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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.

Western States 2013.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

With three years of build up to being on the list of runners for the Western States Endurance Run, it was hard not to be thrilled to head to Squaw Valley. The starting line has been engrained in my mind for years ever since I saw this video, which was the video that really got me in to trail/ultrarunning. I never thought I would ever run a 100-miler, much less be at Western States, the event about which I had read and heard so much. Yet here I stood at the threshold of another incredible experience at the most prestigious event.

WSER start line.

The day before registration, a group of runners, their families and crew gather to hike the climb up the Escarpment. I was thrilled to get my first taste of the course since I had not made the trip down for the course preview runs. The day was warm but not the scorching heat that we had been told awaited us race day. It was a great hike up getting to see all the way to Lake Tahoe and having good chats with others regarding my race strategy. Atop the Escarpment we gathered to remember. We gave silence to runners lost over the last year, for Boston, and stories were shared. We remembered the history of the trail and this race.

Brad ascending the first climb.

Group hike.

with Ellie overlooking WS100 course.

The anticipation and excitement continued to build as registration day hit. Everyone was now in town and it was fantastic to see everyone in this place all bustling with ultra energy. I handed over my drop bags, which is always relieving, and then went for the medical check-in and swag pick-up. As soon as the yellow band was around my wrist the reality hit that I was doing another 100-miler. The questions began swirling in my head. Was I really ready? Could I really do what I was hoping? Would this hurt as bad as I remember?

The biggest talk before the race was around the weather. It was going to be a hot year. It ended up being the 2nd hottest year in the race’s 40 year history! There were multiple instances where advice was given either from veteran runners or medical staff for us to wear white. Those of you that know me know that I do not own white. Finally, with help from Brad, I decided to go buy a white shirt. There is one store suitable for this in Squaw Valley, a North Face store. Apparently a lot of people needed a white shirt because there were many of us in the same shirt at the start line.

Before the race begins, early in the dark still of the morning, a fire pit roars near the start line. All the runners are getting final medical check-ins and race bibs. Standing at the start of a 100-miler is one of my favorite places ever. Everyone is excited and nervous, regardless if they are running or not. Everyone stands as equals, ready to take on whatever the day will bring. I had my plan and I was ready to see what the day would hold and go from there.

Start to Robinson Flat (~mile 30)

It was incredible ascending the road to the Escarpment. I felt like I did well and made good time all while keeping in a really low gear. After that climb the trail becomes blastingly fast. I took a short moment to take in the sun rising over Lake Tahoe and then set out to do what I came for…run fast, but smart. About 45 minutes into this section I began having similar altitude symptoms as I did at Wasatch. This was perplexing since the course tops out at around 8500ft and I thought I would be fine. My tightened core and perpetually dry mouth suggested otherwise. Since I knew the course eventually descends quite dramatically I dropped in to a lower gear knowing I was still in good shape. I had been running with Nicola, one of my friends and training buddies in Vancouver, but she pounced on the course and I saw her fly off with the rest of the top ladies.

I nestled in to a nice easy groove in hopes the altitude would soon release me from its grip. As I rolled in to Red Star Ridge (mile 16) I took some time to removed some rocks from my shoes, grabbed my ipod and off I went down a great piece of trail, which was quickly escalating in temperature. There was a creek at the bottom and I laid down in it to try to keep cool. I came in to the Robinson Flat AS a mere 10 minutes off my ‘fast’ schedule and I was still feeling underworked. At the weigh-in I was still within 3% of my starting weight. I finally got to see Brad (and the massive crowd of cheering people), refueled and off I went. About 10 minutes later I realized I had forgotten my handheld bottle which I was using to douse my face when it felt like I was breathing in front of a hair dryer. I took advice I had heard earlier in the week and didn’t panic, even though I was facing a 6 mile section on completely exposed trail.

WS100-1

Robinson Flat to Michigan Bluff (~mile 55)

Since I had no way of externally cooling myself down, I took a quick assessment of the time and told myself I would slowly run/fast walk this section in fear of getting too dehydrated. It was a tough mental blow but I was nervous of the effects blasting this section would cause me later on in the day. In the last few miles before the Miller’s Defeat AS (mile 35) a fellow runner informed me that I could ask the volunteers if anyone had a spare handheld. So I did. One of the volunteers, Steve, ran out to his car to get his for me and hand it over with the caveat that I would finish. I promised him I would and thanked him profusely!

