How I Think About Investing

As my kids begin to start earning and investing their own money, it’s past time for me to share my investing philosophy with them. And if I’m going to do that, then I may as well share it with everyone else as well. This post gives a very high-level overview of investing, my philosophy on investing, and lists the specific investments I use. It is by no means complete nor necessarily even accurate but it’s how I think about money.

However, I highly recommend everyone take a deeper interest in money and spend some time learning about personal finance through a good book, website, video, etc. At some point I will go back and edit this post to add detail in the Resources section below.

Categories of savings

Savings can be thought of in three different categories. These are well covered in this article. Having a separate account for each type is a good plan.

  • Emergency Funds: These are funds that are used to cover 3-6 months of expenses (rent, food, insurance) in case your other income (job) stops for some reason (pandemic). This should be funded ASAP by putting at least 10% of your income away each month until it is funded. Because this is money that needs to be accessed quickly, most of it should be in a bank or brokerage savings or money market account, although some could be in a safe, but locked up in the short-term, account like a 3-month CD. I use my brokerage’s money-market fund. Consider getting to 12 months once you have funded your other savings (below).
  • Personal Savings: These are funds for upcoming large purchases such as a car. They should be invested similarly to Emergency Funds. The size depends on your planned purchases.
  • Retirement Savings: These are your long-term savings to fund your retirement. Fund this as much as possible as early as possible in order to retire sooner than later. At a minimum, take advantage of any matching (company 401K matching) or tax deferred IRAs (Roth or pre-tax IRA). The next section talks about investing for retirement.

Retirement Savings

Money being saved for retirement has many advantages in investing:

  1. It is invested for a relatively long time, anywhere from 10 to 60 years (remember, you’ll still have 20+ years to invest while you are in retirement). This means that you can invest more aggressively than short term savings. This means that you have the time to ride out the stock market’s rises and falls, getting a far higher return than a savings account.
  2. There are special brokerage accounts such as 401Ks and IRAs that gets special tax status allowing you to avoid paying taxes until you take cash out of the account. This allows you to earn far more for most of the time and then hopefully be at a lower tax rate, since you won’t have income from work, when you withdraw the money while in retirement.

Here is a great article from Get Rich Slowly on How to invest.

Where to invest

There are many types of accounts where you can put your money.

  • Savings and Checking Accounts: Pays very little interest (money the bank pays you to thank you for letting them hold your money) but is easy to withdraw at no cost. It is guaranteed to not lose money.
  • Money Market Account: This account holds a Money Market Fund which is still very safe, although not guaranteed to not lose money but it has almost never happened, and earns a higher interest rate, sometimes which can be tax-free (although at a lower return (interest rate)).
  • Brokerage Account: This is an account that is meant to hold investments like company stocks and bonds. The risk of this account depends on what you buy with it. Brokerage accounts can be either standard or retirement (401K, IRA, Roth IRA) accounts:
    • Standard account: Pay tax on any gains as soon as you sell the stock.
    • Retirement account: No taxes on transactions but pay tax when you withdraw money from the account so you’ll have more money to reinvest rather than paying in taxes. For long-term savings that you won’t need until reitrement, you should always put as much money as possible into these accounts first. Also, many companies will match your contributions to a 401K account up to a certain amount, such as 6% of your salary. This is like immediately doubling your money; you should ALWAYS contribute enough to maximize this match.

Types of Investments

There are many types of investments. I’m only going to explain two of the most common here.

Stocks

Owning stock is your owning a (small) part of a company. When a company is formed, its founders “own” the company and therefore 100% of the stock. As they grow the company, they will sell that stock to banks and normal people in order to get more money for the company to use to grow further.

If investors think a company is growing, then they will want to buy the stock, even at a higher price. More buyers drives the price of the stock higher. If investors think a company is shrinking, the stock may be less valuable making investors want to sell which drives the stock price down. This is vastly over-simplified but should suffice.

Stocks can be risky as a company’s fortunes and future expectations rise and fall. Some stocks are far more volatile than others. They can also go to $0 if the company goes belly-up. For this reason, I recommend investing in Mutual Funds as described below.

Stocks can cost anywhere from $0 to $30 per transaction to buy and sell.

Bonds

A bond is literally a loan to a company. If you buy a bond, you are essentially loaning the company that money. In return, the company agrees to pay you a fixed interest rate for a certain amount of time.

