incoherence.

I reached the first aid station within a minute of the 24-hour pace. I don’t know how I got to there so quickly. I wanted to be around a 27 hour pace, right in the middle of 24 and 30 hours. “Heck, maybe this is easier than I thought,” I naively said to myself and continued on after refilling my water bottles and eating the rest of my crushed muffin.

The final push to the summit of Squaw Valley – Emmigrant Pass – starts a few hundred yards after the first aid station. This climb, while short, reduced me to all four. The only way for me to “scale” it without sliding down was using my hands and feet. My gloves helped me grab on to rocks and make my way up fairly fast and quite safe. At 8,700 feet, we reach the highest point in the race. The view from the top is inspiring – I can see the entirety of the mountains framed by Lake Tahoe at the valley and pink clouds from the first rising sun above. The air is crisp and draws me to contemplate the scenery, but this is not the time.

Theoretically, it’s all downhill from here as the finish line is at 1,280 feet of elevation. It’s just the additional 16,000 feet of vertical climb and 23,000 feet of descent that would create the challenge.

The next section of the course is supposed to be mostly down, that is, mathematically speaking. But I guess 51% down and 49% up would qualify for this definition. While beautiful with wild flowers and phenomenal vistas, the terrain is relentless with rocks and small streams that make footing difficult. Second aid station is at mile 12. I reached there right at the 30-hour mark. What happened? I didn’t think I had slowed down that much and only a handful of people, including Gordy, the race’s founder, had passed me. I’m doing fine though. I’m peeing frequently, an important barometer, which tells me I am well hydrated. I’ve been eating well and nothing hurts too much. My feet, despite getting a little wet from many of the streams, don’t show signs of blisters. “Just run the race within your limits and don’t worry about the time at this early stage,” I tell myself repeating the advice from many Western States veterans. I push it just a little bit faster to the next aid station.

I reach the Red Star Ridge aid station at mile 16 under 4 hours, but barely 3 minutes before the 30-hour pace. I’m in 268th place out of 400 or so. This means that there are about 130 runners behind me, but I also know that in all likelihood about 150 will not finish… which puts me too close to the tail. How can this be? I am running strong. Yikes, this is beginning to look like a 30-hour finish, and I don’t like it.

Enter Duncan Canyon section. An area devastated by a forest fire four years ago, it’s a desolate place with burnt trees, no foliage, and an imposing arid terrain which exposes the runners to the direct heat of the sun. I continue to hydrate myself, take salt tablets, eat, and run at a sustainable pace. I’m still in unfamiliar territory, as I’ve never covered the first 30 miles of the course (My training buddy and I had tried running this section before the race, but we got lost as this part of the course is not marked until a few days prior to the race.) I’m expecting some down hills since theoretically there is a canyon here somewhere, but the down hills never come or I miss them between the hills. I arrive to the aid station at mile 24 after 5 hours and 39 minutes. The 30-hour pace is 5 hours and 40 minutes and the absolute cut-off at this station is barely 50 minutes later. I don’t like my situation. I haven’t peed for an hour but perhaps I’ve been sweating more due to the heat of this section. I refill my water bottles, fill my pockets with some boiled potatoes, put ice in my cap and push on.

Six miles to the next aid station and the first medical check point where I will also see a member of my crew. I had told him that I would be there between 11 am and 1 pm; unbeknownst to me, he is rushing to get there on time, as the traffic is heavy and the parking situation difficult. I reach a river crossing, which I presume is the bottom of the canyon even though it feels as if I had ran up to the river. Many runners are cooling off at the river. I carefully step on rocks while holding on to a fallen tree so I don’t get my feet wet. Wet feet are the ideal breading ground for blisters. After a few minutes and with about 15 feet to go, I ran out of stones to step on. It’s either tracking back or getting wet. With a few other runners right behind me, it’s time to get wet.

It’s about a 3-mile uphill hike to Robinson Flat from there. It’s very hot and at times it’s very steep. A safety volunteer, who is sweating profusely, tells us that we are within a mile of the aid-station, but also makes it clear that it’s all uphill. I begin to hear the crowd with the noise undulating as the runners arrive there. A few yards before the aid station, I spot a most welcomed sight – a real bathroom. I quickly take care of business and make my way to the first medical aid station.

All runners are weighted ten times during the race, with the first time occurring at this station – Robinson Flat at mile 30. Weight is the best indication of hydration and ideally runners should be with 2% of their starting weight. Underweight means the runner is dehydrated and must drink more. Overweight is a more complicated problem, which can result from ingesting too little salt, too much salt, muscle inflammation, overexertion, or even kidney failure. Over-hydration is known as hyponatremia and even a 2 to 3% can lead to incoherence or even death from accumulation of fluid around the brain. Just last year, the first runner to reach the track at the finish line had failed to complete the race with 300 yards to go when he collapsed from hyponatremia.

The scale reads 161 pounds for me– that’s 6 pounds heavier than when I started. This is not good. I think I’ve been taking enough sodium, but maybe I’ve over done it. I can’t recall the last time I peed, which could mean problems with my kidneys. The medical personnel tells me to reduce my water intake and see how my weight is at the next medical aid station, known as Last Chance (at mile 43).

I don’t take anything from the Robinson Flat aid-station, as my crew member should be a few hundred yards after it. It’s 12:21 pm; I’ve been running for 7 hours and 21 minutes and I’m only 4 minutes ahead of the 30-hour pace. Joe Reis, my pacer and crew for this aid-station, flags me down and takes wonderful care of me. He had only gotten there about 45 minutes earlier and was hoping I had not already been there. He swaps my empty water bottles with new ones, which have ice-cold water. Gives me an Ensure to drink and proceeds to fill my pouches with GU and more salt tables. Dunks my hat and bandanna in cold water and fills both with ice. I ask him to place another TP kit (a precious commodity) in my back pocket while he tells me that my ultragirl friend passed here 25 minutes ago looking very strong. I knew his motives… despite the fact that she was a 10-time veteran of the Leadville 100-mile race, I was in theory a little faster runner than her. So, he was basically telling me, “She is kicking your butt, get going.” I didn’t take the bait. I was going to run this race at my pace, not someone else’s. Besides, I was happy for her.

I’ve already run a 50k race, but despite my weight gain, I feel strong. I am now in familiar territory so I push it a little harder and begin to gain time against the 30-hour clock and pass many runners. I pass Gordy, who tells me he’s lost his gas pedal. I take a quick detour for a potty break and realize that Joe didn’t give me that extra TP kit after all – he talks too much and gets distracted! I use my last one and hope not to need one again before mile 55, when I’ll get new ones from my crew. Between the Robinson Flat and the Last Chance medical stations at miles 30 and 44, respectively, there are two other “regular” aid stations at miles 34 and 38. At one of those aid stations, the one at mile 38 I believe, Rusty, a work-colleague spots me as I am departing. He had ridden his bike there somehow to come see me. His effort and friendship cheers me and encourages me to push it harder.

I’m running harder now; passing more runners and no one has passed me since Robinson Flat. As I catch runners, I spend a few seconds chatting with them and then move on. I have seriously curtailed my water intake, and even though I haven’t peed for hours now, I’m hoping that my weigh will be down when I reach the Last Chance medical station at mile 44. I get there at 2:21 pm; I’ve gained 1-½ hours on the 30-hour pace, and I am nowhere close to the cut-off. My weight hasn’t changed though, and given that it has now been a really long time since I last peed, it definitely points to my kidneys as the source. At high stress levels, the body produces an anti-diuretic hormone that shuts down the kidneys. I guess it’s the body’s way of conserving fluids at extreme conditions. I’m about to enter the most arduous part of the course, the two most difficult canyons and climbs; I must slow down to give my body a chance to recover and get rid of the excess fluid.

I powerwalk for a couple of miles and a few of the runners who I had passed begin to pass me. I want to push it, but I know that I need to give my body a chance to recover. Finally, at the bottom of the canyon, the flood gates open. Knowing that my kidneys have resumed working, I ingest a couple of GU’s with extra-caffeine and push it hard up Devil’s Thumb, the most difficult one mile climb in the entire race. I had avoided all caffeine for the month prior to this moment, knowing that I would need a caffeine rush precisely at this moment to make it up this mountain. It works. Going uphill, I pass all the runners who had passed me and then some, including four or five during the last 200 yards of the hill. A volunteer is waiting for me at the top, ready to refill my bottles and usher me through the aid station. I get weighted again; I’m still five pounds heavy, but since I have peed, I don’t worry about it.

