After the inception of the Western States 100 Endurance Run in 1974, 100-mile races began to emerge around the country. By 1991, after the formation of the Arkansas Traveller 100, there existed at least eight big-name 100 milers around the country: Old Dominion 100, Mohican 100, Vermont 100, Angeles Crest 100, Leadville 100, Wasatch Front 100, and the aforementioned Western States and Arkansas Traveller. These races take place across the U.S. between early June and early October. Complete all eight races in the roughly 120-day span and you’ve completed the Great Eight of UltraRunning.
If you’ve never heard of the Great Eight of UltraRunning, you’re not alone. Only four people have completed the epic feat in the past 28 years. rabbitELITE trail athlete Sean Nakamura became the challenge’s fourth and most recent finisher after completing the Arkansas Traveller 100 this past weekend in 26 hours, 39 minutes and 45 seconds. By completing the Great Eight, Nakamura also became a finisher of the historic four-race summer slam known as the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Nakamura is the first runner to complete the Great Eight in the past 20 years but for him the task was long overdue.
Photo: Paul Nelson
Nakamura currently holds a run streak of over 3,200 days. That’s nearly 9 years of consecutive daily running. He’s finished nine races of 200 miles or longer, thirty-nine 100-mile races and over 150 marathons. With such an impressive long-distance running resume, the forty-year-old Nakamura might have completed the Great Eight when he first learned about it years ago. But first he had to gain entry into some of the eight races through lotteries.
Nakamura explains: “The Great Eight started with a dream of getting into Western States. Five years later, my name was finally drawn for Western as well as for the Leadville 100. At that point, I knew I had to try for the Grand Slam of UltraRunning and then try to get into The Last Great Race, running the six original races in one summer, which would require another three lotteries (Vermont 100, Angeles Crest 100 and Wasatch 100) plus entry into Old Dominion.”
With six 100 milers already on his schedule, Nakamura realized that he could add the Mohican 100 and Arkansas Traveller 100 without conflict to complete an eight-race summer. “I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to go big for an epic summer,” he recalls.
Between the logistical maze of arriving at each start line, the unique challenges of completing each race, and the physical and mental demands of racing 800 miles in one summer, you’d think that Nakamura would seek out a bed between efforts. Instead, he added to more races to his summer schedule: the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 170-kilometer race and the Tahoe 200 Mile. Nakamura called these races the “cherry on top” of his quest for the Great Eight.
Now that the big summer is behind him, Nakamura has no intention of slowing down. He’ll next run the Chicago Marathon on October 13th with his wife, Jenny, who he credits with making possible his ambitious summer plans. He’ll then try his luck at Big’s Backyard Ultra, a run-until-you-drop style race, starting on October 19th.
It seems fair to assume that Nakamura’s 3,000-plus day run streak will continue into 2020, too.
Sean was just featured on The Ginger Runner. To learn more about his epic summer journey give it a watch here.
Racing is a skill. It has taken me a long time to learn this. I never ran competitively in high school or college, and as such, my relationship with running formed as a friendly one—I was a hobby jogger, an after-work park-looper. For years, my sole focus was on the easy daily run. When I first decided to race about three years ago, I was a little apprehensive—intimated, even. I had no idea how I needed to adjust my daily running to accommodate the demands of racing. After a first successful yet utterly humbling trail marathon in 2015, I decided that if I was going to attempt something like that again, I needed to seriously train.
Over the last three years, I have worked to prepare for specific, far-off goals. Two-to-three races a year, max, was all I thought I had the ability to handle. I would spend three-to-four months with one singular light at the end of the training tunnel. If that block didn’t go perfectly—if there was any hiccup or forced downtime—I believed my chances of succeeding at the race were shot. Yet even when training did go flawlessly and I found myself at a starting line healthy and fit, I kept disappointing myself. There was something missing. Paradoxically, it occurred to me that I was spending too much time training—I lacked the confidence and ability to race, to honestly and wholeheartedly venture to the bottom of the well and leave every ounce of fitness I had out on the trails. I was finishing races feeling like I could have kept going, like I had just been on a long training run. It was after I started working with my current coach, David Roche, that I realized that almost exclusively focusing on long, slow training runs is going to make me good at running long, slow races. If I wanted to really express my fullest potential and toe a starting line with actual intentions to win—which I felt I had the capability to do—I needed to get good at racing.
Racing and training, while inextricably related, are two different skill sets. The specific dynamics and challenges of racing are things you hardly ever get in training alone: managing the pre-race butterflies; taking in food while running hard and finding the right concoction of transportable calories; learning to ride that fine line between sustainability and overexertion. Racing at one’s potential sometimes feels like walking a tightrope—a delicate balance between effort, terrain, distance, fatigue, and competitors—and if there’s one thing I know about circus performers, it’s that they practice.
Earlier this year, I planned to incorporate a few training races into my schedule to feel better prepared for my A goals. The Wisconsin North Face Endurance Challenge Series, which was held in mid-September on the Ice Age Trail in the southeastern part of the state, fell perfectly on my calendar: two months after my previous big race and two months prior to the next. The weekend is a celebration of trail running, with seven races over two days. I chose to run the marathon, requiring an honest effort and small taper beforehand, but not long enough to require weeks of recovery afterward.
The terrain is a mix of rooted singletrack, sweeping grasslands, choppy trails with punchy climbs, and a touch of road to start and finish. Out of all the North Face races, it is by far the most runnable, and as such, the race went out fast. A group of 8-10 ran hard off the front, cruising on roads for the first mile. Once we hit the first climb of the day, the pack thinned and I fell into second place behind Arnaud Enjalbert. He ran hard and fast from the gun and kept me honest for the first hour or so as I would catch glimpses of him bobbing up and down rolling hills ahead of me. I ran by myself for the first eight or so miles until we caught up with the 50K and 50 milers, who had started hours before. This was by far my favorite part of the day: getting a chance to see back- to mid-pack runners with massive smiles on their faces, digging deeper and running farther than a lot of them ever had before, providing nothing but encouragement and stoke. It’s a cliched observation, but it really is true: this is what the sport is all about. Regardless of how fast you’re running. we’re all out on the trail doing something silly and abnormal. We owe it to each other to do everything in our power to help those around us get to the finish line and enjoy the experience.
I finally caught up with Enjalbert around mile 13, at the far end of the looped course. He was running strong and after making the move around him, I owe him a ton of credit for keeping me honest. Miles 13-15 are by far the hilliest and hearing his footsteps not too far behind truly allowed me to find a gear I didn’t know I had. And this ultimately is the benefit—the whole point—of racing: it’s a chance to have experiences that you never could in training. It allows you to discover new things about yourself as an athlete and redefine what is normal, what is possible.
I managed to hold on for about 90 or so more minutes after passing Enjalbert, finishing in 3:02:38 and missing the course record by 17 seconds. The win was fun and I’d be lying if I said the ego didn’t enjoy it. But what I’m ultimately walking away happiest about is simply knowing more about myself as a runner and racer. If you want to be a good racer and not just a good runner, you have to race.
To put a fine point on it, here are a few lessons I took away from last weekend and from working with my coach, David Roche:
Photo: Howie Stern
Michael McKnight continued his record-setting ways this past weekend at the Tahoe 200, a 205.5-mile race that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe via the Tahoe Rim Trail. Just five weeks after his course-record win at the Bigfoot 200, a roughly 200-mile race in the state of Washington, rabbit’s McKnight won again at the Tahoe 200 this past Sunday in 50 hours, 56 minutes and 22 seconds, setting the counter-clockwise course record.
But the course-record win didn’t come easy.
“From the moment the race started and I felt how heavy my legs were from Bigfoot, I knew this was gonna be a battle,” said McKnight.
