Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Mother Road 100

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to Run the second edition of the Mother Road 100 along historic Route 66 in Oklahoma. The Inaugural edition of this race was two years ago on the East side of OKC (that's the way they say Oklahoma City in these here parts) and supposedly they got a substantial number of request to do it again, so this year it was run on the west side of OKC (I just like saying that). After a quick five hour drive from Topeka, I checked in at the Comfort Inn, where I would also spend the night before the 6:30 AM bus ride to the start in Elk City, OK some hundred miles to the the west.
My first warning for what lie ahead was found in the race handbook under the heading of AID STATIONS ,where the Race Directors disassociated themselves from the volunteers who manned them, letting us know that they were not part of the race organization, therefore they (the RD's) take no responsibility for what the aid stations may or may not have in the way of nourishment... Que the Hitchcock music! After a good night sleep and a 90 minute bus trip to Elk City, warning number two was quickly revealed....two porta potties for two hundred runners? Now I must confess I'm not a big fan of Race Directors running in their own races. Some, like Stan and Chrissy Ferguson make it work by switching off each year. This way at least one of them is totally available to runners, volunteers, etc..But what generally scares me when Race Directors run is that I'm never sure who's experience they are more concerned with, theirs or the runners? In this case one of the RD's summed it up pretty well when two miles into the race I heard him say to another runner..."let's face it, this is a totally self absorbed sport and when you're running an ultra you're not thinking of anyone other then yourself" Comforting words coming from the Race Director.

Despite the concerns bubbling up inside me, my day got off to a pretty good start. I was moving along at 9:30/mile pace and feeling pretty good. Although I knew the race was run on road I was somewhat unprepared mentally for how much traffic we would encounter along Rt 66, especially early in the race. The other distraction, was the constant presence of Interstate 40, buzzing with traffic some 100 feet away. Sixteen miles into the race we reached the first "manned"" aid station and I quickly understood the disclaimer in the Race Handbook. It was also at this point I began to hear my body voice it's initial complaints about the firmer surface and its impact on my feet and my knees. Thirty-One miles in we reached the first "Major" aid station where we were allowed to send drop bags. At this point, 50 kilometers and five and a half hours into the race, I was ready for some food, not "drop bag" food but aid station food. Upon arriving at the Route 66 Museum, hosts to the 50K aid station, I was greeted by two very kind ladies who offered me my choice of Chips Ahoy or a few pretzels, period! Maybe the Race Directors could have been slappin' together a few PB J's rather than running! Although I was beginning to become a little undone mentally over this I pressed on eating anything and everything I placed in my drop bag. Although this provided brief relief, I was fading and fading fast from a lack of calories. It was only the kindness of other runners and their crews that helped me through this part of the race. Thanks to those crews that gave me Milky Ways and Turkey Sandwiches, which got me going again. About the time I had calmed down thinking the worst was behind me, it actually managed to get even weirder. Just after dark, closing in on the 50 mile aid station with nine hours behind me I found myself on I-40, yes we were running on the interstate...in the dark. Once that thrill ride ended and we exited quickly and carefully, we had the privilege of running through the busy town of Wethersford and the half way point of the race. In the pre-race instructions we were told that intersections would be marked with arrows on one side and MR100 logos on the other. That must have only applied to certain intersection as none of the thirty to forty intersections in Wethersford were marked. At one point I was so certain I had made a wrong turn, I turned around and started running back to where I had come from only to be assured by a on coming runner that we were still on course. We finally reached the Half Way point and as I changed into warm highly reflective clothing and grabbed some food and lighting I began to seriously contemplate dropping. I had had enough and didn't think I could handle much more. Arguing with myself I left the aid station and walked for a mile before convincing myself to keep going and not allow this race to end my year on a bitter note. I had run fifty miles in under ten hours and had a very good shot at running my first Sub 24 hour one hundred. If I quit, the race won, the only way to somewhat redeem it, was to beat it. With that behind me, I actually started to feel (and run) a little better. The change of shoes at fifty miles proved to be a good strategy. While the Guides (Saucony) were the right shoe to move quickly through the first half of the race, my feet had been aching over the past few miles and the move to the Hurricanes (also Saucony) gave me enough added forefoot cushioning to deal with the pain and start runnning with more confidence. Other then being under dressed and very cold everything was going pretty well. All I had to do is get to the seventy two mile aid station where I had a drop bag with my warm and wind proof Marmot Dry Climb Wind shirt and a stocking cap. The seventy two mile aid station was manned by the TATURS, Tulsa Area Trail Ultra Running Society (If that's not it I think it's pretty close) This was the first aid station that was what you would expect to find at a hundred mile race. Although it was outdoors and very cold, it was loaded with anything a runner would want to eat. I feasted! Life was good, my belly was full, the only thing missing was...you guessed it, my drop bag. Somehow my drop bag ended up somewhere else. Whatever the emotion is between tears and anger, that's where I was. The guy running the aid station sensed I was about to have an out of body experience and offered me the jacket off his back then found fresh batteries for my headlamp. For some strange reason the thought that kept bouncing through my head as I left the friendly confines of the TATUR Aid Station was of Vivian Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire uttering those famous words "I have always depended on the kindness of Strangers" We were now on a six mile section of dirt road, a surface I normally love to run on, but after seventy two miles of asphalt this seemed awkward and I felt clumsy. It was now just before first light, I had about twelve or thirteen miles to go and about three hours to get it done. It was about this time I remembered my brief career Bow Hunting and the harsh memory that the temperature always dropped right before the sun came up. Yep, it sure did, and although I was still in shorts, it was my hands that took it the hardest. Almost in tears at the eighty-nine mile aid station (again, totally and completely outside) once again another runner's crew came to my rescue with some of those little hand warmers. Hands now warm I began the final push for home. Every bone in my body hurt on impact and my feet felt like an odd combination of concrete and glass. My Quads were heavy and swollen and my hamstrings tight. The first light of the new day however brought with it incredible energy. Less then two hours and this trip through hell would be over. Finally at 8:39 AM I , my now size 12 feet and my size 11 1/2 Saucony Hurricanes reached the finish line of the Mother Road 100 to the sounds of the Rocky. I had my sub 24:00 finish, for whatever that's worth. Once finished, my thoughts turned back to food, based on the medical check I had lost thirteen pounds in one day. Upon asking where I could find the burgers I was directed downstairs. Yep, just moments after running a hundred miles you have to descend an old concrete stairway to find the food and claim your drop bags. I believe this falls under the heading of adding insult to injury. All I could do was laugh.