Because the heat was continuing to increase, my core was still not loosening up. Thankfully the elevation was dropping and I was able to get rid of the cotton mouth. However, the heat was making it difficult to take solid foods and gels. I stuck with my gel slurry, Sprite, and water. I downed as much as I could at the aid station and darted off towards Last Chance and the canyons. This section of trail was incredibly fun. I decided it was time to stretch my legs out and take it pretty fast. I passed a lot of people. Honestly, I was probably running a lot faster than I should have but (1) I was in the shade finally and (2) I had a bottle full of ice water.

A little more than a quarter mile from the Last Chance AS I stopped to pee to make room for the upcoming extra liquid calorie intake and I saw blood. Yes, I was pissing blood and freaking out. I could not understand how because I thought this happened when people were way dehydrated or in pretty bad shape. I felt phenomenal and still well within 3% of my starting weight. I walked the rest of the way to the aid station trying to calm myself down. I decided that I would sit in the shade for no less than 20 minutes after being doused with ice water. I would take time to eat some solid food in my cooled down state and let it settle. The aid station looked like a scene from a war zone. People strewn about, vomiting everywhere or passed out. I tucked myself away in a far corner, alone in the shade. As I was sitting the medical crews that were running from aid station to aid station to check on people in the course arrived.

I waved down the medical staff and chatted with them a bit about what had just happened. They told me that I was the most coherent person they had spoken with in hours and felt I was fine, especially with my weigh-ins. One of the guys told me that having blood in my urine was fairly normal and more than likely due to running hard on a full bladder. “Well that would definitely make sense,” I thought, but it was still something new and something I did not want to mess with. I would rather not trade in my race bracelet for an ER one and as much as I want to ride in a helicopter, I did not want it to be from the bottom of a canyon in the California wilderness. They told me to keep going, but take it easy and keep drinking and it should clear up soon. I left the aid station, relinquishing my sub-24 hour goal and wondering if I would make it out of the canyons alive.

The canyons were hot. The exact temperature changes with the source but everyone had numbers from 115-120F (~46C). At one of the aid stations I was told their thermometer in the shade was reading 97F. I was trying to think cool thoughts and imagine myself running through snow with every douse of ice water.

Snow dog.

The descent from Last Chance ended with a nice long soak in a creek. It was incredible to see so many runners divert off the trail to come get fully submerged in the cool flowing waters for a couple minutes. The climb up to Devils Thumb was actually enjoyable. It was vaguely familiar to a popular hike in Vancouver that I frequent, albeit at significantly lower temperatures. I kept taking my time and trying not to stress out from seeing red earlier.

I eventually got within a mile of Michigan Bluff and I hear “there’s the metal head” from a very familiar voice. It was Dave! Dave?! What’s he doing here? Isn’t he supposed to be getting ready to pace Nicola. On the walk in to Michigan Bluff I was informed that Nicola had dropped. Should I drop too? Maybe. I weighed in, still within 3% of my start weight. I was guided to where Brad (and now Peter, Nicola and Dave) was and I collapsed. The sight of my friends brought out all the emotion I was trying to suppress and I had a good cry for the better part of 10 minutes. Dave tried to loosen up my core and back while Brad worked on restoring my quickly deteriorating mind. I do not know how long I stayed on the ground and then in a chair, but it was significant. I eventually got up and flipped my mental switch: if I couldn’t finish in under 24 hours anymore, I was still going to finish. I came to Western to push myself further, to suffer.

Michigan Bluff to Forest Hill (mile 62)

Over the next 7 miles I mainly focused on reorienting my mind and getting in survival mode to finish out the race regardless of all the emotional turmoil I had just been through. I walked a significant portion of this which was frustrating since it was just a moderately rolling wide dirt road. Thankfully Dave met me at the Bath Road AS and walked me in to Forest Hill with his headlamp as night was suddenly upon me and all my lights were in my bag at Forest Hill. I had not planned on being so far behind schedule.

As I came in to Forest Hill I got to meet Mike, my pacer, for the first time. Even though he knew I was in bad shape he was very positive and ready to get me going towards the finish line. After a little downtime in the grass, it was time to see what gains I could make through the night, hoping the cooler weather would energize me.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” — Walter Elliot

Forest Hill to Green Gate (mile 79.8)

It was finally dark but there was not much relief from the heat. While the temperatures had indeed fallen below 100F, it was still near 80F which is hotter than it has gotten in Vancouver in 2013. I never thought I would be dumping ice water on me during the night portion of a mountain run but here I was trying to stay cool as the stars and moon became visible. In comparison, at Wasatch, I was shivering in 3 layers of clothes and 2 pairs of gloves. As I continued to move forward, I began to feel better and better. I was finding myself running more and able to have conversation with Mike, more than the one or two-syllable grunts he got when we were first getting going. I am super thankful I had a pacer with such stellar knowledge of the course. He helped break down the sections in to easily digestible morsels of trail for my legs to devour.