During the two-plus days of racing, McKnight experienced more than just tired legs. Despite vivid hallucinations, nose bleeds and a faulty headlamp, McKnight persevered against a starting field of roughly 250 runners to cross the finish line more than three hours faster than his closest competitor.
In 2017, just two years ago, McKnight set the fastest combined time for the Triple Crown of 200s, a three-race summer series of 200ish-mile race from August to October. This year, McKnight has found another gear and elevated his performances.
After improving his Bigfoot 200 time by nearly 18 hours last month, McKnight bettered his Tahoe 200 time by nearly 17 hours this past weekend. With one race left to go in this year’s Triple Crown series, McKnight has a 35-hour lead on his previous best combined time of 205 hours, 4 minutes and 18 seconds. He’ll take that lead into the third and final Triple Crown race next month at the Moab 240, a roughly 238-mile race in Utah. During his 2017 record-setting Triple Crown run, McKnight finished the Moab 240 in 68 hours. If McKnight can complete the race this year in less than 103 hours, he’ll successfully establish a new record for the Triple Crown of 200s. Based on his significant improvement in the form of two course-record wins so far this summer, McKnight seems destined to continue his record-setting ways next month.
Follow along from October 11th to 15th as McKnight completes his 2019 Triple Crown journey at the Moab 240.
The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, which requires participants to complete four of the country’s oldest 100-mile races in one summer, was founded in 1986. Given the growth of ultrarunning since then, it only seems fitting that the Triple Crown of 200s was created a few years ago.
The Triple Crown of 200s is directed by Candice Burt, one of our rabbitELITEtrail team members. The latest summer-long racing binge requires runners to complete three races of 200 miles or more in just three months: the Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run in August, the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run in September, and the Moab 240 Endurance Run in October.
In 2017, rabbitELITEtrail team member, Michael McKnight, took on the intrepid challenge of completing three 200-plus mile races in one summer. He did more than just finish. McKnight won the Triple Crown that year in the fastest combined time ever, completing the roughly 650 miles of racing in 205 hours, 4 minutes, and 18 seconds. That’s more than 8 days of racing.
But McKnight hasn’t rested on those accolades. When the 2019 Triple Crown got underway this past weekend at the Bigfoot 200, McKnight was on the start line to again complete the trio of races. Except this time he intended to go faster.
McKnight did just that by winning the 206.5-mile race in a new course-record time of 51 hours, 33 minutes, and 45 seconds--a dramatic improvement on his 7th-place, 69-hour finish from 2017. Already 18 hours ahead of his record-setting Triple Crown time from 2017 after just one race, McKnight seems poised to significantly better his combined three-race time.
“This is exactly what I needed. My goal going into [Bigfoot] was to go under 60 hours and set myself up to have a shot at beating my current Triple Crown of 200s record. I know a lot can happen at the remaining two races, but I’m feeling very confident right now,” McKnight said.
Will McKnight continue to better his Triple Crown times this year? Find out next month as he competes in the Tahoe 200 from September 13th to 15th in California. McKnight will then complete this year’s Triple Crown of 200s at the Moab 240 from October 11th to 15th.
In its third year, the rabbit track classic hosted by rabbit and presented by Running Warehouse, provided the perfect mid-summer last opportunity for elite athletes to obtain a USATF Outdoor Championship qualifying time, while also bringing together the local Santa Barbara community for an incredible evening.
This year's event grew from last year with the addition of a few new races in the schedule, including a juniors 1,000 meter race as well as the elite men's & women’s 1500 meter races. As the summer coastal fog drifted away around 5pm and the gentle breeze quieted down, by the time the races went down there was ideal conditions, and the evening was set-up perfectly for some fast races at Santa Barbara City College’s beautiful La Playa Field.
The junior 1,000 meter race was the first to hit the track and it certainly got things off to a great start. Isaac Wood (rabbit co-founder Jill's cousin!) took an early lead and never looked back, winning in a time of 3:59.78. Not too far behind was rabbit co-founder Monica’s son, Levi DeVreese finishing in a time of 4:12.25.
All of the junior finishers seemed to have a great time, and they were rewarded with a sweet medal for their efforts. Plus, the juniors' race was certainly the fans' favorite!
Next-up on the track was a full field in the community 3,000 meters with many familiar faces, including several members of our RADrabbit team and rabbitELITE team.
The momentum certainly carried over from the junior 1,000 as Brendan Jones-Morrow & Scott Chow got out to a hot start! They battled it out the entire race with Brendan taking home the win in 9:26.87 over Scott’s 9:30.14.
Our top women was rabbit’s very own, RADrabbit Sara Beyers in 10:46.18. Way to go Sara! And rabbitELITE athlete Todd Booth came in 5th overall also!
As the community 3k came to a close, it was incredibly awesome to see many members of our RADrabbit team cheer and help each other out, even some members running the last lap with another teammate to help her get to the finish. The comradery of the RADrabbit team is just incredible to see!
And then, it was time for the elite races to take to the track!
The elite women’s 1500 had quite the elite presence highlighted by multiple time US Champion, who has a killer PR of 4:04, Heather Kampf. The women had a tough task in mind of achieving the USATF Outdoor Championship standard of 4:09.5. The field was taken out in the first quarter by our pacer in just under 66 seconds (that's a smoking fast 4:24 mile pace!). Right on her, was Heather Kampf followed closely by Hoka One One Aggies' athlete, Jenna Hinkle. The two women stayed at the front of the race with Jenna overtaking Heather for the lead with 400 meters to go. The two battled it out down the homestretch with Jenna Hinkle taking the win in 4:15.48 over Heather Kampfs' 4:16.87. Rounding out the top three was The Mission Athletic Club's, Raquel Lambdin in 4:20.69.
It was then the men’s turn to get after it in the elite men's 1500. The men were targeting the US standard of 3:39 and showed no hesitations in chasing down that standard as the pacer came through the 400 meter mark in a blistering 57 second pace (i.e. 3:48 per mile pace!). Mammoth Track Club and University of Oregon graduate, Tim Gorman was fearless as he took over the lead and never looked back. Battling the clock, Tim came through the 800 meters in 1:58 and showed no signs of slowing down. With a lap to go, Tim was still at the lead but closing quickly was a pack of three with Tinman Elite’s Kyle Medina, Jacuzzi Boy’s Matthew Palmer, and Valor Track Club's Riley Martin. The three were working together and closing down the gap quickly. With 100 meters left, the race was an exciting one as Kyle Medina made a big push for the win. However, Tim Gorman’s early lead had proved to be too much ground for anyone to make up as Tim was the first to the finish line in 3:46.62. Kyle Medina was second in 3:47.49 followed by Matthew Palmer in 3:48.35.
As the sun started to set, the stadiums lights illuminated the track and it was time for some fast 5,000 meter races. The elite women were up first, and assembled was an impressive field. Team USA Minnesota’s, Breanna Sieracki followed right on the pacer's heels through the first 1,000 meters in just under 5 minute per mile pace.
Breanna took over the first place position from there on out and only continued to extend her lead on the rest of the field. Coming through the mile right around 5 minutes, Breanna looked smooth and controlled. Breanna took home the win in a stellar time of 16:09, followed by Valor Track Club’s, Makenna Myler in 16:39.68 and Cal Coast Track Club’s Chelsey Albertson in 16:53.59.
Last, but certainly not least, was the elite men’s 5,000 meters. Despite just running an incredible 1500m, Kyle Medina lined up in the 5,000 as the rabbit to set the pace for the rest of the field.
The men came through in 65 second pace through the first quarter (4:20 per mile) with the whole field right behind the pacer. As Kyle stepped off after 1,000 meters, Tesfu Tewelde from Eritrea took the lead with Hoka One One Aggies' Darius Terry & Bryan Guijarro not too far behind. As the race went on Tesfu continued to maintain his lead and keep the pace honest. CJ Albertson entered the top 3 for the first time with a few laps to go closing down the leaders. With a lap to go it Tesfu was the clear winner and he broke the tape in an impressive 13:59.52. Not too far behind was a C.J Albertson in 14:13.15.