As I Race Director myself I do not make these comments lightly. If the events I experienced had simply been the result of unforeseen events or of crazy accidents that inevitably happen I would not even bring them up. However what I saw was IN MY OPINION such a blatant lack of accountability and planning not to mention concern for the runners, I feel it would be irresponsible of me not to share my experience. That said, several runners seemed to enjoy their day and I am sure will be back in two years for the Mother Road Part Three. As for me it is the voice of my Mom I hear reverberating in my head as I hear her warning me not to play in the road.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gettin' my kicks on Route 66

In some ways this Saturday's Mother Road 100 along Route 66 on the west side of Oklahoma City is the end of my year. It will be my fourth 100 (Vermont, Leadville and Arkansas being the other three) and hopefully my third finish. 2008 certainly did not go the way I had hoped. Fires cancelled Western States and after 85 miles, rain, hail, snow and cold eventually ended my day at Leadville. So although my hopes of completing the Grand Slam ended in August, a successful Mother Road will be moral victory and a nice finish to the year.

However in another way this race really marks the beginning of my quest for the 2009 Grand Slam. Finishing three and three quarter 100's will give me great confidence heading into next year.
  • I have a much better understanding of how my body reacts to this sort of stress physically, mentally and emotionally and know that if I stay healthy and keep a positive attitude I can do it.
  • The muscle memory from the four races this year should provide a big advantage next year, especially late in the races.
  • I have now seen the entire length of the Western States Trail as well as the Vermont 100 course, both of which were mysteries to me heading into this year.
  • With friend Dave Wakefield pacing me at Leadville next year I am confident I will break my three year dry spell there.
  • Although each year my body grows older, experience hopefully makes me a little wiser. 2008 taught me a lot about myself and provided me with rich experiences to draw from in the future when the road gets tough.

So although 100 miles of flat Oklahoma asphalt is not as exciting a proposition as some of these other races, for me it represents a turning point. A chance perhaps to put 2008 in the rear view mirror and to look forward to what lies ahead in 2009.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thanks to the Runners.

Yesterday's Road to OZ marked the end of another year of races produced by Great Plains Running Company. This was the second year for Karen and I as RD's and for GPRC's seven events. Road to OZ capped off a year that saw over 1,000 participants cross our finish lines, a 55% increase over our inaugural season in '07. Although a ton of work, 2008 was a blessing to us both, as time and time again we were inspired and amazed by the accomplishments of local runners and the generosity of our volunteers. We have been truly humbled by the enthusiastic response we have received from all those involved, and I can honestly say it is an honor for us to be part of these events and to have the opportunity to meet so many great people. We look forward to even greater things in 2009. Here is a quick recap of the past year.

Things really got going in May with our first two events of the year. It was obvious with our first event of the Rock Creek Trail Series that it was going to be a busy year at Lake Perry with many new faces turning out for the 5K/10K. We had five married couples and four father and son combos. Many of these folks had never run on trails before and were instantly hooked. Some loved it so much they went right on by the final turn and just kept on running. When all was said and done however, experience reigned supreme as 54 year old Dan Kuhlman edged out 53 year old Keith Dowell by a second to win the 10K. We also had a number of runners who had never even run a Marathon before, go ahead and sign up for October's 50K. You gotta love it!

One week later it was time for Springburn and the Saucony/Red Robin Kid's Run.
After a very slow start to registration, things exploded and Springburn turn turned out to be our biggest event of the year with nearly 160 running the 12K/5K and over 250 kids showing up on Friday night, whew! While both races saw a number of talented runners, perhaps the biggest news of all was 14 year old Jacob Morgan (now a Washburn Rural Freshman) winning the tough 5K in 18:46. Once again Springburn proved that if you give people a challenge that will stretch them and then make it fun, runners will show up. It is the same reason 360 or so runners showed up in mid January on a 8 degree morning to run the Topeka to Auburn half Marathon and that is why I believe Springburn has been so well received. It's tough, but "doable" (if that's a word). Once again Red Robin was a great host and Saucony a great sponsor, and the addition of Topeka Young Life as beneficiary brought in a number of new runners. In recognition of the construction taking place on the old Menninger property, we will make every effort to maintain a healthy relationship with St Francis and hope to avoid any re-routing in 2009. We also look forward to partner with the YMCA's Strong Kids program to make our kid's runs better then ever, while raising support for the Y's program that tackles Childhood obesity.

