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ALL KINDS OF RACING 2018

Well in true form I’ve been completely tardy in keeping the site updated. I pay squarespace every year to keep this thing up and running, so I guess I should probably post an update once in a while!

In many ways 2018 has been my best year of racing to date. Thinking back, I haven’t had a bad race. The year started well with a great block of training leading into Black Canyons. It’s a Western States golden ticket race, so attracts some top competition. I thoroughly surprised myself by sneaking into 9th place, on a course that I didn’t think suited my style of running. I think of myself perhaps as more of a mountain runner. I lack the top end speed and leg turnover that seems to excel in fast runnable races such as Black Canyons. I trained specifically with more long 30km runs on flatter terrain (Spray road out & backs), and that likely paid dividends. On race day I felt prepared and strong and sneaking into the top 10 was a bit of a surprise. I had a beer mid race which seemed to help!

Next up was Yakima 50km. This was my second go round at Yakima. I was 4th here in 2017, finishing behind a couple of top runners in Jeff Browning and Jeremy Wolfe. I hit the last climb in 2nd but faltered a bit on the long ascent, getting past twice and finishing in 4th overall. It’s a great event, my favorite of the year, and I was determined not to finish 4th again (it’s become a bit of a joke that I always finish 4th ie just off the podium, in a lot of races!). This year I hit the turn around in about 7th or 8th place and quickly moved up into second place. I held second behind Mike Wolfe into the last climb. Feeling like I was running well, I was surprised to get caught and overtaken on that last long climb, but determined not to be 4th again, I held on for the 3rd place finish. I looked at my watch as I crossed the line, for the first time, expecting I’d be at least 5 mins faster than 2017, but laughed when I saw I’d beaten the previous years’ time by a mere 40 seconds. Overall, I paced a bit better, with more gas in the tank for that last brutal climb. We had a stellar Canmore crew down there racing and cheering, and it looks like 2019 will be no different!

After Yakima, it was off to Squaw Valley, California. I was pacing Devon Featherstone at Western States, so decided to jump into the Broken Arrow Sky Race 52km race the weekend before Statesmas. My good buddy Ethan Veneklassen, who crewed for me in 2016 at States is the Race Director, and he puts on a top notch event. There’s a VK as well as a 23km option in addition to the ultra distance. ….and boy is this race stacked. A lot of big name talent lines up on the start of this one, so I had no lofty goals at all, expecting top 20 would be a decent effort. So as I hit the final descent in 6th ahead of Mike Foote, Jorge Maravilla, Mike Versteeg, I was on cloud nine. I came in just behind Megan Kimmel to take 6th in the men’s field and 7th overall, possibly my best result ever.

Western States as usual was a total spectacle. Devon suffered in the heat but hung on strong for a comfortable sub 24 hour finish, despite the heat, with temperatures of 43C at the American River crossing at mile 78 early in the day. Jim Walmsley finally nailed his 100 mile race taking down the course record in an incredible show of strength and determination.

I took a break from racing in July, and prepped for the Canadian Death race in early August. At 125km it has a big reputation. I ran well, and got another third place behind young talent Jayden Dalke and Alex Petroski - a multiple winner of Sinister 7. It was quite the showdown. Jayden had trained on the course and ran intelligently, pacing himself well and finishing with about a 12 minute lead. Alex and I duked it out all day, and we in the same boat at the 100km river crossing. Alex was feeling good and was off to hunt down Jayden over the final miles. I was in a bit of a lull, so said goodbye and watched him run off to catch Jayden. I mustered all I had and jogged it in, until I caught alex on the final climb about 1km from the finish. I think we exchanged positions 4 or 5 times in the last few metres, but Alex was able to dig a little deeper and find a little more leg speed in the final 100m. He beat me by 12 seconds. I thoroughly emptied the tank on that one, and despite finishing around 9:30pm, I was unable to get up off the ground until 2am. Completely spent, I don’t think I’ve been such a mess at the end of an ultra, although my wife may disagree!

2 weeks later and I lined up at the start of TranSelkirks. It’s a second year event, put on by the Transrockies crew. It’s a 5 day trail race, covering 100 miles and 10,000m of climbing, based out of Revelstoke. Aside from a short section of day 1, these were all new trails to me. I raced with my great friend Emily Compton in the Open Mixed category, and we had a lot of fun in winning the overall, and taking each stage outright. Winning never gets old! What a stellar event. I cannot speak highly enough about this one. Amy and Jacob have put together a world class event, on world class trails.

 

 

I finished TranSelkirks feeling as strong and as fit as I’ve ever been, which was where I wanted to be heading into my A race for the year IMTUF 100. More of that in a bit!

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Bighorn 100 - World's Toughest Mudder?

Two words sum up the Bighorn 100 2017 edition. 

Mud

Lots of it. 

Heavy and sticky mud - that clay-like mud that quadruples the weight on the end of your already hard to lift legs. Slippery mud - like ice - that made me thankful I can ski, and thankful that I run on snow and ice for half the year. Mud that started about 5 hours in, and only abated with 5 or 6 miles to go.

Rain

Not just drizzle.

Not spring showers.

Heavy, torrential sideways rain.

Soaked to the core almost immediately.

I was dry and warm at the welcoming Footbridge Aid station 30 miles in. Spirits high, feeling strong in the top 10, but maybe I’ll grab another jacket, you know, just in case. Truth be told, Saira forced some extra clothing on me. The skies look grey, so maybe throw in a buff and some gloves too. Best decision ever. Best crew ever.

