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October 24, 2018

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For the Love of Self-Supported Stage Races

rabbitELITEtrail athlete Adam Kimble has had a banner year in 2018 with 9 wins, 3 second place finishes, a top 10 at the competitive early season Way To Cool 50k and a 13th place finish in his first attempt at the Western States 100. For many this could satisfy a lifetime pursuit of results at the highest level in running, but not for Adam who absolutely loves to compete. Naturally, he's not done for the year and in just over a month he'll head half-way around the world to pursue his true passion, his second self-supported stage race in Nambia, Africa.

At the beginning of 2015, my wife and I quit our jobs and traveled internationally for a year. We visited seventeen different countries and ended up on six of the seven continents. In addition to getting to know the locals, experiencing new cultures, and eating incredible food, we also did our share of running all over the world. Most of the time, this was just heading out our door and seeing what we would “run into” in foreign countries. Other times, we would run some actual races in these countries.  In only my second year as an ultrarunner, I had decided to coordinate some of our travels with races that were in the area (race-cation anyone?). During our travels, my wife’s sister and her husband happened to be living in Dali, located in the Yunnan province of China.  isiting them was a must, so I researched ultramarathons in and around China. Eventually, I came across the 4Deserts race series, and ended up signing up for the Gobi March, a 250km (155-mile) self-supported stage race through the Gobi Desert in northern China.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a self-supported stage race, it’s exactly as it sounds: a race split into stages, where each runner carries all their provisions.  The 250km are spread out over the course of five different stages varying in length.  Essentially, it’s like running a new race every day! Most stages are close in distance to a marathon, and there is typically both a long (approximately 50-mile) and short (approximately 10-mile) stage to mix it up as well. Overall finishing times are calculated through the accumulation of each day’s time. Once you cross the finish line for the day, the clock stops and starts again the following morning at the beginning of the next stage. The race support provides water at checkpoints and hot water at camp to cook food, but outside of that, it’s literally “on you” to carry your supplies!

What is so great about a stage race? Everything. Running miles and miles in one of the most remote areas of the world. Being completely unattached to technology and disconnected from everything except the other runners. Eating one of the best meals of my life at the end a week where I felt like I was starving. Spending a week straight getting to know people from nearly every corner of the earth, building lifelong friendships through our shared struggle across a desert. The relationships were what meant the most to me, and the primary factor in my certainty that I wanted to run another stage race. Just as we see in all aspects of the running and ultrarunning communities, the people are truly rad!  The stage-race community is no different. In fact, these people are some of the most awesome, interesting people I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Fast forward to 2018. I had been craving to repeat the experience I had in the Gobi Desert, but every year, my racing schedule seems to fill up faster and faster. Earlier this year, my great friend and fellow ultrarunner, Kris King, told me I should run one of his races. Kris is the Race Director and Owner of Beyond the Ultimate, a UK-based race organization that puts on multi-stage races all over the world. He was also my partner-in-crime in June of 2017 when we became the first two people to run the length of Great Britain self-supported while also summiting the highest peak in each of the three countries (Scotland, Wales, England) along the way. So, even though I had a big racing year centered around Western States in June, the Desert Ultra race in Namibia fell at the end of November, after all the other races on my calendar. I just couldn’t say “no.”

During my first go at the Gobi March, I ended up winning my first international race amongst a field of almost 200 runners from 40 different countries! It was a life-changing moment, and one that altered my trajectory and led me to becoming a professional ultrarunner and coach. Many things went well for me during the race, but I made one particularly large mistake: my pack was WAY too heavy. In fact, I had one of the heaviest packs of any of the runners. An Italian runner and friend of mine who finished fourth overall at the race, came up to me at the awards ceremony and said, “imagine what you could have done if your pack was a normal weight!” Live and learn, right? Well, I have learned, and I will do everything in my power to cut the weight I carry on my back. Doing things like using a better pack to hold my gear, packing a lighter sleeping bag and sleeping pad, portioning my food in the lightest baggies, and even cutting the handle off my toothbrush will be a part of my regimen. Over the course of a week, your pack gets lighter from the food consumption, but everything also feels heavier because your legs are getting tired!  Every ounce counts. 

Another lesson that I learned is that body maintenance is overwhelmingly crucial during a stage race. You’re out there for nearly a week, so any issues that come up will plague you until you’re done with the race.  For me, one item that added weight but proved to be worth it, was a RangeRoller stick to roll out my muscles. I believe I was the only person in the entire race who carried one, but so many other runners asked me to use it! Running a marathon or more every day means that you’re going to have kinks, and for me, I know it’s important to be able to work them out with more than just my hands. 

The last of the biggest takeaways I had from round one was that you can’t short yourself on food. It’s good to cut the weight of your pack, but if doing that requires cutting down your allotted food, it’s not worth it. I had more than the required amount of food in the Gobi Desert, but even that left me hungrier than I had ever been at the end of that week. You think you snack a lot at home? Trust me, you have plenty more time to think about food when you’re isolated in the middle of a desert! Give your body what it needs and make sacrifices elsewhere.

Now I find myself in a position I’ve been waiting for since I crossed that final finish line in the Gobi Desert. I’ve been working on dealing with the heat via some sauna sessions, hot yoga, and running on the hotter days in Auburn (an hour from where I live in Tahoe), much like I did in my training for Western States. All the while, I know that the temperatures in my yoga classes will pale in comparison to Namibia. In six weeks, I’m headed to the Namib Desert to once again experience something that changed my life three years ago. The only difference is, this time I have a lot more perspective on how to properly prepare!

October 19, 2018

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Jenny Hitchings is on Fire

American Age Group Record #1 in the 5k, 18:05

Something spectacular is happening in Sacramento and it's worth taking note: rabbitELITE athlete Jenny Hitchings is not only winning races, she's breaking longstanding records by large margins. Not just one or two, but now three American age group records (55-59) in just a matter of months. 

