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Sun Mountain 50m 2014.

“If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research.” — Albert Einstein

 Even though I really wanted some solid redemption (which was ultimately achieved) from last year’s battle, this year I was there to conduct a little research, collect some data, and figure out what modifications I need to make as I progress my training for Fat Dog 120. Even my taper was experimental. Sure, I had some lofty goals that I figured I could hit if I had a great day but this day my major focus was the journey not the destination. I knew it was going to be a hot day and I came prepared with all the tricks I had picked up from Western States last year.

runninguptomi25

Photo credit: Jay Klassen

The race started and the plan was to lay low for the first hour or so then start slowly kicking in to gear. On top of trying to save my legs for later I was also trying to take in more calories than I ever have before during a race (or a training run for that matter). I had my doubts about how I would be able to stomach them (hah!) when the heat turned on. I was relaxed and slowly ramping up my efforts when I began the long gravel road climb to the halfway aid station. This is where the cool light breeze that was helping me all morning disappeared and was replaced with the morning sigh of Satan. Whisps of heat would surround me for moments then I would run through the quick respite of a shadow from a tree. I love those trees. I have pinpointed this moment as to what caused me problems later on. Because I was focusing on keeping a solid pace in the ever increasing heat, my calorie intake began to dwindle. When I begin to heat up, I find it really difficult to eat or drink. I thought I was getting really close to the aid station so I decided to hold off on taking a gel at the risk of having it come immediately back up. Unfortunately, I underestimated how much further I had to go and every time I told myself it was time to eat, I brushed it aside that I was so close to getting water thrown on me to cool down and then I would eat.

eat all the gels

Photo credit: Jay Klassen

I made it to the AS and the volunteer dumped the entire jug of water on me as I began to down gels and shots of cola. I knew the next section was going to be hotter but also had some fun downhills. At this point a lot of the 50km runners were starting to show up. I got lost in the fun of descending and realized I was passing a lot of people; that is, until the trail turned and went up another steep hot climb. I went back to my chug-a-long pace and was greeted with many compliments on my downhill speed and fluidity from some 50km racers charging up the hill.

I kept a steady pace and made my way up the hot climb to the Sun Mountain Lodge. Again, the heat pressed down on me and taking in calories was tough. At the top I saw Julie, who had taken me out on my very first trail run back in 2009 with our mutual friend, Ruari. After a quick catch-up and a hug I was off in search of the water station. It was just a drinking fountain beside a tennis court, BUT it had a spout off the side for filling dog bowls, attaching a hose, etc. I sat underneath it and turned the handle. The cold water immediately started working its magic on me.

sunmtn4

Photo credit: Jay Klassen

Heading down to the last AS, the heat overtook the chill from the water at the tennis courts and brought me to a halt. I did not want to be walking any of this but I had zero energy left. The caloric deficit was finally sinking in and I knew what I had to do. I immediately ate a couple gels and some nut butter and continued walking a little bit more to wash it all down and make sure it stayed put. Once I finally made it to the AS I had to sit in the shade, pour more water over me and devour some watermelon.

sunmtn5

Photo credit: Jay Klassen

The final climb was not that bad, but my full stomach in the heat was not a fun combination to try to push uphill. Once on the ridge, clouds came. Sweet, fluffy, glorious clouds. And wind. The chill in the air wrapped itself around me like a hug from an old friend. I was back. Revitalized. Jonathan and Darnelle were at the turnaround, gave me some gummies and told me that the total run time was 7:45. Knowing I had missed my lofty goal of 7:30, I decided I would try my hardest to finish in under 8:30.

I took off, aided by my iPod (on random) playing the best possible songs to hammer out a finish.

Outkast – “Rosa Parks”

Woodkid – “Run Boy Run”

Muse – “Supremacy”

The Human Abstract – “Faust”

 

Crossing the finish line, I gave RD James Varner a hug and was greeted by many familiar faces; my trail running family.

I was able to finish in 8:14:36, a PR for a 50 miler and a PB on the Sun Mountain course. The experiments went well. I did not trash my legs. I did not have to suffer or knock on the door of the dark place.

It was not a perfect race. I made mistakes, but that’s what I went there to do.

Awesome jobs and wise decisions were made by all my friends.

 

Keep moving.

Josh.

The Light That Hides In The Darkness.

