Santa Barbara, California — Ultrarunner Jimmy Elam, who has just signed on as the newest member of the rabbitPRO team, is having what you might call a breakout season on the trails. Starting with a win at the Quad Rock 50 Miler in Fort Collins, Colorado in May, Elam has tallied up a total of three victories in just three months. June saw Elam travel to Lake Tahoe, California to contest the brutal 52 kilometer Broken Arrow Sky Race. Racing on his birthday, Elam covered the distance, which included over 10,000 feet of climbing, 10 minutes faster than his nearest competitor, snagging the win and a securing a nice present for himself in the form of a $5000 prize for first place. Less than a month later, Elam traveled to Idaho to compete in the Beaverhead Endurance Run 100 kilometer race. There, Elam took home not only the victory but also the course record, besting the previous mark by over 10 minutes.
For Elam, the successful summer is the culmination of a passion that he has nurtured since his childhood. “Growing up, both of my parents were runners and I really looked up to them and what they did, which naturally transitioned into myself being a runner. Early on in life I competed in the USATF youth track and XC competitions around the country.” Elam gives major credit for his development as a runner to his college coach at Chico State University, Gary Towne, who he says “helped myself and countless other athletes reach their full potential. We all looked up to him more than anyone and truly believed in his training methods.” Under Towne’s tutelage, Elam achieve one of his lifetime goals by becoming an NCAA All-American at 10,000 meters.
Even more than any title, victory or prize purse, though, Elam values running for the community that surrounds the sport and for the friends that it has brought into his life. “I've met so many amazing people through running, and I'm a believer that the bonds you form with others while training and racing are incomparable to anything else.” Indeed, it was one of these friends, former Chico teammate and fellow rabbitPRO Anthony Costales, who introduced Elam to rabbit and suggested he pursue a relationship with the company.
With close to 150 miles of victorious racing in his legs this year, Elam is winding down his 2018 season but has one important race left on the calendar, the Skyrunning World Championships next month in Scotland, where he will be proud to represent team USA. Looking to the future, Elam is excited to test himself at the 100 mile distance, noting that, “I feel like the longer and more challenging a course, the stronger I am.”
In its rich 25 year history, the White River 50 has seen stars born (Sage Canaday raced his 2nd ultra here back in 2012 and set the CR), legends make their mark (Anton Krupicka’s 2010 win just 4 weeks after Western States) in the ultrarunning scene and has become one of the gold standards for ultramarathons around the country. For over a decade, the race, held near Crystal Mountain Ski Resort and in the shadow of Washington's iconic Mount Rainier, was the USATF National Trail 50 mile Championships. Although that designation is absent for the 26th edition of the White River 50 this Saturday, July 28th, a competitive field on both the men’s and women’s sides is expected, as are hot conditions and the rabbit squad is expecting to make its presence felt in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo: Rickey Gates
Gus Gibbs - Boise, Idaho - rabbitELITEtrail
After a long hiatus from serious running the past five years, 2018 is just beginning for this speedster hailing from Mill Valley, California but now calling Boise home. Known mostly in the running scene as a Dipsea legend with nearly ten Black Shirts to his name, Gibbs took 3rd overall at Way Too Cool 50k in 3:20:57 earlier this year against a stacked field full of professionals - in just his first ultra! He’s stepping up the 50 mile distance for the first time this year in hopes of getting some experience under his belt before lining up for the North Face 50 in the fall. If he plays his cards right, look for Gibbs to settle into a early rhythm and use his speed to chase down the leaders on the last fast descent of the day and into the finish.
Korey Konga - Ashland, Oregon - rabbitELITEtrail
With over a dozen ultramarathon finishes to his name and a top 15 result at White River just two years ago, Korey Konga has had a stellar season since having to drop from the Sean O’Brien 100k in early February. He’s racked up three wins in local PNW races including the overall at Hagg Mud 50k in Gaston, Oregon and will be looking to improve upon his 2016 White River finish as he gears up for Pine to Palm 100M later this year.
Kyle Konczal - Lakewood, Colorado - RADrabbit
In the last year Kyle Konczal has notched finishes at his first 50 miler, 100k and most recently at the challenging Broken Arrow Skyrace. Hailing from just outside of Denver, Konczal hopes to bring his elevation adapted lungs and legs to Washington and improve upon his 50 mile time from last year’s TNF50. He’s been road tripping for the past few weeks, hitting trails all over the western part of the country and is looking forward to testing his training on a challenging Crystal Mountain course against a deep field.
Monica Ochs - Anacortes, Washington - RADrabbit
In the midst of training for her third Cascade Crest 100 finish this upcoming August, the Washington native Ochs will be going for her fifth White River 50 finish on Saturday. An experienced ultrarunner with 60+ finishes to her name in the last 15 years, we expect her to once again compete for her age group title despite the anticipated hot and challenging conditions at Crystal and Suntop Mountains - the two long climbs of the day.