Muddy weekends in June and September greeted the next two events in the Rock Creek Trail Series. June is time for Ticks and September brings out the Spiders, what fun we have. Next year the third event will be moved to a little later in the day as we introduce Rock Creek Trail Midnight Madness with tentative distances of 5, 10 and 20 miles.

Mid September is time for those final long runs in preparation for fall marathons and such. In an effort to support runners in that process and to say "thanks" for another year of business GPRC presented the second annual FREE for All, and it really is...FREE! We shuttled a full bus of runners out to Dover then looked for the most difficult way for them to get back and set up a few (6) water stops along the way. Once they returned to the store either by foot or by big green van, Quiznos catered a feast for the tired bunch that were ready for anything October Races might throw their way.

October 25th marked the series finale for Rock Creek with a 5K, Half Marathon and a 5oK. After a LOT of rain early in the week we were finally able to get our leaf blowers out there to get the 18 miles of trail ready for the three distances. Kudos to Lyle Reidy and the Folks at the Kansas Trails Council for building a Trail system that handles water as good as any I've seen. By race day the trails were just about perfect and the weather was beautiful. In total, just shy of 150 runners showed up on Saturday. The 5K was full of several new faces and a slew of younger runners. Maybe that's where all the Monster went? The Half Marathon and 50K were both awesome. Both races had elite runners set new course records and several seasoned runners jostling for position and PR's up front. Trail Nerd Caleb Chatfield set a new course record of 4:14:45 in the 50K and local news anchor and Nerdo Mud Babe Sophia Spencer won the women's race. But the other thing both races had were all the cool, personal stories of runners succeeding at something they had worked towards all year. Something they could never have imagined doing a year ago. Something very few others will ever understand. To see people like Greg and Rachele Pruett, Roy Wohl, Christa Murphy, GPRC's own, Jenn McAnarney and countless others finish their first 50K is a great feeling and makes all the hard work worth while.

Last but not least is Road to OZ. A race that I still think has the most potential of them all, but admittedly may scare some people away. Our goal is simple,embrace the Wizard of OZ as part of our heritage (hey, you gotta work with what you got). So we invite runners to dress like Dorothy (or any other OZ character) run through the Kansas countryside and if you're fast enough you just might win a piece of the yellow brick road. After the adults are done, the kids get to run in the Munchkin run. What could be better. Well this year we had a lot more runners and few more Dorothys along with some Flying Monkey's, Scarecrows, Lions, Tin Men and witches, both Good and Wicked. We also had some really fast runners who led the way. Todd Allen broke his own course record in a time of 24:13 and Tristan Collins became the "Fastest Dorothy" in a time of 25:22. All in all this was a fun way to end the year and next year when we push this race back a week so high school cross country runners can participate I think this race will get even bigger, and certainly crazier.

Now all that's left is to wash the water coolers and re stock the first aid kits and we'll be done with 2008 and although it's been a long year and I'm thankful for the break, I'll admit however I spent much of my morning making notes on how to improve what we offer runners in 2009.

I am thankful for this opportunity to give back to the sport I love, and to support those who are dedicated to it. I have learned a great deal this year about myself as well as others, and thank those who have shared their journey with me throughout this past year. I look forward to all that God has in store for 2009, but for now I am happy for a few more Saturday mornings at home and more time with our kids, the unsung heroes of the GPRC races.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Time to Refocus

Can it really be the night before Halloween? I haven't "blogged" (that always seems like such a strange word) for almost two months. I think my failure to finish Leaderless for the third year in a row hit me harder then I realized or would admit. Since my last post I have been busy with race directing responsibilities at GPRC. In eight weeks we have put on two Rock Creek Trail events, the 21 Mile Free for All and we'll conclude our year this Saturday with the Road To OZ. Somewhere in the middle of all this the Arkansas Traveller 100 came and went. With very little running between Leadville and Arkansas I was able to push hard the final few miles to get in under 25:00, my PR for a trail 100.

Personally this is one one of those periods of life that feels like the middle of a cold rainy night, 70 miles into a 100 mile race, you're struggling up a huge climb and every step you take sends shock waves through your entire body. Your headlamp just went out and the bladder in your Camelback burst. Yes, sport imitates life, or is it visa verse?

Now with the Mother Road 100 just 9 days away, maybe it's time to start getting focused. I've done almost no real running since Arkansas and it shows, both in my attitude and my midsection. I have paid my money for the 2009 running of the Western States 100, and after this past year's cancellations due to wild fires, this year's running will have extra significance for all who run it. I have no intention of anything other then a sub 24 hour finish which means I need to train hard and train smart over the next six months. With Western States already on the calendar and another attempt at Leadville imminent, another attempt at the Grand Slam seems to be in the cards. So with that, the Mother Road becomes not an end to 2008, but rather the beginning to 2009. This will be a time to reflect on the lessons of this past year as well as a time to plan the next, and if I can do it in under 24 hours all the better.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wasatch Front 100

Congratulations to Stan Ferguson and the other four Slammers who made it through Wasatch and onto the finale in Arkansas with their Grand Slam hopes still alive.

This was a tough week. I had hoped all year to be in Utah on this day, but with Grand Slam hopes dashed in the mountains of Colorado I decided to save some money and stay at home. I still plan on running Arkansas as it's close enough that we can drive there in less then a day and get a hotel for under $70. I also look forward to cheering on those few who complete their Slam. It will have been a long journey for them. From the fires and cancellation of Western States to the extreme heat and humidity of Vermont, then onto the winter like conditions in Leadville and the rugged terrain of Wasatch, before finally finishing on the rocky trails of Arkansas. There will be no shame in finishing this year's Grand Slam, asterisk or not.