I ran well, but 18 hours of soaked skin and macerated toes wears thin. Grabbing trees, and grass for traction it became an exercise in willpower. How bad do I really want this? My crew were stalwarts though; never a doubt.

“Sit down…change your shirt.” 

Warm dry jackets and fresh gloves. At Jaws, almost 10,000ft, the rain and wind were intense. Just above zero degrees C, it was freezing, icy rain. I changed, ate and drank then jumped back into the maelstrom outside, quick to get moving lest I change my mind.

Getting up there was a challenge, getting back down was, well, laughable. You could call it running, but it didn’t look much like anything resembling a run.

Slip, slide, curse, fall. Repeat.

Look for some grass, look for traction. Wish I had poles! 

The moods of those I passed after the turnaround were at two ends of a spectrum. Joanna Ford looked happy and strong a few kilometres down the trail, but most were in a battle to keep moving. Many were unprepared, with next to no protection from the elements. One fellow grunted “You’ve gotta be kidding, this is a joke right” as I slithered down a steep pitch and grabbed a tree before I slid into him. 

It got dark on the way down from Jaws. I don’t remember much more of the descent once daylight faded, encased in my own hooded little world, alone with my thoughts, a small circle of light my only point of reference. I remember I laughed though. Either that or cry, it was becoming an ordeal!

Soon, I’m back at the Footbridge. Saira is there; the experienced crew chief, she knows me too well.

“Get this broth down….here, an egg mcmuffin.”

Never a question I would finish this one. There was no doubt. Emily paced from mile 66. A bad spell for me, I felt sorry for her; this was supposed to be a jaunt through some beautiful country! Instead she had a miserable partner, huffing and deep breathing, fighting the urge to vomit, trying to keep the legs moving. Climbing the wall, nauseated and fatigued, it was hard to remain positive.

Emily: “How you doing back there?” 

Me: “Good……ish” I lied; more like bloody awful, but who wants a pity party.

Emily: “See that light up ahead - next aid station - only a few hundred metres.” She lied too.

Moving slowly but steadily, we ran into pre-race favourite Bob Shebest. He looked bad. Shivering and shaking in a tiny tent at the side of the trail, he had half the clothes I had. The small electric heater in that tent made for a haven that was hard to leave. Bob dropped ultimately, the warmth of that tent proving too much it seemed.

The temptation to stay there was…… "Let’s get going again” said Emily, so we did. Back into the dark and rain, growing tired of this now. Without a pacer, I’d have struggled mightily to get back out. I owe you Compton.

At Dry Fork aid, Ruchel joined. After the monstrous climb with Emily, I was starting to feel good again. Strange how that happens. Roch Horton famously said "It doesn't always get worse" and he was right. Food was going down. Vitargo was tasting good again, and even a vanilla gel slid down easily. And it was getting light, lifting my spirits further. A quick coffee, maybe three, and some broth, then time to get ‘er done. It was still pissing down though.

Grabbing poles I knew I was in for one hell of a descent - Ruchel can descend with the best - but first, more climbing. And now I was running again. 85 miles in and I was running the ups. That doesn’t happen very often, I mused. Then soon we were dropping. The final descent - a brute - 4000 feet - steep and slippery, enough to finish off a few toenails. It felt fast, really fast - the third fastest split of the day (strava disagrees about the ‘fast’ part, I’ll add, but a good split nevertheless). Ruchel looked to be having a blast, no doubt glad to be moving after a long day and night of crewing in miserable conditions.

(CREW=Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting).

Ruchel's mood was contagious - it always is; and I think I may have managed a grin. Ankles and toes now blackened and bruised. Heels rubbed raw, but the finish was within reach. It was still raining, but easing a bit. One final steep drop on rocky single track, and onto the gravel of the Sheep River Canyon Road. Time to bring this one home.

The final 4 miles of road are a sting in the tail. Quads now trashed, and energy sapped. “I wish it would stop fucking raining..” More climbs, in reality small speed bumps. I’m overheating now, all these clothes on. It’s warm down here, and I suspect the weather is looking brighter.

The final turns through town. Half a mile to the finish….

The clouds part, the sky turns blue, and the sun comes out. 

“You really have got to be kidding”

The crew on route to Wyoming

The crew on route to Wyoming

 

 

***I’m proud of this one. Only 47% of the field finished. 18 hours of torrential rain. I placed 7th, in 23h 03m, my slowest 100 miles yet, but one I’m really proud of. The lead four guys ran it in together, having lost the desire to push and race. This one hammered home the importance of a crew and pacers. There’s no doubt I wouldn’t have finished without them. Huge thanks to my awesome all girl crew - Saira, Emily, Ruchel.

 

Pack more stuff than you think you'll need - one day it will pay off

Pack more stuff than you think you'll need - one day it will pay off

Dry fork outbound - still dry

Dry fork outbound - still dry

Emily coaxing me in the final miles

Emily coaxing me in the final miles

BVGT+1

BVGT+1

I did

I did

Master's podium - second to Paul Terranova

Master's podium - second to Paul Terranova

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100 Miles, One Day -  Always a learning experience

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100 Miles, One Day - Always a learning experience

It’s taken me a few weeks to digest everything that went on at the 2016 Western States. I will start by saying that it wasn’t the race performance I was hoping for, but it was certainly everything I knew it would be. I believed I could lay down a quicker time - lofty goals indeed for a race with such a reputation for destroying even the best. It’s my 5th hundred and arguably on paper, the easiest course. I didn’t underestimate the difficulties as 100 miles is never an easy proposition - it’s always a journey, with hiccups and bumps along the way. I’ve been here enough times to know that things rarely go to plan, and there will always be low points, along with some pretty incredible highs in any race of this distance. I trained for the heat, and I trained harder than ever. I put in some really good quality work in the early part of the year, that set me up for a great race. But I feel like the second half of Western States just got away from me. I have been trying to analyze what happened, and I think it simply boils down to a bit of bad luck, some overoptimism, and a few schoolboy errors! And one problem can snowball rapidly into others in a race like Western.