Just over three months ago Jeffrey Stern notched his first 50 miler finished at the über competitive Lake Sonoma finishing in just over 7 hours and 30 minutes, good enough for a top 20 result. However, he felt his pacing strategy was not quite where it needed to be to get the result he was looking for. The past few months have seen him collect a Boston qualifying marathon time of 2:37, his first Dipsea Black Shirt, a second place finish at the Double Dipsea (and fastest time), 5k and 10 mile PRs as well as pacing his good friend and newly minted rabbitPRO Kate Elliott to F10 at the Western States 100. Look for him to start out steady and finish strong at the White River 50 on Saturday.
Top competitors for these studs will be 2x and defending race champion Olin Berger of Seattle, Washington, Chuckanut 50k M7 and Bainbridge Island, Washington native Keith Laverty and Portland, Oregon resident Kyle Ormsby to name a few.
Also keep an eye out for standouts Katelyn Gerbin (WS100 F2), Paige Pattillo (WS100 F14, Black Canyon 100k F3) and Nicole Buurma (Lake Sonoma F9) to push the speedy field. You’ll want to follow along via White River’s Twitter feed on Saturday as it’s shaping up to be a fantastic race!
Coming off of her impressive finish as the tenth female at the Western States Endurance Run, ultrarunner Kate Elliott has signed on as the newest member of the rabbitPRO team. For Elliott, who was running in her debut 100 miler, the stellar performance at Western States was yet another step in what has been a quick rise to the top levels of the sport for a woman whose deep love of running on dirt stretches back to her childhood in Connecticut.
A look at Elliott’s UltraSignup results tells the story of her rapid ascent, revealing that her first attempt at an ultramarathon race distance was just over two years ago at the Born To Run 30 Miler. That race was followed by a string of strong results in Southern California 50ks, which included wins at No Name and Ray Miller. In 2017, Elliott moved up in distance to tackle the Mt. Hood 50 Mile, where she finished as the second female and sixth runner overall in a time of 6:59:10, the eighth fastest 50 mile performance by a woman in North America that year.
Inspired by the strong result at Mt. Hood, Elliott set her sights on Western States, a race that had long captivated her attention. After consulting with her coaches—Sage Canaday and rabbitPRO Sandi Nypaver—Elliott decided to pursue a Golden Ticket at the Sean O’Brien 100k in Malibu. Once again, she performed extremely well at the new race distance, earning her ticket to Western States by finishing as the second female (behind the eventual Western States winner Courtney Dauwalter) and fifth runner overall.
Unfortunately for Elliott, an old injury reared its head in March, just as she was ramping up for the peak of her Western States training block. Undeterred by a six week layoff from running, she focused on remaining optimistic and positive while logging many multi-hour pool running sessions, a period she discussed in a recent interview with UltraRunner Podcast. Obviously her perseverance and hard work paid off, delivering her to the start line in Squaw well prepared to contend with a stacked field and soaring temperatures.
Elliott, a Santa Barbara resident, has strong ties to rabbit. She is a long time friend of co-founders Jill Deering and Monica DeVreese, who have closely followed and strongly supported her ultrarunning career from the beginning, “It’s such a great honor and privilege to welcome Kate to the PRO team. Not only is Kate a wonderful friend, but she’s a serious badass and probably the nicest person you’ll ever meet. But don’t be fooled by that sweet smile, this woman is such a competitor and she has really only gotten started in her career. We could not be more excited to support Kate on her journey!”
Looking ahead, Elliott is excited to return to the North Face Endurance 50 Mile race in November, where she will look to improve on her thirteenth place finish last year. Needless to say, she is also already planning for the return trip to Western States in 2019 that she earned with her top 10 result.
A world renowned road race, the Boilermaker 15k on July 8th in Utica, New York was held under hot and challenging conditions last weekend, but still lived up to rabbitELITE Nicholas Klastava expectations in more ways than he could have anticipated.
This year’s Boilermaker 15k was a goal race for me when I signed up 4 months ago, but I ended up going through a bunch of issues in the 10 days leading up to the race. However, when you plan a run-cation with the wife and it’s the longest time you’ve had together with just the two of you since your daughter was born, you roll with the punches.
Leading up to the race my June had been plagued with some sickness and other factors limiting my races and having me miss a couple workouts, but with two weeks to go I felt I was hitting my stride again. However, then 8 days out from the race I ended up spending an entire weekend with a raging fever, landing me in the hospital just 6 days out from the race. It was first diagnosed as pneumonia and then downgraded to a bacterial infection, but between giving 2 pints of blood, missing several days from training, being fatigued and on antibiotics and lying in bed for an entire weekend my hopes were tempered. I managed to get two runs under my belt before heading off to Utica on Saturday morning not sure what would go on with this race.