If you have ever run an ultra, especially those of us who have journeyed into the 100 mile distance,  you probably know where this is going. Everyone always talks about having to go to ‘that dark place’ sometimes in a race but few divulge much more. One of my favorite bands, Anberlin, has an album titled “Dark is the way, Light is a place.” It accurately describes the process we go through when we have to pretty much dissociate to make it past a difficult time. We mentally prepare for it by coming up with mantras, relying on specific memories, or having a friend along to pull us back out and keep us moving forward and stay grounded. It has been my experience that the deeper I have had to sink into the darkness to push through, the brighter a light is found. I think most of us have stories and images conjure up that would probably have not crossed out minds otherwise.

My parents recently made the decision to come up from Louisiana to support me at Fat Dog 120 miler this August. I am so excited to be able to share this aspect of my life with them. They were the ones that instilled in me a sense of adventure and appreciation for being rooted in nature. Louisiana is a wild place. Your personal space is constantly invaded by nature be it Spanish moss tickling your face, bugs and snakes seeking solace from the suffocating heat, close encounters with a variety of curious beasts, or the unbridled power of a storm. You learn quickly that scary or uncomfortable situations can be thrown at you in a moments notice leaving you with two choices: fear or acceptance.

Louisiana

Throughout most of my longer races, my mind has utilized many different memories to keep my body going. I will share two of them.

I like all ultras, but I feel that the 100 mile distance is the true ultra. It is an unfathomable distance to run for most everyone not in our community and generally requires running through the night. The cumulative factors of not being able to stop moving coupled with the sometimes disorientation that comes along with the night portion give these events a mysterious and attractive persona. One of my favorite times during a 100-miler is seeing the first rays of sunshine after running through the night, quickly followed by getting to remove my headlamp. Those last few hours of having to continue through the dark always make me think of my dad. He loves to go fishing. Many a weekend morning we would wake up before the sun had risen to be putting the boat in the water as the sun was rising. There was a calmness. The smell of my dad’s coffee. The cool, crisp air at the first light of morning. The gentle stirring of all the bayou creatures waking. Admittedly I did not always want to go or to be there, especially on the hot days. However, I always hold fond memories.

If you have never been to the deep south in the summer, you do not understand the term “oppressive heat.”  The availability to escape into air-conditioned areas for exercise is fairly low, forcing people to do walks around the mall. Not a fan of the crowds, my mom would always go walking at the local university’s coliseum. It was not massive so longer walks would go by in a dizzying fashion. As a kid though, those were times to chat and hold my mom’s hand as we walked around and around and around. Many-a-time in my 100′s, something has forced me to a walking pace. The circumstances making me walk can be anything from dehydration, hot hot heat, or hitting a caloric low. Whatever the reason, my mind always jets back to Louisiana, holding my mom’s hand as we circle the air-conditioned hallway of that coliseum.

Now that training and crew plans are solidifying for Fat Dog, I cannot express how much it will mean to have my parents with me. Fat Dog will undoubtedly push me beyond my limits. I am already dreaming of watching that sunrise with my dad at an aid station, drinking some coffee and breathing in the early morning mountain air. And of holding my mom’s hand as she walks me out of an aid station to the next section of the race.

Keep moving.

Josh.

Diez Vista 50k 2014.

Alternate titles:

(1) How to succeed in suffering and solitude.

(2) What not to do in shorter races.

(3) Carry inspiration with you.

(4) Let it be. Blame it on the boogie.

 

“If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Churchill.

 

To say I was disappointed with a seemingly good result at this year’s Diez Vista is valid. I was not able to capitalize on what I know my current level of fitness is capable of doing. Now that I have had some time to step back and begin to learn lessons from the deep dark pits I visited, I am no longer upset that one of my two “A” races for the year was a bit of a wash. I went in with a very specific time goal and no idea/care where that time would put me placing-wise given the incredible field this year.

I was chomping at the bits to get going on race day. I adore early season Pacific Northwest races. You are almost guaranteed rain and for certain overcast — my favorite weather conditions for both running and life — which allows an opportunity for those of us prone to wear a lot of black and not melt (ahem, 2013 Western States and your insane heat). I came in to Diez fully rested and with a solid race plan. Little did I know that the elusive perfect race we all seek would not be found. I did know going in that I was there to push myself harder and further than I had in a race before. Coming off of almost 6 months of varying degrees of injuries (receiving treatments for nagging issues as late as mid-Feb), I was unsure if my body could even handle what I wanted to do to it. When I know I’ll be heading for a good day of pain, I like to keep perspective. I think it’s important for me to remember that I choose this sport; I have the good fortune of getting that choice. One piece (and the only non-black item on me for the day) was a blue piece of tape around my thumb. I wanted to remember my sister’s newly acquired nephews. These twin boys are the some of the most inspiring kids/people you will meet. Luke and Ben. Ben was born with cerebral paulsy and loves to run. In fact, he won his age group in a race last year (he’s 5 by the way)! He’s recently had surgery and is able to walk up a storm now.