In May, she won the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in Ventura, California, setting the masters course record and topping her nearest competitor by nearly three minutes. Less than two months later she lined up at the the über competitive Wharf To Wharf 6-mile in Santa Cruz and finished 16th, outpacing her nearest age group opponent by nearly 5 minutes.

Just a few weeks later she ran 18:05 at the Susan B Anthony 5k for the win and secured her first record, breaking the legendary Shirley Matson's time of 18:32 from Carlsbad set in 1997. Only a month later she jumped up in distance to take the 10-mile American age group record by over a minute in 1:01:20, highlighting her summer of speed. 

October 8th, 2018 Edition of Sports Illustrated

After being featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" segment for her September 10-mile performance, Jenny lined up at her hometown half, Sacramento's Urban Cow Half-Marathon. Not one to disappoint, she did it again by running a personal best time of 1:21:14, breaking the record by nearly two minutes. Her third American age group record in just 3 months.

Is it fair to say she is on fire? Absolutely. In fact, that may be a slight understatement as some would argue we are witnessing quite possibly one of the greatest running years of any American masters runner, ever. The 55 year old lifelong runner just keeps getting faster.

You've raced your way to three American age group records in a matter of months after winning the M2B marathon; what are your initial thoughts and feelings about these accomplishments?

Honestly, I feel a little overwhelmed and yet very satisfied. It’s been calming in a weird way. I feel like I set out to do something that no one else was doing or going for, and I accomplished it (so far) and also managed to have personal best times for all 3 distances, and that feels AMAZING!

The Mountains 2 Beach Marathon Win in May

What has your training been like this year? Any differences that have helped you push your limits to these new highs?

There have been 2 marked differences for me this year. I hired a new Coach, Jenny Spangler ( a 1996 Olympic Marathoner) and I was coming off a long set back, so I was easing back and felt pretty rested. Most people my age don’t come back from injuries and set PRs! I really thought I was on a downward spiral. In the past, I would get a little anxious about my workouts and this year, I just felt I could handle everything Jenny was giving me. I’m also not tied to the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday workouts. Sometimes I do speed on a Wednesday and incorporate my next speed into my long run. I feel more relaxed, and I get out there and get it done! 

Top 100 jacket and PR in July at Wharf To Wharf

Have you specifically been going after these records or have they just happened naturally?

I’d say specifically. After M2B, I decided to train for the Wharf To Wharf in July. I don’t usually train specially for shorter distances….I feel like I’m always in marathon training which may have also hindered me from having faster times in shorter races. I ended up with a PR at Wharf to Wharf (35:24), so I thought, I’d go for the 5k record, as I basically ran the record time I would need to break the 5k mark at W2W. Then the 20 year old 10-mile and half-marathon records just seemed like a perfect trajectory. Though it wouldn’t be easy, I felt I could run the paces needed to break these records, and that gave me a sense of calm; I had no idea I actually had it in me to break them by a lot and also set personal records. I’ve also been very lucky that the record eligible races (USATF sanctioned, certified and not point-to-point) I’ve run have been in my hometown. It makes a big difference. Sacramento is becoming a running mecca!

American Age Group Record #2 in the 10-mile, 1:01:20

Any big races coming up the rest of the year and how will you train for them?

I have another half in November called the Clarksburg Country Run, but this will be a no pressure half that I'll run just for fun and PAUSATF points for her SRA Elite Team. I do plan on running CIM, but I’m also going to be smart and see how my body is holding up. I’m registered for Boston too.

Do you have your sights set on any other records in 2019 or beyond? Which ones and why?

I still may go for the 10k age group record this November (Thanksgiving run) and then perhaps the Marathon next year! CIM and the Boston Marathon are not record eligible, which is too bad.

It was a real thrill to be featured in the Faces in the Crowd section of SI magazine too! As a masters amateur athlete competing with the overwhelming number of nominations of high school and college athletes, I feel really fortunate and inspired that my race results were recognized on such a national level. 

American Age Group Record #3 in the half-marathon, 1:21:14

October 12, 2018

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Chicago Marathon Race Recap by rabbitPRO Tyler McCandless

Photo Credit: Kristin McCandless / @mccorkl

There are three main lessons to convey from my experience running the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. First, the marathon will teach you humility. Second, the marathon will test your character. Finally, the marathon will always inspire you.

Rewinding back to the 2017 USA Marathon Championships at CIM, I was in a group of about ten guys at 19.5 miles when I felt fantastic and had broken away from a group to ten guys to just one other competitor. I never felt so strong running ~4:55/mi during miles 20-24. On an ideal weather day, a perfect pace with a large group of competitors and a fast course I set a massive PR (2:12:2 to take second at the National Championships. After about a dozen marathons, I finally felt like I now understood how to really race the marathon!

After a post-marathon break, my coach Steve Jones and I came up with a purposeful plan to first get faster and focus on shorter distances, and then move back to the marathon in the fall. Chicago was an ideal opportunity because it’s an IAAF approved course put on by a great organization and has many fast competitors. In 2018, my training hit new levels, certainly a function of the confidence built from the marathon result in December. I ran every type of workout faster than I had ever done before, exemplified by my favorite workout of 4x10 min hard off 3 minutes recovery where I ran on average 8 seconds per mile faster than I did in my best workout before CIM…with less effort, more control and more relaxed running. It resulted in stepping on the track at the rabbit5000 and taking nearly 20 seconds off my 5K PR to run 14:03, just five days after winning the open race at the Bolder Boulder. The training also resulted in a 2+ minute PR for 25K with a 4th place finish at the USA Championships and splitting 1:03:16 for the half marathon, just two seconds off my PR. Although I did have a few clunker races in the build-up, I showed improvement over a range of the fitness spectrum and had carefully crafted my fitness for the marathon.

