Monday, April 1, 2013

Life is too busy- a slew of race reports

Somewhere in the past two years, going from two kids to four, things have changed for me.  I have much less free time to spend on running-related but not running activities (blogging, reading blogs, reading iRF, etc).  Much like I did in November, I want to pound out a quick rehash of my recent races, then I’ll do a post dedicated to the Barkley.  After that, this blog may go somewhat dormant as I’m giving myself permission to stop blogging and writing reports unless I really want to.  Life is too busy otherwise.

TNF San Francisco 50 miler

Ok- December, I ran The North Face San Fran Championship 50 mile.  Justin came with me as his first 50, and we had a blast touring SF for 3 days.  The weather was terrible, as a huge storm system had dumped up to 8 inches of rain the past few days and 2-3 inches mid-race.  The day before the race, Justin and I heard it was cancelled, so were actually excited when we later learned it was just a re-route.  The race was a bit of a letdown for me- though I felt trained and prepared, and felt find during the race, I just couldn’t go fast.  Uphills were particularly slow, flats were flat, but downhills were still a blast.  I’m a mudder, so love flying down slippy, sloppy trails.  Some of TNF ones were nutso muddy, like both trips to Muir beach and the final descent into Tennessee Valley.  I loved it, absolutely loved it- rain, mud, wind.  Plus, I also found myself in the midst of the woman’s race and enjoyed watching that develop, running with Maude for a while, then a long time with Emilie, then being passed by Steph and finally Caitlin before holding off the 5th place woman.  I kept hoping I would photobomb iRF twitter pictures of the lead women, but it never happened.  And I’ll admit I actually spent an hour mid-race trying to figure out what the word was for getting 5-chicked (Quin-chicked?).  The good news about ultras is that you have many hours mid-race to come to terms with bad races, and I quickly found my peace and just enjoyed the day as it came to me.  Goods- had a fun time running in the muddiest race of my life (had a few fall and slides!), loved touring SF, met some neat people, ate tons of amazing food, and enjoyed watching Justin finish his first 50 mile ultra.  Bads- ran terrible (probably my worst not-sick, not-injured race performance wise ever), only had a few scenic vistas during the race on account of fog/rain, didn’t like the reroute with multiple races (crowding on trail), wished the race was more singletrack and less dirt road.

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San Fran running company

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(b&w photo courtesy of San Fran Running Company)

Harbison 50k

Missed Dan Hartley’s great race last year due to a nasty flu, so I wanted to make it this year.  It was not a focus race by any means, but I still had lofty goals of a win and sub-4 (CR was 4:10).  Drove down to Columbia and it was COLD- 25 deg.  I survived 8 years in Utah with no insulated underwear, but a South Carolina race almost killed me and my thin green shorts.  Anyhoo, we started pretty fast, with Bryce, a law student in New England, leading the pack.  I passed him around mile 3 as I wanted to up the pace and break up the lead pack.  The terrain of the 2-loop course reminded me of a mix of Croft State Park and Issaqueenah forest- almost all singletrack, lots of tight turns, numerous small ups and downs, and miles of trails packed into a small area.  I loved it- such a fabulous course, well marked, and good aid stations every 30-45 min.  Runner extraordinaire Shaun Pope flew by at the first aid station and very slowly pulled away.  I last saw him during the infamous Spiderwoman section of the course with a 90 second lead.  I had taken a long rest after San Fran but was generally happy with how my legs felt, not straining to run sub-7 miles.  I went through loop 1 just under 2 hrs, right on schedule, with everyone telling me Shaun was always “2 minutes ahead.”  I never saw him, though I did start seeing someone behind me on some of the twisty portions.  I continued pushing hard, hoping to catch Shaun but also striving for the sub-4 hr.  I started to get worried the end would never come, but it finally appeared in 3:58:02, a new 50k PR (25 min faster than old race PR, and 8 min faster than my 50k split at Umstead 100 last year).  Shaun won it in 3:47, so I wasn’t close to him, though 2 other guys finished right behind me.  4 guys well under CR- not too shabby.  Overall a great race, dead on 31 miles, with 3100 ft climb.  I was satisfied and had a fun time, including at the post-race BBQ.