Looking across to the Granite Chief Wilderness from the top of Squaw on the WS100 trail

Looking across to the Granite Chief Wilderness from the top of Squaw on the WS100 trail

This race is a giant, and believe me it lives up to the hype - from the pre-race meetings and start line hoopla, to the atmosphere as one steps foot onto the track at Placer High. It is everything that you imagine it to be. It is a beautiful course, especially the first 30 miles through the Granite Chief Wilderness. It is stunning to be running easily along high ridges at first light, with vast vistas of lakes and distant snowy peaks. Of course you feel good in those early miles, and that adds to the whole depth and quality of experience.

Recce up to the Escarpment a few days before the race

Recce up to the Escarpment a few days before the race

Race morning

Race morning

99.8 miles to go

99.8 miles to go

I cruised easily to the top of the escarpment, the first and biggest climb, right where I wanted to be. I typically try to place myself with the lead women, and I found myself passing the early miles with Kaci and Devon who would ultimately finish first and third. We surprised ourselves somewhat when we caught Jim Walmsley near the top of the escarpment, but he was playing mind games with the main contenders, walking the flats, and running the climbs! Needless to say, we backed off and found our rhythm.

Top of the first climb - Lake Tahoe (and Magda Boulet) behind

Top of the first climb - Lake Tahoe (and Magda Boulet) behind

The early miles out to Duncan Canyon rolled by easily. I was fuelling well with Vitargo Race in my bottle. My legs felt great, and I was very relaxed. Fitzy and Ethan Veneklassen were at Duncan Canyon to top up my bottles and it was an in and out in 20 seconds. At Robinson Flat, Saira, her dad and the boys, were excited to see me.

This year's winner in front, last year's champ behind

This year's winner in front, last year's champ behind

 

The atmosphere here was incredible and I felt like a rockstar rolling in. We started heat management here as the day was warming up and high temps were forecast to be in the 100s later on. Ice in the hat, down the sleeves and around the neck - you’ve all seen the Rob Krar video right! I rolled on easily to Dusty Corners where Fitzy and Ethan topped me up again, and I was out of there quickly, enjoying the trail, and anticipating the difficulties ahead. I felt chilly with all the ice, but knew that this was a good thing. I chatted with Kyle Pietari who was cruising the downhills but seemed to be struggling through the climbs. We played yo yo for a few miles, then he was gone, running a fantastic second half to finish 8th. I purposely relaxed on the descents. With around 24,000 feet of downhill, this is not the place to be cranking out fast descents early on.

Leaving Dusty Corners

Leaving Dusty Corners

By Last Chance aid station at mile 43, things were warming up but I was in control. The effort was steady, I had no niggles, and I was eating and drinking lots. In the first 45 miles I stopped for quick bathroom breaks 4 times, so I was on top of the hydration, and it really didn’t feel super hot. I grabbed some gels for the next section, topped up my bottles and prepared for the canyons which is typically where things can turn sour for those who go out too fast. I was rolling out of the aid station when a volunteer offered to douse me with a cold sponge. It was bracing and I gasped with the cold, and then I instantly regretted the shower as my pristine dry shoes and socks got a good soaking. ‘Oh well” I thought, ‘I never get blisters’, and I knew I would be seeing the crew at Michigan Bluff(mile 55) with dry socks and shoes. This is where my great day out took a turn for the worse. Never say never, right.

Albert waits at Michigan Bluff

Albert waits at Michigan Bluff

From Last Chance there is a dramatic and steep plunge into Deadwood Canyon. The drop is around 2000ft. It is steep and loose in places. The grade is such that it’s hard to open up and run down, especially with 40+ miles in the legs. I knew as soon as I set off down the switchbacks that my feet were in trouble. I felt hot spots develop almost immediately in both heels, and within a half a mile I had searing pain in both heels. The grade was such that it was hard to get the weight forward onto my toes, so every foot strike became an agonizing sheer on the skin of my heels. It was a relief to cross over the creek and begin climbing the Devil’s Thumb as the climb provided some respite for my tender heels.  It is a tough old climb, the hardest on the course I’d say, but I felt like I was climbing well. The legs felt good. All systems go. Through Devil’s aid station and then it’s down, down, down again - this time around 2600 ft into El Dorado canyon. The descent is less severe but the heel pain returned as soon as I turned downhill. I was passed by Amy Sproston on this descent on her way to a second place finish, as I tried to gingerly tip toe down through the turns. At the bottom of El Dorado I dipped my hat in the creek for a refreshing shower, this time taking care to keep my shoes dry, but unfortunately the damage was done. Damp socks, blistered heels and hot spots on the forefeet. During the steep canyon descents I was miserable. My feet were killing me, and I kicked myself for allowing blisters to form. It seemed that the discomfort was all encompassing. Negative thoughts crept in for a while, but I remembered a blog post I had read somewhere - I don’t recall where - where I’d read that the pain from blistering usually abates. I had a word in my head for the entire middle third of the race - “Persistence”. I have been through difficult times in races, and things do always get better. “Be persistent” I told myself “it will improve.”