In the week heading into the race however I had learned some fun news that one of my rabbitELITE teammates (AnnMarie Kirkpatrick) was also running so we planned a meet up and shakeout together on Saturday. Then later in the week leading up to the race, Megan DiGregorio my Falls Road and rabbit teammate also told me she was going to be racing, so it was going to be a rabbit filled event. Even if I wasn’t at my peak fitness I was very excited to have some friends I could be rooting for and invest in their achievements. Saturday morning we arrived at the expo and I met up with AnnMarie Kirkpatrick. The thing I love about meeting other runners is whenever I go on a run with a new friend I can never run out of things to talk about. It usually feels like the run flies by and I have so much more to say! I also love meeting new teammates and getting to know the people I am sharing an exciting new journey with. I felt really good on the shakeout run and strides so after heading to the expo and grabbing my race bib I told my coach I wanted to still run the race and we came up with a game plan.
Something I constantly struggle with is self-compassion and being way too hard on myself. Since running is an individual sport that constantly challenges me to want to improve from previous races a lot of the times I end up getting way too caught up in the details or the results. If I run 10 seconds slower than my goal time – failure, run a PR – success. Sometimes I am so black and white with everything that I lose sight of why I do this. Obviously, everyone has a reason why they run, I can’t tell you what yours should be, but I can tell you I am constantly putting way too much stress on myself and unnecessary stress is a recipe for poor results. I also imagine I am not the only runner who is constantly too hard on themselves.
I think a lot of the time we lose track of how far we have come to get to this point, we lose track of the journey we are on, and we idealize these results so much that there is no way we can ever achieve our goals. There is always a faster time we can run ultimately; will we ever be happy?
So, my game plan with my coach for this race was to just enjoy the amazing environment the Boilermaker 15k offers. Smile when it hurts, thank volunteers and always encourage other runners. This is not to say I don’t have goals I want to achieve, but if I'm able to start with the most basic of concepts the harder stuff (like pushing through the last 10k of a marathon) becomes easier to overcome. When we are not stressed out, our body can handle more. So, my goal for this race was to make it an amazing experience and I was easily able to accomplish that regardless of my finishing time.
From start to finish the fans were amazing, the course was hard but also at times forgiving and the weather was perfect. I had such fun running past so many screaming fans and seeing some runners I knew. As I strolled through the course I took it all in, I smiled as much as I could, I cheered and thanked fans; my body obviously still recovering from sickness supported me the best it could. The climb at mile 4 around the golf course is no joke, but the subsequent downhill mile was so much fun. Even as you weaved through the town during miles 7, 8 and 9 there was a ton of energy.
As I came down the home stretch I knew I had accomplished my goal of having fun and I also had a great view for most of the day of fellow rabbitELITE AnnMarie as she ran a fantastic race placing near the top of her field and not too far after Megan DiGregorio finished 33rd in a deep field.
A run-cation with my wife, hanging out with several friends, seeing two teammates run amazing races and enjoying myself for 15k through the crazy crowds of Utica. Amazing memories I will take away from the weekend that will inspire me to become a more well-rounded runner, learning to appreciate events regardless of the cards dealt my way.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Santa Barbara, California) — California-based running apparel manufacturer rabbit has signed on as the official apparel sponsor of the Javelina Jundred, the second largest 100 mile race in North America. Reflective of rabbit’s commitment to supporting the sport of running in all incarnations, the sponsorship means that participants in the grueling race will be treated to a luxurious tee, custom designed for race organizer Aravaipa Running. rabbit will also be out in force to support runners in their quest to complete the daunting distance. The race, which will be contested for the 16th time on October 27th, takes place in Arizona’s McDowell Mountain Regional Park, with runners completing five loops of approximately 20 miles each.
Befitting its status as one of the sport’s preeminent events, the Javelina Jundred is a member of the Ultra-Trail World Tour and also serves as a Western States qualifying race. rabbit’s co-founder, Monica DeVreese, raced the Jundred in 2017 and was so impressed with the event and the organizers that she was excited for the opportunity to partner with them. The relationship launched in January, when rabbit signed on to provide apparel for Aravaipa’s elite Racing Team, and it was only natural for the apparel company, which has many loyal fans in the trail and ultra-racing world, to expand its support to include the race as well. DeVreese observed that “I could tell right away that this was a special event and I am so excited that rabbit will be a part of the fun this year.”
For Aravaipa Running CEO Jamil Coury, partnering with a company that shares Aravaipa’s commitment to grassroots racing has been a welcome development. “I firmly believe that good partnerships come from like-minded companies coming together to work toward the same goal. In the case of rabbit and Aravaipa Running we are both committed to fun and inclusive running which is very much embodied by Javelina Jundred.”
About rabbit: Crafted in California, rabbit is the best running apparel for men and women available anywhere. You can find rabbit at independent specialty running retailers throughout the nation or online at runinrabbit.com
About Aravaipa Running: Aravaipa Running is an event production company based out of Arizona specializing in trail and ultra marathon running events founded and operated by Jamil Coury. With an ever-expanding calendar of races, Aravaipa Running is dedicated to being a leader in innovation, quality, and experience within the endurance community. To follow the Aravaipa story visit www.aravaiparunning.com or check out @aravaiparunning on social media.