Photo credit: Jay Klassen

Photo credit: Jay Klassen

I was off and running comfortably for first chunk of the course. I ran with Chris (who ended up placing second) for the descent off the ridge then tucked back in to my steady pace for the west side of Buntzen lake, letting him and Jason (3rd place) go ahead. I rolled in to the halfway point aid station feeling incredible. My watch died a few days before the race so I was running blind on time points and heart rate. I also barely ran with anyone for almost the entirety of the race so I know my pace was all over the place (wow there’s a lot of rhyming going on there). I felt like I had not really started working yet. The volunteers at the aid station told me I was less than 2 minutes behind Chris and Jason. This fit perfectly in my plan to blast the east portion of the lake trail. It was hunting time and this dog caught a scent. I made it quite a ways before I could barely hear the next round of cheers from the previous aid station. I knew I had a good lead on whoever was behind me and with the speed I was throwing down, I was positive I would put even more of a gap.

And then, it hit.

My core cramped up. At first I could not take a deep breath. This was not a side pain or my stomach failing me. This was my abs deciding they did not want to play anymore. Immediately my 100-mile mind went to “oh cramps? I need to eat.” So I threw back a couple gels and most of a packet of chews, not remembering that (a) all of my long run training to this point was done with almost only water and (b) I was NOT in a 100-miler where the body has enough blood/time to properly digest. My quick-fix plus an inability to give up on the hunt gave me some pretty incredible nausea that never went away the rest of the race. I was gutted. I knew at that point I would not be able to achieve my time goal and had to make the unfortunate mental switch from “yay party on the trails” to “ok how quickly can I get this done so I can sit or vomit or both.”

Here are the big take-aways:

  • I finished. 5:04 for 8th overall and 3rd male 30-39. That is 5 minutes faster than last year. So given the day I had, I am pleased to have improved, even though I do not feel I had the opportunity to push my current level of fitness.
  • Not a single injury I have dealt with resurfaced. That alone is better than hitting any time goal.
  • I made some rad new friends and am excited to hit the trails with them soon, sans cramping.
  • I somehow convinced a co-worker to sign up for Diez as his first ever ultra. He not only demolished it but is ready to do more!
  • I apparently am horrendous at faking that I am not in the pain cave. I am so grateful to all the other runners and volunteers who were cheerful and smiled when I could not. Sorry for just grunting. But hey, at least I didn’t throw up on you.
  • I got a super sweet 2014 DV50 beer stein that was taken out to my local watering hole that night. We also received electric orange arm warmers which are totally rad.
Wow Ed!

Wow Ed!

dv50 stein

Keep moving.

Josh.

Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest.

Josh Inov-8 vest

In my dealings with anything Inov-8, it is generally a love-at-first-sight scenario and the Race Ultra vest was no different. In this vest they have created what I believe to be the best race vest. I would have said best minimal race vest, but in a race your vest should be minimal. Race directors and volunteers spend hours planning and standing around in sometimes inclement weather just so you don’t have to lug around the kitchen sink, which I hear might fit in the new Salomon vests,  which are great…if you are doing a self-supported 100 miler. (I realize most of those are designed to meet specs of races like UTMB. The Inov-8 Race Ultra vest will meet those as well.)

Overall this vest is about accessibility and customizability. One of the most amazing features (or non-feature) are the zippers. There are no zippers. This not only makes the pack sleek, it gives it an incredible amount of ease in accessing the pockets. And speaking of pockets there are three different sizes per side. There is also a large mesh pocket on the back for extra clothing, etc. Since there are no zippers it is open and super quick and easy to access. I am not at a particularly high volume of training right now however I can already see how I would be able to way more than I would ever need for any race from a 50k to a 100 (or 120) miler. Just don’t do what I did and put a phone in the bottle pockets. You will be hoping for a nice stranger on the trail to pick it up and a lollipop route for the day.

Vest front

Vest back

The options for hydration are outstanding. Placed further down and more on the side, the bottles are form fitting and do not bounce around. I was a huge fan of the UD vests that allowed front access bottles, however, I kept having the cinches break on me mid-race leaving bottles to bounce around and go rogue at will. There is also a bladder with an insulated sleeve for those incredibly long sections in a race or long training run. This brings me to a minor negative about this vest. The bottles are quite essential for the overall effect. I cannot imagine I will be using a traditional bottle with it anytime soon.