As for next year we will have to wait and see, however with the automatic entry into Western States along with my inability to stay away from Leadville, it is very likely we will try this thing again in 2009. I mean, could it possibly be any worse?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Lingering Pain

Before the start of every Leadville Trail 100, Race President Ken Chlouber promise runners if they dig deep and finish the race the pain will only last for 30 hours, but if they choose to drop before they reach the end, the pain will last for 365 days. Never has this been more true then the two weeks following this years race.

In 2004, my first year at Leadville, I was happy to have reached the 70mile mark before missing the 70 mile cut-off at Halfmoon Campground. In 2005 I finished Leadville in 29:17. The race came just two months after my Dad passed away and the emotions were still very raw. To this day I view this race as a gift from my Dad who's memory I carried with me throughout the event. In 2006 I came to Leadville in the best shape of my life. In May I had left my job of 12 years at Payless Shoe Source and had plenty of extra time to train that summer. However as the race drew near, Great Plains Running Co was born and a date was set for a September opening. Despite the physical preparation, emotionally I began to loose focus as well as desire. I spent the entire week prior to the race at the kitchen table writing orders and finalizing our bank loan. By the time Saturday came I was exhausted and needless to say failed to finish the race. The lesson...This race is only part physical, you must be totally focused on the task at hand and wholly confident in your ability to finish. One of Leadville's many mottos is "There are no shortcuts" In 2007 I failed to do the proper training, talking more about logging miles then actually running them. It's no surprise 2007 was my worst year at Leadville, barely making the cut-off at Winfield and turning around on the backside of Hope Pass. While it is never fun not to finish, in each of these years I was able to move on fairly quickly, but 2008 has not been as easily forgotten.

As I think back on what went wrong in all honesty I can't blame the weather. Yes I was wet and cold and that I'm sure had some bearing on where I was at emotionally, but the thing I am most upset with myself about is my decision to have a pacer, but then not spending the adequate time preparing her for what she would experience (a cranky, tired, whinny runner) and how best to help me through it, based on what I know works for me when I get to that point. Not properly preparing the person you are going to rely on to "get you through" not only does you no good, but is unfair to them as well. I honestly feel one would be better off going at alone, then relying on someone else to help you through, when they have little clue what to do with you. So, that said, my apologies to MK who did everything she could think of to keep me moving despite the frustration I'm sure she felt and which I could have helped avoid.

So, if for no one other then myself these are the things I should have told MK prior to the start of the race.
  1. Challenge me with questions and small goals that can build confidence. "Hey Willie, do you think you can run for 30 seconds" (Along Half Moon Rd we lost a lot of time because I got lazy, this is a flat section that needs to be run even if it's partially run you can bank a lot of time vs. walking the entire thing.)
  2. Build on these little "victories" Move from run :30/walk 2:00 to run :45/walk 2:00 to run 1:00/walk 2:00 and so on. (On the Half Moon Rd at Leadville a run/walk strategy works well from telephone pole to telephone pole)
  3. Don't ask me if I'm eating and drinking (I'll lie) Just give me a GU and politely tell me to eat it.
  4. Don't let me become a victim of the race or my own pain. Tell me you don't want to hear me whine. I must stay on the offense to get through.
  5. Set me up for successful aid station stops. Set a realistic departure time before we're all the way there, give me adequate warnings and then get me out on time.
  6. If nothing else works tell me I'm probably too old to be doing this anyway then get out of my way.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Leadville 100

Last Saturday’s Leadville Trail 100 proved to be one of the more “interesting “ runs I’ve ever participated in. After an absolutely beautiful week in Colorado the weather took a nasty turn on Friday and much of the state saw temperatures well below average, as well as heavy rain and even snow in the higher elevations. At 10,152 feet above sea level Leadville is the nation’s highest city and very much part of the “higher elevations”, so as we went to bed Friday night we knew Saturday was not going to be a typical August day in the Rockies. At 4:00 AM Saturday morning around 480 runners lined up at the start in Historic downtown Leadville in a cold rain that was just a foreshadowing of what was to come. As the race began to unfold I felt great and was right on plan through the first 40 miles, despite numerous rounds of rain, sleet and hail. The next 20 miles takes runners up and over 12,600 foot Hope Pass to the Ghost town of Winfield, CO and the turnaround point of the race. This moment of joy (for those who make it in under 14 hours) is soon overshadowed as you are quickly reminded that all this accomplishment wins you is the right to turn around and go back over again. As I finish the “double crossing” and arrive back in Twin Lakes I am well ahead of the cut offs and welcome the fact that from this point on I am allowed to have a “pacer” (MK Thompson) join me for the final 40 miles, providing safety and encouragement. As we leave Twin Lakes the weather begins to worsen . It is now dark, cold and wet, yet God provides the strength to press on. We manage to stay on pace for another 17 miles but by the time we arrive at the 77 mile aid station at the National Fish Hatchery outside Leadville I am coming undone and when I meet my wife Karen, who is waiting I fall completely apart. I am shivering cold and my breathing has become labored , I have no desire to take even one more step. Unfortunately over the years Karen has always found a way to get me to do things that I have absolutely no desire to do, so after 20 minutes of whining she and MK get some hot soup in me and away we go. The next three and a half hours provided a cruel ending to my 2008 Grand Slam attempt. After slowly struggling the 5 miles up 11,000 foot Sugarloaf Pass we were greeted by the worst storm of the day, a complete white out that reduced visibility to mere feet. The only way I knew where to go was by following MK’s footprints in the snow. This final bout with the elements reduced our slow crawl to a death march that eventually got us to the 87 mile aid station too late to make the 6:30 AM cut off. After almost 27 hours both my race and my hopes for this year’s Grand Slam were over. In all only 41 % of those who started the race made it to the finish line in the allowed thirty hours and eighteen of the remaining twenty-four Grand Slammers had failed to make it through Leadville.