10, 9, 8..."Am I really ready for this?"
7, 6, 5..."I kind of need to use the bathroom."
4, 3, 2..."Well, here goes nothing!"
I had been excitedly dreading this moment for the past 5 months. You see, this was the fourth marathon I’d signed up for. My projected debut at the 2016 United States Olympic Marathon Trials ended 3 days prematurely as I was rushed into emergency surgery for appendicitis the night before I was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles. I pulled the plug on the 2017 Houston Marathon after completing a second round of the powerful acne medication that temporarily left me a brittle old man in a 25 year old’s body. Finally, I dejectedly resigned my spot on the starting line at the 2017 USATF Marathon Championships in Sacramento after a personnel change at work that necessitated 12 hour days while being on call 24/7 that left me burnt out mentally and physically from marathon training. It had been an arduous journey just to even make it to this point. But here I was, among the top marathoners in the United States, taking my shot at this mystical event that I had dreamt about racing since this journey began over a decade ago.
The gun went off and I locked in with a couple runners targeting my goal 5:15 pace, notably Joey Whalen and Dan Lennon of Stotan Racing. You might be interested to know that I purposefully elected NOT to wear a watch during this race. I know, I know...you might think I’m foolish for not tracking my time, especially in the early miles when it’s easy to get carried away with your pacing. But I’d learned through trial and error in college that when I raced for a specific time, any deviation from the desired splits caused a negative mental block, while racing without a watch and focusing on competition gave me an edge no matter what the intermediate times showed. With competition in mind, and a vigilant watch over how my body actually felt and handled the effort (emphasis on EFFORT and not pace), I knew I would compete to the best of my ability.
Tick-tock, some other dude’s watch took the mile splits from the clock. The first glimpse into my progress came at 10k where I breezed by in 32:19. That’s 2:16:48 pace! I knew that was decently quick given my expected finishing time, but I felt fantastic. The miles continued to float by in an endless stream of dense green pine trees, blanketing fog and screaming aid station volunteers. I started counting the holes on the guy’s golden Nike singlet in front of me. There were about 128. At the aid stations around miles 5, 9, and 13 I took a pre-mixed concoction of 5 ounces of water and Gu, with another 3 bottles awaiting me at miles 15, 19, and 22. Everything was going about as smoothly as one could expect.
The next split came at the halfway point. The clock turned over to 1:08:40 and this thing became real. I was on pace for 2:17:20 AND FELT ABSOLUTELY NO STRAIN. Not physically, not mentally, not spiritually, not in my stomach, not in my lungs, and not in my heart, which was starting to realize an Olympic Trials qualifying effort was possible. Now it was time to hold on for dear life.
At mile 17 I started to feel it. My good friend Drew Bean told me this would happen. He said that at some point in the marathon, when I’m deep in the second half and committed to the effort, I’ll start to ache. Not the “scream at you why the heck are you doing this” last 100 meters in a track race kind of ache, but something heavier. Like your bones were soaking up all the pain that is to come and layering on the pounds in your slow grind to the finish line. Within 3 miles, the monkey (and a few of his friends) were on my back having a grand old time. The split at the 20 mile marker was 1:44:38, still more than a minute ahead of pace for an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying effort! I did the quick math in my head...10k to go *exhale* 34:20 until 2:19:00 *inhale* 5:30-ish pace will do it *wheeze*.
Remember what I told you earlier? How I wanted to focus on competition rather than the time, thus ditching the timing device on the wrist? Well, now time was squarely on my mind. I was no longer running with a group, but I was gobbling up stragglers from the lead pack. The next split wouldn’t come until the 25 mile marker. The best way I can articulate this segment to you is that I felt like I was running in a stone mortar, and the marathon was like a pulverizing pestle individually grinding each muscle into a finely made guacamole à la Ryan. Friends, teammates, and family began streaming by as I stumbled toward the finish line. My dad was at mile 22 shouting encouragement and even jogging next to me for a handful of seconds. Brock and Jarrett, my training partners and friends from Houston, were around mile 24 howling some kind of encouragement. My fiancé Lacie was whispering Prefontaine quotes into my earpiece to keep me motivated all the way through the line. Okay maybe not that last one, but I definitely wasn’t sacrificing the gift by giving less than my best.
The 25 mile marker blew by in haze, but I managed the catch a glimpse of the clock. 2:12:25. 6:35 to glory, or about 5:20 pace. Unfortunately, this is where the big man above threw a monkey wrench into the otherwise perfectly planned day. We reversed course right into a headwind for the majority of that last 1.2 miles. Gritted teeth, pumping arms and a will to break 2:19 just wasn’t going to be enough. There is a 300 meter straightaway to finish the marathon in the heart of downtown Duluth that is completely flanked on both sides by people cheering the runners on. The clock just above the finish line is in sight for the entirety of this straightaway. It’s a pretty helpless feeling, 100 meters out, when you are dragging your ragged body along to see the seconds slip away and know there is nothing more you can do to get yourself there quicker. My clock stopped at 2:19:17.