Bottles

Bladder and pouch

Bladder hose and pouch secure

The mesh material is light and helps with the vest conforming to your body. In my run commutes to work, sans bladder and bottles, I barely notice that I am even wearing the vest. It is simply the best fitting vest I have tried and does not bounce around.

The chest strap fasteners on the front are not initially intuitive, at least not to me. After realizing the method, I feel it is the most innovative (hah!) in vests – easy in any weather condition, with or without gloves. The chest straps have 3 locations for placement to give you the perfect fit.

Strap fastener

Hopefully you will find the Inov-8 Race Ultra vest as phenomenal as I have. It will for sure be used for all my races this year.

Now to wait for the UltraRoc’s to find their way onto my feet…

Keep moving.

Josh.

2014. Here we go.

I am extremely excited about my 2014 race calendar. I spent a long time mulling over possibilities, timings, and overall fun impact. I have also decided to stay local this year. There are so many places I have yet to run because of a hefty race/travel schedule and I am excited that I get to discover more of where I am fortunate enough to live and train.

There is one focus this year — Fat Dog. It has been a while since I have been nervous about a race. I will have the opportunity to push myself past the 100 mile mark and experience incredibly scenic views along the way. Most of the people I am fortunate enough to call both friends and training partners are also running it, or part of it. Fat Dog has the biggest fun impact in my racing yet.

Cap Crusher 13km – March 23, 2014 (link)

Diez Vista 50km – April 5, 2014 (link)

Sun Mountain 50m – May 18, 2014 (link)

Survival of the Fittest 18km – May 31, 2014 (link)

Trailstoke 60km – July 19, 2014 (link)

Fat Dog 120m — August 15-17, 2014 (link)

Never stop.

Josh.

Cascade Crest 100 2013.

“This is bad.  You’ve lost multiple layers of skin. It’s your call but to continue will cause serious damage and take a LONG time to heal” said that EMT as I lay shivering on a cot, somewhere between disbelief and joy. The last 15 minutes were spent shaking from the cold and writhing in pain with every touch on my heel in attempts to get it cleaned from hours of grinding dirt into an open wound. As glad as I was to no longer have to wince with every foot strike, to no longer worry about the damage I was doing by an altered gait, I was disappointed to not be able to finish well the race I had waited so long to give my all.

Even though I had to end my 2013 Cascade Crest experience after 67 miles, I do feel I gave it my all. This one event will not define me as a person or a runner. My crew and I did all we were able to do to mitigate the unfortunate circumstance in which I found myself. I continued to push until it was unbearable and unwise. The mental drain of feeling every footfall for over 60 miles had taken its toll on my mind’s ability to send pain elsewhere.

If you want a rundown of the Cascade Crest 100 course, you can see my race report from 2011. I will say that the highlights again were the peirogis from Scott McCoubrey’s AS at mile 47, descending the ropes section, and of course running through the tunnel – a Cascade Crest signature.

Now my 2013 season is over. I will have the opportunity to give back to my amazing crew by supporting them at their first 100-miler in September.

I am beyond fortunate that I did not get injured and the worst of my ailments is a tender heel for a little while. I will take with me the lessons learned and apply them as I begin to vigorously return to training this fall. I am so excited to see what 2014 will hold.

Thank you all for your continuing support and encouragement.

Keep moving…but stop if you must.

Josh.

White River 50 2013.

Since this was my 4th year participating in White River 50, I had zero expectations. Even though there is generally some underlying pressure to ‘do well’ or prove myself as faster than the previous year’s attempt, I did not have that weighing on me this year. I was still recovering from Western States and was questioning at what point my endurance would just stop. Those of you who have run a longer race will know what I mean. Putting a tough effort both physically and mentally, then trying to go out on a typical training run only to find yourself bottoming out quite early on.

I went in to White River this year with only a few rules for myself. Firstly, and most importantly, was do not push hard…at all. This was reiterated chatting with friends prior to the event.  I have not really put my body through anything like this before and I honestly did not want to place myself in a position for lots of recovery with Cascade Crest 100 quickly approaching. Secondly, I wanted to smile. Honestly, I did not do as much smiling as I would’ve liked to as Western States and I needed to rejuvenate my mind for Cascade Crest.

So how did I do? I finished in my second slowest time ever on the course and a huge smile on my face. I had the most fun I’ve had on the course yet. Yes my legs were still screaming at me for what I put them through at Western States but my endurance never quit on me.

While this was not a finish time I am excited about, I am so happy I had a great time and finished. Overall the experience of the weekend with my friends was amazing and exactly what I needed.

JBWR502013

Cascade Crest, I’m coming for ya.

Josh.

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