We would like to thank all of the athletes, fans, supporters, volunteers, host families and rabbit staff who made this event a success. We would also like to thank Running Warehouse for its generosity in being the presenting sponsor. We would also like to thank rabbitPRO Seth Totten for providing awesome livestream commentary throughout the night. And, of course, thank you to the Santa Barbara running community for its support and enthusiasm.
Full results can be found here: liveresults
Photos are available here: http://rabbittrackclassic.com/
Also, thank you to Event Pro, Leone timing, and Blake Bronstad photography for making this event the best year yet! We look forward to seeing everyone again next year as we continue to build and make the rabbit track classic better than ever!
All photos in the blog are courtesy of Blake Bronstad photography.
This blog was written by rabbitELITEtrail athlete, Yvonne Naughton as she recaps her incredible and breathtaking experience running the Old Cascadia 100 Miler. We are so excited and proud of Yvonne!
Old Cascadia 100 caught my eye for several reasons. Firstly, it is set in the beautiful westerly "Old Cascades" with their lush rainforests and brilliant meadows. The winding trails take you up and down steep mountain sides, through crystal clear creeks, all the while tantalizing you with sweeping views of the highest peaks in Oregon from Mt. Hood in the North to the Three Sisters in the South. Secondly, Old Cascadia 100 is a true mountain race with a challenging course. It boasts 25,000 feet of both gain and loss with most of the course between 3,500 and 5,500 feet. Roughly 90% of the course is single track with a mix of long, winding switchbacks, short, steep sections and a few fun, technical rocky descents. Lastly, with its June schedule, the race provides another early summer race option. The timing means there are less extremes of temperature and very favorable running weather. The wildflowers are blooming in abundance and runners are treated to the mesmerizing sights and intoxicating scents of rhododendrons, lupines, bear grass and columbines just to name a few. While wildfires have caused a lot of problems for PNW trail races in the past few years, the timing of Old Cascadia has eliminated that problem.
My decision to take part in the race was a selfish one. I like to run two to three 100 mile races each year and I'd had my eye on this one since its inaugural running the previous year. I was attracted to the difficult mountain terrain and the beautiful and remote location. However, I was in the middle of planning and training for a huge summer adventure as a member of a female group attempting the Rainier Infinity Loop. This challenge would involve two summits of Rainier and one circumnavigation on the Wonderland trail, a trek covering over 135 miles and 45,000 feet of elevation gain. Eventually I convinced myself that the race would be a good 'training run'! So, after climbing Mount Baker the weekend prior with the two other members of our crazy ladies’ rope team, I packed up my Ford truck and headed south with Minda. She had decided to use the second loop of the race pacing me as her own training run for our upcoming challenge. We quickly got the discussion about race logistics out of the way and then spent the rest of the road trip brainstorming about the Rainier adventure.
I woke on race morning to my alarm playing the theme tune from La Vita E Bella. I'd slept well and felt pretty good. However, after completing fifteen 100 mile or farther events I've learned that a lot can change in the course of a 100 mile journey. Regardless of how I feel before the start, I'm always prepared for that to change. The inaugural Old Cascadia 100 took place in September and the runners experienced bad weather with cold temperatures and snow overnight. The finish times in both the 50 mile and 100 mile distances seemed slower than what I imagined those athletes could achieve so it was difficult to estimate a finish time of my own. I played it safe and planned drop bags for a thirty hour finish. So, as we set off from Lava Lake Sno Park my goal was to take it easy, enjoy the trails and not leave myself overspent before even starting the second loop.
Honestly, the first loop went by in a bit of a daze and I spent most of my time just trying to pick my jaw up off the ground as I stared absolutely mesmerized by the surroundings! On the steep uphills I fell into a good power hiking rhythm and on the tantalizing downhills I cruised carefully, not wanting to thrash my legs before setting out on the second loop. My stomach felt great, I was eating and drinking well and was more than pleasantly surprised to find that I was well ahead of thirty hour pace. However, as I came into the start/finish area I was struck by a wave of guilt for signing up for the 100 mile distance. Having paced and been paced in many ultra races I knew that Minda might have a dark, tedious trek in store. If we'd both signed up for the 50 mile distance we'd have had great training runs and would spend the evening enjoying a few beers. And of course, there was always the risk of me picking up an injury or not recovering quickly. However, as I neared the aid station, Minda greeted me squealing excitedly and my conscience brushed the guilty feelings aside. I'd arrived about three hours ahead of time, right on the heels of the second female and about twenty minutes behind first. I blabbered my guilty concerns to Minda while stuffing food and night gear in my already heavy pack. Of course, she brushed them off and we headed out in a wave of excitement.
We still had a couple of hours of daylight ahead of us which made me happy knowing that Minda would get to see many of the stunning views. We ran along the trail greeting the other racers on the out and back section with big smiles and cheering. Suddenly, the infamous Van Phan appeared around a turn in the trail and we skipped towards each other squealing and giggling before wrapping each other up in a big sweaty embrace. After grabbing a few photos and learning that the first female was about twelve minutes ahead we wished Van well and took off. Trisha Steidl would soon be joining Van as her pacer and Minda excitedly started filling me in on all the Mt. Rainier climbing information that Trisha had shared with her earlier in the day. So, for another while our conversation centered again around our big summer adventure. Over the next thirty miles we shared some trail time with Utah runner, Kenzie Barlow. She'd spent a year living in Ireland and had explored the trails there with friends of mine and I'd run her local race the Bear, so it was nice to share running stories. Eventually the steep climbs took their toll and the conversation became thin.
Minda noticed that I hadn't eaten in a while and encouraged me to do so but I stubbornly refused until we got to the next aid station. Nothing I was carrying appealed to me at that point and I was hoping there'd be some pancakes. Well, when we got to Quarry aid station, I was sorely disappointed. My options included a cold hot dog or quesadilla which was in the process of being cooked. I'd thrown up quesadilla in a previous race so grabbed a hot dog and forced myself to start chowing down as I rummaged through my drop bag for more appetizing snacks. I found some salty pasta so alternated some mouthfuls of that with the hotdog. Then, as I pulled on my capri leggings, I thought that some warm, black tea and a ginger snap cookie would be a great idea. I always carry my own teabags and cookies as this beverage and snack combo has revived me in the middle of the night during many ultras. A few minutes later, Kenzie headed out of the aid station as I stood up to put on my pack and do the same. But I was interrupted by an unwelcome familiar feeling. I scurried over to the bushes so as not to leave a mess in the middle of the aid station just before everything that I'd worked so hard to get down just moments before came right back up! I really should've known better than eating something new at mile eighty in a race and attempting to shovel down so much in one go. But as the retching passed, I also knew enough that this wouldn't be a major setback. As we headed down the trail, I was already feeling better.
However, as one issue seemed to resolve itself, another one progressed. Before reaching Quarry, I'd noticed a niggle in my right shin. It wasn't too bothersome, but I'd made a mental note to at least rub it out a little when I reached the aid station. However, with all the drama I'd forgotten. So now, as we headed downhill towards Pyramid at mile 85.8, what had been just an intermittent niggle became shooting, sharp pain with every stride. Of course, my brain darted to the darkest conclusion-this must be a stress fracture and now I've ruined the summer adventure for everyone who was counting on me! As we came into the aid station, I knew I had to address the problem, so I owned up to Minda about what was going on. My lower shin was red and tender to touch but the aid station volunteers were quick to gather any medical supplies they had. We applied some topical analgesia and wrapped it up with kinesio tape. With less than fifteen miles to go I figured that I could at least walk it into the finish. My ability to chase Kenzie for the second female spot was gone but maybe I could hold on to third place. But most importantly, I didn't want to put myself in a situation that I couldn't run for the next few months and had to cancel our Infinity Loop attempt.