Run Downtown 5k

I did a separate post on this one.  Took a big chunk off my 5k PR with only ultrarunning training (no speedwork).  Pretty happy here to set a 16:01 PR and beat most the high school kids. 

Expedition Paris Mtn trail race

Very nice 10-mile trail race on my familiar stomping ground of Paris Mtn, though this one was unique by being the only race to go over Hiker-only Brissy Ridge.  Had a very fun day running with my friends and ended up with the win. 

Black Mountain Marathon

I wasn’t selected in the Mt Mitchell Challenge, so entered the Black Mountain marathon instead.  It probably worked out better for my race schedule, anyways.  This is a great race- you run a few miles on road out of Black Mountain, then run miles of singletrack and jeep road to the turnaround at the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt Mitchell, before descending on mainly the same route.  The weather was great Barkley training- 37 deg and very rainy at the start.  I purposefully overdressed in my Smartwool gear to see if it would keep me warm, and it more than did its job.  Right from the start, Ben Hall (young buck who coaches college track), David Workman (against whom I’ve had a number of enjoyable, close races), and I pulled away.  The road miles went quickly, then we hit the lovely singletrack.  Dave Mackey (running the Challenge, not the marathon) flew by us at mile 4, pulling Ben with him.  Dave said his stomach was hurting and fell back.  I kept Dave and Ben in sight for a few miles, but then was alone except at the occasional aid station.  The rain somewhat stopped and I was treated to several beautiful vistas of the mountains.  What a pretty area.  My legs were a bit sluggish, and I found the course very muddy.  It wasn’t a slippery mud, but rather a wet sponge, “sink in and lose all momentum” mud.  Combine that with a bit of a low patch plus discovering that the 15 miles of the Toll Road were sometimes much, much more technical than I expected, and I felt I was crawling.  The last mile to the turnaround was very snowy and icy, and I finally saw Ben coming back with about a 5 minute lead. 

After my quick aid station refill, I found a very steady stream of runners almost right behind me.  I would have my work cut out for me just to hold onto second place.  Energized, I flew down Toll Road kamikaze-style.  Hundreds of runners were coming up the trail on the right side (my left side), restricting me from choosing the best route down.  Instead, I just stuck to my right side, no matter how rocky, muddy, off-camber, or icy it was.  I hardly had time to blink for fear of pulling a superman.  It absolutely amazes me that the human mind and body are so capable of running so fast down a technical trail without falling every minute.  Yet I never once fell.  I will admit that it was perhaps my most focused, one-with-the-trail, kamikaze run ever down technical terrain.  After a few miles, the rocks gave way to smoother dirt and I strided out, hoping to see Ben.  I received dozens of reports that he was anywhere from 200 yards to 4 minutes ahead, with no consistency.  Mile 22 is a screamer of a downhill, half on dirt road, then half on painful paved road, dropping almost 900 ft.  The terrain then flattened out a bit and offered long sightlines as we ran some neighborhood roads.  No one ahead of me, no one behind.  Bummer.  Finally reached the finishing area and could see Ben 90 seconds ahead as he looped the lake.  I finished in second place in 3:18, 5 minutes up on third place.  I guess that means I had the fastest descent, but it wasn’t enough to make up for my poor climb.  I still had a very fun time and want to do the full Challenge soon.  This was another fantastic race, with about 3000 ft climbing.  I enjoyed the post-race food with Ben, Dave, and others, then Dave drove me back to my car.

One note- I have to thank the people of Black Mountain, NC.  When I returned to my car, which was parallel parked on the side of a busy road, I found I had left the trunk wide open before the race.  All my gear, wallet, and even car keys were in plain sight in the trunk, but nothing had been touched.  Thanks for not stealing my car or money- good people in that town.