So what does one learn from an experience like this? What is God trying to say? Some will offer up the easy answer, suggesting there is more to life then a race or running , inferring I should get my priorities in order and take this as a sign to refocus on those things in life they view are really important. But I don’t believe God dismisses our passions as quickly as others sometimes do. God gave us our gifts and He gives us our passions. For some running is a gift, for others it is a passion, for a few it is both. For others it may be golf or scrapbooking. Our part of the deal is to allow God “in” to our passions and gifts, giving Him, not ourselves, the honor and the glory while pointing others in the direction of a living God who cares about those things that are important to us, that He Himself placed within each one of us, making us unique creations created in His image. When we allow God this sort of access into our daily grind, we put ourselves in the position to be “schooled” by the one who knows us best. For me these lessons have been numerous and invaluable crossing over into all areas of my life. That is why I’ll continue to run. That is where I find God. On a cold, wet trail in the middle of the night, when I am too weak to carry my own burden any further and finally step aside to let God go to work. Hopefully someday I’ll learn to set my pride aside sooner, before I find myself in such trouble. Hey, maybe that’s the lesson of Leadville 2008.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cold Front Coming

As you can see it's been a beautiful week here in Leadville and with just two days before the start of the Trail 100 our warm temperatures and blue skys are about to leave us. The latest forecast from the NWS calls for daytime temperatures falling into the high 40's by Saturday and overnight lows below freezing. Oh yeah, it's supposed to rain all day and throughout the night, oh boy!

With less then two days to go the mood at the hostel is antsy as everyone is ready to go. Most folks will work on putting together their drop bags (which will require some extra thought due to the weather forecast) today before the big pasta dinner this evening. With registration for the race up from last year at around 580 runners, the newly remodeled 6th St should be packed.

I plan on heading into Dillon for a movie with Zach and Molly today to get my mind off the race. Hopefully the Mummy will be a nice distraction.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Altitude Adjustment

I suppose there are a number of ways to prepare your body for running at altitude, however I can't imagine one more enjoyable then spending a week in Leadville acclimating amidst the beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains. Myself, Zach (my son) and Molly (my daughter) along with a number of other LT100 participants take over the Leadville Hostel for the week prior to the big event on Saturday. Wild Bill and Kathy take care to make sure all of their guest, especially their runners are well taken care of, they have yet to disappoint. Went for my last run prior to the race today, a 4.5 mile run around Bald Mtn at 12,000 ft. Running since Vermont has been limited (by design) averaging just 20-25 miles per week. This allows my legs to recover while at the same time maintaining fitness, at least that's the plan. I am beginning to see that getting from race to race is going to be as much of a challenge as getting to the finish line of the races them self. In addition to the recovery, the demands of life don't go on holiday so that I can stay focused on the next event. A lot of effort and time goes into preparing to run a 100 mile race, not just by the runner, but by the runner's family as well. I am blessed to have a family that has always supported my participation in these sort of events and am doubly aware of the "strain" running four of these will place on our entire family. So in the weeks between each event I try to find that delicate balance between staying focused, and giving all I can to minimize the impact this could potentially have on our family. I am also increasingly aware of how fortunate I am to do what I do and to have a team of truly great employees at Great Plains Running Co who not only support and encourage me, but also make it easy to be gone as they continue to give our customers great service while I'm away.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Vermont 100 - One down Three to Go.

OK, first off, this race is much tougher then advertised. I have never seen so many hills, they just kept coming and coming.

Finished the race this morning just after 6:23 A.M. in a time of 26:23:42. It turned out to be a tough day as the temperatures climbed to 90 degrees with extremely high humidity. In addition a Kansas style afternoon T-storm brought down branches and wreaked havoc with some of the aid station tents. It was the heat however that messed with me, causing me stomach problems from around mile 45 on. At mile 84 I was able to “get some of it up” and felt a little better, but was reduced to running the last 16 miles on nothing but Ginger Ale in my water bottles. There were two moments in this race where I felt so sick I thought for sure I was done, but the support of a couple aid station volunteers and the kindness of two gracious runners helped get me through. God is good, and I felt is hand of protection on me as I struggled throughout the later stages of this race. He gave me peace when I was “losing it”, strength when I needed it and at times I even saw Him use others to help me through to the end. I know there are those who can run events like this under their own strength, even without recognizing or “tapping” into its source. For me, there is no way I could have gotten through yesterday on my own (If I’m honest with myself, I know that’s true in all areas of my life).

Well, now it’s time to turn my thoughts to Leadville which is in four weeks. Physically I need to recover from the stresses of this past weekend. Rest and Ice Cream our on tap for the week ahead. Mentally I need to get focused. Because of the altitude (the entire race is run at elevations over 10,000 feet) Leadville is a tough race for “lowlanders” as we’re called. Also I need to get beyond the fact that in addition to my one finish at Leadville I also have three DNF’s (did not finish). Spiritually I need to remember the lessons from yesterday and remember that God can bring me through my pain given the opportunity, I just need to stay out of the way and let Him work.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Uh, how did I miss that? Discovered today at check-in that there is a 100 mile horse race that runs simultaneously and on the same trail as the run!?