One of the things that makes Western States so special are the volunteers. With 1,500 of them across the 25 aid stations, a volunteer is assigned to each runner as we enter each aid station. This volunteer literally takes care of the runner from the entrance to the exit. They are angels to the runners. They refill water bottles, get you food, encourage you and more. If I were not so sweaty and stinky, I would hug them and kiss them. Instead, I thank them profusely.

Devil’s Thumb is about at the mid-point mileage (mile 48) and a drop point for many exhausted runners. Chairs were filled with the carcasses of runners trying to recover. I barely spent a minute there and pushed on. The next 7 miles was the best section of my run. I felt great as I passed runner after runner. On the way down to El Dorado Canyon I spotted a runner ahead of me who had stopped in the middle of the trail. “What’s up?” I asked. “I just heard the roar of a mountain lion,” he said. “Stick right behind me,” I said as I passed him, “they don’t attack when there is more than one of us.” “And if they do,” I thought to myself, “they attack the slower one.” He kept up with me for a few hundred yards and then fell behind when he thought the danger was over. I came to another runner who was walking and was too tired to move to let me pass. I had to pass him by stepping off the trail.

I reached the bottom of El Dorado Canyon, refilled my water bottles at the aid station and proceeded to the feared 2-½ mile climb to Michigan Bluff. This was all familiar territory for me, and knowing that I would see my family in less than 50 minutes I pushed on. I knew which were the spots within 30, 15 and 5 minutes to the top of the climb, and this helped me stayed focused. Since Robinson Flat, I had probably passed 80 runners, and I was still passing runners on my way up to Michigan Bluff. I crossed the small stream at the 15-minute mark, I saw the 5-minute tree, and reached the top of the mountain strong. In a few hundred yards I would see everyone… I could already hear the crowd. With adrenaline flowing through my veins, I quickly reached the aid station and spotted my crew. The scale showed that I was still five pounds heavy, frustrating, but I ignore it. One of the volunteers prepared a “to go” paper container with watermelon and strawberries.

My nephew directed me to the where the rest of the crew was located. I had arrived to mile 55 at 6:51 pm. I had been running for almost 14 hours but felt strong. My crew swapped water bottles, removed all the trash from my pockets, put ice in my cap and bandanna, and gave me enough stuff (including TP) for just the next 7 miles since we would see each other at the Foresthill aid station again. There was still plenty of light, so I had no need for flashlights, but took a small one just in case I got hurt and had to slow down. I gave my wife a small pinecone that I had picked for her on the way up to Michigan Bluff – I wanted her to know that I had been thinking about her. I tried to use one of the portajohn’s there, but they were all busy – it would have to be al fresco on the way to Foresthill. My crew walked with me to the entrance of the trail, and off I went.

Joe, my pacer, was supposed to be waiting for me at the bottom of Bath Road (mile 60), but I got there quicker than he anticipated. (He must have been talking to someone.) A steep hill, I proceeded to powerwalk it, encountering Joe somewhere mid-hill. A quick run from the top of Bath Road to the Foresthill aid station put me there at 8:20 pm. I had moved up about 100 places and was now at number 176 and 3 hours ahead of the 30-hour pace. I had passed my ultragirl friend somewhere between Michigan Bluff and Foresthill, but I never saw her to say hello and run a bit together.

Still five pounds overweight, there was not much I could do about it. As if they were servicing a race car during a pit stop, my crew got me out of Foresthill in no time with a new shirt, flashlights, headlamps, windbreaker, and all the necessary accoutrements and nutrition supplies for my night run.

I had practically run alone for the first 60 miles. Sometimes, I would go miles without seeing a single soul. Having Joe with me was like having a security blanket. His job was to get me to the finish line, no matter what. Had I arrived by 7:00 pm to Foresthill, his instructions were to get me to the finish line within 24 hours. An 8:20 pm arrival made that nearly impossible. I still had 38 miles to go (1 and ½ marathons), much of it was going to be night running, and to do it in less than 9 hours would be difficult. Joe paced me by running about 20 feet ahead of me. We developed a nice rhythm, powerwalking the hills and running down hills and flats. Night enveloped us within an hour of our departure from Foresthill. At night, it was difficult for me to know if I was going uphill or not, and Joe would take advantage of this to cheat and make me run some of the uphills. We ran without much difficulty, past a couple of aid stations, until about mile 75 when my dark moments started.

I was beginning to feel that my urinary system was shutting down again, but this time, my GI system was following suit. I asked Joe to slow down a little to give my body a chance to recover, but my body was shutting down quickly no matter what. My intestines were trying to get rid of whatever was left inside them (even after 6 or 7 previous detours). This section of the course was somewhat open, with not many bushes to hide behind. “Joe, you’ve got to find me a ‘bathroom’,” I said, “and pronto.” “Hold on, let me find a nice rock,” he answered. Within a few yards, there was a small detour where Joe found a perfect spot. Two large, flat rocks side-to-side, about chair high, with about 6 inches of space between them. Joe shines the light on them as I stumble my way there. He continues to shine the light as I am about to take care of business so I say, “Hey, this is not a show… turn off the light and enjoy the stars while I provide the sound effects.” I guess a pacer and runner develop a sense of intimacy that only comes through the struggles of the runner. It’s similar to that of a nurse and patient.

“OK Joe, that takes care of the lower part of the intestine,” I said, “now I need to empty my stomach.” I drank water and forced myself to vomit. Not much would come out, but whatever little did cleared whatever I had left inside my GI. We continue walking and running to the aid station at mile 78 right before a river crossing. I was desperate for some Alka-Seltzer, but nobody had any, only Tums. By now, both my GI and my urinary tracks were shut down for business. I couldn’t drink, eat, or pee. Not a good time to be crossing a river, particularly not after 78 miles.

The volunteers had laid a rope from one side of the river to the other, so runners and pacers could hold on to the rope and not be dragged by its moderate current. The crossing is about 100 yards in length (or so it seems); the water is ice-cold and easily reaches our waists at the deep end. Joe is cracking jokes behind me while I am trying to keep my balance by finding solid footing between slippery stones, following a path of glow-sticks nicely placed by the volunteers at the bottom of the river to mark the best path. My fuel belt, wrapped around my neck to prevent my water bottles from floating downriver, adds to the balancing act; but, ultimately, I cross the river unscathed and relatively quickly.

I’ve been running for 20 hours now (with just one hour of sleep the night before), it’s 1:00 am, I am wet, shivering, and can’t drink, eat, or pee…. and I still have 22 miles to go. How in the world I’m going to get to the finish line, I don’t know. But I do know that my father and sister suffered infinitely more during their final hours, so I must simply dig deeper for fortitude. We walk the 2-mile steep hill to Green Gate. My nephew meets us a few hundred yards before the aid station, and, from his demeanor, I can tell my condition scares him. He runs back up to the aid station to get everything ready for me.

For the first time during 80 miles, I sit on a chair at the aid station so my crew can fix me best they can. I remove my shoes, ankle braces, socks and peel off the taping from my feet. Thanks to my taping job, plenty of lubrication, and double socks, my feet are in remarkably good shape. Just one blister on a big toe, which I proceed to lance and repair as my nephew squirms. I wash my feet with the one-gallon jug of water which my crew has carried two miles downhill. I dry them and apply a thick coat of Vaseline (to prevent blisters). The rest of my condition was such that some of the crewmembers for other runners took pity of me and assisted by shining lights on me while I fixed myself. I put on new outer shorts, leaving my compression shorts on, which is a good thing as otherwise the ice-cold water from the river crossing would have resulted in a pathetic show.

This was the longest pit stop; I was probably there for a good five minutes or so. I filled one of my water bottles with Gatorade and another with Sprite, hoping that I would be able to take small sips along the way. As I get ready to leave the aid station and announce my number (runners are tracked by their numbers in and out of every station), I realize that my bib is on the old pair of shorts. Joe takes care of it. I want to make a joke while he is pinning it, but I have no energy to speak, so I say nothing.