As the sun rose, I found that I could still hike uphill well and if I adjusted my gait, I could manage a sort of one-sided canter downhill. It was so frustrating not to be able to free fall down these last steep descents but, in a way, we were grateful for the slower pace which allowed us to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and relish the achievement of conquering this difficult course. Before long we emerged from under the tree canopy and onto the gravel downhill. My quads were ready to go but my shin just wouldn't allow it, so we continued to shuffle. On to the paved uphill. The hard surface produced an immediate sharp pain, so the shuffle became a walk. Only about half a mile to go. I was still in third place put kept glancing nervously over my shoulder. Not that I could've responded if anyone had appeared anyway! Then as the uphill subsided, I mustered up a final shuffle into the finish line. Hugs, a chair, a beer and an ice pack. Suddenly I had everything I needed and wanted. Had we opted for the 50 mile event, Minda and I could've been tucking into breakfast at Cedars restaurant in Detroit at that moment, having enjoyed a full night’s sleep but then we'd have only had half the adventure! I finished as third female in 28:12, preceded by the amazingly strong Kenzie Barlow from Utah in 28:01 and Alyson Kirk from Colorado in 25:58, each of us finishing under the previous course record.
I learned a few important lessons from this race, the first one being not to give in to FOMO (fear of missing out). As I write this, I consider myself extremely lucky that what was likely a tibialis anterior tear healed quickly without further issues. But I could've very easily put myself out of our Infinity Loop attempt as well as other races later in the year just by cramming too much into such a short period of time. So, always remember to be realistic about the work load you undertake and to pace yourself. Races will always be there. Pick your top priority and don't risk injuring yourself and undermining your ability to perform at your best by committing to too much at one time. The next general ultra-running lesson which I was gently reminded about is to respect the GI commandments! Refrain from trying new foods in the middle of an ultra race and consume small amounts at frequent intervals rather than trying to stockpile calories in one sitting.
As for race specific knowledge, I think it's important to understand that this is a remote, mountainous race and entrants need to prepare accordingly. Train for long steep climbs with a significant amount of hiking and possibly the need to use poles. Also prepare for steep descents, some of which are slightly technical. Make sure you've adequate supplies in your pack and drop bags for sudden changes in weather. Pack waterproof layers along with a warm hat and gloves. Be prepared for at least two water crossings with spare socks and appropriate first aid for potential hot spots and blisters. Finally, consider carrying an extra bottle for fluid between Horse Camp and Scar Mountain as this section is an eleven mile uphill that you'll cover during the heat of the morning on the first loop.
The event is well organized and run. We received frequent updates prior to the race and reminders to complete the required trail work. Packet pickup and sign in on race morning was quick and easy and restrooms, coffee and light breakfast snacks were provided for the runners. There were six aid stations on each fifty mile loop. Crew access and drop bags are available at the start/finish area, mile fifty and at Quarry aid station, mile thirty one and eighty one. Each aid station was well stocked with the usual real food options as well as Tailwind and Muir gels. There was also plenty of sunscreen, bug spray and as I found out when I developed shin pain, lots of athletic tape and even KT tape. Overnight, several aid stations had fires burning, one had a heated tent and there appeared to be cots and the option to nap at a several locations. A couple of the aid stations were manned by teenagers from local sports teams which was fantastic to see. These stations did require a little more self-service, but that was a small price to pay for seeing kids in the outdoors all weekend and I'm sure with a little more experience they'll be running NASCAR style pitstops! At the finish line tents and chairs were provided for the runners, burritos, snacks and beers were available and medical staff were on sight to take care of any needs.
With this being only its second year, Old Cascadia is still in its infancy. However, this year saw an increased number of entrants and several new course records in the different race distances. Andrew Miller won the 50 mile race and set a new CR, while the women's 100 mile field became increasingly competitive in the last few weeks before race day, likely after Hardrock 100 was cancelled. This event has the potential to be a popular race and will continue to become more competitive as it grows. Both the 50 mile and 100 mile distances are UTMB qualifiers and the 100 mile could certainly be a Western States and possibly even a Hardrock qualifier in the future.
Registration for the race is on ultrasignup.com and runners are required to do six hours of trail work. As a newer race it did not sell out this year. Camping was available at the start at Lava Lake Sno Park, but this was quite limited. There are other camping options locally in the Willamette National Forest and there's also hotel options in the two closest towns, Detroit and Sisters which are about forty minutes away. The race swag for entrants is great. The finishers buckle depicts a wonderful mountain scene and is classic and timeless. Each finisher also receives a hoodie and there's great prizes such as running packs, shoes and hats for the top three male and female finishers. There's also an option to purchase Patagonia shirts and Boco Gear hats with the race logo.
I would absolutely recommend this event to others and would love to take part again myself.
Photos: Kyle Meek Photography, Van Phan and Minda Paul
We are so incredibly proud of rabbitPRO Eric Senseman and his courageous race this past weekend at Western States. Eric, it is an honor for us to support you on your journey and we know big things are in the future for you. Eric shares a bit about his amazing experience on the blog.
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The glistening white water swells wide to fill the river’s banks as it roars through an arid expanse in the late afternoon sun. Nestled within a deep labyrinth of canyons and gorges, this swirling current cascades gently to create a shelf of glassy water between torrents of current tumbling downstream. A spattering of oar boats dot the suspended waterway and await a hoard of runners who will emerge from the desolate, sun-baked landscape. Towering above the frigid flow, and feeding it from many miles away, the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains fill the sky.
It was Saturday, June 29th, just after 5pm, and I had been running for more than twelve hours now. We had started on those snow-covered mountains many miles away, in the chilly, moonlit morning. We ascended snow-packed trails toward a colorful sunrise and then descended dusty trails to arrive at a sun-bleached river crossing. It was mile 78 of the Western States 100 and there was less than a marathon to go. I was in 9th place and it had taken a great deal of mental fortitude and physical necessity to arrive here at this time.
To some of the spectators at the river’s edge, I might have looked out of place. Some spectators might have observed that I looked a bit different than the runners ahead. After all, I wasn’t nearly as thin as the men before me. How could I keep up with all the extra mass? The studious spectator would have noted that ahead of me there were at least three men who had run faster than 65 minutes for the half marathon and there were also two former winners of the race. Among the chasers behind me, there were at least three runners with personal bests under 15 minutes for the 5k. How did this comparatively bulky 9th-place runner stay in contention when he’s neither run a half marathon faster than 73 minutes nor finished better than 78th place at this race, and with an official 5k best of over 16 minutes? These spectators would have rightly concluded what was decidedly true: from running physique to personal best times, I was simply out matched by my competition.
What do you do when you want to be as good as possible at the thing you love? What do you do when you want to be better than your competitors even when you know that your competitors are, on paper, better than you? What do you do to get the most out of yourself when every ounce is needed? You take calculated risks. You suffer immensely. In other words, and to use a metaphor, you run very close to the sun.
That’s why I have to run so close to the sun. My mediocre day won’t put me among the top 10 finishers at Western States. I’d even wager that my good day might not put me among the top 10. I have to have my best day at Western States to finish where I’d like. And, if I’m to have my best day and finish top 10 at Western States, I’m interested in how I get there. I’d like to know that I was genuinely competing against the top runners, i.e. running near and among the top runners throughout the race. To do that, I have to force things more often than not. When I don’t feel good because I’m going through a low patch during the race, I can’t back off my effort too much or else I’ll lose too much ground. I have to suffer through it while moving quickly. I have to run as fast as I can, but it can’t be too fast. I can’t run the climbs too hard, but I can’t take them too easy either. I can’t take too long at aid stations, but I need to take enough time to refuel. I have to nail my nutrition: just the right amount of fluids and electrolytes and calories, an elusive task since the proper concoction changes as the day drags on. There are hours and hours for practically anything to go wrong, but nothing can go wrong. The margin for error is practically zero.