Other then that little surprise, check-in was pretty uneventful. Got my T-Shirt (kinda ugly but hey it's a Patagonia), weighed in (found out I didn't gain as much as I thought) and dropped off my drop bags. At the pre race meeting they informed us that the forecast for tomorrow includes record high temperatures. Just about that time a big thunderstorm rolled through just to add a little extra shot of humidity. On returning to town to grab a steak (my night before meal of choice) I learned that the storm had knocked out the town's power and that dinner was on hold, could it get any better? Well it did. Power was soon back on and I had a great steak and a nice glass of wine at Spooner's Bar and Grill in Woodstock. Well it's off to bed as I have a 1:50 wake up call for the 4:00 start. I look forward to finally taking my first steps in the 2008 Grand Slam.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Is it that time already? Arrived to clear blue sky in Vermont today feeling like I haven't run much the past couple weeks (probably because I haven't) and that I'm at least five pounds heavier then I was going in to Western States. Since California my mileage has been in the 25/week range, partly due to the fact I was trying to let my legs recover from all the downhill I ran and partly because I had a busy few weeks of "fathering". Oh yeah, I began commuting to work riding my bike, more to save on gas then for the exercise, however the added cross training certainly is a nice benefit.

Packed drop bags today and thought through my plan for Saturday. I'm on my own for this one as Karen stayed in Topeka to be Mom. The forecast for Saturday is HOT, near 90 degrees with rain throughout the day and night, oh well, no smoke:) My plan is to try to run hard until it gets hot, then pull back on the pace until evening when it begins to cool down. Would like to finish in under 24 hours and get the buckle. Those who finish between 24 and 30 hours get a plaque and the opportunity to move on to Leadville with their Grand Slam hopes still alive.

In closing I just want to congratulate Paul Schoenlaub on his finish at last weekends Hardrock 100. This is the toughest race in the US and once again Paul goes from St Joseph, MO to the top of the Rockies and runsa great race. Way to go Paul!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Grand Slam*

Yes, forever more the 2008 Grand Slam will have an * associated with it due to the cancellation of Western States. However, thanks to the Wasatch/Grand Slam race committee for making the decision to recognize the investment (physically, emotionally and financially) 36 runners had already made toward the goal of "slamming" in '08 and offering a modified version of the slam. I would also like to thank this group for not listening to the over compensating, testosterone influenced voices of those who felt that the Western States curve ball was not enough to make this year's slam more complicated and therefor thought the entire thing should be made even more difficult by running either Cascade Crest or Angeles Crest on back to back weekends with Wasatch, please, give me a break, as if having to audible six months into training , extending the season by four weeks, running four 100 milers in eleven weeks wasn't enough. Oh yeah, did I mention that Arkansas Traveler had a less then 50% finishers rate last year and that only one of four Badwater finishers ran it to completion. Traveler has 30,000 feet of elevation change on a course so rocky i was unable to wear shoes for three days following the event. Last year Traveler was run on the same hot and humid day as the much publicized Chicago Marathon. Temperatures in the 90"s with heat indexes well over 100 made for a chaffing fest like noone had ever seen as there was no way to stay dry in the Arkansas sauna. Despite the tough conditions Race Directors Chrissy and Stan Ferguson have put together a GREAT group of volunteers that serve the runners in a way most races could only aspire towards. Needles to say, I think Arkansas is a appropriate substitution and maintains the integrity and credibility of the Grand Slam.

So, how great is this, I still get to run the Grand Slam* this year and I already know I get to go back to Squaw Valley next year. For now...on to Vermont.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Race Therapy

Earlier in the weekend we heard about a local 20 Mile trail race to be held on Sunday. The race, The Burton Creek Trail Run was put on by the BIG BLUE ADVENTURE SERIES and held just north of Tahoe City. So at about the time I thought I would be finishing one race, I instead toed the line (with a number of other Western States runners) for another race. There is something about running with intention that is therapeutic and therefor this was just what the doctor ordered. Despite a pair of unhappy quads, I was able to get myself moving thanks to a pair of SKINS COMPRESSION SHORTS which held my quads in check and my MONTRAIL STREAKS which always make me feel fast. The course was beautiful, forest, meadow, single track...perfect. I ran the race in 3:37:56 (a 10:54 pace for the 20miles) which is good for me but surprising me due to how sore my legs were from all the miles on Saturday. Despite the disappointment over the cancellation of Western States, the weekend produced some quality mileage (55) and some good hill work (20,000 feet of elevation change) capped off with the 20 mile Burton Creek run. Hopefully this will position me to be in good shape for Vermont, now just three weeks away.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A little hang time

As the disappointment of the race being canceled, our energies turned to trying to enjoy this time we (Karen and I) had been given. It has been a long time since just the two of us had gotten away so this was an unexpected an badly needed gift. Saturday began not at 3:00 AM as we had planned but instead more like 9:00. Yes race cancellations do have their upside. After coffee at our new favorite coffee and juice stop, Mountain Nectar, I went for a run while KB took a walk over to the nearby Squaw Valley Resort where she was greeted by a very different crowd then the one staying over in the village. While Karen was walking amongst the rich and famous I headed back up Emigrant Pass. On Friday they asked us to keep off the trail beyond that point so I decided to explore. Heading back down the main access road I jumped off and explored some of the other service roads that took me up to to the top of some of the other peaks that encircle Squaw Valley. Once back down at the bottom, quads throbbing, I decided I better get in some real running so headed out on a nearby bike trail that meandered along the Truckee River towards Lake Tahoe. Although the run was absolutely beautiful at times my mind would wander to wear I would be if we were actually racing that day. Robinson Flat, Devils Thumb, Michigan Bluff all places that would have to live in my mind for another year.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Moving On