A mixture of “holy shit, that was a much better debut marathon than I expected” and “holy shit, I WAS SOO CLOSE” washed over me as I found my Dad, friends, and connected with so many people via call, text and social media. I proceeded to hobble back to the hotel, soak in the hot tub for an hour and then nap for 3 before munching on mediocre Minnesotan Mexican food down by the finish line. It was over and an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time would have to wait a few more months.
Thanks to rabbit for the endless support both on and off the roads, Klean Athlete for the top notch supplements, including a multivitamin that I truly believe is the backbone of my recovery program and Dana Lyons from Finish Strong Coaching, for providing me a long distance training program that gave me the ability to reach the starting line healthy and ready to compete.
Next up, the USATF Marathon Championships at the California International Marathon in December.
Photos by Grandma's Marathon
When prepping for 100 miles, nothing is more important than smart, consistent training. However, there were a few ancillary items and exercises that I felt made a world of difference on race day. Many of these might sound obvious or trite to the seasoned ultrarunner, but for a first-timer like myself, it was eye-opening to recognize just how dependent success at this distance is on things besides fitness.
rabbit: To say that rabbit served me well for the nearly 21 hours I was racing is a drastic understatement. My ez tee and quadzilla shorts, and when it got cold the rabbit speed sleeves, are undisputedly the most comfortable things you will ever wear. When you’re on your feet and moving for nearly an entire day, the importance of that cannot be overstated. Weight, absorbability, fit—these things are all important. But during 100 miles, comfort is king, and rabbit holds the throne.
the ez tee: bright, cool & comfortable
Run Slow to Run Fast: It’s the advice you’ll get a thousand times, but let me give it to you for the 1,001st: you should run at a pace that you feel you can sustain all day. Unless you’re chasing the podium or a CR—and if you are, good on ya—your pace should feel criminally easy, easier than any training run you’ve ever been on, so easy that you’re able to run and do your taxes at the same time. A good friend of mine once said: start a 100 mile race running as slow as you think you need to, and then slow it down by another 30 seconds per mile. A race of this distance cannot be won in the first 50 miles, but it can be lost then. How you feel at mile 50 will almost certainly dictate your ultimate success. Try to get there feeling as good as possible—that is best achieved by running easy.
I saw this play out as clear as day at San Diego: at the first aid station, I was in 29th place. But as the conditions decimated those who went out too quickly, I was able to slowly and consistently push my way forward, ultimately finishing in 4th. Be the tortoise to the lead pack’s hare.
Ice Bandana: I knew this would be helpful in cooling me off, but I could not have predicted just how utterly race-changing it would be. Having ice around my neck fundamentally altered my perception of the heat—I even had to ask my crew how hot it was during the day, as I couldn’t really tell. I kept passing runners who commented on the heat, but honestly all I felt was the ice around my neck and tiny, consistent drips of cold water down my back and chest.
Extra Bottle: I thought having a hydration vest with a total of one liter between two soft flasks would be enough for most of the course, and that I would only bring the handheld down into the canyons. But I ended up keeping it the entire time. While it is technically possible to over-hydrate, I feel that during a hot 100 mile race it’s pretty difficult to reach that point—provided, of course, that you have your electrolyte balanced dialed. When it doubt, drink. Having the handheld was excellent insurance.
GU: My plan was to eat a gel once every 30 minutes. I didn’t know if that would be possible—meaning I didn’t know if my stomach would turn after, say, the 20th gel—but I wanted to try for as long as I could. While it became a chore to put anything down around mile 75, I managed to stick to that plan up until the very end of the race. While I certainly had low points, I think this was the main reason I didn’t bonk and generally felt good all day. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what the body needs. And GUs are literally designed to give it that. It sounds so simple, so obvious, and yet the dreaded bonk is synonymous with ultramarathons. Supplemented by real food for flavor and variety (I actually carried a bag of homemade stuffed dates with me the entire time, a recipe I got from rabbitELLITE Jeff Stern), I think it’s impossible to go off course calorically speaking if you are consistent with gels. That may not be the most popular piece of advice, but it certainly worked for me.
Logistical Planning: Having now finished the race, I honestly think my race preparation—that is, everything outside of training—can account for a large portion of my success. Knowing the course, running on the course, memorizing the aid stations, having every minor logistical detail dialed is so important, as it allows you to not have to dedicate any mental energy to it come race day. If everything is locked in, planned, organized, or written down somewhere, and if you have a crew who you trust, all you have to do is run. The 3,000 word Google Doc I put together ahead of time was invaluable both for me as an exercise in organizing my thoughts, but also hopefully for my crew. The fewer questions I can leave them with, the better.