The climb out of El Dorado is steep and temperatures were pushing into the high 90s. I managed to run/hike a lot of this, feeling strong on the ups, and in no time at all I recognized the final short road into Michigan Bluff at mile 55.

Getting my feet tended to at Michigan Bluff. It's 99F and I'm not looking so chipper here!

Getting my feet tended to at Michigan Bluff. It's 99F and I'm not looking so chipper here!

Up until Last Chance I was running off 18h 30m splits, and I’m pleased to say that I was nailing the splits spot on. My feet significantly slowed me down in the canyons however, and by Michigan Bluff I was well off target. I decided I was not going to look at the watch again, I’d just do what I could do and get through. My main goal is always to finish, and at States I really wanted that Silver buckle. At Michigan Bluff the whole crew was waiting. I took a seat and Saira did a fantastic job in drying my feet and applying KT tape over the blistered areas, one of which had already burst. I switched into dry Salomon Propulse, with fresh socks. The boys got me ice and I ate a few chips and refilled the Vitargo. Ethan and Fitzy jogged up the road with me, then it was off to Foresthill. It’s only a short distance, not much over an hour. I was optimistic as the feet felt much better with Saira’s tape job and the dry footwear, and my split to Foresthill was good at around 1 hour 12 mins. As I popped onto the pavement after Volcano canyon, I was please to see Albert waiting for me. Crewing is allowed anywhere in Foresthill, so he topped up my bottles and we jogged together the few kilometres up the hill to the Aid Station proper. Foresthill is 62 miles in and I ran most of the climb on the pavement. We cruised into the Foresthill aid station at a good clip. I was bored by Bert’s enthusiasm and encouragement. He filled me in on the race unfolding up front, and my aches and pains seemed to ebb away. The feet were feeling better, my legs were great and the energy seemed fine.

Crew Chief and Carl - Foresthill

Crew Chief and Carl - Foresthill

Foresthill was a spectacle to behold. Words really cannot describe how it feels to get here. It’s a party atmosphere and it really gives you a boost just when you need it. Saira tended to my feet again as Fitzy readied himself for pacing duties. After a few minutes we were off up the road to Cal street. Fitzy had a temperature of 99F on his watch, so the forecast was spot on. Despite the heat I felt like I had done a great job at staying cool. Ice in the hat and sleeves and around the neck is really effective, and the aid station volunteers were pros at topping up the ice. What I now realize, however, is thatbetween Last Chance and Foresthill, in that almost 20 mile section, I pretty much ate nothing. A rookie mistake, no doubt.

Mile 62 - getting my feet assessed again

Mile 62 - getting my feet assessed again

It’s hard to recollect events exactly now, but I believe that I became so mentally distracted by the blistering feet, the wet shoes and socks and the heat management that I omitted to think about calories. In that 4 hours 20 mins between Last Chance and Foresthill, I’d estimate I consumed about 200 calories, which is clearly not enough. In the first half of the race I pee’d 4 times, the second half, once. I just stopped eating and drinking! Obviously the heat plays a part, and can blunt the appetite, but I honestly believe I just became so engrossed in the painful feet situation, that I forgot to take care of the small detail of fueling! It seems so obvious to me now. By Foresthill I think I was probably pretty dehydrated and running low on glycogen. With dehydration it becomes difficult to absorb calories from the gut due to decreased blood flow. The lack of calories also suppresses the brain, and thinking back now, I was definitely in a bit of a fog.

Spirits improved - ready to hit the last 40 miles with Fitzy

Spirits improved - ready to hit the last 40 miles with Fitzy

With Fitzy now along for the next 30 miles, I perked up, but the food just wouldn’t go down well. I developed a nauseating cramp in my side, and every jolt when I picked up the pace was uncomfortable. I felt like I would vomit, but I reassured Mike it would pass, so we dug deep and did our best to keep moving. Not much else to do. If my belly had been good, we would have really flown down this section. Cruisy trails, nothing steep or technical, and my legs felt great, but the belly was a problem.

Cal1, and Cal2 passed in a blur. I remember the course was beautiful as we contoured the American River in a long slow gradual descent. We were in shade through a lot of this section, and I cannot imagine how the heat would be along here if in direct sun light. As it was, the sun glimmered through the trees, and as I think back, this section was a real highlight for me. Mike enthused about the beauty and we wished we had a camera. We were moving slowly, but we were moving. Relentless forward progress is what gets you to the finish. Hundreds are hard, but who would want an easy challenge, right? It’s why we do them. My belly ached. Periodic belches helped, but it wouldn’t abate. My feet were feeling a lot better, but now the gut problems took centre stage and seemed hard to shake.

Rucky Chucky

Rucky Chucky

We hiked the steep and difficult “6 minute hill” to Cal3 aid, and Fitzy chatted with the Aid Station captain who’s family have been crewing here for over 20 years. I started to look forward to the famous Rucky Chucky river crossing where we would see our crew again, and we chatted with Dominic Grossman who was pacing a buddy along here; he entertained us with some of his dance moves, with his iPhone knocking out tunes in speaker mode!  His runner didn’t say much, and seemed to be hurting. Fellow Alberta Salomon runner Alissa St Laurent, paced by Gary Poliquin caught us just before Rucky Chucky, on her way to a fifth place finish. They were obviously moving well, and Alissa put down a stellar performance on the day. Gary handed me something to help with the cramping belly pain, and I have no idea to this day what it was, but it didn’t seem to make much difference! Apparently it had worked a charm for Alissa. I simply swallowed the pill and crossed my fingers. Water and dilute Vitargo were going down OK, but all I could handle at the aid stations was Coke, water melon and a few chips. I think I carried 5 gels with me for over 40 miles without eating a single one!