Photo Credit: Kristin McCandless / @mccorkl

Enter lesson 1: the marathon will teach you humility. My always supportive and incredibly encouraging wife Kristin came to Chicago, as well as both my parents, her parents, my coach and my agent.  Additionally, Aaron Braun was running Chicago and two of his teammates Scott Smith and Scott Fauble came out to set an ideal pace of 5:00-5:02/mi for the first 17 miles, which was a huge benefit to a large group of American athletes running Chicago - I’m very thankful for them for doing that for all of us. However, race morning I wake up to pouring rain and windy conditions. By the time I was on the start line, the rain had stopped but the roads were quite wet and slick.

The race started and it was time to run down my goal of setting a new marathon PR by executing another marathon race plan. However, it was quickly evident that each step I was slipping a little bit on the wet roads and therefore losing a bit of energy that was exaggerated as the pace picked up. At mile 3-4 I trusted my instincts to hold back a little bit more, and the group of guys led by pacers gapped me as I split 5:03 for mile 3-4. Between miles 3 and 14 I split 5:03-5:07 every single mile running solo. But, the wind picked up and it started raining and the effort felt more than that pace I was running. I looked up at the group and used positive self-talk to reassure myself I made the right decision to be patient as they slowly pulled away working together. I heard my wife and family cheering for me at halfway and gave them a smile and thumbs up, trying to keep the optimism for the second half of the race. However, for as easy as the first 14 miles were at CIM, the first 14 miles at Chicago were far from easy…both mentally and physically.

At mile 15, I caught Yuki Kawauchi who had fallen off the pace up front. Yuki’s a hero of many in the running community. Not only did he win Boston Marathon in April, he has the world record for the most sub 2:20 marathons (81+)! And much like me, he (currently) has a full-time job and career. When he won Boston, I felt that truly one of the good guys in the sport won, however, this was clearly not Yuki’s day to shine. My pace had started to slow to 5:10s, and when I caught him I told him, “stay with me Yuki.” When I caught him I said, “come on Yuki, stay with me” and tapped my side. I looked back a minute later and he was right on my tail and I said “good” to him. Enter lesson 2: the marathon will test your character.

Photo Credit: Adam Barcan / @barcanshoot

I was continuing to push into the wind, rain and wet roads where I felt I was putting more and more effort in yet was progressively slowing down. The vision in my mind’s eye that I rehearsed over and over again feeling strong, passing people and running down a PR were fleeting visions. At this time, I knew that I was going to have to be really tough, to dig really deep and to feed off the energy of running with a competitor, the crowd, and remain positive for the next 50 minutes.

Yuki stayed on my heels until about mile 21 at which point my pace slowed and he tried to push past me. Now it was my turn to latch onto him. We went back and forth over the last few miles many times. Once, he slipped on a turn, nearly fell and looked concerned - I said to Yuki “you’re okay, you’re good.” At this point, the rain and wind were fairly miserable and neither of us were running near where our goals were. But, we worked together to push each other to the best we could on “off” days. Although we slowed down, not a single competitor caught and passed us the entire race.

Photo Credit: Crash Kamon / @paws_and_pros_foto

Enter lesson 3: the marathon will always inspire you. By this point, it’s clear I’m not setting a PR and am going to finish far off my pre-race goals. In the last half mile we ran side by side, I led, he led, and we simply did everything we could to try and beat each other. Although we were both struggling and deep in the pain of the marathon, with 300m to go he found another gear and blew me away. There is no doubt in my mind that he found that gear from pure mental toughness. I’m inspired. Why couldn’t I have matched that surge? Although I may have been stronger from miles 15-21, ultimately his toughness and belief in himself proved he deserved to be one spot higher than me in the results.

Photo Credit: Crash Kamon / @paws_and_pros_foto

In conclusion, the marathon will teach you humility. It’s a fact that not every one of your marathons will go great. Another fact - it’s okay that not every marathon will go great…even Eliud Kipchoge lost a marathon once. Learn from each marathon, push yourself and others around you to do your best on that day, and ultimately, you’ll mature not only as a runner but as a human being from the experience. The marathon will certainly test your character every time you run it. It may be the weather, it may be the course, it may be your competitors, it may be internal battles, or it may be a combination of all of them. Take the test with optimism and know that even if you don’t ace the test, you may learn the most from the days you fall just short. Finally, the marathon will always inspire you. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to run with Yuki and experience his mental fortitude firsthand.

Although I did not leave Chicago with the shiny new marathon PR I was hoping for, I’m leaving with more gumption and inspiration than ever before. Always take the opportunity to find the positives and use that inspiration to fuel the work necessary, giving yourself the best chance to achieve your goal the next time around.

Photo Credit: Crash Kamon / @paws_and_pros_foto

rabbitPRO Tyler McCandless finished the 2018 Chicago Marathon in 2:16:37, good for 20th place in challenging conditions to say the least. Look for him to use all that he's learned not only in Chicago, but all of his other races, and find redemption the next time he pins a number on his chest.

September 28, 2018

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A Beginner's Guide to an FKT by Stephen Kersh

Photos by Sarah Cotton

Let's set the record straight, Flagstaff's Stephen Kersh is going for a Fastest Known Time (FKT), but not just any one. He's attempting to take the FKT up Wheeler Peak - the highest point in New Mexico at 13,064 feet. Stephen grew up in New Mexico and has hiked this peak and these trails quite a bit while living in the area. He’s wanted to try to run up to the peak for the last decade, and has wanted to give the FKT an attempt since he learned what the heck an FKT even is.

This will not be typical sincere content about some wanderlust adventure. He will show all the mistakes he makes in planning, running & filming - yes, there will be a film in collaboration with Sufferfest Beer...because every hard earned FKT attempt deserves a deliciously satisfying beer and they just so happen to have one called the FKTThe attempt will happen sometime during the first few weeks of October, but in the mean time, read his 'Beginner's Guide to an FKT' below and start fantasizing about your own attempt on your favorite peak or trail now.