We continue walking for a little while, but I don’t think it’s fair to make my pacer walk. So, I run best I can. A couple of folks pass us, then we pass them and we trade places back and forth. These are very dark moments for me. I still can’t eat; I can’t even swallow a small GU. I barely have any energy. I knew I would reach a point during which the race would become all mental, and this was definitely it. I ask Joe to tell me how long it’s taking us from one ½ mile marker to the next. He tells me 7 ½ minutes. I can’t do simple math, so I ask him to help me figure out if we can still get there within 30 hours. So long as we keep this pace, we have plenty of time.

We reach the aid station at mile 85 after an almost two-hour struggle. I don’t remember much. I think I refill one of the water bottles with GU2O. The taste is disgusting; I empty it a few yards later. We are now entering relatively gentle territory; had I been in good shape, I would have been able to make great time here. I am surprised that people are not passing us… I guess they must be in equally bad shape. I think about last year, when I paced someone during the last 40 miles and how much he struggled. I’m putting my pacer through this struggle, but he continues to help me by pointing out and lighting the rocks and obstacles along the course for me. “Rock on the left, hole in the center, careful with this root.” We go through a few streams and he reaches out to help me across the rocks, “you can’t help me Joe," I say, "I would get disqualified.” So he simply shines a light.

The struggle continues for another ninety minutes before we hear the loud music coming from the middle of the woods. It’s the unmistakable aid station at Brown Bar. We are just about to get there drawn by the melody when I trip on a stone and land flat on my face – hard! I think I’ve broken my hand, or at the very least three fingers. I struggle to get up, while Joe is apologizing for not pointing that rock. “It’s not your fault Joe,” I said, “I’m responsible for my own footing.” This had been the first time I had tripped during the entire run; I guess the music must have distracted me for a fraction of a second. For almost 90 miles now, I had kept my eyes on the path 15 feet in front of me at all times. I had been concerned that a fall or ankle twist would end my race, as my ankle was still swollen and weak from its dislocation three months earlier. My ankle brace had helped all the way to mile 80, but I had removed it there, as I could no longer withstand its pressure.

We barely stop at Brown Bar. There are a few runners there in chairs. Three miles to the next aid station at the Highway 49 crossing, where I will have an opportunity to see my crew. I’ve yet to make a wrong turn, something always in the mind of every runner. Joe knows that I am concerned about this, particularly because he hasn’t run this portion of the course before. So every time he sees a yellow flag or a glow stick, both of which mark the course, he calls them out to me so that I know he is paying attention. He is doing at awesome job getting me to the finish line, but I am still struggling.

We no longer need our lights, the sun has risen for a second time, and my own darkness begins to dissipate. We finally reach the hill that will take us to the Highway 49 crossing at mile 93 of the course. “When you hear the cars, Joe, we are almost there,” I say. We walk the hill; we hear the sound of the cars; my nephew is waiting before the aid station. I have reached there totally exhausted, but I am in good spirits. I’m still heavy by 6 pounds; the medical personnel tell me not to worry, commenting that everyone is arriving heavy to this aid station. I get their green light to continue.

The aid station has potato soup. I decide to try it. It's tasty and hot and goes down quite easily. It feels great to finally be able to put something in my stomach. My urinary track had also resumed working a few miles back. My 20 darkest miles seem to be behind me.

I see my training buddy’s family. “Have you seen Eric?” they ask. “What are you talking about?” I respond, “I thought he would be celebrating at the finish line by now.” It’s 6:00 am, he should have been there by 5:00 am. Apparently he had problems with his knees after mile 60 or so. “I don’t think I passed him.” I said. “He was probably at one of the aid stations when you passed him and didn’t notice,” they say. “You know what this means,” his wife says, “he’ll want to do it again next year in 24 hours.” “I’ll pace him,” I say.

I don’t want to carry any extra weight, so I give everything but a bottle to my crew. “Do you want the cap?” they ask. “No, too heavy,” I respond. “How about your glasses?” No, too heavy. Just give me one water bottle and three salt tablets and take all my pouches from my belt. My nephew hands me a little bag with about ten salt tablets. “I only need three,” I say. “But they don’t weigh anything,” he says. “That’s too you, but not to me,” I say. The crowd is laughing at all my shedding.

I spend a little more time than usual at this aid station. I’m having a good time, which is lifting my spirits even more. I know the end is near, and I have plenty of time to get there. We take off with a cup of warm soup in hand (a refill) and my nephew in front of us taking pictures. I don’t think he was quite sure I would make it here from the last time he saw me, but he now knows that I’ll make it to the finish line, and he has learned a valuable lesson in the process. “I’ll see you there within three hours,” I say.

The last seven miles of the course have the toughest two hills of the last twenty miles. One of them is coming out of Highway 49 and the other is during the last two miles of the course. We walk the hill out of Highway 49, and we start running thereafter. It’s beautiful country here with open meadows. We are not running fast, but fast enough to pass runners. Joe is pushing me; he wants to get me to the finish line before 27 hours. He’s been so good to me during the entire night, that I let him push me.

We reach the no-hands bridge aid station. I thank the volunteers for being there, but I don’t stop. “Come on Joe, let’s get to the finish line.” Now he really begins to push me and with 3 miles to go, I begin to gripe. “Joe, I’ve done this part before, I need 50 minutes to get to the finish line, we can’t make it there in 40.” “Yes you can,” he says and pushes me as we continue to pass runners. I offer another runner the opportunity to trade pacers, “mine is a slave driver,” I say. Not surprisingly, he declines; his pacer is a much better-looking girl.

The last section of the trail is fairly difficult. Even Joe is commenting on the cruelty of putting such hills towards the end of the race, but he continues to push me nonetheless. We finally get to Robbie Point, which has a gate separating the trail from the road that takes the runners to the stadium at Placer High School, the finish line. There is a small aid-station here; we skip it as well. Now it’s up hill on the road. It’s 1.3 miles to the finish line and Joe wants me to run it in 10 minutes so I can get there in under 27 hours. It’s time to revolt. "No way," I say. "It’s my last mile; I want to enjoy it." The guy with the prettier pacer catches up to us, and she is encouraging him to push it. Joe’s competitive juices want me to race him. “Let him go,” I say, “He can’t get there in under 27 hours no matter how fast he runs, I know the course. We’ll get there soon enough and we’ll enjoy the last mile.” Joe can’t help but want to push me. “You run for it,” I say, “I’m sick”. My voice was literally gone by now. I could only whisper. The push during the last seven miles had left me feeling as if I had the flu.

The hill is now almost over and we have about ½ a mile to go. My nephew meets us there and is surprised that we made it so soon. “This guy has been pushing me all the way,” I complain to him. It’s a short downhill to the stadium. My nephew takes off so he can alert the rest of the crew and take pictures. I decide to pick up the pace a little to give the locals a good show. We reach the stadium -- here is where last year’s first arrival collapsed and was unable to finish the ¾, mostly-symbolic lap.

My ten-year-old son, Joseph, is waiting at the entrance and starts running on the track with me. I see my wife and she is clapping for me with tears in her eyes. My nephew is taking pictures. The crowd is cheering. My name is announced through the speakers as I cross the finish line in 27 hours and 4 minutes.


270 runners successfully finished the race within the 3o hour limit.

This year’s winner finished in an amazing 16 hours and 12 minutes. He was not even among the top 10 favorites.

Brian Morrison, my friend who last year arrived first to the stadium but did not finish, had to drop out at mile 38 this year. I'm sure he'll win it (again) some day.

Dan, the guy who I paced last year during the last 40 miles to a 27-hour finish, finished this year in less than 24 hours, earning him the coveted silver buckle.

Joy, my ultragirl friend and veteran of the 10 Leadville’s had to drop at mile 85, after 24 hours of running, from severe hydration issues. I’m sure she’ll be back.

J.L., the winner of the 100k-race in Connecticut finished in 28 hours and 18 minutes.

Eric, my training buddy pushed himself through the pain of a severe IT band problem on both knees and finished in 28 hours and 41 minutes.

Carl, the Connecticut race director and Badwater veteran ran Western States again this year and successfully completed it in 29 hours and 45 minutes.

Over 100 runners had to drop from the race for myriad reasons, including some who were totally delusional. 3 made all the cut-offs but arrived to the finish line just a few minutes after 30 hours and were disqualified.

My finish of 27 hours and 4 minutes placed me 153rd overall and was good enough for a bronze buckle. The guy who pushed it at the very end beat me but didn’t break 27 either.