This is true for anyone trying to run as fast as they possibly can at the Western States 100. This isn’t easy for anyone. But there’s a difference between me and some of the other contenders for the top 10: Other competitors can have a good day, or even just a mediocre day, and still finish inside the top 10, or perhaps even among the top five. They can get away with getting farther away from the sun. I can’t. I have to stay right near the surface, dangling disastrously close to incineration.
The Western States trail bounces in and out of shaded drainages as it falls toward the American River on the celebrated “Cal Street” section, which stretches from the Foresthill aid station at mile 62 to the river crossing at mile 78. The occasional but short uphill traverse offers respite from gravity’s relentless downhill pull. It seems every rock must be quarantined elsewhere as the pillowy dirt cushions each footfall. The miles begin to feel effortless now, despite having run several marathons’ worth, in the stupefying and mind-numbing way that miles sometimes do. Then I get to the river, and I cross it in a boat, and I run up to the Green Gate aid station at mile 79.8, and I’m in 9th place and there are just 20 miles to go, and there are five guys in front of me with less than 20 minutes between us, and this is really happening. But I wasn’t thinking about any of that at the time. I just wanted to get the sand off of me. It caked my body when I sat in the footwell of the boat. And when you run so close to the sun, something as innocent as sitting in a boat can cause problems.
There are many ways that your day might come to a crashing halt in an ultramarathon. You might drink too much water and take too few electrolytes. You might do the opposite. You might take too few calories and bonk. You might instead take too many and puke. The heat might overcome you until you’re reduced to the angle of repose under a small snippet of shade next to a trickling, slimy water source. You might sit in the footwell of a boat at mile 78, get covered in sand, try to extricate the sand by dosing yourself with ice cold water, shiver uncontrollably for the next 20 minutes because you were probably dehydrated and now your body is freaking out, and you may never regain your composure. You might try to walk and eek out a finish but you start walking so slow that you become genuinely concerned about making it to the next aid station. Or something else might happen.
When you want to get the absolute most out of yourself--and when you must get everything out of yourself to compete in a field that’s perhaps a league above yours--you have to run very close to the sun. You have to take risks. And then you have to accept that things can go very wrong, very quickly. And you have to accept the possibility, and perhaps the actuality, of those consequences. In the 100-mile distance, I’ve certainly experienced the bad side of taking risks. I hope that when the time comes, it will make the good side of those risks that much sweeter. Because when I run so close to the sun, I do it to taste something sweet.
Photo Cred: Paul Portland Oregon @trailjunkiephotos
The 2019 Western States Endurance Run is shaping up to deliver another exciting year. The roster is stacked deep with competitive athletes and the snow is still stacked on the mountains. Eleven rabbit athletes are putting in their last runs and are beginning the meticulous preparations needed to toe the starting line, ready for the long day ahead. With race day tomorrow, we wanted to introduce the athletes that will be representing rabbit over the 100.2 miles that travel from Squaw Valley to the Placer High School track in Auburn. Put your hands together for Tyler Clemens, Kent Green, Sean Nakamura, Mike McKnight, Eric Senseman, Kris Brown, Laurel DeVore, Nicole Ederle, Rachel Kelley, and Liz Canty!
Eric Senseman (rabbitPRO) – Flagstaff, AZ - #28
Eric Senseman is always a fun racer to watch and this year’s performance is sure to satisfy his fans’ expectations. Eric lives and trains in Flagstaff, AZ, which sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level, making it an ideal place to train for Western States. Eric’s impressive third place finish at the Black Canyon 100K made this his second year in a row winning his entry to this race via a Golden Ticket. The 2018 Western States was Eric’s first 100 mile race and the day didn’t go quite as expected. After holding a strong third place through the first half of the race, the heat, hills, and miles got the best of him and he crossed the finish line in 23 hours, “good for 78thplace” he jokingly writes. However, Eric is confident this year will be different, stating “I’ve accrued a lot more vertical gain and loss in training this year, and I’ve spent much more time heat training. As such, I think I’m much better prepared for the climbs and heat this year.” Though he didn’t give away too many race expectations, he recommends that we all “watch out for the Coconino Cowboys, ft. Jim Walmsley, Jared Hazen, Stephen Kersh, and me” and that he’s “definitely going to beat Kris Brown this year”. We’ll get Kris’s opinion on this next. If you, the reader, are a big fan of Eric’s, which you certainly are, and have been wondering where you can get the sweet Senseman shirt in the above photo, click on over to our “shop” tab and show him some love.
Kris Brown (rabbitPRO) – Santa Barbara, CA - #M10
Last year, Kris Brown crossed the finish line at the Placer High School Track in 17:20, rounding out the top ten in his Western States debut. Last year’s performance was a long awaited dream-come-true for Kris. He explained, “top ten was a dream of mine, and I trained specifically for that race for more than a full year. I called my shot as top ten, put in the work, and pulled it off on race day. Normally I'm a ‘run hard and be happy with whatever happens’ sort of runner, but to commit to a plan and have it work out like that was pretty cool. Having done that, I'm certainly driven to repeat that accomplishment and improve upon it, but more than ever I'm interested in running my own race, feeling strong out there, and enjoying the day.” Kris has repeatedly proven himself as a smart and tactical racer and he’s expecting this to play to his advantage with the heavy snow fall on the course this year. One thing that may not play to his advantage is the fact that he opened a restaurant in March, which has been “extremely detrimental to training”. He claims, “by sheer numbers, my mileage has been laughable compared to last year, and I've genuinely done much less work, but I still feel fit, I have had some key indicator workouts that seem to show that I'm on par with where I was last year, and importantly, I feel really fresh compared to June of 2018.” Even with all the stresses of owning a new restaurant, Kris declares, “my biggest worry is being able to stay awake long enough to watch Eric Senseman finish”. That’s another thing we love about Kris, he cares about his friends. We’re certainly looking forward to what both of these athletes can do now that they have one Western States under their belts and we’ll be waiting at the finish line to cheer them in.
Elizabeth Canty (rabbit ELITEtrail) – Huntsville, AL - #30
Elizabeth Canty starts off the list of rabbit ELITEtrail athletes coming to Western States this year from flat hometowns, offering little elevation gain during training. Elizabeth didn’t let Huntsville’s lack of hills keep her finishing 2ndat the Georgia Death Race this year, winning herself a Golden Ticket to Western States. Some of her other most notable races include winning the Pinhoti 100, the Santa Fe 50 Mile Endurance Race, the Beaverhead 100K, and finishing 3rdat the Bear 100. Elizabeth’s strength is certainly her ability to suffer, which has likely been developed through her countless hours training in muddy Alabama winters and triple-digit summers. Ewlizabeth is sponsored by rabbit, Suunto, and Tailwind Nutrition and this is her first year being coached by David Roche. This is her second year racing competitively and she has been loving the process saying, “learning the ropes of competitive trail racing and training has been amazing and beneficial. I have the most supportive husband and poodle at my back as well, who have gotten me to this starting line in June positive and healthy!”