Bonds are incredibly stable if you want to keep them for the duration of their term. However, if you want to get your money back by selling a company bon you bought, the bond could be worth less than what you paid for it. For example, if you bought a bond for $100 that returns 5% interest every year but the following year similar bonds now pay 10% interest, then your bond is worth less than the ones paying twice as much. If you keep the bond, you will still get the 5% interest but if you sell then you may get far less than $100 back. For this reason, I recommend buying Bond Mutual Funds described in the Mutual Funds section below.

Individual bonds can cost anywhere from $0 to hundreds of dollars to buy and sell.

Mutual Funds / ETFs

Mutual Funds, and their related ETFs, are simply a group of stocks sold as a unit. For example, a “Tech Fund” might hold Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Google. If you bought one share of this mutual fund, you would be getting a small slice of each of the companies. The advantage of this is that if one company were to go bankrupt, the fund will still have most of it’s money. This tempers the volatility of individual stocks.

When you hear S&P 500 or Dow Industrials, these are essentially a metric based on the worth of a groups of stocks. The S&P 500 is the 500 largest companies in the market. The Dow Industrials is a group of 30 of the largest stocks. While these are just metrics used to track the health of the market, there are mutual funds that mimic these metrics such as the Vanguard 500 Index Fund. Some mutual funds track broad indexes like the above. Some focus on specific areas like Tech or Health stocks. Some mutual funds track international (Europe, Japan, etc) companies.

Mutual funds trade once a night after the stock market closes. ETFs are essentially mutual funds but they update their prices throughout the day based on the stocks they hold and they can be traded at any time. You can think of them as the same.

Mutual funds cost anywhere from $0 to $50 per transaction. One thing to watch for is that some mutual funds also charge up to 5% to purchase AND/OR up to 5% to sell which is called a “loaded” fund. There is almost never a reason to buy a loaded fund as there are usually similar funds that offer the same benefits without the costs.

Mutual funds also have an “Expense Ratio” which is an annual charge that cuts into a funds earnings each year. This helps “pay the bills” and is reasonable. However, some funds charge far more than is reasonable. There is no reason to pay for a fund with high fees when there are plenty with low fees.

ETFs usually cost the same as trading a stock and can other

What to invest in using a Brokerage Account

There are many different philosophies on how to invest your money. Some people like to buy individual stocks and bonds (where you loan a bit of money to a company which is obligated to repay it). This can be risky if you only own a few stocks since if one goes belly-up you lose lots of money. Buying lots of stocks to lower the risk helps but then you have a ton of stocks to manage which is no fun. Buying and selling stocks frequently just costs lots of time and money which is no fun.

My philosophy is to buy a few specific mutual funds and almost never touch them. This is called “Lazy Investing” (another article from Boggleheads) and there is a great comparison of portfolios in this article. I follow one called the Second Grader’s Portfolio which holds only 3 mutual funds: a US equity (equity means stock) fund, an International equity fund, and a Bond fund. Vanguard provides inexpensive, high quality funds. I use other funds that I have been pleased with and have done slightly better than the Vanguard funds. You can’t go wrong with either.

Here are the Vanguard options:

Asset TypeAllocationVanguard FundAlternate Fund
US60%Total Stock Market (VTSMX)MSCI USA Momentum Factor ETF (MTUM)
International30%Total Intl Stock (VGTSX)Vanguard International Growth (VWIGX)
Bond10%Total Bond Market (VBMFX)PIMCO Income Fund (PIPNX)
Fund options

Most of the growth comes from the equity funds and the bond fund provides stability. The farther you are from retirement, the less bonds you should have. Starting at 10% in your 20s, going to 20% in your 30s, 30% in your 40s, etc is a fine percentage.

Here are the various returns based on the percentage of bonds. I use the Portfolio Visualizer Portfolio Backtest to generate these results, which are relatively accurate.

Vanguard returns by percentage bonds

Asset typeTicker
BondsVBMFX10%20%30%40%50%60%
USVTSMX60%55%45%40%30%25%
IntlVGTSX30%25%25%20%20%15%
5 yr Return13.5%12.5%11.3%10.3%9.1%8.1%
10 yr Return10.0%9.5%8.5%8.0%7.0%6.4%
20 yr Return6.1%6.2%6.1%6.1%5.9%5.8%
Returns using Vanguard funds by percentage of bonds.