As we made our way down the stairs to the river crossing, the AS volunteers were cheering loudly, already congratulating me as a finisher of Western States. I was quick to be thankful but also had to remind myself I still had another 20 miles to go. If I hit another low, I knew I would not finish.

The river crossing is one of the signature pieces of Western States. It is definitely one of the neatest experiences in any ultra I have done. The rope is dotted with volunteers in wet-suits and sunken glow sticks rest near areas of tricky footing. At one point the river goes from your calves to above your waste in a single step over a large rock. A nice older lady was standing at this spot and I told her “I apologize in advance if I scream in your face.” I turned my head and let out a great “whooooo” as the cold river water rushed all over me.

WS100-2

WS100-3

After crossing I started power hiking up to Green Gate, a 1.8 mile fairly steep dirt road. I passed quite a few people in my eagerness to switch into my fresh socks and shoes Brad had for me at the AS. I made a quick change, then got some fresh batteries from the volutneers for my headlamp and we made our way out. By the time I made it a couple hundred feet to the AS exit, my headlamp was dead. The volunteer had mistakenly given me batteries from the wrong bin. Fresh batteries in, Mike and I made our way, my legs tired but ready to go after the invigorating American River.

Green Gate to Finish (mile 100.2)

The rest of the night section I shuffled and ran where I could. As the sun began to rise over the mountains I was struck with sadness knowing I wanted to be sitting, uncomfortably, at the finish line by now. But that was not my race this day. I came back to the reality of the moment and began to push hard. I was passing lots of people and Mike was giddy exclaiming in the 5 years of him pacing this was the first time he had ever gotten to run these trails. I was finally in full form and we were having great conversation and moving well. As we neared Highway 49, the heat began to creep back. It was just after daybreak and it was already sweltering. At No Hands Bridge I got a nice ice packet to put around my neck for the final climb to Robie Point. Once I hit the road we ran. I am sure it was an awkward slow shuffle jog, but it felt like I was pushing it. Everything hurt. I was getting the deep 100-mile pain I came for, just not the finish time…and that’s ok. I had endured the 2nd hottest Western States in its 40 year history and shown myself I am way tougher than I thought.

The finish of Western States is spectacular. Having spent the majority of the last 28+hrs alone, there were crowds of people and familiar faces all cheering for my approach to the finish.

WS100-4

WS100-5

WS100-6

I crossed the line with great relief to be done. It was a tough day on an otherwise pretty easy course. Afterwards my friends and I sat around waiting for the buckle ceremony and were the delightful recipients of a near endless supply of popsicles and other frozen treats, which we gobbled up since it was well over 100F!

POPSICLES?!

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” — Thomas Paine

Maybe the next time I am fortunate enough to be selected to run, I will have a much cooler year and be able to do what I feel I am capable of on this course. Until then I will take away the immense gratitude for the experience I did have, the people I got to share it with, and the lessons I learned both about myself and 100-milers.

WS100 Finish.

Keep moving. No matter how slowly.

Josh.

Meet the Crew: WS100 Edition.

The taper and final countdown for Western States has officially begun, so I thought it would be a good time to introduce who will be there helping me push myself.

I am beyond excited that one of my dearest friends and one of the most selfless and funniest people I know will be crewing me. I met Brad during my initial CrossFit days. This will be Brad’s first time crewing an ultra and he is super thrilled. I cannot wait to show him the amazing world that is ultrarunning. Brad is a CrossFit coach and helped me out tremendously this past year. In addition to being a CrossFit athlete, Brad also is a great cook. We have shared many a Paleo meal!

My pacer is a completely different story. His name is Mike and he is from the Los Angeles area (yes, he is driving 8 hours just to pace!). That is all I know. I will meet him at the 62 mile aid station – Forest Hill…blind-date style. We connected through the Western States pacer forum. This will be Mike’s 5th year pacing after he and his wife experienced how powerful another person can be during one of these races when they were spectators 6 years ago. I have spoken on the phone with Mike and we have corresponded via email a few times. I feel extremely comfortable having him pace me as he knows the course incredibly well and has dealt with runners in all the various conditions a 100 can evoke.

I am very humbled that these people, one a dear friend and the other a complete stranger, are willing to take the time and give so much effort in to my effort at Western States. I am truly blessed and am forever astounded by the community ultrarunning produces.

Brad

Mike - Pacer

Keep moving.

Josh.

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