Rachel Kelly (rabbit ELITEtrail) – Chapel Hill, NC - #255
The tallest “mountain” in Chapel Hill has a whopping elevation gain of 400ft. So, Rachel frequently spends the weekends driving 3 hours each way to get some elevation training in and it shows. She finished sub 30 hours at Run Rabbit Run, which gains over 17,000 ft in elevation and stays 10,000 ft above sea level for more than 30 miles, an impressive finish for anyone but even more so considering the sea-level dwelling. This will be Rachel’s sixth 100 mile finish and her second year in a row at Western States. After finishing a strong race last year in 22:58, Rachel commented that, “running States is an amazing honor, the event is like no other in North America. The aid stations are amazing, the crowd excitement is infectious, and as a person who loves the mountains, that area of CA is one of my favorite places to visit”. Rachel is also sponsored by Lily Trotters compression socks and “feel(s) strongly about supporting female owned and operated companies, like rabbit and LT.” If you’re loving getting to know Rachel and want to read more about her running adventure click here.
Nicole Ederle– (rabbit ELITEtrail) – Houston, TX - #166
Nicole describes her hometown of Houston as “FLAT. I mean, not an inch of elevation gain. Not an inch. I frequently run with ZERO elevation gain on my regular runs.” Nicole Ederle, Rachel Kelly, and Elizabeth Canty share many things in common. They’re all rabbit ELITEtrail team members, they’ll all be toeing the line at Western States this year, and none of them let their environment dictate how far, or how high, they can go. Nicole’s luck in the lottery will make Western States her third 100 mile race, after the Javelina Jundred and Rio del Lago. Nicole’s goal to run Western States formed differently than most racers. As a child, Nicole’s dream was to ride in the Tevis Cup horse race, the race from which Western States was born. Her experience as a horse-packer and mountain guide have given her lots of experience on trails, traveling at night, and being alone in the middle of nowhere: traits that certainly come in handy at a race like Western States. Nicole runs with Houston Harriers and is couched by Emily Torrence of Sundog Running. Nicole hopes that her 100 mile journey at Western States will be an example for her three children that “no matter your circumstances, never give up on your dreams”.
Kent Green – (RADrabbit) - San Tan Valley, AZ - #189
This year’s Western States will be Kent’s second 100 mile race after finishing 6thoverall at the Kettle Moraine 100 in 2017. Kent’s strengths on the trails are found in uphill climbing and hiking, which can be attributed to his rocky, hilly, and hot home terrain in San Tan Valley, AZ. Racing Western States has been a life goal of Kent’s since he started running ultras in 2007. He attributes the pull of the race to “the history, prestige, climate challenges, and the current difficulty of ‘simply’ getting into the race, mak[ing] this a once in a lifetime opportunity. Representing rabbit through RAD and the Aravaipa Racing Team makes it that much
better.” Kent is dedicating this race to his mother in law and lifelong friend, Kathy. Kent and his wife, Jen Zak, watched the lottery while in the hospital with Kathy as she was ending her battle with cancer. She passed away a few days later. Kent, his wife, and his “rock star pacer” Tomio will carry her memory with them from Squaw to Auburn.
Sean Nakamura – (rabbit ELITEtrail) – San Diego, CA - #200
This will be Sean’s first time running Western States, which is actually quite surprising considering he’s run 40 hundred(+) milers (8 of which were 200 milers) in the time span of just under 6 years. Some of his more notable performances are overall wins at Run 4 Kids 100 (2019), Tahoe 200 (2017), and Nanny Goat 100 (2016). Even with Sean’s heavy mileage he’s coming into States “feeling as close to 100% healthy as [he] can recall in the last few years”. However, he also admitted the heavy race load may put him at a disadvantage, stating: “my biggest weakness is just that I’m racing 15 hundreds+ this year, so while I want to run fast at WS, I also need to consider The Great Eight project (8 original hundred milers) I’m working on this year and will need to bounce back for about a 100+ miler every two weeks through October. Because of this big race workload, I have also designed my training to be more about recovery than performance for a single event, and I hope to be in peak fitness for Tahoe 200 and Big’s Backyard (last man standing) in the Fall.” Sean has certainly set himself up for an interesting year and we’re so excited to follow as his miles roll out! In addition to running for the rabbit ELITEtrail team he also runs for Team Altra, Pro Compression, Muir Energy, Carbo Pro, Run Gum, and is a member of SURF (San Diego UltraRunning Friends).
Laurel Devore – (RADrabbit) – Golden, CO - #61
This year’s Western States will be Laurel’s fourth 100-mile race. Her previous 100 finishes include the Bear 100, Zion 100, and Brazos Bend 100. Laurel is also a stud at the 100k distance as showcased in her bronze medal finish at the USATF Utah State 100k Championship - Kat’cina Mosa 100k. When asked what running Western States means to her, Lauren responds: “This is so hard to put into words. I’ve dreamt about this race for years, volunteered/worked/paced the past 2 years and never imagined I’d be toeing the line this year. When I found out that I had a spot, the tears of joy ran strong and it took a while to sink in (it still hasn’t quite sunk in, in fact!). For me, a chance to run this historic course will be such an incredible privilege and also a test, not just of endurance but of my mind, body and soul. I want to see how far I can push myself in every way and I want to go to places of hurt and suffering I’ve never been before. I want to truly know myself. Running Western States doesn’t mean the world to me, it means the entire universe and beyond to me. It is quite literally my biggest dream come true. I am ready for the ultimate fight.” We’re so excited to hear that Laurel has been feeling stronger than ever, both physically and mentally, and can’t wait to see her crush some trails!
Mike McKnight– (rabbit ELITEtrail) – Cache Valley, UT - #43
After four years of entering the lottery without any luck of the draw, Mikewas gifted an entry from the Presenting Sponsor, Altra. Not only has Mike finished nine 100-milers, he’s also completed the Triple Crown of 200’s, that’s three 200-miler’s folks! Mike is the kind of guy to never back down from a challenge. This was made abundantly clear when he finished his first ultra, the El Vaquero Loco 50k, just over a year after breaking his back in a skiing accident. His doctor told him that he would barely be running a year out from surgery, but like we said, Mike doesn’t back down from a challenge. Mike is yet another athlete performing well on a low carb/high fat diet. He claims, “my energy levels during ultras have been so consistent.” So, if you see him out on the trails, send him some avocado love. Mike has been coached by Jeff Browning during the lead up to Western States. He’s commented, “I’mvery confident in where I’m at right now, and am truly thankful for all that [Jeff] has done to help me get here.
Tyler Clemens– (RADrabbit) – Denver, CO - #113
If you don’t know Tyler yet, you’ll likely recognize his wild hair and warm smile, which can frequently be found around the starting line of trail races. He’s the Co-founder of Dirtbag Runners and a very nice guy, so introduce yourself and tell him rabbit sends love. After 5 years of putting his name in the lottery and crossing his fingers, Tyler’sname was finally pulled and the grueling training started, or in Tyler’s case, continued. Tyler has completed six 100-mile races: Burning River, Rio Del Lago, Javalina Jundred, Angeles Crest, The Bear, and Pine to Palm. Even with all these lengthy races, Tyler says the race he is most proud of is his 100k finish at Black Canyons this year. He explains, “not necessarily because of my race, but because I ran and finished with my friend Sebastian Salsbury, who is just 13 years old! He became the youngest known person to finish a Western States qualifier and it was really amazing to be a part of his journey and help him realize his goals!” Unfortunately, Sebastian will have to wait a few more year, until he’s 18 to be exact, to be able to put his name in the lottery. Tyler has been putting in plenty of high elevation training while living in Denver, CO and we’re expecting that that, in combination with his mental grit and previous 100-mile experience, will set him up for quite a spectacular race.
We want to wish everyone racing Western States good luck. We can’t wait to follow along with what promises to be an amazing year!
In this week of excitement surrounding Western States, we want to share with you an incredible and truly touching recap from last year's race from our friend, Dave Odell. You might want to grab a box of tissues... this one is good.