The funds I use haven’t been around as long so I can only list the returns for the past 5 years. Note that these are not all “index” funds like Vanguard, where the fund simply holds stocks used in a tracking index like the S&P500. Funds like MTUM are “actively managed” which means they have managers that choose which stocks to hold. In general, index funds have lower fees and perform better long-term than active funds. Choose active funds at your own risk. The below funds that I use today are not necessarily the right funds for tomorrow and I may go back to index funds at any moment.

TypeTicker
BondsPIPNX10%20%30%40%50%60%
USMTUM60%55%45%40%30%25%
IntlVWIGX30%25%25%20%20%15%
5 yr Return20.1%18.6%17.3%15.5%14.3%12.7%
Returns using alternate funds by percentage of bonds.

Note that your investment types will gain at different rates so you should review them every 6 or 12 months and “rebalance”, selling some and buying others, to get back to your preferred asset allocation. Studies show that rebalancing every 12 months is best (better than monthly). Also, when you rebalance, try to only change funds in your retirement accounts which don’t generate taxes on sales (just on withdrawals).

Financial Institutions

Any reputable bank and brokerage is fine but preferably use ones with no, or very low, fees for your most common tasks.

For checking and savings, I use First Tech Credit Union, the original credit union for Microsoft employees, which charges me no fees for accounts with low balances as well as offers higher interest rates than other banks. I would avoid any bank the charges a monthly fee such as for inactivity. Some banks will even reimburse fees charged by other banks for using debit cards at their ATMs.

For longer term investing, I have consolidated all of my funds at Fidelity except for my company’s 401K at Vanguard. I have previously used Schwab and Etrade. All are excellent companies that would be safe stewards of your assets and all allow you to invest your funds at minimal cost to you.

Financial Advice

As you can tell, I like to manage my money. I’ve read about finance for years and I was the head of MSN Money engineering for many years. But I have a financial advisor who I talk with regularly. Why? Because he devotes his entire day to understanding not just investments like stocks but also helps me get my broader finances in order. He can provide suggestions on lowering my taxes by using funds that generate less taxes. He can think think about how real estate fits into the picture. He can run Monte Carlo simulations that help me understand the odds of my not running out of money in retirement. He also listens to me and my needs and delivers what I want; he could be pushing me to different strategies but he is happy to work with me doing what I like (as long as it’s not too insane).

Financial advisors get paid in three different ways, sometimes multiple ways at once:

  1. Fixed rate advisors charge a fixed fee every year. These are few and far between. The advisor I use currently charges $208/mth or $2,496/yr. I highly recommend this type of advisor.
  2. They charge a percentage of your portfolio, so if you have $500,000 invested with them, they will charge 1% or $5,000/year. This is more typical but can get expensive as you have more money.
  3. The buy funds which kick back money to them. So they might put you in a fund that charges a 5% fee on entry and they get part of that fee. So if you are investing $500,000, they will again charge you $5,000 to $25,000 every time they enter, and sometimes even leave, one of these mutual funds. I do NOT like these types of advisors as it’s unclear how they get paid and they are incented to have you buy and sell funds frequently even if that’s not in your best interest.

You need to find someone you trust who charges a reasonable fee. The person should be a fiduciary, which means they put your needs ahead of their own.

I use Jeff Tolsma of Tolsma Investments. He’s a great guy to work with, knows his stuff, respected my investing wishes but nudged me towards funds with slightly better performance, etc, etc, etc. I can contact him at any time, as often as I like. As mentioned, he charges $2,496/yr and has paid for himself not just with his fund recommendations but also by reviewing my accounts and getting me to invest my money appropriately rather than leaving it in cash. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Jeff. Call or email him.

I’ve also used Robinswood Financial which offers great services at lower, percentage-based fees. I left because I wanted to run things my own way and/or pay lower fees.

Resources

Here are some resources that you mind find useful.

Lazy Portfolios: Comparison of returns on various Lazy Portfolios.

Get Rich Slowly: A down-to-earth guide for personal finance.

Bogleheads: General money guidance. Covers priority of investing (what account to invest in first).

Books:

Planet Money podcast by NPR: Not investing specific but fun topics that are money related.

Ultimate Buy and Hold Strategy by Paul Merriman: This is what originally got me into the idea of Lazy Portfolios. Here are some good tables from the strategy as well as a really good overview of the strategy from a Marketwatch article. They also have a ton of great articles. I especially like the one on giving a gift to a newborn that will turn $3000 into $50M (in short, put $3000 into an account for your newborn, but I’m a fan of putting as much as you can into an account as soon as possible).