I was ten pounds heavy by the next morning, probably the result of muscle inflammation. Within a couple of days, my weight was back to normal and all my body functions working properly. My fingers were still swollen from the fall, but not broken. My ankle never failed me.

I discovered that the training required more discipline than the race, but that the race was more difficult than the training. The prayers and support of friends and family, my coach Scott Jurek, my trainer Robin, 1,500 volunteers, work colleagues, my crew and my pacer got me to the finish line. I thank my wife and son for their patience and God for the opportunity, experience, and safe passage. I must now harness what I’ve learned and use it towards the benefit of mankind.

The final question everyone asks is, “Will you do it again?” The reason to do it again would be to finish it in under 24-hours!

My Instructions To Crew

Please follow all the rules in the manual.
No littering (even banana peels, or I can get disqualified).
Try to get me in and out of the aid station in less than 1 minute (aid station is not for me to have fun and talk, but to get me ready for the next segment of the course – both physically and mentally.).
Encourage me to push it – even if I look awful. Everything after mile 40 or so will be 99% mental. Remind me that is just one day of agony and that I’ve trained for it. Remind me that I have never quit anything in my life.
Have the big ice cooler in the car and transfer what you need for the aid station to the carry-on cooler bag.
Double and Triple check that you have everything that I will need at that station BEFORE you depart the car as you may need to take a shuttle bus and will not be able to return to the car to fetch more stuff. Review the list of things that you will give me. Have a pen and cross things out as you give them to me or ask me about them. If I leave the station without something, it could cost me dearly!
Always have the crew bag with you, as I may need stuff from there.
Consider taking the collapsible chairs with you, as you may wait for a long time. I may use a chair (if I change shoes, socks, etc)
Keep an eye out for me… and as soon as I arrive to the station, call my name and tell me where you are. Wait until I am done with medical checks, if appropriate at that station. If you want to take pictures, designate someone as the picture taker and someone else dedicated to help me.
My runner number is: 387. Know what I am wearing so you can recognize me!

Jose will depart at 5:00 am on Saturday, June 23rd from Squaw Valley.
No need for anyone to be there on departure.
I will be staying with Joe Reis at an apartment right at the starting line.

Take with me.
2 muffins
Cream of Wheat
Jug of Water
Food Bag
2 Bottles with Water & holder
Feet Tapping stuff
Knee and IT Band Straps
Ankle Straps
Femur Straps
Compression Shorts
Sun Glasses
Hat w/ heat protector
Extra Contact Lenses
2 Toilet Paper Kits
2 bags of salt
Gas Pills
Extra Contact Lenses
Mini-blister repair kit.
Heart monitor and watch
Aid Station Time Table
GPS for Joe
Extra batteries for Joe

Joe Reis drive to Robinson Flat to be there NO later than 11:00 am.
Trish, Joseph, Edgardo, and Kay depart to Michigan Bluff by NO later than 1:00 pm.

ROBINSON FLAT – Crew Leaders: Joe
I should be there between 11:00 am and 1:30 pm
Need there:
Food & Salt Bag
Put Ice in my ice cap
Put Ice in my bandana
1-2 bags of toilet paper/baby wipes (ask me if I need)
2 Water bottles with Ice and Water – have ready
Ask me if I want extra sunscreen
Have collapsible chair.
Ask me for my Trash

Extra Empty Bottle
2-4 Espresso Gels

MICHIGAN BLUFF – Crew Leaders: All
I should be there 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm, but check schedule based on my progress (you can do this at Foresthill, at Michigan Bluff, or online. Once I depart from Devil’s Thumb, I should arrive to Michigan Bluff within 2 hours or so.

Need there:
Food Bag
Ice in my ice cap if hot
Ice in my bandana if hot
2 Water bottles with Ice and Water.
If close to 8:00 pm, I’ll need flashlights.
Ask me for my Trash
Have Crew Bag with you in case I need anything else.

Joe meets me there about 1 hour to 1:30 after you see me at Michigan Bluff
Need there:
Joe runs with me to Foresthill.
Push me up the hill.

FORESTHILL- Crew Leaders: All
Meet me there about 1:30 after you see me at Michigan Bluff
Need there:
2 Flashlights (small in back, large in front)
Headlamp and accoutrements (Trish to install )
Long Sleeve Shirt (maybe, or maybe at Green Gate)
1-2 bags of toilet paper/baby wipes (ask me)
Food & Salt Bag
Ice in my hat if hot
Ice in my bandana if hot
2 bottles with Ice and Cold Water
Make sure I put insect repellant
Ask me if I want to give you my cap
Ask me if I want to give you my glasses
Ask me if I want to change my socks or shoes
Ask me for my trash
Jug of Water and Towel to clean my feet if I change shoes
Have Crew Bag with you in case I need anything else.

Joe runs with me from Foresthill.
Joe is in front. If 24 hour possible, Joe must get me there by 5:00 am (no excuses from me allowed). If 24 hour not possible (after 8 pm from Foresthill), figure out a goal (place, time, etc).

I should arrive to Auburn, Placer High School about 10-11 hours after you see me at Foresthill.

Edgardo and Kay drive (carefully) to Green Gate

GREEN GATE – Crew Leaders: Eduardo and Kay
Eduardo and Kay will need flashlight/headlights
I should be there about 3 to 5 hours after Foresthill
Food & Salt Bag
2 Bottles with Ice and Water
Make sure I put insect repellant
Ask me about Gloves
Ask me about Jacket
Maybe Long Sleeve Shirt (If I didn’t put at Foresthill).
Ask me if I want to give you my cap.
Ask me for my trash
Ask me if I need batteries
I’ll be hurting, so encourage me to make it happen.
Have Crew Bag with you in case I need anything else.

HIGHWAY 49 – Crew Leaders: Edgardo and Kay
I should be there 2 – 4 hours after Greengate
Need there:
Food & Salt Bag
Maybe Gloves (or give back)
Maybe Jacket (or give back)
Maybe Long Sleeve Shirt (If I didn’t put at Foresthill or GreenGate).
Ask me if I want to give you my cap.
Ask me for my trash
I’ll be really hurting, so encourage me to make it happen.
Have Crew Bag with you in case I need anything else.

Edgardo and Kay drive to Placer High School.
If Edgardo and Kay want to run the last 1.3 miles with me, they can walk from the Stadium to the bottom of Robbie Point and walk/run with me from there to the Stadium.
Everyone to be at stadium 10 hours after Foresthill (I should get there 10-12 hours after Foresthill)

Don’t help me until I have crossed the finish line.
Joseph can run with me the last few yards if he wants to and cross the finish line with me.
I should arrive there about 5 to 6 hours after Green Gate.
Have for me:
Food Bag
Clean Shirt
Jug of Water for Feet
Folding Chair

2-3 Extra sock
2-3 Extra sock liners
Small Towels
Extra Shoes
Extra Contact Lenses
Ace Bandage
Rolling Stick
Duct Tape
Insect Repellent
Blister Repair Kit
Extra Shirt

2007 Memorial Day Training Runs Pictures

All my running junk

Views during 1st training run

Somewhere around Dusty Corners

Right before Devil's Thumb Climb

Done with First Training Run (32 miles)

At the hotel

Assembly prior to 2nd Training Run (Foresthill to White Oak)

Down California Street to WS Trail on 2nd day

Done with Day 2.

Arriving Auburn Day 3

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Night Run at WS Trail

A buddy and I did a night run from Greengate to Placer High School last night. I can’t recommend it enough to WS runners. It will give you an opportunity to test all your lighting equipment, figure out how to manage your nutrition and hydration while holding on to a flash light, assess your night-time pace, etc. I recommend two small flashlights (one as a back-up) and a headlamp. The headlamp will let you check your watch and keep the trail lit when you are juggling your flashlight, water bottles, salt tablets, etc (as you most likely will).

Don’t do the run alone as falls are likely and the course is not well marked. My buddy took a bad spill and rolled downhill, but was lucky to have the bushes break the rest of his fall.

Consider stashing some food and water around mile 15 of the 22-mile run. The trail crosses Highway 49 at the quarry about a mile before the town of Cool (proceeding from Auburn). You can stash supplies at either side of the road. You’ll need two cars to do this point-to-point run, one you leave at the top of dirt road that leads to Greengate and the other at the finish line.

At some point during the run, stop, turn off all the lights and enjoy the incredible celestial show.