At Michigan Bluff, 56 miles into my first (2018) Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race, the temperature was in the upper 90s, I was overheated, under hydrated, and my hips and glutes had cramped up - all par for a 100-mile ultra-marathon course, I know. But not typical (at least for me) were the pebbles in my shoes that caused me to hobble through the last few miles – pebbles that turned out not to be pebbles at all, but blisters that had erupted across the mid-section of both of my feet. With 44 miles left in the race, I was not, as they say, sitting pretty. But I knew that if I could just make it six more miles to Foresthill I’d get relief: That’s when I’d connect with my pacer who would hopefully shepherd me through the most difficult 38 miles of the race. Though my pacer for Western States was a rookie, I was thrilled to have him along: My twenty-one year old son, Walker.
Walker’s a senior at Babson College in Massachusetts, is a very good athlete (he qualified for the Boston marathon twice in the last 3 years), and in the world of coding is a genius – at least in the humble opinion of his father. And we’re very close, especially when it comes to sports. I coached Walker in basketball from kindergarten through high school, we’re both deep into soccer, and thankfully he humors me my Dodger baseball obsession. However, over the last year, Walker has come into his own, college and the people he’s met there, the experiences he’s had, have done their job, he’s grown into his own man. In Walker’s case that meant questioning long-standing beliefs and values – ones I instilled in him and still hold to be true. Naturally, this created some space between us and many of my training runs in the fire charred, mud slide stricken hills of Montecito were spent in deep thought over such things.
Ask 1000 ultramarathon runners why they endure the extreme challenges of their sport, and you’ll likely get 1000 different answers. Me, I’ve always been an athlete, always looked for the next mountain to climb. Basketball was my sport through college, and after, I cycled and raced in a few triathlons. But when I married DeAnna Morfoot, a terrific college cross country runner, running together became important to us. We don’t drink or party or go to the movies much, so running is our sacred time together. Five years ago, for our 20th anniversary, we signed up for a crazy 5-day, 120-mile paired stage race called, Transrockies Run. For DeAnna who is a natural born distance runner, the race wasn’t that tough, because the rules required that partners must stay together, so she just sat back with me and cruised. In any other race, DeAnna would have left me in the dust.
Transrockies proved such an amazing experience - the people, mountains, the challenges we faced together - DeAnna and I were hooked, so we started signing up for races. Out of the gate, DeAnna proved she’s one of the top runners in her age group, but for me things weren’t so easy. But then I was never supposed to be able to run distance.
I’m a different animal than most ultramarathon runners. An altered species. The same year Walker was born, I had my colon surgically cut out of me. Doctors took a section of my small intestine and out of it fashioned what’s known as a J pouch, a reservoir designed to do the job my failed colon used to. I’ve existed this way now for twenty-one years. I bring it up, because my doctors told me that one side-effect of being colon-free is that I would dehydrate more rapidly than non-J pouch people, especially during longer bouts of exercise. And during those bouts, if the weather’s hot, well, things could get really bad. Dangerously bad.
And so because I’m prone to dehydration, the Western States 100 would be my biggest challenge to date. Sure, I’d done the Cascade Crest and the Leadville 100’s, both on paper tougher than Western States, but the latter race is known for being a hot one, and in 2018, a record year of heat and fires everywhere in the state, the thermostat got turned up to extra high – record high in some places - just in time for the race. Lucky me.
Western States begins at Squaw Valley ski resort at north Lake Tahoe, elevation 6,200 feet. On the day before the race, I looked square in the face of the mountain I’d run up the next morning, much like a fighter might watch his opponent’s last bout for measure. Then Walker and I took a little upslope run to see how it felt. We were like two boys on an adventure, getting ourselves all jacked up and ready for the next day. About midway, I looked back at the view of Lake Tahoe from on high, knowing I wouldn’t allow myself such an indulgence during the race, and for the first time I appreciated the immensity of the Sierra’s largest body of water. I also noticed, however, how warm it was so late in the day, 8,000 feet up the mountain.
Running a 100-mile race, unless you’re one of the top finishers, means pulling an all-nighter, so it’s vital that the night before you get a good night’s sleep. But on pre-race eve, I laid awake staring at the hotel room’s cottage cheese ceiling, replaying the words I’d heard veteran Western States racers say earlier at the mandatory race meeting, and repeated later around the rabbit trail team’s pre-race dinner, that the race would probably be the hottest on record. Clearly their forecasts gave me the jitters. I barely slept that night.
At the start line in Squaw Valley the next morning, the temperature was a cool forty-seven degrees. And while I had had dreams of a finish time in the 25-hour range, a pesky infection in the aforementioned J Pouch I had developed the week before meant racing under the influence of chemistry-altering antibiotics, so I adjusted down my finish-time goal. And with the heat, I decided to adjust down again, to just under the cutoff time of thirty hours.
And the first 24 miles of the race went as planned. I sat back and kept my heart rate below 145, just where my coach, Mike Swan, advised. Instead of pounding the downhills, which I excel at, I ran with people, socialized, got to know them, and kept myself from overheating early on. It was a very different but satisfying experience, and fit in with my projected under-30 hour finish time.
But as I raced on, the temperatures shot up twenty, thirty, forty degrees. (After the race, I learned the needle had hit one hundred and three at various points.) About 30 miles in, I found respite in a creek where I immersed myself, bringing my body temperature down. But after climbing out of the creek, I headed up the 4-mile climb at Robinson Flat, and at the top I felt like burned toast.
The heat in the canyons became overwhelming. At each aid station like most other runners I stuffed ice down my back and up my sleeves. The ice seemed like a savior, lowering my body temperature considerably. But later, when I figured out that those pebbles in my shoes were blisters, it took little detective work to solve the mystery: When ice melts it runs down - down my legs and into my shoes – where my feet became water-soaked and shriveled and eventually, blistered. The blisters would swell up like little balloons, pop, bleed, reform, swell, pop, bleed – like a kind of ghoulish Groundhog Day, the pain like nothing I’ve experienced on the trail before. My mind wanted to stay focused on my misery. I needed something to distract me.
My relief was palpable, then, when Walker joined me at Foresthill. Desperate for distraction from the hurt, my son gave it to me in spades. He’d been waiting all day to hit the trail, and gotten himself jacked up all over again, and so out of Foresthill we took off on our 38-mile odyssey together, me with my spirits renewed.
As we started the long descent from Foresthill, the low, dim light from the sun setting upon us was a spectacular contrast to Walker’s high-wattage output. And crossing the American River together, its immensity, the sheer power of it rushing around us, was thrilling and invigorating, and something neither of us will ever forget.
Out of the river and back on the trail, for the whole 38 miles, Walker led the way. He used his flashlight to light the trail in the pitch-dark night so I wouldn’t trip and fall. He kept pushing me, “C’mon, Dad, let’s do this!” And he loved passing people, an indicator to him that he was doing his job well. His excitement was contagious, and my pace picked up, even though the heat continued into the night.
Walker had stored up some news from the day, strategically doling it out along the trail, telling me about the World Cup games playing out that day as well as other news, and when we had wifi connections, he’d get an update on the Dodger’s score (they lost to the Rockies), and keep me up to date about how two other Santa Barbara WSER runners connected along with me to the coolest running brand, rabbit, were faring – Kate Elliot and Kris Brown. (Both finished 10th overall in the women’s and men’s, respectively!)
When we crossed the river at Rucky Chucky, Walker was so excited – you don’t cross rivers during the Boston Marathon – and it really pumped him up, and I fed off of his energy and the body-cooling waters. But while his distraction helped, the pain in my hips, feet, limbs – pretty much everywhere by then – was a resonating force. I was suffering worse than any other race I’d run so far. But the pain was balanced by the fact of how special this moment in time was. Few people - few top runners, even - are lucky enough to get into WS 100. (I got a lottery pick.) And how many of the lucky ones get to share the experience with their son? Gratitude through the grit and hurt. We pressed on.