Chuckanut 50k

I ran Chuckanut because I needed to use some Southwest Airlines miles and I wanted a well-known, well-respected race.  Although it was only 2 weeks before Barkley, I figured a fast 50k wouldn’t hurt me much.  Unfortunately, I became quite sick 2 weeks before the race, with both my training and health suffering quite dramatically.  I accordingly tempered my expectations and decided to run a bit more conservatively and just have fun.  Utah buddy David Nelson lives near Seattle and was running the race, so generously hosted me for the weekend, with us staying at his very friendly Aunt and Uncle’s house in Seattle and driving up Sat morning.  The race was again wet (a common theme this year for me), with rain before hand but only a little during the race.  I was proud to sport my new Team Pearl Izumi gear at the starting line (did I mention I’m on Team PI now?  I own tons of their gear and shoes and love all of it)  The first 10k is on gravel bike trail and I closely monitored my watch to not start out too fast (goal was no faster than 6:30 pace, with my actual flat pace being about 6:25- close enough.  I enjoyed conversing a bit with Tyler on this stretch, learning he was running his first ultra.  I think I was 17th or so place when we finally got off the boring gravel and onto the lush, muddy singletrack. 


(all Chuckanut photos courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

The singletrack climb and descent were enjoyable, though we soon ended up on a yet another dirt road with a long climb.  It was a bit of a grinder but just gradual enough that you had to run it.  At last we reached the famed technical singletrack of the Chuckanut Ridge… and my glasses promptly and completely fogged up.  I’ve been wearing my glasses almost exclusively since my eye infection last year, and a case of pink-eye two days before the race ensured I would be in glasses yet again.  Traversing the wet rocks and roots of the ridge were rather difficult with the impaired vision, though I did pause to wipe them several times, earning only momentary reprive from the handicap.  Just as the ridge ended, they de-fogged.  Figures.  But mother nature was also picky with her gifts of sight, as all the famous lookout viewpoints showed only white fog on this day.



One of the many motivational signs along the well-marked course

The middle miles passed quickly if fairly uneventfully, and I was looking forward to the famed climb of Chinscraper.  It was a nice little jaunt up, with a few “climbing on all fours” sections that were, again, good Barkley training.  But it ended quickly and we started down the trails and roads back to the bike path.

The climb up Chinscraper

I figured my conservative pace and remaining leg speed might yield a few roadk ill on the bike path, and I was not disappointed.  4 miles in 27 minutes resulted in 2 victims, then one more who was walking just a mile before the finish.  I didn’t have any real goals on account of being sick, but figured I would finish 4:15-4:30, and indeed crossed the line in 4:20:34 and 20th spot.  It wasn’t the race I had planned on when I signed up, but I took what my body gave me and was satisfied.  The winning times were impressive for both men and women, with CR falling all around (Jodee Adams-Moore was especially impressive, torching Ellie Greenwoods CR by oer 8 min).  I was pretty cold afterwards, especially as the rain started really coming down, so I quickly dressed and huddled under a tent eating food until David finished with a smile on his face.  We spent a while socializing, then headed back to Seattle. 

This is another well-run race, with great organization, a beautiful location, and lots of markings and cute motivational signs.  I know the long-timers like the course, but I would modify it to cut out all the gravel road given my druthers.  But, it’s historic and the bike path adds an interesting twist and mental challenge that I enjoyed.  A great weekend at a fun race with a good host (thanks again, David).

I’ll end this long diatribe with one final note.  On my third and final plane flight home last Sunday night, I received a text message from none other than Lazarus Lake himself, RD of the Barkley Marathons.  Apparently someone else had dropped out of the Barkley and I was top of the wait list, so he inquired if I still wanted to run.  I replied in the affirmative and thought it a great way to end the trip.  Rather than Barkley fear, though, I felt only excitement.  But I’ll have to save that tale for my next blog post, the Barkley race report.


  1. I always enjoy your race reports, Jon. And congrats on making the Team PI!

  2. I also enjoy your engaging reports. It is fun to read about your feelings during the races, how you have to respect what your body or the day bring you. Lots of good lessons. It also inspires me to run. I did a 6.5 mile run in Deer Creek park this morning, on a single track trail with around an 1100-1200 foot elevation gain. I loved it. Thanks for inspiring me.

  3. Wow that's a lot of races. My eyes hurt just reading about them all :)

  4. Thanks, you guys. Dad- I'm very glad to hear this inspires you to run. If you've never tried it, one of my first trails ever was a stretch along the Platte River, just north of Mineral while heading up to Bowles. Can't miss it- just look for the half mile stretch of trees with intertwining trails.