At Rucky Chucky we met the crew. It is a beautiful spot and I was glad to be here in daylight. Saira, her dad and the boys were enjoying the river crossing spectacle! I was looking forward to cooling off and I had fresh shoes and socks on the far side in a drop bag. That was a killer move! Looking at the splits now, Mike and I had actually made good time along Cal street. My 18h 30m split would have put us here at 18:45, and my 19 hour split had us here at 19:25. We arrived at 20:00 so we weren’t too far off pace. The river crossing was refreshing, but harder than I expected. Huge slippery rocks, difficult ground underneath, and surprisingly chilly.  We made good time across where we were pleased to see Ethan who had hiked down from Green Gate. I changed shoes, Ethan taped up my feet, and I donned a shirt. We hiked up to Green Gate, listening to Ethan’s tall tales. We were passed by multiple spectators heading down to the river. I think Ethan knew every one of them! Ultra legend Dr David Horton high fived me on the climb which was cool, and ex women’s champion Stephanie Howe was at the top cheering. Ethen left us at Green Gate, and what then ensued was a few hours of hike/walk, run fast, belly ache, belch, run fast, walk! We were passed a few times and we passed a few folks. There was a lot of back and forth.

Around mile 85 I felt particularly good and I recall cranking along at what felt like 4 mins/km. I remarked to Fitzy that the human body is capable of remarkable feats, right before I slowed to a walk then vomited up a lot of coke at Brown’s Bar aid! I sat for quite a while at Brown’s Bar. By now, at mile 90, I knew that I was going to finish, but the gut pain was really pretty defeating. I switched to ginger ale and that seemed to settle the belly somewhat. The volunteer who was with me at Brown’s Bar was incredible. He stood by as I wretched and emptied my stomach into the bushes. He talked to me sympathetically and talked about the fact that sooner or later the shit hits the fan during an ultra. He was right, and he knew what I was going through. I don’t know his name, but I remember his words were very reassuring at the time.

After the nausea settled, Mike and I were on the go again. I don’t recall any of the next section. I don’t recall climbing to Highway 49, but soon I was resting in a chair, with my 16 year old son George ready to pace me to the finish. Mike’s job was done, and he did a stellar job. I didn’t talk a lot to Mike in those 30 or so miles, but I appreciated his presence every step of the way. I recall a 2 hour stretch when I was pacing Devin Featherstone at HURT and we didn’t say a single word! Fitzy got a bit of the silent treatment from me on this one, but simply having a good buddy there for you if you need to troubleshoot, and to find the trail, is immensely reassuring.

At Hwy 49 I downed some broth and ginger ale, then George and I were off. I warned him I maybe wouldn’t talk much, but hetook it all in his stride, and I started to feel better. We ran most of this leg, hiking quickly up the climbs. We were across No Hands Bridge in what seemed like no time, and then we were on the final grunt up to Robie Point. I was passed by a couple of runners on this section, and we passed a couple. George ran well a few steps behind me and his encouraging words were a real boost. This is the second hundred miler on which he’s paced me to the finish - the first being Cascade Crest. If you ever get the chance to be paced in by your son or daughter, I highly recommend it! Being able to share a big finish like this with your family is very special. I get a lump in my throat when I think about it.

At Robie point aid we checked in and out in a flash, and at the top of the street Saira, Carl and Albert were waiting. I’ve watched so many videos of the final mile of Western, I had a strange sense of deja vu. As the track at Placer High came into view, I had goosebumps and was overcome with a huge sense of achievement. Stepping onto the track was a surreal experience. It was like going from night to day on the floodlit track. I savoured every step as I tried to pick up the pace around the track. It somehow felt like I was throwing down a fast lap, though my video of the finish tells a different story! Stiff legs, no bounce, the ultra shuffle, but a huge grin on my face. Western States in the bag.

Relief. George snapping a shot after pacing me over the last 7 miles. WS100 finish is a very special place

Relief. George snapping a shot after pacing me over the last 7 miles. WS100 finish is a very special place

Hugs all round! In orange - Ethan Veneklasen who did a sterling job crewing.

Hugs all round! In orange - Ethan Veneklasen who did a sterling job crewing.

What a race. I’ve never finished a hundred and immediately thought, I want to do that again, but as I hugged my crew and family who had made the day so memorable, that’s what I was thinking. Bob Shebest in his blog said he now understands that all roads seem to lead back to Western States. I know that he means, though it’s difficult to articulate. This day wasn’t my best. I had ‘issues’. I vomited, I blistered, and I walked, quite a bit. It slipped away from me in the latter stages, and my lofty goals were just that - way too lofty; but despite this, I’ve got that big silver buckle - the most coveted prize in ultra running some would say. I’ve worn it most days, and will continue to wear it.

With my two fantastic pacers, George & Mike

With my two fantastic pacers, George & Mike

Having my Finish Line photo taken by Larry Gassan - the fatigue is visible!

Having my Finish Line photo taken by Larry Gassan - the fatigue is visible!

I’m back training and running strong again. No injury concerns, no regrets; but man, I hope my name comes out of that hat again next December.