Walker provided, quite by accident, a timely moment of levity at an unattended aid station somewhere in the deep of night. I had chafed pretty badly, so I put on squirrel nut butter, provided by the race team, an anti-chafing lubricant you spoon out with a tongue depressor onto your hand and then spread where needed. Walker had never used squirrel nut butter, and didn’t understand the sanitary decorum during races, and so spread the lubricant using the tongue depressor directly onto his chafed nut sack, and suffered a splinter to it, something we actually had a good laugh about as we ran off into the night.
Out of that moment, we got into a rhythm with just about 20 miles left, fairly rolling, single track, dark out, though still quite warm for the hour. At that point Walker had been running 5+ hours, he was getting impatient, and was pretty anxious to get this thing over with. I ran when I could, but when my heart rate went up, I had to slow, which frustrated Walker. He coached me and hearing his voice in those dark hours was an echo – not lost on me in the moment - of me coaching him on the basketball court.
What hooked me and DeAnna on running these long, at times torturous races is being out in the wilderness, like biblical figures in the desert, where epiphanies happen, revelations occur. Emotions can run high, and during Western States, in the heat, darkness, through pain, Walker and I began talking openly, personally, as if the circumstances and the surroundings demanded it. Some things I will keep between us, but at one point he asked me which of his past girlfriends I liked the most, a tough position to put a father in! (We both agreed on which one.) And he asked if it’s hard to be married to the same person for 25 years as his mom and I have, a topic that danced on the edge of matters that had come between us. I told him it was the best thing I’d ever done, and it went quiet for a while, then he shifted and expressed his worry about his mom who’d had trouble during her last several races, dropping out due to severe vomiting. “Do you think there’s something wrong with her?” “No,” I assured him. “It only happens during races, so it’s either altitude or she’s not eating how her body wants her to. We’ll figure it out.” That he worried about his mom while he himself was running technical trails in pitch dark made me smile. I realized he’d grown to be truly unselfish.
During the darkest part of the race, some isolated forest near nowhere at all, Walker could tell I had hit a bad place, and he did something that I’ll never forget. It was a surreal but magical moment: He ran in front of me, holding his phone behind him for me to see the 7-minute highlight clip of the Dodger’s game he just downloaded, distracting me, helping me through one more mile’s distance.
As the sun rose, and we headed down to No Hands Bridge the heat made a strong comeback, and as we descended into Auburn, toward the race’s end, I had nothing left. The lap around Placer High School’s track to finish I could not muster a smile, even as I passed the finish line with cameras clicking. I’d never experienced so much dead pain. I don’t know how I would have fared without Walker. He really has become his own man, a blend of me and DeAnna, but his own man. And though the space between us exists, there’s this unbreakable bond that bridges it – stronger now thanks to those 38 miles. Could there be a better pacer?
After her amazing victory at the 2019 US 50k Trail National Championships held at the FOURmidable 50k in Feb, rabbitPRO Dani Moreno secured her spot on Team USA for the 2019 World Trail Championship. Dani shares more about her experience at World's on the blog...
While regular race reports focus on the race itself, I decided to shed some light on what happens beforehand. I think it's easy to feel alone in your thoughts and doubts, and this blog post aims to demonstrate that a lot of people are quite often thinking the same things. Welcome to what my coach dubs as "The Witching Hour," with this one taking place the days leading up to the 2019 World Trail Championship.
The Witching Hour: 2019 World Trail Championship
I arrived in Lisbon Sunday before the race. I did this because I was going to be working remotely, and this allowed me to get settled before the work week started. (#worklifebalance) While this part went according to plan, it wasn't long before I ran into my first fork in the pre-race road: the unprecedented heat waves causing me to question what race day conditions would be. Immediately this became the focus as I began thinking of how long it had been since I ran a hard workout in the heat. And it's safe to say my mental heckler started growing.
With the thought of humidity leading the charge, there were a few other things that began to fog my confidence, one of them being my PMS. I have found that not many women talk about this topic since it can sometimes be misunderstood and seen as an excuse. But at least for me, it's just what it is, and we can't help it! In my opinion, it's best to educate yourself and acknowledge what your cycles are like, especially when you have a competition coming up that is going to require a lot of you. For myself, when I have races that fall into this period (no pun intended haha), I know I need to be attentive to weather conditions. Similar to many women, I tend to overheat, making it difficult to sleep, and umm...run in the heat! Over the years this phase has lined up with some warm races, and while it can be tough, it isn't impossible, it just requires careful attention.
Typical to many "Witching Hours" self-talk is helpful along with the ability to come up with band-aid type solutions. So, in this case, hot weather and PMS..mmm not too bad as statistically I was sure at least 30% of the field would be dealing with it. The band-aid solution quickly became to drink more water and consume more electrolytes than I typically do. While the heat did die down in the days leading up to the race, I believe this excess hydration helped me and played to my favor considering race day did end up being quite warm.
Alright so heat, PMS, where else did my mind drift during the week leading up to the race? Well, I had a tough time letting go of the fact that I felt like I lacked emotional and mental strength. (#woof) It had been a long training block filled with international travel for work, buying a Condo with my significant other (which alone felt like a dumpster truck of mental labor), and long weekends filled with heavy mileage. So when I got to Portugal feeling like I was just hit by a "this is adulting bus" I was a bit bummed. Blame it on the excess estrogen, but I had no idea how I was going to conjure enough grit to pull off a solid race. My past few races I had trended towards feeling overly excited and filled with energy when I tapered, but those first few days in Lisbon had me feeling unexcitable.
What about the self-talk? It was tough, but eventually, I found enjoyment in the alone time. With space to think freely, I told myself that I had five days to rejuvenate my energy stores, most of which would feel restored once my teammates joined me. Not giving into the swing of emotion I was able to take control of the situation and decided to take that time to think about where I was heading, where I was, and where I had been. I think it's essential to have those moments, and it seemed appropriate considering I was getting ready to race against a very competitive field. This was a pivotal moment in "The Witching Hour" because while the tiredness made me feel uneasy, the time alone helped me to rediscover my "why," as in "why am I doing this race?" The answer was to represent my country and do the best I could for my team. Thus, it should come as no surprise that things began to change when my team showed up. (queue national anthem)
Most of Team USA showed up on Wednesday before the race. While there were some last minute roster changes on both the men's and women's side, we made light of it, and this is where I think "The Witching Hour" began to take a turn for the better. Thinking back to those first introductions, it was clear that the chemistry amongst the team was unique. Everyone was down to earth, friendly, humble, and addictingly optimistic. Heck 2 of the guys didn't even have their bags and could care less! For them, they had packed their jerseys and shoes into their carry-ons, and in their perspective, that's all they needed.
From the airport, we all traveled to the Miranda Do Corvo, the city where the race would be taking place. And, from that moment on this particular "Witching Hour" began to fade from existence. While we did run into the realization that the course was not any of us had expected my mental heckler stayed silent considering at that point, we had no time for hesitations. The good faith and optimism of my team helped me feel at home and recognize that this is what these competitions were about: camaraderie.
"Witching Hours" can be tricky as each one is different. I have grown to appreciate the time leading up to each race and think it's important to recognize beforehand there is a scale of emotion I can encounter. Having done this running thing for a while now, I embrace the mental challenges it presents and how it requires me to have a resilient self-talk toolbox. A toolbox that also helps me in other areas of my life as well. While it can be daunting at times, it's essential to have a constant belief that it's nothing I can't handle, especially with the help of some friends. ;)
The Result: I placed 27th with the best part of my race occurring after 16k. I passed 28 women in total and got re-passed by one of them in the last 5k. Team USA had a great showing, and it was only the second time in the history of the event that the entire US team finished the race.