I’ve spent the last two weeks isolating my glutes and wrapping jumbo-size rubber bands around my ankles. I’ve spent the last two weeks indiscriminately pinning a lacrosse ball to the nearest wall with my hip while receiving the scorn of the couple just trying to enjoy their breakfast. I’ve spent the last two weeks speaking to my IT band, whispering sweet nothings to that big ol’ piece of tissue in hopes it will begin behaving itself. I’ve spent the last two weeks gripped with fear.

As I’ve begun to dabble more with ultrarunning, it appears my body is taking this as an opportunity to reassert some dominance in our relationship. All of these little aches and pains I was able to keep at bay through a consistent diet of mostly-flat 100-ish mile weeks are now being exposed by a rather abrupt introduction of vert into the mix. I had never paid my IT bands any mind and, had you asked me about my IT bands before this latest dustup, I would have maybe asserted I wasn’t even sure I had IT band(s) because I’ve never had to think of them. Well, let me tell you what, I’ve got ‘em and my right one hurts like the dickens.

This is all to inform the reader that I will be attempting to set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on Wheeler Peak in New Mexico later next month. I made this plan before my IT band got jealous of all the attention I was giving my girlfriend, but I still believe it’s a manageable goal.

As a native New Mexican, I’ve made my pilgrimage to our state’s highest point (13,167 ft) several times. The last time I submitted the peak, I remember seeing some people running it and thinking “wow that’s a dumb thing to do and I would love to do that.” And so here we are, probably almost a decade removed from that thought, prepping to do a dumb thing.

The current FKT is held by a friend of mine in Flagstaff, Mike Popejoy. He actually just reset his old FKT and bettered it by seven minutes, making it sit now at a stout 1:18:53 for the 7-or-so mile ascent. If he’s reading this, I meant to tell you I was going for the FKT but I’m sorry if I haven’t yet. I’m not sure if it’s some sort of chivalrous tradition to inform the current FKT’er about intentions on slaying their dragon, but I will let him know ASAP. I promise.

I’ll be keeping up these little updates as the attempt draws near, so please keep me and all of my ailments in mind. We need as much help as we can get.

Follow along with Stephen's attempt on Instagram, Twitter and all his training on Strava as well as more of his work on his business' website Rabbitwolf Creative. Check back here for a follow up blog about his attempt as well as the aforementioned video documenting the experience in New Mexico.

September 21, 2018

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World's Fastest DJ Keeps On Flying, Sights Firmly Set On CIM

At age 36, rabbitPRO Ramiro "Curly" Guillen is running some of the fastest times in his life as he prepares for the California International Marathon on December 2nd in Sacramento, California. The race is again serving as the USA Marathon Championships and Curly hopes to improve upon his 2017 performance that saw him finish 24th in 2:17:33, snagging him his first Olympic Trials Qualifying time for the 2020 Games.

This past weekend, Curly lined up at his alma mater's home cross-country meet, battling a field of 50+ runners all approximately half his age from UCSB, Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton. He came away with a 10th place finish, despite his focused endurance preparations for the marathon.

Another top ten in a NCAA Division 1 XC race - how does that feel? Which number top ten finish is this for you here?

I first competed in this race in 2002 when I was a 3rd year transfer to UCSB from SBCC. I was coming off a stress fracture in my foot so I didn’t race well in that one. I have raced it the last 7 years in a row and I believe I have had 5 top 10 finishes with my highest placing being 3rd back in 2014. My fastest time on this course came in 2016 when I ran 24:48. It feels good to be able to still compete at the same level all these years later. The win keeps eluding me, but I will keep going for it until I can’t keep up anymore with these young bucks.

Curly at the 2017 UCSB Lagoon 8k where he also finished 10th

It's clear you're running some of your fastest times in your entire life, RIGHT NOW, in your mid, moving into your late 30s - what are some key factors that you believe you can attribute all of this success too?

The key to my success is all the miles I have been able to consistently put in over the last 7 years, plus the “muscle memory” of previously being an accomplished athlete at the junior college level and being an NCAA D-1 athlete. I ran some pretty quick times in college so as I made my return to running after taking almost 8 years off completely, I had something to shoot for. Another reason I have been able to continue to get faster as I get older is the fact that I didn’t run for nearly 8 years. I feel that my legs feel “fresh” because of this.

There is something about running 80-100 mile weeks with long runs of 18+ miles that really builds up the mental toughness. Especially being able to grind it out after not getting enough sleep (editor's note: which Curly often does working two jobs and raising two young children).

I see a sports chiropractor (Ernie Ferrel) 1-2 times a week and I do cryotherapy plus the Normatec recovery boots a couple times a month at The Lab. I run twice a day when I can and this helps lighten the workload at the end of the week. Believe it or not I do not stretch or foam roll, nor do I do any drills or weight lifting, mostly due to time constraints. I do strides a couple times a week. I use Maurten sports drink before workouts and races, GU energy gels before/during long runs and marathons, and Endurox for my recovery drink. I drink a gallon of water every day. I generally eat pretty well but I definitely reward myself a couple times a week by eating out. I can’t forget to mention my coach Terry Howell for being flexible with me and adjusting daily mileage or workouts to accommodate my hectic life.

Age is certainly nothing but a number. I do not feel my age at all. I refuse to believe I will slow down anytime soon when we have people like Abdi, Meb or Lagat that continue to run fast in their 40s.

Never afraid to push the pace, Curly is the consummate professional

CIM is just a few months out, how does a fast 8k like today's UCSB Lagoon race factor into this week's training plan? And from a bigger picture, how important is keeping up speed like this for running another PR in December?

I am pleased with my performance at last weekend’s race because I was in the middle of a 90 mile week and I had 2 hard workouts that went very well. I went into the race on tired legs. Of course I was hoping for a better result but I can’t beat myself up to bad over it. Last year at the Lagoon race I ran 5:15 pace for 8k and a few months later I ran that pace at CIM for 26.2 miles. This last weekend my 8k pace was 5:07 which is my goal marathon pace for CIM in December. I have to remember that everything I am doing is to prepare me to run sub 5:10 pace for the marathon. It is important to have speed in the shorter distances because it makes the pace in the longer races feel much more comfortable.