Sauna: It’s impossible to say for sure how big of a difference, if any, it made—I don’t have a good metric to track it. But I can say on race day, the conditions did not feel hot at all to me, despite being an objectively warm and dry day. I saw racer after racer succumb to the heat, while I continued on with no issues. Some of that was the ice bandana, but I think spending 30-45 minutes in the sauna three-to-four times a week in the month prior to a hot race was an effective heat acclimation protocol for me.
I arrived in Julian, CA, a small town an hour east of San Diego and 20 minutes from the start/finish line, two days before the race, just enough time for my sea-level lungs to adjust to the slight altitude. The conditions were forecasted to be hot, and I spent the day before the race chasing down extra ice and jugs of water in Julian.
The race started at 6am Friday morning. My instinct was to run out with the lead pack, as I usually do. I hung with them for about two minutes though before I realized that their pace was faster and harder than I wanted to push. I was playing the long game today.
The race begins by wrapping around Lake Cuyamaca and through a flat meadow via single track. It is a calming, serene way to begin the race, and it was so quiet during the early miles that you could practically feel the tension and nervousness in the conga line of runners.
The first climb began at mile two, on a winding fire road that was exceptionally runnable. Honestly, it was the worst type of in-between grade to face early in a 100 mile race, as walking it felt utterly absurd, but running it seemed like too big a risk. I opted to run it as conservatively as possible, keeping a respectable pace but with the absolute easiest effort. On this climb, I actually passed a few folks, some of whom were huffing and puffing. This gave me confidence that my fitness was in a good spot. However, on the subsequent downhill, which came four miles later (still on the winding fire road), I was passed a dozen or so times. Each time, the ego took a small half-second hit—my racing instincts kicked in and I wanted to chase. But I took a deep breath, reminded myself that this race is long, and repeated what my coach had told me earlier that week: you can’t win the race in the first 50 miles, but you can lose it. That race doesn’t start until mile 50.
The next 20 miles were an undulating series of climbs and descents through piney and rocky high desert terrain. The climbs were mostly runnable, but that didn’t prevent me from taking it super easy, keeping the effort at about a three out of ten. We were mostly running in the shade, and I took time to appreciate the early cool temps.
Coming into the first crewed aid station (Sunrise 1), I felt wonderful, like I hadn’t run at all. I took a little longer than I would have liked to, as I had to rub Squirrel’s Foot Salve on the ball of my right foot, where I felt a hotspot forming around mile 15. It wasn’t bad, but I thought about the advice I’d been given a thousand times: small problems quickly become big problems over 100 miles. Besides that, though, the transition went smoothly. My crew, which consisted of two friends and my sister, none of whom were ultrarunners and were witnessing the absurdity of this sport for the first time, told me that the leaders had come through almost an hour earlier, which blew me away. An hour! In 21 miles!
The initial plan was to wait until mile 28 before putting on my ice bandana, when I would drop down into Noble’s Canyon in midday heat and run for 20 crew-less miles. But feeling the early heat I decided to audible and do it there. I was using a bandana from Zombie Runner, which is sewn together to conveniently hold and retain ice while running. When fully stuffed with ice, it initially seemed unwieldy and cumbersome; I felt like a dog with a cone around its neck. But as the day grew hotter, and the course took us along the PCT for seven miles of exposed, rolling, technical running, I was overwhelmingly grateful to have ice cradling my neck. I cannot overstate this. It was revelatory to discover what a difference an ice bandana like that can make, both practically (as it melts, it drips down your back and chest to keep you core temp down) and also mentally. I locked into a solid pace and gave thanks to whomever first decided to package and sell frozen water.
At the next aid station (Pioneer Mail 1, mile 28), my crew was absolutely dialed. They had everything I needed, no questions asked. I quickly downed a 26oz bottle with a GU electrolyte tab—turns out I was losing a lot of fluids—grabbed an additional handheld bottle, and took off again. This next section of the course down into Noble’s Canyon—a gradually descending bit of rocky, exposed, technical trail—was the first of the day on which I had previously run. It was confidence boosting to be in familiar territory. I settled into a good groove and by the time I hit the bottom of the canyon—which near the end torturously necessitated running on a steep downhill road—I felt concerningly great. Almost euphoric. The aid station volunteers commented on how fresh I looked as they sprayed me down with water and filled my bandana back up with ice. This was exactly the spot I wanted to be in—feeling great before facing Noble’s Canyon, the longest, hottest climb of the day.