There is a Japanese proverb which Running Times Magz. and Scott Jurek made popular in running circles which translates "Stumble seven times, get up eight times". Long before the Japanese used it, Solomon said "They may trip seven times, but each time they will rise again" -Proverbs 24:16 (NLT) Either way the Proverb is appropriate to those who participate in the sport of long distance running, arguably more so when your surface of choice is trail. This spirit of "Perseverance over defeat" filled the air in Squaw Valley in the days following the cancellation of Western States.

With the wind shifting to the south, the air in Squaw Valley improved considerably Friday morning giving us all a chance to get out a run a bit this along with the announcement that we would all receive automatic entries into next years race, lifted peoples spirits and began to get people to think about moving on from the very somber place many of us were on Thursday. For me Friday marked the official beginning of training for Vermont although at this time the whole idea of the Grand Slam was still very much up in the air. Rick, Gabe and I decided to head up the 2,600 vertical feet to Emigrant Pass (this we decided is a cruel way to start a race) and and continue on before turning around at about 7.5 mile mark and heading back. The rest of the day was filled with rare one on one time with Karen (something we just don't get enough of) concluding with a dinner the Western State folks put together in about 36 hours. This time was filled with stories about where you were when you heard the race was canceled and how you would explain to your spouse you spent all that money to get here and all you have to show for it is one expensive T-Shirt. Everyone said they would be back for next year and how this experience would make that much sweeter to get across the finish line. Updates on the fires that were engulfing Northern California indicated that two fires had actually moved onto the Western States Trail and that 100 miles down the road in Auburn the air quality had gotten so bad you could hardly see across the street. If there was still any doubt in anyones mind whether the WSER board had made the right call this pretty well ended it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

We are not in Control

Late last night we were told by a member of the WS 100 board that this years race had officially been canceled. It had been hinted at earlier in the day, but even so the news hit runners with a feeling of disbelief. I still can't put words to how I feel after pouring so much of myself into preparing for this event over the past five and a half months (as well as for the Grand Slam which is now also up in the air) The amount of time, money and emotion that has been spent by myself along with the 369 other runners will yield... nothing, nothing but a T-Shirt from a race that never happened.

One of the hardest things for me is that there is no one to blame for this, no place to target anger or frustration. I know being angry or frustrated about a race being canceled may sound petty to some, especially when people are fighting to save their homes, and I will be the first to agree that is where our thoughts and prayers should be. Still it hurts and in a way you feel cheated, and I don't know about you but when I'm hurt and cheated my nature wants to place blame (it's something I'm working on). The race was rightfully canceled because of over 800 wildfires that are burning out of control in Northern California, three of which burn within a mile and a half from the trail. These particular fires are not even being faught as they are in very remote back country and there are more pressing fires that are threatening entire communities. The smoke from these fires blankets California from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada and has reduced visibility to, in some cases , less then a mile. The air is so bad you can taste it in your food and at the end of the day, your clothes smell as if you've been at a camp fire. Even walking around Squaw Valley today it would burn your eyes something fierce. The authorities are telling people to stay inside.
The whole situation is just further proof (as if I needed any) that we can prepare and prepare, but ultimately we are not in control. Although it hurts, there was no other choice for the Western States 100 Organization,.There's nothing that anyone can do, it just is.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Training is officially over

Yes that's right, it's now June and Western States is just four days away. I'm currently acclimating in Squaw Valley at 6,200 feet. Went for a short four mile run this afternoon and had an awesome massage this evening. Oh how I love tapering!

First and formost, my apologies for the long gap in posting, I guess blogging became just another thing on a never ending to do list and lost out to family, our store, training for the Grand Slam, and other interest, including some daily time with God. I will make every effort to keep up with this going forward.

Well to bring you up to speed on what's been going on the last four and a half months. I have run over 1,100 miles including five ultras (Psycho WyCo 50K, Three days of Syllamo 50K x 2, Rockin' K 50 Mile and Free State100K) in preparation for Western States. I lost over 20 pounds on the infamous "spider diet" (no you don't eat spiders) and have been blessed to stay injury free.

It feels as though the training plan I put in place has served me well and I feel about as good as I've ever felt heading into a race. In addition to the 14 day rotating schedule of training runs that included hill work, speed work and back to back long runs on the weekends.I also included once a week weight training, yoga and plyometrics.

I have also gone through a range of emotions relating to why I want to do this and what I hope to learn when it's all over, but in the end it comes down to two things.

1) I hope to rediscover joy in the daily routine of life. I have over complicated my running in recent years in much the same way I over complicate my life. I tend not to invite God into my daily "agenda" until things are falling apart and suddenly there I am, at the end of myself running to God looking for help. This is true when I screw up in life in much the same way I go looking for God around 70 miles into a 100 mile run when it's dark and I am hurting. Through living my life this way I developed this twisted view of life that the most I could hope for was that I would endure the inevitable pain and darkness life dishes out in the same way I endure a race. I have come to believe that God desires more for us then to simply endure.He wants us to enjoy the life he's given us and to worship him by putting Him at the center of all we do.