Grinding out a win at the Vintners 5 Miler earlier this year

You've done the Lagoon race eight times now, arguably not only one of the most challenging around, but scenic as well - what personally keeps bringing you back to the event?

I keep coming back to this race because I like mixing it up with the college kids in a shorter race that is out of my comfort zone. I really want to win it one of these years too!

It's cool to see the respect the college kids all have for you both pre, during and post race. Do you feel you are helping to inspire a younger generation of runners in some way?

A lot athletes quit the sport once they graduate. I hope that I can inspire some of them to stick with it and keep chasing after other goals. My goal in college was to always qualify for the Olympic Trials. I lost sight of that goal when I quit running for several years. But then I dusted off that far-fetched dream and went for it. I am happy to have earned my spot on the starting line of the 2020 Olympic Trials Marathon. I hope that some of these runners I have crossed paths with will be inspired to dream big, anything is possible.

Sunset doubles along the beach near his home in Goleta, one of his favorites

September 19, 2018

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Same Story, New Beginnings: LeBlanc Re-Joins The rabbitPRO Team

Former rabbitPRO athlete Jarrett LeBlanc had a breakthrough performance at the Philadelphia Rock n Roll Half-Marathon this past weekend, finishing 8th in an international field in 1:04:33. The rabbit family is happy to announce that as of this week we have re-signed him to the rabbitPRO squad! The past two years have been a bit of a roller coaster ride for LeBlanc, who recounts the highs and lows of training at the highest level for this rabbit chatter.

My running career has never been that, “new-pair-of-shoes smell” or one that’s earned me a USA title. I have had moments of glory that will last my lifetime, but it’s always been about the grind. Not only pushing tenaciously to fit the lifestyle of a post collegiate runner making it to the big stage, but also making it financially and socially stable.

My story goes back to summer of 2015, the best shape of my life. I had just ran 3:59 for the mile and 1:49 for 800m. Earlier in the year I had also qualified for the 2016 Olympic trials marathon by running 1:04:19 for my debut half marathon. Just 3 months out from the marathon trials I suffered an excruciating stress fracture on a facet of my lower vertebrae. I could barely walk normal much less run. I went from running 75-90 miles a week to averaging a whopping 40 miles a week leading up to the trials. Most of that being a long run of 12-15 miles then 3 days off to follow. I knew I needed to train to compete in Los Angeles, but my body wouldn’t allow it. I finished the trials with a debut marathon of 2:29:30 and a 69th place finish.

After taking some time off I revamped training over that summer with a few races but the pain was still there. This is when I initially joined the rabbitPRO family! Early in the summer of 2016 was a kick off point to my next chapter. I got a job in my career field at a hospital in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Training was going well, but the pains and symptoms remained from my pre-marathon injury.

I raced the USA 10 mile champs in October and knew something was wrong. An MRI later confirmed I had yet another stress fracture - a fracture to the pubic bone on the pelvis. After receiving the results and weighing my options, I called Jill and Monica to say those dreadful words, “Thank y’all so much, but it’s done. I am retiring from running.”

I remember staying up late that night asking if that was the right decision. Remembering the pains and struggles everyday for over a year I knew it was time. I had hit my marks. I was the 443rd American to break the 4 minute mile barrier and I had made it to the marathon trials. I mean, what more could I possibly have done or set my sights on? It was done. My professional career was over.

Six months of not running a single mile can really put you out of shape. I had this “Envie” a Cajun French word for ‘got that good feeling’ to think I could maybe start running a bit to keep the fitness up. I ran a 21:35 3-mile on a Tuesday night with an average heart rate of 175. It was the start of an new, but familiar beginning. Alone, out of shape, unsponsored and a few beers in me I decided to run the infamously competitive BoulderBolder, just four weeks away. That May of 2017, I officially came out of a short lived retirement and ran a 34:34 10k at elevation in Boulder, Colorado.

The next 6-10 months were pretty much as expected; the highs and lows of getting back into shape, but this time it was different. I had no pains anywhere. My love for the sport and the grind itself was actually a growing flame. In the midst of training and working, I was caught off guard by a job opportunity in my hometown. A chance to continue training, move closer to family and friends wasn’t something I couldn’t pass up. More opportunities to keep my jitterbug’n and accordion playing skills up too. I hadn’t lived in Louisiana since June of 2014!

So, I moved home to Louisiana in January of 2018 and started my job in a new clinic. I have been back to training ever since with a 31:00 10k in April, followed by a 1:04:25 half marathon in June and my body and mind just feel at home.

I’ve sacrificed the mountains and cool weather with the occasional weekend trips to Colorado for running company all for mosquito infested, swamp filled, rice field levees, snakes, raccoons by the dozens, humidity and solo training. Smart move? I’ll make that call in 2020 where you’ll find me on the starting line of the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials. I will be giving this push everything and more, but this time it’s for the people who gave so much to me in the past. Most importantly proving not only to myself, but everyone in this sport that I can emerge stronger from the lowest of lows. There is no doubt there will be road bumps along the way, but keep a close eye on my story. It may be similar to my past, but it definitely has a new ring to it.

September 17, 2018

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A Runner’s Guide to Surviving Injury by rabbitPRO Alycia Cridebring

Injury is like a black hole. It sucks in your dreams, your goals, your fitness, your positivity, and your sense of self as an athlete. Okay, for some this may seem slightly dramatic or a bit of an overstatement. However, I can assure you that those who have been injured can relate.