Encounter of the 9th kind

I was on the last stretch of a 7 to 8 hour training run, coming out of El Dorado Canyon into Michigan Bluff. It was dusk and I had not seen another soul for the past 10 miles or so. Pushing hard on the steep, single-track trail, carved from the side of the mountain, my run was interrupted by a ruckus coming from the woods along the slope of the mountain about 30 feet below me. I proceeded with caution, wondering what could be causing such turmoil. It was definitely too loud to be a snake and there were no human voices coming from it. My heart started pounding – could it be a mountain lion? Proceeding as quietly as possible up the trail, I had not even gone 20 feet when I spotted a brown bear not far from where the scuffle was taking place. This bear had not noticed me; he was busy eating and scratching himself, but he was clearly not the one causing the ruckus. “Oh my God, I am in the middle of a sloth of bears, at dusk, and with not a soul in sight,” I thought, (very) frightened. “If they come after me, I'll have to look big,” I thought. “I’ll remove my hydration pack, and raise it over my head; I’ll look like 8 feet tall!” I searched for primitive arms, just in case – grabbing sticks, stones, whatever. “Darn, I don’t even have food to throw at them if they come after me, but maybe they'll like my salt tablets.” I remembered that I had a small canister of pepper spray, which I grabbed from a pouch and held on to as if it were Clint’s 44-magnum. But before I had finished my thoughts and amassing my arsenal, my legs, smarter than my brain and flushed with adrenaline, had already hiked out of there in no time and without making a sound.

Arriving to Michigan Bluff about 20 minutes later, I recounted my tale to a local (now my friend from so many visits to his town). “Don’t worry about them bears,” he said, “they only bother you one out of ten times; just don’t get between mother bear and her cubs.” “Nice of you to say that,” I thought, “but how in the world would I know if this is one of the 9 times when it is safe to see them?” Perhaps looking for sympathy, I related the story to another runner, who responded, “you are so lucky, those brown bears are friendly… I just spotted a black bear during one of my training runs (in Washington)!”

Memorial Day Training Runs

I just finished the Memorial Day Training Runs and can’t recommend them enough for anyone running Western States for the first time.

The three runs over the Memorial Day weekend cover the last 70+ miles of the course. With well-supported aid stations, these runs give runners a true taste of the incredibly difficult terrain of the Western States trail and its oppressive heat during this time of the year. The food and hydration available at the aid stations are fairly similar to race day, providing an excellent opportunity to fine tune race-day hydration and nutrition.

The first run goes from Robison Flat (about mile 30 in the course) to Forrest Hill (about mile 62), taking runners down the two most difficult canyons and climbs of the run (Devil’s Thumb and El Dorado Canyon). I was totally wiped out after the climb from the first canyon, but after taking some cold Coke at the aid station, I managed to recover and finish the run in a respectable 7 hours.

The second day takes runners from Forrest Hill (at California Street) to Rucky Chucky (where runners cross the river on race day) and tacks-on another 3.6 mile tough climb (not part of the race course) to a parking area where buses are waiting to return the runners to Forrest Hill. While this section is considered somewhat gentler than the first 60 miles of the course, it is nonetheless still very challenging. Long downhills will trash your quads, technical terrain can lead to falls and twisted ankles, and four or five steep hills are anything but gentle. Somehow, I had an awesome second day, finishing the 20 miles in about 3 ½ hours.

On the third day, the buses take the runners to the far side of the river (other side of Rucky Chucky) so they can run from Greengate to the finish line at Placer High School. This is perhaps the mildest section of the course, but it still contains a few tough climbs and quite a bit of technical terrain. I had severe stomach issues an hour into the run (I guess my Dairy Queen Blizzard and the Cheese Pizza I had for dinner the night before didn’t agree with the run), which took me about two hours to resolve (running slowly with a few ‘detours’ from the trail to take care of business). I finished the 21 miles in 4:45, severely dehydrated (about five pounds lighter). Even though it was painful and frustrating, it’s all part of the training, teaching me how to deal with what will be inevitable at some point during race day.

These three days have given me the opportunity to simulate race day conditions and figure out what works and what doesn’t. From discovering that my neoprene ankle strap helps prevent blisters (by keeping the foot from sliding within the shoe), to the benefits of cold Coke, to course reconnaissance and more, these runs are a difficult but necessary part of the training.

For the week, I ran about 21 hours or about 100 miles. Two more weeks of tough training and then on to a most welcome 2 weeks of tapering.

I’ll post some pictures soon.

Final Peak Week in CT

May comes to a close in Connecticut with a final peak week of training consisting of:

Monday: 60 minute recovery
Tuesday: 90 minutes (10 strides, 15 seconds each, 95% effort, uphill).
Wednesday: 100 minutes (30 minutes track - 4 x 1000m repeats at Vdot)
Thursday: Off
Friday: 3 hours (2 x 50 minutes uphill at Lactate Threshold)
Saturday: 8 hours (trail, 6000 ft ascend/descend, 35+ miles)
Sunday: Off

That’s about 15 hours/ 85 miles for the peak week plus 2 hours of weight training. Perhaps not intensive enough for a sub-24 hour finish at the race, but should be good enough to finish between 24 and 30 hours.

Next week is a recovery week and then on to the Memorial Day Weekend Training Runs, where 600+ runners will run on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday the last 70 miles (30/20/20) of the Western States trail.

I’ll move to Squaw Valley for the 30 days prior to the race; I plan to run the canyons during the heat of the day and “sleep at altitude” at Olympic Village.

I’ll post on the Memorial Day Weekend Training Runs.

Leona Divide Report

Leona Divide is a masochistic race with 9,000 feet of gain and 9000 feet of loss and virtually no flat sections. From a terrain perspective, 99% of it is quite runable (assuming you can “run” on a narrow, single-track trail, carved from the mountain side, for miles and miles uphill and then do it again while holding your balance going downhill).

With the last 25 miles forming a loop, it allows you to see (or narrowly avoid, as the case may be) the frontrunners seemingly effortlessly zipping down hill, as you are sucking wind trekking uphill to the turnaround (which cruelly enough is a quarter of a mile past the “turnaround” aid station). I tracked the time interval between the top five runners and gave them their lag times as they flew by me. Last year’s winner was in second place when he passed me, only 90 seconds behind the then current leader, and was particularly appreciative of the info. He went on to win again this year in just under 7 hours. It’s sickening to think that I was just at mile 35 when he had already finished!

Other runners told me that the course has phenomenal vistas, but with a bum ankle my eyes were focused on only one thing – the next 10 feet of terrain in front of me. This strategy served me well; aside from popping Advil’s to control the pain and swelling, I suffered no additional ankle sprains during the race.

My wife and son crewed for me well, allowing me to get in and out of the aid stations within 15 seconds and keep my schedule, hitting every aid station within 5 minutes of my predicted time. That is, except for the aid station at mile 42.6 when I arrived 30 seconds too early and there was no crew to be found around. I paid for it dearly during the last 7.4 miles, arriving to the finish line 9 minutes later than my 10-hour predicted finishing time (it feels better to place the blame on someone other than yourself). My wife, of course, blames me for being off by a full 30 seconds after 8 hours and 34.5 minutes of mountain running.

While you might question the purpose of running ultras after the masochistic Leona Divide, it’s definitely a good training race for Western States. I’ll be sure to recommend it to all my friends in need of a little suffering (at least three come to mind).

VDOT Training

You can google VDOT and VO2Max and find out everything about the math and the formulae behind these concepts and why they are so important for training, or you can simply do the following:

After a 15-minute warm-up, do an all out run for 30 minutes at a track and measure the exact distance (to the nearest meter or yard) covered in that time. The idea is to run as fast as possible while being able to maintain a constant pace for the entire 30 minutes (within a couple of seconds per lap). It’s not easy; you’ll hurt for the entire 30 minutes!

Then, go to www.attackpoint.org and enter the time and distance. It will calculate your VDOT number and the corresponding paces at which you should train on intervals, long runs, recovery runs, etc. The site will also give you the amount of time that you should spend training at each pace. Follow this training plan, doing recovery runs between hard runs, and you’ll see your performance improve.

Here’s how it looks for me:

Leona Divide

Yikes, I didn't realize that the topo for Leona Divide (April 21st) was so mountainous. Should provide fun training for Western States.