2) The second thing I hope to gain through this journey is greater humility. While doing something like this could easily become a very self focused endeavor, my goal is to make this about more then just me as there is no way I could ever do anything like this on my own power or abilities. This is about a God who provides strength, A family that is patient with me and supports me. It is about our store, Great Plains Running Co and our great crew that keeps me motivated and allows me to be away from the store for these four events without worry, it's about my Dad, it's about finding pride in being from Topeka, it's about encouraging people to make healthy lifestyle changes and finally it's about me letting go...letting go of years of trying to do it all on my own power, creativity, etc... letting go of selfish ambition and looking only for ways to please myself...and letting go of me being lord over my own life. I pray that through this process of letting go I will become less important to me and God along with all the wonderful people who he has placed in my life will become more.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Implamenting the Plan

Haven't blogged since 1/23 when I created this thing. This will be a discipline I'll need to work on as I have never really journaled my entire life. I guess I've always thought it best to keep my thoughts safely inside my head. Anyway...

With the Grand Slam now a reality, the last couple of weeks have been filled with taking care of the logistics involved in an endeavor such as this. Registration Forms, flights, lodging, service requirements ( 3of the 4 races require some form of trail or volunteer work as part of your application) and of coarse a training plan that will not only get me to the starting line of Western States in the best shape of my life, but one that will also keep me healthy and injury free during the 10 weeks between June 28 and September 6 when the slam concludes at the Wasatch Front 100 outside Salt Lake City.

The first phase of training has been focused on building a strong base that will support the more intense effort that will be needed later this spring. The plan is built on a 14 day schedule that basically repeats itself, with intensified pace or increase mileage, every two weeks. The 14 day schedule includes 2 speed days, each with their own focus, 2 different hill workouts, 4 longer runs ans 2-4 recovery runs. Core and Strength (weight) work play a big role during this period as well, Both machines and and balance/body focused weights (walking lunges, balance ball dumbbells) are utilized. As you can see from this schedule this is not a time to just heap on miles, but build mileage slowly while stressing the body with targeted workout that will also help make it stronger and faster. As the workload has steadily increased I have also discovered Sleep and Nutrition will need to be addressed. The increased stress on my 45 years old body is already being felt. Without a plan for better sleep and improved nutritional support I may not make it to June.

During the build up to Western States a number of races have been incorporated into the training schedule. These races serve a variety of purposes; one, they are a much more favorable option then going out on a six hour training run by yourself. two, they provide an opportunity to get out on trails, the surface the majority of Grand Slam miles will be run on and three, racing helps keep you sharp for the actual race. There's an old saying, "long slow distance,makes long slow runners" With the demanding time cut-offs in these races one can't afford to be too slow.

On Saturday, February 10 the First of these races was to be held. The PsycoWyco 50K outside Kansas City, a race last year run in 15 degree temps on trails of ice, causing me to fall so often (despite the sheet metal screws drilled into my shoes), that it took me 7:48 to finish the three lap course. This year with 8" of snow falling throughout the region on Wednesday, anything was possible for Saturday.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I really must be crazy

Ever since early in December when my name was drawn for this years running of the Western States 100 I have been singularly focused on getting myself into the best shape of my life by June 28. For the past couple of years training has had to take a back seat to the work that my wife and I put into opening Great Plains Running Company, a specialty running store in Topeka, KS that is the culmination of our 20+ years of retail experience and nearly as many running. During this time I have continued to "struggle" my way through numerous ultras, even a few 100's, but all done on very little structured training. With our first full year now behind us and a strong team at the store, I found myself totally psyched to start training for Western States, then it happened.

It has always been a struggle of mine to keep balance and perspective when I increase my training. I don't know if there is such a thing as an abusive gene, but excessive behavior has long been part of my make-up. Whether it was drugs and alcohol in my teens and twenties, my career in my thirties and forties or running for the past 20 years I have always had trouble knowing when to say when. So when a friend suggested that since I was going to go to all the effort to get myself ready for Western States that I might as well register for Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch ( the other three races that comprise the Grand Slam of ultra running), I knew I was on the edge of letting this year get way out of control.

I am a runner of very modest ability, and should probably have dismissed the notion before it ever had a chance to take root in my imagination. Attempting the "slam" would certainly be met with skepticism if not laughter and rightfully so. Only 183 runners have completed the Grand Slam, and many runners far more talented then I have tried and fallen short for one reason or another. But running ultras is not logical business, it's more about emotion, and thinking rationally has never been my forte. What do we have if we don't have dreams, and if we don't pursue our dreams what does that say about our personal view of what is possible. In Philippians Paul writes; "in Christ all things are possible". I'm sure Paul was referencing things far more significant then running, however I don't believe we should put limits or restrictions on God's promises. So it is with a dream, God's promise and my wife's blessing that I decided to submit my entry for the 2008 Grand Slam.

It is now late January and my applications have been sent in for all four races, which will be held across a ten week period this summer. The four events cover four Hundred miles, 75,000 feet of elevation gain and 78,000 feet of downhill. The time allotted to do this is 126 hours. Oh Boy!

Today, January 23, my name was officially posted on the Grand Slam web-site. I must admit it is kind of humorous to me to. While there are many logistics (travel, lodging, crew, pacers, etc...) that need to be worked out, the training is once again the focus and the goal remains singular, to finish the Western States 100 on June 29, keeping my life in balance between now and then. Pray for me.