It was at that point that I also noticed a few of the guys who ran off the front crumpled in folding chairs, struggling to get food and fluid down. While I was certainly concerned and checked in on them before taking off again, it was confidence boosting to see that my early conservative pace was paying dividends. In my euphoric state, I decided it was a good idea to eat a rice krispy treat before starting the climb up Noble’s. Spoiler: it was not a good idea. I certainly didn’t bonk nor get sick on the subsequent climb, but it was the first instance of the day’s effort manifesting itself. The stomach reminded me that it needed to be treated well (no more rice krispy treats); the legs told me that they already had 36 miles in them, and to take it easy up the climb; and the body advised me to stay cool.
The climb up to the next aid station was about eight miles. Noble’s Canyon, in addition to being hot and humid, is also a bit claustrophobic, with steep canyon walls, dense high-desert shrubbery, and arching trees closing in around you. The terrain is technical as well, and the climb, while objectively not that steep, seems to never end. Despite having an extra handheld bottle in addition to the two in my Ultimate Direction vest, I ran out of water just over halfway. By the time I reached Penny Pines 1 at mile 44, which marked the end of the Noble’s Canyon climb, I had come around and was feeling great again. The aid station volunteers commented on my apparent freshness, which was great to hear. I grabbed more water, gels, a banana, and with a bit of added confidence, hit the trail again.
The next stretch was through the meadows, probably my favorite section of the entire course. It was rolling, lush, green terrain, almost all on single track, that reminded me a lot of where I grew up in the Midwest. It was also a section of the course that I had run before. The combination of the two factors put me in a good mood. I was approaching the halfway mark and felt great—exactly what I wanted.
The Meadows aid station (mile 49) was the best my crew was all day—and they were phenomenal the entire time. I grab what I needed, which wasn’t much, as I was going to see them in another seven miles, and began running again. This next bit had the steepest climb of the day—not the longest, but pretty damn steep. It was a section I had run with Race Director Scotty Mills during a training weekend a month prior, which not only gave me confidence facing the climb again, but also a little energy remembering how special it was to have those 30 minutes alone with an ultrarunning legend.
I came into Red Tailed Roost (mile 55) feeling good, not great, but very good. And happy! I was so excited that the day was going this well, that I was eating and drinking consistently, that my crew was seeming to have a good time and were absolutely nailing it, that the conditions weren’t debilitating, that the stars were somewhat aligning. I grabbed my music for a change of pace and began the slow descent down to Cibbet’s Flat, the course’s farthest southern end and a symbolically important turn around point for the day.
Chalk it up to endorphins or just the abuse I had put my body and mind through, but on that run down to Cibbet’s, I found myself in a very emotionally charged state—which is a bit unusual for me. The music moved me in a way I had never been moved before. “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin seemed like the most sonically meaningful thing I had ever heard, and “Coexist” by Tontario and Leo Islo nearly made me cry. Made me cry! What was happening, I could not tell you. In retrospect, I think that I was in an emotionally and physically delicate state, because not ten minutes after my rapturous moment with Led Zeppelin, I hit my first genuine low point of the day. I didn’t bonk, but boy did the previous 60 miles settle in all at once. My pace slowed and my energy disappeared. The nine mile descent in Cibbet’s is not the most technical thing in the world, but it’s rocky enough to prevent you from ever getting into a consistent groove. This was demoralizing, and certainly contributed to my emotional low.
I shuffled into the aid station (my crew later said that they saw me approaching and were concerned by how slowly I was moving) and told them that I was no longer on cloud nine. I warned Kevin Cody, a strong ultrarunner from Santa Barbara and my first pacer for the day, that we would likely be hiking the whole climb out, which we did for the first mile or two. But about two-to-three miles into the climb, just shy of mile 70, a switch flipped. It was like a bolt of lightning: I could physically and mentally feel, over the course of 30-60 seconds, the fatigue drain from me and life re-enter. Maybe it was the company, maybe it was the cool air (the sun was setting), maybe it was the fact that I was officially on my way back towards the start/finish line, or maybe it was the caffeine (I switched to a GU Roctane drink mix with caffeine), but Kevin and I started running most of the uphills. I felt phenomenal. On the climb out, we passed Michele Graglia, an incredibly talented ultrarunner who, I was told, had been leading most of the day. You never like to see someone struggling, and we gave him and his pacer some words of encouragement. But it also functioned as the last sign I needed that I was in a good position to actually compete. The race was on.
We approached Dale’s Kitchen at the top of the climb (mile 75) and I was still on top of the world. I joked with the aid station volunteers that I had literally never felt better in my life. I acknowledged that running a 100 miles felt like a rollercoaster, and I was at the top, and what goes up must come down. Which, not one mile later, felt prophetic, as I noticed the euphoria slip away. It was more an unsettling feeling than an uncomfortable one—recognizing what’s to come and that life can not, in fact, continue being this blissful forever. But as I grinded and retraced my step along the PCT—up and down over semi-technical terrain, via the same exposed ridgeline that I had run earlier in the day—I slowly passed a few more runners. While I was not feeling 100 percent, it appeared that no one was. It was now a war of attrition.