With WS100 legend Ann Trason

With WS100 legend Ann Trason

The Silver Buckle

The Silver Buckle

Thanks, as always to Saira, George, & Albert for the unwavering support. These crazy antics would just not be possible without the three of you, and you really have become a top notch veteran race crew. Thanks to Carl - I wanted you to experience a hundred miler in person - I think was the one to see! To Fitzy for traveling all that way to witness my 30 miles of suffering - cheers man, I appreciate it hugely - hopefully I can repay the favor one day? To Ethan - for getting to those more obscure crew locations - it was immensely reassuring to have you guys out there for me!

Huge thanks to my sponsors Salomon, Suunto, Vitargo & Compressport.

GEAR

In the race I wore Salomon S Lab Sense shorts and vest; shoes - Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra SG and Propulse; socks - Compressport. Hat - Ciele (custom mod by Saira with ice pocket!). Bottles - Nathan handheld 20oz x 2. Nutrition - Vitargo S2 Race. Watch - Suunto Ambit3 Peak.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There is a lot of downhill running. There are significant climbs but they are not huge.

It’s almost all runnable, aside from a few steeps in the canyons. 

Need to work the steady state efforts more. Longer SS efforts = More specificity of training

Heat training really works - my regime of passive sauna training 3 x weekly was effective.

I need to toughen my feet. Foot goo? Prophylactic taping? Fixing Your Feet website a great resource.

I need to practice nutrition in the heat. Hard to do.

I didn’t cramp at all - additional salt is not needed.

I want a second go at this - hopefully won't take another 6 years to get in!!

 

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Cascade Crest 100, 2014. Redemption.

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Cascade Crest 100, 2014. Redemption.

I apologise in advance. There is no puking, no extreme cramping, no spectacular collapses 70 miles in, no high speed falls with bloody knees; not even an immense, spectacular bonk from a lack of calories. I understand if you stop reading now.

The Cascade Crest 100 is an old school race. Originally it was known as the Cascade Crest Classic we are told, hence the CCC100. There is no fanfare, no razzmatazz. There isn’t even an awards ceremony. It has a refreshing and gritty quality. It starts and finishes at a Fire Hall in a tiny town, with a diner, a drive through espresso and not much else. Blink on the I-90 and you’ll miss Easton. I imagine Hardrock to have a similar feeling. Of course, it has the Cascades, and it really is a course of unparallelled beauty. And it’s hard. The course has officially just under 22,000 feet of ascent.

At the race briefing we are told to do our best, and be proud of our effort, even if we don’t finish the full century. So very ‘un-Leadville’. The course marker describes the first fifty, then stops - “well the second half” she says, “I’ll just leave that up to you to experience it. Have fun with that!” 

Beginning in Easton, Washington, it is at the harder end of the spectrum in terms of mountain 100 milers, winding it’s way in a massive loop around the Cascades, from Easton to Hyak at Snoqualamie Pass, and back. The course profile is scary on paper. The altitude is never extreme, but the climbs are steep, especially in the second half. Everything I read suggested that the second 50 was the harder. Save something for the second half, the old veterans suggest. Go easy or pay the price. In fact the race manual even states that many Cascade Crest DNFs begin on the first climb up Goat Peak, which starts after 2 miles; and mention of the dreaded Cardiac Needles - the hardest part of the course, and which start at an unsporting 80 miles - is a stern warning to back off on the early climbs and save some juice.


So as I lined up at the start, and listened to the national anthems of Canada and the US, a great CCC100 tradition, I went through my game plan in my head. Run easy early on. Keep the breathing relaxed. Walk the steep climbs. “If you wouldn’t run it in the last 30, don’t run it in the first 30” sounded like sound advice from a previous multiple CCC100 finisher. My goal, as always, was to fuel and drink well, and hopefully get to mile 53 to pick up my pacer, Simon, feeling (relatively) good.

This was officially my 3rd hundred miler. On paper, after Leadville and Pine to Palm, the numbers would stack up significantly higher in terms of ascent/descent and overall difficulty. It would be a challenge undoubtedly. In both my previous races,I had had epicly bad times, a combination of going out too hard and poor fuelling strategy. I was fully prepared for more of the same, but hoped to avoid it this time. 

I have raced a lot this year, with good results, but I went into Cascade Crest with some anxiety about form. Two weeks beforehand were spent in and around the Bend, Oregon area, in temps that reached 37C. Runs were short and sporadic, though on beautiful, groomed singletrack for the most part. A nagging sore throat that would not leave me until the day before the race was causing doubts. Erratic HRV values added to my concerns. My achilles tendons have been bothersome all year, though not really enough to stop me, and this was yet another minor bump in my pre race profile. In addition, I’d drunk a lot of fantastic micro-brews in Oregon! Maybe not ideal race prep, but fun. Still, I was well rested, maybe too well rested I thought. 9-10 hours sleep was the norm leading in. 

Training in Bend

Training in Bend


The course profile is undoubtedly vicious, but I felt it played to my strengths; a lot of vertical, steep climbs and descents; minimal flat pavement. Canmore is the perfect place to live and train for a race like this, and I had concentrated in training on getting in a lot of steep climbing, long descents and long steep hikes. I did very little high intensity training this year, instead working on keeping my HR low. I like the Maffetone principle, and aside from my races, 95% of my training has been done around my MAF heart rate.