February and March 2007 Training

I peaked on February at 13 hours during the final week, with a 4-hour, trail run on a Saturday followed by a hard 3-hour, Kenyan-style (increasing pace from beginning to end) run on a Sunday. Thirteen hours of running during the last week of February positioned me just where I wanted to be to do a number of training ultras during March and April.

But March was not to bring training races. Instead, early March brought the disaster of an ankle injury, which turned out to be the worst kind – the foot rolling “outward” (and the ankle inward) known as an “eversion” sprain, in my case further aggravated by the bone actually popping out of its socket. It has been a painful recovery, which has yet to heal. I’m working as hard as a can, but the injury is still limiting what I can do – after four weeks, the ankle is still swollen. Running on a treadmill is tolerable, as the foot has a stable surface. Running on roads is painful because of the pressure on the ankle from the slopping of the pavement. Running on trails is simply brutal - the ankle is not stable and this causes me to run with much trepidation and pain at an uncomfortable pace. Starting from zero miles during the week of the injury, I managed to log 15 hours during the last week of March, with a somewhat pathetically slow 5-hour, trail run on a Saturday followed on Sunday with a strong, 3-hour run on a treadmill.

I’m done “predicting” my training schedule for Western States. For now I am simply training for a 50-mile race on April 21st (The Leona Divide Race in California), and we’ll see what develops thereafter.

Despite the injury (and perhaps because of it), training for this 100-mile race is bringing a new level of discipline to my life. I’ve always been a disciplined person, but, quite frankly, I’ve had to reach a new level of discipline to run a hard 3 hours after running 5 hours the day before on a swollen ankle. And yet I know that this is still not the peak of my training – I guess I’ll need to dig even deeper.

I’m beginning to wonder what takes more discipline - the training or the race? I hope I will be able to find out.


Fighting the remnants of a cold, I decided that my long run for the weekend would be an easy one.

After a week of heavy rains, I expected the trail run to be wet and muddy – perfect for my new Gore-Tex gloves and Gore-Tex Montrail shoes. I bought the shoes at the insistence of a podiatrist, who recommended shoes with a stiff ankle box to go along with my orthotics. Even though I kept insisting that the orthotics, while comfortable, were raising my center of gravity too much (even a few millimeters matters while running on the trails) and were making me prone to ankle rolling, he asked me to give them a try with the new shoes. His theory being that with a stiffer shoe, we would neutralize movement between the shoe, the orthotic, and the foot, and thus get them to act in unison with greater overall stability.

An hour into my run, as is common to many long-distance, trail runners, I needed to take care of business (number 2 type). I found my way to a remote section of the trail, dug my hole, and took care of business. Following trail etiquette, I proceeded to cover my business with rocks and sticks. Needing some leaves to finish the camouflage, I began moving a nice mound of leaves, which was within arm’s reach, only to uncover someone else’s business. So much for my new gloves.

My second hour was fairly uneventful (other than cold hands), and I began to gain confidence with my new shoes. Then, it happened. I must have stepped on a stone just perfectly wrongly, popping the ball at the end of the tibia bone out of the ankle socket, and sending me to the ground with excruciating pain. I looked at my right foot, which was at a 45-degree angle from its "usual" place, and, being in the middle of the woods, I knew I was in trouble. Instinctively, I grabbed my foot with both hands and with a single stroke and divine precision, popped back into place. The noise of the bone popping back into its socket almost made me faint and want to throw up.

Thank God for my cell phone, which I not always carry. I called my wife, told her I was ok but that I needed her to meet me at an entrance to the trail, pronto – I didn’t sound good, and she knew not to waste time asking me questions. While thinking about the impact of this injury on my training for Western States and the possibility of not even being able to run the race itself, I managed to hobble for about a mile across the woods until I finally reached the entrance point where my wife and son were awaiting me with ice, towels, and love.

X-rays at the ER showed no bone fragments or fractures. I was very lucky but should have known better than to listen to my podiatrist! As I write this, the day after, my ankle is the size of a grapefruit. So much for my easy run.

Marathon Across The Drake Passage

I’ve been in Antarctica for a few days, so I thought it would be cool to do some sort of unusual run.

By way of background, the passage between Ushuaia (Tierra de Fuego, Argentina) and Antarctica is known as the Drake Passage and forms part of the Southern Ocean, where the Pacific meets the Atlantic. It is home to the roughest seas in the world, and it takes a couple of days to cross by boat.

Fortunately, our vessel had a treadmill. So, on the way back from Antarctica to Ushuaia, I decided to run a marathon on the treadmill while the ship was crossing The Drake. It was actually a very good workout, as the heavy rolling and rocking made it challenging to run. At times, it felt like I was floating (no gravity) but then immediately the boat would spring back and I felt twice as heavy. At the same time, there was rolling side to side, so I had to balance myself (of course, without holding on to the handlebars as that would be too sissy). All in all, a fun and challenging sub-4 hour marathon.

Who knows, maybe it’s the first marathon ran across The Drake!

Dec/Jan - 6 to 7 Months Prior to Western States

I was supposed to do the JFK 50 mile run (again) on November 18th and then take off 4 weeks from running as a complete recovery prior to starting the ramp-up training for Western States, but my sister’s death during the week of the JFK race, needless to say, disrupted my life.

Since I was already well into my two week taper by November 18th, I simply took off a few more weeks from running and called that my time off (the “quiet time”). Many of the best ultra-runners recommend taking at least a month off from running every year. This gives all the muscles time to recover and get healthy plus has the additional psychological advantage of making you eager to run again.

I resumed running during the middle of December, increasing my weekly time from 270 minutes during the first week to 510 minutes during the fourth week -- lots of base building runs at an easy Zone 2 or low Zone 3, with a 3-hour long run during the last two weeks.

One week of recovery (390 minutes total for recovery week) and then another 3 weeks of building my base. I sprinkled a few short tempo runs (20 minutes at tempo) and strides (10 strides x 25 seconds each at 95% effort with 2 minute recovery in between) here and there, but most of my running is happening at high Zone 2 /Low Zone 3. My strength training (weights) continues twice per week, uninterrupted (2 sets of 25 reps each for now; later on I’ll decrease to 8-10 reps and increase the weight).

In general, here is my training plan for the last 7 months prior to the Western States:

Month 7: Off from running (some cross training and strength training).
Months 6 & 5: Base Building. Zone 2 and Low Zone 3. Long runs: 3-4 hours.
Months 3 & 4: Race a 50K and a 50 miler. Easy on a 100K.
Month 2: Peaking, 6-7 hour long runs & back to back’s.
Month 1: Taper and heat/altitude acclimatization.

So long as I stay injury-free, it should work out.

A reminder on Training Zones (more in previous posts):

For my 160-165 Lactate-Threshold Heart Rate, my other Heart-Rate Zones are:
Zone 2: 130/145 –- Easy Base
Zone 3A: 145/155 -- Base
Zone 3B: 155/165 -- Tempo at 160/165
Zone 4A: 165/170 -- Strides
Zone 4B: 170/175 -- Long Intervals (880’s)
Zone 5: 175+ -- Short Intervals (400’s)

Figure out your zones & run smart.

Vermont 50 – September 24, 2006

I ran the Vermont 50 Bike & Ultra event in Asctuney, Vermont (www.Vermont50.com) on September 24, 2006. This is a well-organized race, across the beautiful mountains and scenery of Vermont, with over 1000 bike racers and about 100 ultra runners split between a 50K or a 50 Miler. I had done the 50K last year, my first ultra, and found it difficult then. Thought that after a year of training, the 50 miler was more appropriate this year. It was much, much tougher!

This race is uphill or downhill, very few sections of flat terrain. About ½ dirt roads (mostly hills that go on forever) and ½ vertical trails, it was particularly difficult this year because the rain created a mud pit. Going downhill was about avoiding a spill, going uphill was about getting traction. Lots went wrong for me, including doing a couple of extra miles when I got lost. At the 32-mile mark, I was totally trashed with no hope of recovery. My wife was offering me a change of socks and shoes, food, whatever... I didn't take any of it. I simply had a feeling of desperation knowing that nothing would help me. I managed to pull through and finished in 10 hours and 30 minutes, about 1 ½ hours slower than what I though would have been a reasonable time for me. Still, about half the runners finished behind me.