Runners love to set lofty goals. They strive for endurance, strength, and personal bests. That is why injuries can have such an impact on athletes in the midst of a training cycle. So much time is spent planning and training for the ideal season when everything should naturally fall into place. Then suddenly, it doesn’t. A torn plantar, pulled muscle, fractured metatarsal - take your pick. If an athlete is really passionate about their sport, they have most likely incurred some sort of injury along the way. If not, they are one of the lucky ones. So, what’s next? The season is out of the picture, and a shiny, new set of crutches makes it possiblee, but a challenge to walk. Most often, eight to twelve weeks of cross-training lay on the horizon.

What did I do? I cried. Oh yes, it was messy and it was ugly. However, once I decided my pity party was not going to heal my broken foot, I picked myself back up and took it one day at a time. I cannot lie and say this is ever easily accomplished, but I believe you are capable of growing more as an athlete and as a person from the obstacles you overcome than from the parts of life that come easily.

For those that need it, this is my guide for surviving the different stages of injury:

*Please note (And a serious one): By no means have I, as an athlete, perfected any of the stages or actions mentioned below. Like many know, life is a series of ups and downs and the advice I present serves as idealistic goals to strive for amidst the chaos of being human.

Stage 1:

Just recently injured This is a time where feelings of despair are common and understandable.

Action: Cry, cry a lot. Appreciate the people who reach out to you to give their support (Sometimes literally, because you might fall on crutches!) and remember to pay it forward. When you are ready, put yourself back together, power pose, and get ready for the journey ahead. I gave myself no more than a week to wallow and be frustrated about getting re-injured before realizing that the only direction I could move was up.

Stage 2:

Time on crutches or in a boot – This is a time prior to being able to cross-train and even walking is difficult.

Action: Enjoy the downtime, invest in some new hobbies, delve into both friendships and work, and stay positive. In addition, come up with an easy ‘auto-response’ to questions like: “What happened?” or “What did you do that for?” (My personal favorite response: “I wanted attention.”) I used this time in my newly freed up schedule to spend with family and boost my social life. Instead of languishing alone, it was helpful for me to surround myself with a positive support network and gain a broader perspective on my situation.

Stage 3:

It’s time to cross-train This is a time where the boot is off and you are cleared to start cross-training.

Action:

  1. Get into a schedule: the more it becomes a habit and part of your daily routine, the less it becomes a choice.

  2. Get your heart rate up: the benefits of cross-training are helpful for your overall fitness, but you have to work hard to stay in shape.

  3. Don’t forget to switch it up! Adding variety to your routine reduces the monotony of cross-training. My go-to was a combination of biking, hopping on the Elliptigo, and swimming.

  4. Lastly, don’t forget to rehab. It seems minor at a time where you are unable to run, but spending a few extra minutes every day building strength is crucial to staying healthy further down the road.

This can be a difficult stage to deal with because cross-training isn’t always the most enjoyable task. I definitely experienced days when only ten minutes on the bike felt like an hour. However, I found it most helpful for my training when I planned out my workouts for the week on a calendar. That way, everything was already scheduled and no amount of excuses (as much as I wanted to make them) could deter me from getting my workouts in.

Stage 4:

Cross-training fatigue By this point, the weeks of bike workouts have felt like a lifetime. Action: This is where you let your future running goals provide you with some much-needed motivation. Why are you even cross-training? The goal is to maintain fitness in order to sail back into running, get that new 5k PR, and tell everyone you rode that comeback train all the way to the podium. I personally made it through this stage by writing down a goal and a motivational quote and carrying them with me throughout the day; these served as positive reminders to stay focused and stick with it.

Stage 5:

Easing back into running – This is the last stage where you are finally able get your feet back on the ground and ease back into running.

Action: I must stress the word ease because exhibiting patience at this stage is the most important trait you can maintain. The last thing you want to do is fall right back into that injury black hole. Be patient, trust the process (and your coach), and enjoy running. Trust in the fact that you can and will reach your peak fitness again while being even more mentally and physically stronger. To be honest, this is one of the stages I struggled with the most. Attempting to go from zero to full speed ahead seems like the most efficient way to get back into shape, right? Theoretically, yes, but that is simply just not how the human body works. It was always a constant battle, but I used this time to try and focus less on pace or mileage and more on the simple joy of running.

Take this guidance with a grain of salt; overcoming injury is no easy task. However, if there is one thing from which you can gain during that time, let it be a stronger and renewed drive to follow and reach your goalswhether it be to finish a marathon or qualify for the Olympics. Injury is not an ultimatum, it’s a stepping stone to growing as an athlete and coming out stronger on the other side.

Learn more about Alycia on her rabbitPRO page and follow along with her running journey on her Instagram @a_cridebring.

September 14, 2018

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UTMB - The Race of a Lifetime

The rabbit crew was out in force at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc week, the world summit of trail and ultrarunning, where the rabbiteELITEtrail athletes successfully competed in the various distances offered. After his return from Europe, we caught up with Riccardo Tortini who wrote a pre-race blog for us as well. When all was said in done in the Alps, Riccardo came away with his first UTMB finish in 28 hours and 21 minutes, good for 78th overall in the deep international field. 

Ready to go with fellow rabbitELITEtrail Chris Thomas 

Tell us about your UTMB experience Riccardo?

All in all UTMB was a fabulous experience! I love this sport because each and every day represents a different challenge with plenty of new lessons to learn. With that said, I feel like my race could have gone slightly better. I found myself way in the back at the start and with at least half of the field between me and the start line. I passed most of them in the opening 9 miles and found myself in around 200th place at the first aid station, steadily moving up all day and entering the top-100 at Champex-Lac (mile 75). I hit a rough patch between Trient and Vallorcine, approximately 90 miles into the race, but hung in and moved very well in the final 10 miles to finish strong. As with most races, perhaps one has to take part in the race multiple times in order to be able to take calculated risks and maximize the performance, but I am convinced that starting in the back was key for me to eventually cross the finish line in the top 100.

Ultrarunning is all about connecting with other athletes and having fun, here Riccardo shares a big smile with Tim Tollefson

What else did you learn from your 28 hours around Mont Blanc?