Pre-race interview

Pre-race interview

With George and Albert before the start. Top crew

With George and Albert before the start. Top crew

After the national anthems, and a brief countdown, we are off. It’s 10am and the temperature is pleasant. The pace is slow, ridiculously slow. Obviously we are all daunted by the task ahead. Seth Swanson is the race favorite, with a second place at Western States to his credit this year. Gary Robbins, Matt Hart, Steve Moore are all fast guys with experience, and together with a few others we split from the rest of the 170 starters. I actually question whether I want to be with these guys, but the mood and pace are so relaxed in the early miles, it seems fine. There is a lot of good banter in the early miles. Gary leads the talk. Matt is fresh off a win at the Transrockies run in Colorado. Gary is the multiple time Hurt 100 champ. Steve is a bit of a legend in Texas. I recall racing him in Bandera. The last time I saw him he was vomiting on the final climb at Bandera after taking 2 shots of bourbon at an aid station! A skinny guy called Gabe looks good. And the Easton high school cross country coach, Jeff Hashimoto, looks fresh, fit and lean. I don’t talk much; talking takes energy I tell myself, but Gary pumps me up in the group, mentioning my Canmore quad exploits. In this company, though, I feel a bit out of place.

The start

The start

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Soon the chat settles to be replaced by heavier breathing as we climb up towards the first summit. It’s getting warm, but there is a lot of shade in the forested sections. We run most of the initial climb, but I power hike the steeper sections, remembering my game plan. I find that I am hiking almost as fast as those running. As we hit the first water station, Seth and Matt take off ahead of us. I suspect that’s the last I’ll see of them. Gary is behind me, but he seems to be running faster on the small descents along the ridges, and after a few minutes I sense he wants to go with the leaders so I let him by. And Gary is gone. I run with Gabe for a while, and then I am alone. I feel good. The views and the trail are beautiful. I eat a gel or some Heinz baby food every 20-30 minutes. I drink often.

At around mile 16, I see Gary ahead walking. I am quickly behind him, and after a few minutes, Gary pulls aside. He is moving slowly, hands on knees. He wishes me luck, says he’s cramping and feels terrible. And so I drop into the Tacoma Pass Aid station (mile 23) in 3rd place. Crew chief, Saira (my wife) looks concerned and tells me to slow down. She has seen me blow up spectacularly in races before. To be ahead of Gary Robbins so early seems unwise. I reassure her. My kids, of course, love that I’m in third place. I reassure Saira that I’m going easy, but I second guess my pace briefly.  Maybe I am pushing? In fact, I feel like the pace has been very, very conservative, and this is exactly what I wanted, but the early miles of a hundred mile race always feel easy. I make a conscious decision to back off more.

Crew chief Saira and pacer '@adventuresimon' Simon Donato of Boundless TV fame.

Crew chief Saira and pacer '@adventuresimon' Simon Donato of Boundless TV fame.

Soon I am on my way. The beautful forested single track climbs of the Pacific Crest Trail soon give way to a long dusty road descent. This is a quick section but I hold back. I  see Matt Hart in the distance, moving away from me, much further down the trail. He looks to be flying. I won’t chase him - plenty of time for that later. Soon we are climbing up hot and dusty singletrack again. It feels like we are in the hottest part of the day. I drink lots and continue on my 200-300 calories per hour regime. So far, my legs feel good, my breathing is very easy and my stomach is cast-iron.

Eventually, I see Matt just ahead of me. Whilst I am power hiking the steeper climbs, Matt seems to be running everything. It’s impressive and he says he feels great but he doesn’t gain on me despite this tactic. I remember making the decision to run behind him for a while. We run together and the miles tick by quickly. We don’t talk much, each of us is managing our effort. I feel slightly guilty sitting behind Matt, a bit like a wheel-sucker on the bike, but he doesn’t seem to object.

Stuffing my face in the early miles

Stuffing my face in the early miles

The trail is incredibly beautiful, as the singletrack winds around lakes and across talus slopes. It’s as gorgeous a trail as I’ve ever run. Then we are dropping down a long steep descent to the ropes and tunnel section. The trail down to the old railroad tunnel is loose and direct. Ropes have been set up to aid us down the tricky decsent. I almost burn my hands as I fly down quickly. I passed Matt at the start of the descent, and now he is nowhere to be seen. As I hit the 2 mile long dark tunnel, I switch on my headlamp and stretch the legs. It seems never ending, and I glance back as I near the exit and see lights not far behind. I run quickly into the Hyak aid station (mile 53) in second place. As my crew and Simon Donato, my pacer for the next 47 miles, ready my gear for the night section and I gulp down some food, Matt and Jeff Hashimoto arrive. Jeff has crept up on us and looks good. It’s a fairly quick stop, maybe 4 or 5 minutes then I’m off with Simon. We run on pavement for a few miles, and Jeff passes easily. He is looking strong, and is obviously enjoying the road section. In the fading light we climb a long road. I continue to hike the steeper sections, and Jeff is not far ahead, but soon he is gone as we power on our headlamps, and we don’t see him again. 

Ultrapedestrian Ras heading up the aid station at Meadow Mountain

Ultrapedestrian Ras heading up the aid station at Meadow Mountain


The cold night air seems to be settling in small dips and troughs, and every time we drop the temperature cools significantly. Damp grass soaks our legs, but my feet and socks remain dry, and remarkably blister free. My morale is good as my legs remain spritely and the technical rooty trails seem to bring relief after sections of gravel road. We are soon on the infamous ‘Trail from Hell’! We are moving quickly along this very technical trail. It’s a 4 mile section, and there are numerous steep ups and downs. We traverse across steep rocky off-camber slabs. I don’t look down much but I get the impression it’s a long way down and a fall would be disastrous! Suddenly, lights are upon us and Gary and his pacer are right on our tails. They are absolutely booking it! They fly by us and I am now in fourth place.