I learned a lot about myself in this run. I now know why I enjoy running these long distances. It's because they replicate a lifetime in a compressed amount of time. Life is about learning how to deal with its vicissitudes and tribulations. Life has a way of dealing you periods of euphoria and despair and everything in between. I believe that life is about learning to deal with these, growing in the process, and becoming a better person for yourself, your family, and society at large. An ultra race, in relatively short period of time, takes you through these emotions and affords you the opportunity to have a mini lifetime within your lifetime. Learning to deal with everything that happens during the race grows you as a person and provides you with an intensive course for the real lifetime.

My next ultra is in 8 weeks, the JFK50 in Hagerstown, Maryland, which I will be running for the second time this year. This will give me one 50k and two 50 milers for the year. Next year, I will probably do a 50 k, a couple of 50 milers, and one 100k as the training races prior to my Western States 100 mile run.

50K Training Race

Sorry to disappoint you, but my 50k race on Sunday was uneventful. No face plants, twisted ankles, nature calls in the middle of the wilderness, or alike. Just 12 times around a 2.6 mile loop consisting of dirt roads and relatively easy single-track trails.

I couldn’t convince wife and son to travel the 3 hours to NJ to crew for me, so I “recruited” the aid station folks to do it for me. I was carrying two water bottles, so after the first loop I left one at the aid station and asked the volunteers to fill it with water for my pick-up on the next loop. Sure enough, the filled water bottle was waiting for me at the table. So, I left them with an empty one, politely asking them to repeat the task. It only took five or six loops until they got the crewing just right and were actually waiting with my bottle raised in their hands, ready to perform the switch. The process of training my recruits kept me amused during the long run.

Overall, it was an excellent training run. Got to test my hydration and electrolyte calculations (1 ½ liters of water per hour with 1000 mg of sodium per liter of water), nutrition (100 calories every half-hour via GU’s), and general gear (just one small blister). Even the speed of my one pit stop improved greatly, thanks to a friend’s recommendation for baby wipes.

I finished just under 4 hours and 15 minutes, which is a little over 8 minute miles for more than 31 miles. I’m happy. Maybe the next one will be more entertaining.

Strength Training

You can get away without strength training for marathons and below, but don't try an ultra without adding strength training (i.e. weights) to your training regimen. Lower Body is important, but so is upper body (it will help keep you running straight after many hours) and, most important, core strength.

I do strength training twice a week about one hour each time. I started with low weights and high reps (2 sets of 20-25 reps per exercise) but have now reduced the number of reps and increased the weight (to increase power).

Here is the routine recommended to me by the folks at UC Davis for Lower Body Strength (Click to enlarge):

And here is the routine for Upper Body Strength:
(Click to enlarge)

And, most important, here is the routine for Core Strength:
(Click to enlarge)

My routine is a little different, but fairly similar to the above.

UC Davis Sports Performance Program

I recently visited the UC Davis Sports Performance Center in Sacramento, California (2805 J Street, Suite 300, Zip 95816, Phone:916-734-6805) to get tested for V02max and Lactate. The purpose of these tests is to evaluate your condition and determine your optimal training zones. Two tests which, theoretically, should give you the same results. VO2 Max Test evaluates the utilization of oxygen by your body. Lactate Test evaluates the accumulation of Lactic Acid in your blood. In my case, the results were identical for both tests.

The results break down the training zones by heart rate. Slow Endurance Zone gives the target heart-rate for recovery runs (easy 45 to 60 minute runs). Long Endurance Zone gives the target heart-rate range for Long Runs. Medium Endurance Zone gives the target heart-rate range for tempo runs. And Threshold Zone gives the target heart-rate range for interval training (with the associated target Interval Times also listed).

Here is how the results look like for the Lactate Test:
(Click on chart to enlarge)

And here is how it looks for the VO2 Max Test:
(Click on chart to enlarge)

Here is a chart on Lactate vs Speed and Heart Rate:
(Click on chart to enlarge)

Both tests, which include a mini physical, cost a total of $300+/-(combined). For the V02 Max, you'll be hooked up to a breathing apparatus while running on the treadmill for about 10 minutes (with the speed increasing about every minute). For the Lactate Test, they'll simply record your heart rate and analyze a corresponding drop of blood every 4 or 5 minutes while you run on a treadmill at increasing speeds.

It's well worth it, as it will help ensure that you are training at the correct intensity level for each type of run.

Hyponatremia - Your Worst Enemy

Here is an excellent article on Hyponatremia

Read it and learn!

Pacing at Western States

What better way to train on the final 38 miles of the Western States than to pace a runner from Foresthill to Auburn. So that’s what I did during this year’s (2006) race. First, let me share with you some logistics that may be valuable to you if you plan on doing the same (or even if you are running WS for the first time).

I lodged right at the Olympic Village in Squaw Valley, where the race starts. There are a number of hotels throughout the village and is as convenient as it can possibly be as far as accessibility on race day. I stayed at the Squaw Valley Lodge (1-800-549-6742), not particularly elegant, but I could see the start line from my window.

The Wednesday and Thursday before the race, there are a number of talks on health, nutrition, hydration, etc. Be sure to arrive early, so you don’t miss these. Weight-ins begin on Friday morning and the pre-race talks occur on Friday afternoon, around the lawn area. Take a folding chair with you to the pre-race talks; it will significantly improve your comfort. There are a number of restaurants at the Village, but you can also find others (including pasta) at either side of the I-80 exit towards Squaw Valley.

The race starts at 5:00 am on the last Saturday of June. Even if you’ll just be pacing, don’t miss the start. Get there before 4:30 am, and you’ll enjoy the runners’ last minute preparations before the clock counts down to zero.

The first aid station where you can see your runner is at Robinson Flat, about 30 miles from the start. Unless it’s a must for you to be there, I would pass on it. The parking area is just too crowded, you need to be shuttled, and then you still need to hike a mile to the aid station. All the aid stations are sufficiently well stocked and the runner should be fine without a crew at Robinson Flat.

For runners, two large bottles (26 oz each) from Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat should be sufficient, but from Robinson Flat (mile 30) to Michigan Bluff (mile 55 or so) you should carry a third bottle. A good idea is to take all three with you from Squaw Valley, but fill only two through Robinson Flat (or put an extra bottle in your drop bag for Robinson Flat). Start filling the third one from Robinson Flat to Foresthill and drop it again at Foresthill.

I-80 West takes you from Squaw Valley towards Auburn. Colefax, a Western looking town, is on its way there and it’s a good place to stop for a bite.

Make reservations early for a hotel in Auburn. Most of the hotels are at the two or three exits along I-80 for Auburn, California. I stayed at the Comfort Inn, which is at exit 121 (Foresthill, Auburn Ravine Road) and is on the same road that takes you to Foresthill. The hotel has a computer in the lobby, which you can use to track your runner through the course.

Instead of going to Robinson Flat to see or crew for your runner, head to Michigan Bluff. Take exit 121 from I-80, it’s the road to Foresthill. After you pass Foresthill, you’ll eventually come to Michigan Bluff Road on the right. Take this twisting road to the parking area (along the road). From there, you will be shuttled in a school bus about ½ a mile down to Michigan Bluff. No need to bring food for you; hamburgers, hot dogs, water and more are available for purchase there. But bring a chair and an umbrella; it gets very, very hot. If you arrive there around 1:00 pm or so, the parking area will not be as crowded, and you’ll catch the front-runners. It’s fun to see the lead runners come through Michigan Bluff – even after 55 miles, these amazing athletes look in fairly good shape.

Once you’ve crewed your runner at Michigan Bluff, get on the shuttle to the parking area and drive to Foresthill. You will have passed the school on the right on your way to Michigan Bluff, so you’ll know where it is. Depending on your runner’s speed, it will take them between 1 to 2 hours from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill. Foresthill is at mile 62, and that’s where most pacers meet their runners.

If you are pacing, a nice thing to do is to walk towards Bath Road (you’ll see it on the left from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill) and make your way down to where the road meets the trail. You can start pacing from there and your runner will appreciate the company during that 1 mile paved climb. You’ll then enter the Foresthill station together. As a pacer, you have full access to all the aid stations.

From Foresthill you’ll run along a slightly-downhill, paved road for about a mile or so until you come to California Street on the left. White arrows along the road will then lead you to the trail. If your runner is on a sub-24 hour pace, you’ll run this next section during the daylight. Otherwise, you’ll run it at dusk or night. I highly recommend a white-light headlamp and a green-light hand flashlight. The combination of both lights will significantly improve your vision. You should also carry a spare flashlight just in case.