With 107 miles and 33,000 feet of vertical gain one should not expect everything to go as planned! Weather, nutrition, terrain; the entire time we had to keep our eyes peeled and brain stimulated. The altimetry is relentless and the weather can turn upside down in a matter of minutes, but at the same time you also encounter long runnable sections. From my limited experience, the course does not have a similar counterpart in North America. Above all I'm thankful for all the travel companions, especially my crew and new friends made on the trails - it's definitely the people that made this experience so special for me!

It sounds like having trail buddies was one of the highlights of your race; what were the most challenging aspects of the race for you?

With races each day of the week the atmosphere in Chamonix was electrifying, though on the other hand it makes it challenging to stay away from the buzz and find time to relax. Logistically the start area could barely contain the nearly 3,000 runners starting UTMB on Friday evening. The amount of trash that I came across on the trails was a bit disappointing, if I had enough pockets I would have picked it all up! I want to believe that littering is exclusively almost accidental and unintentional, but I would like to invite my fellow trail runners to stop and pick up a gel wrap in each race we take part. Let’s all do our part to leave no trace!

Would you change anything about your gear?

It was wet and cold out there so it's hard to be comfortable at all times, but I think I did a great job in general! I started the race wearing the FKT 5” shorts and the ez tee ringer, but after just 20 miles I had to bundle up with waterproof gear before tackling Croix du Bonhomme, Col de la Seigne and Mount Favre at night. In fact the nearly constant rain combined with strong winds and freezing temperatures above 8,000 feet had me wearing long pants through the night and a thermal long sleeve all the way to the finish.

Riccardo guiding his dad through the narrow streets of Lipari a few days after UTMB.

 

Sounds like rough conditions! How is the recovery going now?

Quite surprisingly it is going very well! After some general soreness in the 48 hours that followed, the week after I had the opportunity to guide my dad, who is a visually impaired runner, in a stage race on the Aeolian Islands in Sicily. I got to rock some summer clothes like the best in show shorts and the welcome to the gun show emoji (my favorite!) after a freezing weekend in the Alps - it was a nice change of pace.

What’s next on your calendar?

Just days before UTMB I registered for UTMX (Ultra Trail Mexico) 100k at the end of October! Actually, it is the perfect excuse to spend a weekend with friends and explore a fascinating part of the country. However, my next big challenge will possibly be Tarawera in New Zealand in February 2019. Stay tuned this winter!

Leaving Switzerland, re-entering France.

September 11, 2018

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Juan de Fuca Trail FKT by rabbitELITEtrail Athlete Jade de la Rosa

Since moving to Washington state earlier this year, my husband, Nick, and I have been obsessed with Vancouver Island. There are plenty of beautiful trails within a half mile of our home in Bellingham, and stunning alpine routes less than a hour’s drive east, but we spent most of the summer fantasizing about the very wild, very wet, West Coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

Vancouver Island is home to several remote trails that traverse rocky coastlines and snake through old-growth forest. These include the West Coast Trail (we ran this trail last month where I managed to snag the female fastest known time in 13 hours, 18 minutes—read more about that on my blog, here), the North Coast Trail, the Nootka Trail, and the Juan de Fuca Trail. We weren’t ready to tackle the North Coast or Nootka Trails after completing the West Coast Trail just three weeks earlier, but the Juan de Fuca was appealing. For one, it was easier to reach—just a ferry ride and a few hours of driving away. For another, it wasn’t as long in distance at 26 miles. Lastly, all of the pictures made it look like an easy choice: it was beautiful.

On Tuesday morning, Nick and I boarded an early ferry to Victoria where we enjoyed lunch downtown and spent our afternoon wandering through the Royal B.C. Museum. As evening approached, we made the drive along the coast and up to Sooke, where we’d be staying for the night. The weather was mild, even for September, and as our car wound along the coast, I watched the sky turn pink and the Olympic Mountains in the distance fade to blue. Just before sunset, the horizon turned red and the phrase “red sky at night, sailor’s delight” hummed through my mind. Tomorrow we’d have good weather which was a fortunate omen: we needed it.

Just after 7 a.m., Nick and I piled out of the car, eager to use the bathroom and stretch before we began. Although our primary goal for the run was to enjoy the trail, I was also aiming for the unsupported—and if we happened to nab it, the supported—female FKT, which meant anything we needed for the next 7 hours would have to be carried on us. In order to stay light, I brought a 0.6 L bottle and a Katadyn water filter to be used at the creek crossings. Along with this I carried roughly 1,400 calories in Spring energy, a space blanket for emergency, an Epi-pen and Benadryl (both Nick and I are allergic) and some cash for food at the other end of the trail. With our packs secure, I pressed start on my GPS and we were off.

The first few miles of the Juan de Fuca going south to north are considered moderate. We found ourselves maintaining a 12 to 14-minute mile, which was fast considering the numerous roots, downed logs, and twisting trails. The typical weather for this region typically hovers somewhere between grey skies to downpours, but we had lucked out with a bright sunny day, not a single cloud in sight. Temperatures hovered around 70° and within a mile I was already too hot in my jacket. Since an FKT requires taking advantage of every minute, I slipped out of my jacket and stuffed it away in my pack as we bounded down the trail.

5 miles in, the trail spit us out on Bear Beach, notorious for black bears that scavenge the shore for carrion. The West Coast of Vancouver Island is home to the densest populations of black bears, cougars, and wolves in North America and a large bear paw print on one of the few sandy sections of the rock-studded beach reminded us of that fact. We hurried along the beach, moving as fast as we could over slippery logs and through water crossings. Soon, the trail climbed back inland which meant a steep ascent through salal bushes.The trail here was dusty. We both wore tough trail shoes, but we struggled to gain traction on the steep terrain. Still intent on keeping up a strong pace, we jogged the uphills and cruised the downhills. If we could keep this pace, we’d be golden.