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Gary is grunting hard, the hammer fully down! ‘Wow Simon, they are moving fast!’ I later learn their tactic was to intimidate us with their speed, and it works. Gary tells me later that they watched our lights for a long time, and he realised we were running a lot of the climbs, which encouraged him to keep the pace high. Still, if you’d told me that Gary Robbins would only catch me at 70 miles, I’d have taken it! I realise I am having the race of a lifetime, and I consciously keep knocking back gels, sometimes 2 at a time.

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We soon arrive to our crew at Meadow Mountain (mile 73). My kids tell me that Gary looked terrible a few minutes earlier, shivering uncontrollably; they encourage me to chase him, but I suspect he will finish strong, especially knowing how fast he blew by me a few miles back. The temperature is dropping now, and I put on a lightweight shell, and knock back a coffee. Saira has a jetboil stove to heat soup and water; its a definite boost to gulp down some warm fluid. 

We leave the aid station, and climb to No Name Ridge. Its 7 miles with 3000 feet of climbing. I continue to feel good, awaiting the inevitable crash, but it never comes. The gels are still going down well, especially the strawberry GU Roctanes. I have continued to eat Heinz baby food, which is going down a treat, as are some packs of squeezable Mamma Chia! I stick with water in my soft flasks, and drink coke and soup at aid stations. The aid stations are certainly entertaining, especially the Hooters themed aid, where I am flashed by a well endowed volunteer! Simon vows to return when it gets light, to promises of bikini clad girls. It’s all a bit surreal.

In no time at all we are hiking the infamous Cardiac Needles. The stars are out and I can vaguely make out the terrain. I am sure this would be spectacular in the daylight. The initial climb is a grunt. For the first time all day I ask Simon to give me a moment at the top, as I am breathing hard, hands on knees. The effort is telling now, but I know that soon the climbing will be over. The out and back climb at Thorp Mountain is also desperate, this far into the race, but as we near the top, and the turnaround, Gary and his pacer fly by on their way back down. They are still moving well, and they shout encouragement to us, but they are maybe only 10 minutes ahead. My competitive spirit is reignited, and the remaining needles fly by.The pace is great as we clear the needles and the trail is mostly flat or gradual descending. Simon runs a few metres ahead of me and does a stellar job keeping me moving quickly and on course. The last of the hard climbs are done; everything has gone to plan.

Soon we begin the long drop towards Easton. It seems to drag by, and for the first time in the race I feel mentaly ready to be done. The trail is steep and loose. It is technical and I almost stumble headlong down a rocky drop as I catch my foot on a rock. I back off the pace a little and make a mental note not to crash and burn now. Simon begins to whoop as he sees lights ahead and we drop into the final aid station. It’s now an easy 5 miles to the finish. Saira and George are there at the Silver Creek aid, and they give me the splits. I won’t catch Gary or Jeff, and Matt is an hour back. We can relax a little. Barring disaster I’ll be fourth, and better than that I’ll annihilate my previous best 100 mile time! 19 hours is within reach. 

George is keen to run me in with Simon, and he has his headlamp on and looks ready to go! At age 14, this is a great adventure for him, running at 4am in the mountains! Saira is worried about my headlamp battery and gives me a backup. It’s a good job as my lamp dies a mile later. 

As we leave the final aid station, George comments on how well Simon and I are moving are moving 95 miles in; less than an hour later we cross the finish line.  No drama. No big fanfare. 19 hours and nine minutes. Redemption. I finally nailed that hundred miler.

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Seth Swanson won the race and in the process broke the course record in a time of 17 hours and 56 minutes. Local XC coach Jeff Hashimoto ran to a stellar second place, in 18 hours and 44 minutes, and Gary Robbins was third in 18 hours and 54 minutes. In the end I was 15 minutes back of Gary. Matt finished almost an hour behind me.

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So what was the secret sauce this time?

Who knows, it;s more of an art than a science, but I believe that lots of rest, minimal running in the 2 week taper, tons of sleep, and keeping the pace super easy early on were probably the ingredients for a good finish. Staying on schedule with drinking and eating 2-3 times per hour kept me well hydrated and fueled through the whole race. I managed 200-300 calories per hour. A good dose of Oregon micro-brews probably helped too.

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Additional comments:

Shoes: Salomon Sense Ultra SG - no blisters or hot spots
Clothing: Salomon

Lamp: Petzl Nao

Best food: Heinz baby food and Mamma Chia squeezables; Saira’s Wonder bread, butter, jam sandwiches; Strawberry GU Roctane

Compression for recovery: Compressport

Post Race Nutrition: Easton Fire Service BBQ and beer from random finishers!

Best Aid Station: Hooters and the High School XC team

Thanks to: Salomon Canada, Suunto and Compressport for the tools to do this daft sport. Thanks to Muscle Milk Alberta for the recovery nutrition.
Special thanks to Crew Chief and number one supporter Saira Reed for keeping me honest, to aid station crew Albert and George Reed for the never ending enthusiasm, and to pacers Simon Donato and George Reed, for getting me to the finish.

Oregon micro-brews - the secret to success?

Oregon micro-brews - the secret to success?

Final results. Old school. 

Final results. Old school. 

 

 

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