There are plenty of aid stations during the 16 miles from Foresthill to the river crossing at Rocky Chucky. Two 26 oz bottles should be plenty. This section is mostly downhill, so be prepared for the long and steep decline, along with a good share of hills, to crush your quads.

Depending on the river’s water level, you’ll either cross it at Rocky Chucky by boat or simply aided by a rope. There are aid stations at either side of the river, so if you can start crossing as soon as you get there, you may wish to do so and use the aid station on the other side of the river (called the far side).

A steep 1.7-mile climb gets you from “the far side” to yet another aid station at Green Gate. We skipped it, as we still had plenty of fluid from the prior aid station and the next one was less than four miles ahead. Unless the runner has no sympathy for his/her crew, I don’t see a need to have a crew at this aid stations. It’s just too difficult to get there.

Once you get to Green Gate (mile 80), you’re about 20 miles from the finish. It’s a matter of helping your runner through the night. All the aid stations are well stocked and they are never more than 5 miles apart. Many of the glow sticks that mark the path will be faint by now, so keep a good eye for them – don’t get your runner lost!

There is a great aid station at mile 85, with neon signs and music right in the middle of the forest! I met the doctor and nurse that lead the medical team for this station back at Foresthill. Testament to their hands-on knowledge, they’ve both buckled this race before and one of them is even a double-bucker (which means completing both Western States and the horse Tevis Race which is run on the same course and was the precursor to WS).

The crew can meet the runner one last time at the Highway 49 crossing, 6.7 miles from the finish line. From there, you’ll cross a beautiful prairie and on to No Hands Bridge. You’ll catch a break for a mile or so after No Hands Bridge, but thereafter you’ll be climbing in one shape or form all the way almost to the end. Robbie Point is at the end of the trail, just before mile 99. There is a small aid station there – but unless you’re really in need of something don’t bother wasting time with just a little over one mile to go. The final climb is about a mile, but this late in the race it will feel much longer.

The last quarter of a mile or so is downhill on to the track at Placer High School. Once you reach the track, no passing is allowed. A ¾ loop around the track, as the runner’s name and bio is announced takes you to the finish line. Pace your runner all the way, but towards the end, begin to fade behind him/her and all the way to the right, so that all the glory and attentions is directed to the runner.

It’s an awesome experience to run through the night in the Sierra Nevada. Besides doing a good deed for a fellow runner, you’ll learn immensely from the experience, which you will put to good use during your own race. It’s also a great opportunity to test all your equipment, pace, and hydration techniques.

Among the things I learned:

1. Less is more. Keep it simple. The more stuff you carry or have, the more complicated things get. I have contact lenses and didn’t even bother taking sunglasses (I did take an extra pair of contacts, just in case, though)

2. The race can be run without a crew, but a crew at Michigan Bluff will probably help – particularly if they have plenty of cold water and ice to cool the runner down. Pour enough cold water all over the runner to give them a mini cold shower. Put a couple of bags with ice under the runner’s armpits as well. It will lower his/her body temperature quickly.

3. It’s amazing how quickly you can cover territory by power-walking. Instead of walking, power walk! I plan to power-walk all the hills.

4. The scale is your friend not your foe. According to the race directors, no one has ever been pulled from the race for losing too much weight. The scale tells you if you are drinking too much or too little. Make it your friend and it will get you through the race in better shape.

5. Take 2-3 Succeed tablets per hour along with water. If you are taking an electrolyte drink you’ll need fewer tablets, but aim at taking about 1000 mg of Sodium (each Succeed tablet has about 350mg of Sodium) from whatever source or combination thereof for every liter of water (that’s my ratio at 150 pounds, if you weigh more or less you can adjust accordingly). Don’t confuse 1000 mg of Sodium Chloride (i.e. salt) with 1000 mg of Sodium. Taking Sodium in Sodium Chloride form is fine, but make sure that the amount of Sodium equals 1000mg (i.e. don’t count the weight of the Chloride). You’ll need approximately 1000 mg of Sodium per liter of water.

6. Prepare a couple of #2 bio-break bags. In a small ziplock, put a couple of baby wipes. Put that ziplock inside another ziplock of the same size, which also has tissues (not toilet paper, but tissues, paper towels, or napkins). When nature calls (and believe me it will), you can step off the trail, do your business, and you’ll be able to leave with your bottom as clean as a baby’s. Please bury the evidence!

7. You’ll drink about 30% of your body weight during the entire run. Since your body is about 60% water, this means that you will replace half of the liquids in your body during the 100 mile run. If you just take water, you’ll die! You need to put in approximately what you take out (in form of sweat, urine, etc). And the number one electrolyte that you need is Sodium, without it, you die! Succeed will also replace Potassium and if you take a Tums every four or five hours, not only will it make your stomach feel good, but it will also give you the calcium that you need during the run.

8. Aim at taking 200 calories per hour. More than this you will not be able to absorb. A couple of G2O’s per hour will do. Don’t take carbs at a higher or lower ratio than an 8 to 10% mg of carb to milliliter of water combination. Your body absorbs carbs best at this ratio.

9. A 100 mile run doesn’t mean that you have to run all 100 miles. Run the flats and downhills. Powerwalk the uphills. But when you power-walk, do just that, power-walk not walk. It’s amazing how many runners we passed “walking” while we were power-walking.

10. Don’t try to beat the heat. Your best running will happen during the early morning, at dusk, and at night. Take it easy in the canyons, where the temperature will easily surpass 100.

That’s it for now. I owe a couple of posts on my experiences at Scott Jurek’s running camp and on the Hydration formulas I learned from Dr. Lind while there. I’ll catch up one of these days.

9 hours a week and building

This week I ran about 9 hours, including a 3-hour intensive long run. Weight training, discipline with my running schedule, and proper nourishment during long runs is making me a better runner. My schedule continues to be 3 weeks at increasing intensity followed by a recovery week. This week was a 3rd week, meaning the most intensive of the three weeks. I had two hard runs and one long distance run with recovery day runs in between. Each of the three recovery-day runs usually lasts 60 minutes at a 9 to 10 minute pace.

My two hard runs consist of strides on one day and a tempo run on the other (with a recovery run in between). Strides are simply 30 to 35 second of 90% effort-level sprints followed by 1 to 2 minutes of recovery time at 10 minute pace. Strides are meant to improve your running physiology. I usually do about a dozen repeats. I try to have the total workout last about 90 minutes with a 20-minute warm up and whatever the time balance is for the cool down.

The tempo run, the second of my weekly hard runs, consists of a 20 minute warm up, followed by 45 to 50 minutes at tempo pace, ending with 20 to 25 minutes for cool down. Tempo pace is the max pace at which you can sustain a 10k race. For me, it’s about 6:50 minutes per mile. Tempo runs are tough, but once you are done, you feel awesome. The goal of the tempo run is to increase your lactate threshold level, that is, the level at which your body is no longer able to clear the lactic acid from your muscles. Lactic acid, as you know, is what causes that burning sensation in your muscles.

As to my long run, this week it lasted exactly 3 hours. The second ninety minutes at much faster pace than the first 90. I try to keep the last 90 minutes at about 90% effort level of marathon pace. I threw in lots of hills and downhills (particularly important for Western States) this week. I was truly exhausted at the end – but that’s what it takes. The long run is perhaps the most important run of the week in preparation for an ultra.

Finally, I can feel that weight training is significantly improving my fitness and core strength. Twice a week, one hard hour per session is all it takes. And it’s not all about legs, actually, it’s about building the core. I’ll post the routine sometime.

The Sweat Test

Learning how much you sweat is important in order to determine how much you need to drink while running. I weighted myself nude before a run the other day (with an empty bladder), went running for one hour without ingesting anything, and weighted myself after the run (also with an empty bladder). I had lost 2.2 pounds, which is exactly one liter! (Every pound equals 15.4 oz and there are about 34 oz in one liter). I plan on repeating this test at various temperatures and humidity levels, but for now, I’m replenishing my sweat and urine with 1 liter of liquid per hour of running. During short runs I simply take water. During the long runs, I make sure I have 7-8% carb to water solution (grams to milliliters). Interestingly, Gatorade only provides about a 5% carb to water ratio – not enough for a long run. I’m beginning to do some research on the correct amount of sodium and potassium replenishment – I’ll post on it later.