As we came upon a downed log, I noticed a piece of paper nailed to the wood: WASPS! I stopped in my tracks, Nick running almost directly into me. “What do we do?”I said. “Run fast!” he replied. I bolted, running as quickly as I could past the wasp nest and over the root-strewn trai. A few minutes later, I finally slowed down. Neither one of us had been stung so we relaxed, trying to get back into a sustainable rhythm. Fifteen minutes later, after we had passed several more wasp nests, we began descending yet another steep section when Nick yelped. “Wasps!” He cried. I sprinted once more, my heart rate skyrocketing and my legs moving so fast that I swore I’d wipe out if I placed my foot even a half inch off my projected landing. Once we deemed we were out of danger, we slowed down to examine Nick. He’d been stung on his left achilles which was already red and itchy. At the next muddy spot, we stopped so that he could rub mud on the site; we hoped we wouldn’t have to use the Epi-pen less than ten miles into our run. Unfortunately, our wishes weren’t granted and just as our breathing steadied once more, Nick let out another shout. He had been stung yet again, this time on the back of his right arm. We ran as fast as we could, hoping to leave an already tough section, only to find more wasp sites. How would we get through the next four or five hours with this many wasps on the trail?

While we had wasted energy on adrenaline, the most difficult section of the trail had gone by fairly quickly—at least that much was in our favor. Soon we were at Chin Beach where we crossed a Suspension Bridge. It was hard not to stop: a gorge gave way to turquoise water illuminated by the dark forest. To our left the ocean gleaned blue and bright, the water surprisingly calm for a normally tumultuous coast.

We paused just long enough to take in the view then continued on, heading towards Sombrio Beach at kilometer 27. The trail didn’t get any easier; instead it seemed to close in around us. Here the salal was thick and, due to a recent lack of rain, exposed roots threatened to grab our ankles and pull us onto the dusty ground. Just before Sombrio, I checked my watch. Just over three and a half hours in; if we wanted to grab the unsupported and supported female FKT, we needed to move. Overall, however, I was happy with where we were at. The latter part of the route was marked as being easier than the first part, which meant we were on pace to break 7 hours. Additionally, I had packed well, taking in a Spring energy gel every 30 minutes. I felt neither query nor hungry and still had plenty of energy. I wondered if we could keep this up.

As the hours passed, the trail began to change; the climbs leveled out and the trail frequently popped us out on a short section of beach that required calculated steps. Although a dry summer meant not-so-drenched trails, there were still a few places where I stepped into mud, expecting it to be only an inch or two deep, only to find my feet disappear into the earth. On other sections, we struggled to figure out exactly where the trail went. While kilometer markers dot the entire trail, knowing when to stick to the beach and when to head inland was difficult. On top of this, we had been high on alert for bears over the last few hours. Bear scat, studded with bright blue berries, was all over the trail and the last thing we needed was a run-in with a bear.

As the kilometers ticked by, numbers started playing games in my head. If we were about seven miles from the finish with an hour and 20 minutes to go before the seven-hour mark, could we finish? While seven miles in an 80-minute period sounds like plenty of time when running a relatively smooth trail, the Juan de Fuca is an entirely different beast. The trail only seemed to get worse, with constant elevation changes and all matters of material strewn across our path: rotten planks, slippery stairs, mud pits, stream crossings, broken logs, and more bear scat. I was on a mission, and the last thing I wanted was to be within a minute of the record. In order to save time, we forwent water. We’d be thirsty, but at least we’d know we didn’t waste time filtering our water so close to the finish.

Soon we were down to our final hour, then 50 minutes, then 40, then 30…until we had just two miles to reach the finish…with twenty minutes to finish. Game over—there was no way we were going to make the supported FKT.

Here, we had to make a decision: let ourselves feel down about not making both FKTs or push until the very end. What would we do?

We didn’t hesitate: we ran as fast as we could, finishing in 6 hours, 59 minutes, 28 seconds. I hadn’t reached the supported time, but I had bested the previous unsupported female FKT by 19 minutes. More importantly, we survived bears and wasps, finished with all limbs in tact (minus a few bruised shins from run-ins with roots) and pushed until the very end.

Gear

Follow along with all of Jade's adventures on her Instagram and Strava accounts, read more of her stories on her blog & enjoy her Trail Runner articles too!

August 30, 2018

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UTMB Photo Essay: The Calm Before the Storm

rabbit sales manager, Lora McManus, has been on the ground all week collecting images around Chamonix leading up to tomorrow's grand finale, the 170km Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. With 7 race distances to choose from, this is a must attend trail/ultra event for any runner from anywhere in the world!

UTMB - or Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc - is a single-stage ultra-marathon that passes through France, Italy, and Switzerland to circumnavigate Mont Blanc. The race is 170 km (106 miles) long and climbs a total of 9,600 meters (32,808 ft). Its start and finish line is nestled in the heart of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France.

Runners pass through Les Contamines Montjoie, a village in the southeast French Alps. The mountains often serve up swift-changing weather conditions.

The race course climbs into and out of Courmayeur, a resort town in northwest Italy.

Runners navigate trails like these, which can quickly drop over 3,000-feet in elevation, often in the middle of the night.

Returning Chamonix-Mont-Blanc to see the finish line can take runners anywhere from 20 hours, 45 minutes to 46 hours & 30 minutes.

When they return, it's to massively enthusiastic crowds who gather from around the globe to usher them across the finish line!

rabbitELITEtrail athletes Riccardo Tortini and Christopher Thomas pick up their race bibs - the excitement is high for tomorrow's race & their enthusiasm is infectious!

rabbitELITEtrail runner Jess Brazeau completed the OCC (Orsières - Champex - Chamonix: 53 km +3,300 m) on Thursday as 13th overall female in 7:25:52.

Charli McKee was the 50th female across the line in OCC and also racing tomorrow are team members Tara Warren (UTMB) & Jordan Bierema (CCC).