I made it to Penny Pines 2 (mile 80) in the same state that I would end up finishing the race in: not bonked but utterly exhausted. I picked up a new pacer, Nick Kopp, who lives in San Diego and whom I had met just a few weeks prior on a training run. I told Nick and Kevin this repeatedly, and they were quick to deflect the credit, but I sincerely do not think I would have finished as strong as I did had they not been there. It was my first time having a pacer, and I learned just how valuable they can be.
The last 20 miles was a dark, painful exercise in perserverse. I could barely see the ground (turns out my headlamp is only able to stay on its brightest setting for about 30 minutes) and, as it was pitch black, I had no geographical point of reference. All I had to focus on was the next step. In this sense, my world become insular—there was nothing else to focus on except perpetual forward progress. Up, down. Hike, run. Eat, drink. Repeat.
I went through two more aid station with Nick over the last 20 miles (Pioneer Mail 2, mile 84, and Sunrise 2, mile 91), both of which seemed like a blur. He handed me soup, I mindlessly took gels from my crew, and we shuffled off again. I was amazed and pleasantly surprised at my ability to keep taking gels every 30 minutes all the way until the end of the race. I certainly lost my appetite but my stomach cooperated the entire time. This of course isn’t news to many ultrarunners, but I cannot overstate the importance of remaining vigilant with your calories, especially later in the race as your stomach turns and the finish line is in sight. This is different for everyone, but for me, taking a gel once every 30 minutes (I set a timer on my watch) was perfect. That may make some of you want to gag, but, as I was told many times, it’s not about what your body wants, its about what it needs. GUs deliver that.
Around mile 90, I could feel that I was losing both my big toe nails. I tried not to focus on that and just kept moving. After a very gradual but seemingly unending fire road climb—which, thanks to the ignorance that my dull headlamp afforded me, we ran the entirety of—we approached the south side of Lake Cuyamaca, I could see the lights across it, on the north side. It was the finish line. However, since it was so dark, we couldn’t exactly see the footprint of the lake, and the course ended up taking us west, far past the lights on the other side of the lake. In retrospect, it’s obvious what we were doing: running around the lake. But in the moment it was torturous. We were heading in the wrong direction!
But finally—finally!—we made it. I almost didn’t believe it, nor did I have time to really process what was happening. I thought that I might be emotional as I crossed the finish line, especially since I nearly cried while listening to music earlier that day. But all I could do was hug Scotty Mills and my crew and follow their directions. Sit down—sure thing. Take this bag of goodies—okay. Eat something—whatever you say. It was a type of post-race exhaustion I had never felt before. In the past, it was an aerobic exhaustion—the lungs and legs burned and endorphins pumped through my brain. This, however, was physical devastation. It was beyond running fatigue, or a pain that I had ever associated with exercise. It was a type of mental and physical battery that was more akin to, well, running 100 miles. I don’t know how else to describe it. But I also recognized that this was it: the feeling of truly ultrarunning. I had heard dozens of athletes talk about how, in their minds, ultrarunning doesn’t become ultraunning until mile 80, when the body is almost literally shutting down but you have to keep moving, when you nearly lose conception of time, and hours either vanish or drag on for eternity. That was where I had brought my body to. That is what I had asked for. And that is what I had gotten.
I ended up finishing in 20:51, good enough for 4th place and first in my age division. But honestly the best part of the day was seeing Scotty’s face and genuine admiration for what I had done. Maybe he was just being nice, but if not, having the respect of that man made the whole day worth it. I felt like I ran a race that would have made a veteran like him proud—slow, smart, consistent, with a strong finish—and that’s what I’m happiest about.
Squaw Valley, California — In the build up to last weekend’s Broken Arrow Skyrace in Squaw Valley, California, Dani Moreno had her sights set high. “Going in I knew I wanted to try to win, and I even thought on the right day a course record would be possible if I ran the course right.”
Judging by the result—a win and course record for the 26 kilometer race—Moreno did indeed run the course right. Coming from sea level to a race that starts at 6200 feet, and heads straight up from there, she knew that managing her effort throughout the race would be key to avoiding the dreaded ‘red zone’ of overexertion, from which there is no return. “After studying the course I knew that my effort for the first 6 miles had to be somewhat conservative, considering there was such a hefty climb for the middle portion, and so it was a great feeling knowing that I was holding back, or at a minimum that my body felt like it was.”
For Moreno, the extra challenges presented by Skyrunning are part of the appeal of the series. “My favorite part, hands-down, was the top of the climb where we were scrambling and even got to go up this sick ladder! After my first big trail race, I began to do a lot of research and immediately was drawn to the Skyrunning series… So winning it and setting a course record was pretty surreal and such a confidence booster that I could indeed be pretty good at Mountain Running.”
Moreno has secured a spot on the US Skyrunning team, which will give her the opportunity to put those skills to good use at the Skyrunning World Championships, which will be hosted in Kinlochleven, Scotland September 13 to 15.