Hamster Endurance Run – 32 Hour / 100M – 8/22/2020

Starting with Thanks

There are always many emotions that happen during a long run, but the one constant happens afterwards as I reflect back on the experience.  I am extremely grateful for many, many things over not just the past days but the past weeks and months from my friends and family: My inspirational running friends who inspire and encourage me to push my body more than I ever thought possible.  My trainer Matt Campbell who I’ve worked with for years to improve my strength and running (an amazing ultrarunner himself).  The race directors, in this case Gretchen Walla, who step up and keep these fun events going both in-person and virtually in times of pandemic. All of my crew and pacers who kept me fed, watered, and running, from experienced crew/pacers such as Takao Suzuki (also course photographer) and Germaine W to a host of first timers who were able to join the fun (in order of appearance): daughter Meg Comer, son Ben Comer, Cesar Alvarez, Pam McBain, and Michael Insalaco. Without them, I would have run slower and spent far more time in aid stations and literally missed the race cutoff.  And I’m most thankful for my amazing wife Laura Comer, not just for all of her race day support but for putting up with me for weeks, months, and years as I prepare for these races, frequently, despite my best efforts, waking her up as I duck out at 5AM for a long run or step out again after dinner or choose the occasional vacation based on races.  None of this would be possible without her.

The Race – Gettin’ Loopy

The Hamster Endurance Run is a timed (6/12/24/32 hour) run that normally takes place around Lake Padden in Bellingham, Washington.  It got its “hamster” name from the hamster wheel where the poor creature runs on this small loop never getting anywhere, which is exactly what running on the 2.6 mile Lake Padden loop feels like.  With this years pandemic, the race was moved to “virtual” where you ran on a course of your own design (under 4.5 miles) but all starting at the same time on Saturday, August 23, 2020.  I chose a nice set of flat, groomed dirt / woodchip / gravel trails just one mile from my house.  I was originally going to run the mile from my house to the course, run the 2 miles on the course, and then run back to my house and use it as my aid station but I realized I could use my car trunk as my aid station and avoid 2 miles of road with no sidewalks.

The Bad

One week before the race, I ended up in the ER with severe abdominal pain which was quickly diagnosed via CAT scan as a hernia, which is when your intestines poke through a hole in your muscles. The staff poked and prodded me a bit, gave me some morphine, and said “call the surgeon in the morning.” I figured my race was done. However, when I asked about running the race, the ER doc said “Don’t lift heavy things but a run / walk is fine as long as you aren’t hurting. If you feel pain, don’t try to push through it but stop what you are doing. And see what the surgeon says.” So on Wednesday, 3 days before the race, I met with the surgeon who reviewed the scans and found not just 1 but 3 hernias: the largest causing me pain, another smaller which should be repaired, and a tiny one in my belly button (apparently a common thing). When I asked about the race, she actually was excited for me to do it saying “cardio is a good way to keep the intestines moving” and repeated the same warnings about not pushing through pain. Fortunately, I haven’t had any pain since that first major episode (I’ve also avoiding lifting things) even during the race. They originally wanted to schedule the surgery for the Tuesday after the race but it didn’t seem wise to show up at a hospital in my usual post-race condition so the surgery will take place the following week, 10 days after the race when I should be fully recovered.

Race prep

As usual, I over packed. 

This was before I added my electronics, a cooler, and some other goodies for the crew.

My trunk was stuffed, but extremely well organized, into several bins of clothes (jackets, arm warmers, change of socks, hats), electronics (headlamps, battery chargers, headphones), cooler with ice (fruit, sandwiches, drinks), food (running-specific like gels and chews as well as typical ultramarathon trail kibble of chips, M&Ms, and gummies), and gallons and gallons of water.  I also had some special things for my crew which I’ll describe later.  I knew I had probably overpacked but better overly prepared, right?  Wrong.  Too much means it’s too hard to move things around to get to other things.  It’s too many choices.  One of the first things I asked of my family as they came to restock my supplies was to start removing stuff.  They did a great job of refilling my water bottles so I had them get the gallons and gallons of water out of my car.  I should have also had them remove a bunch of the running-food (see below for food analysis).

My run training for this race was mostly around completing the “Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee”, directed by Lazarus Lake of Barkley Marathons fame, which had me running 1022 kilometers (635 miles) between May and August (I finished in 93 days, doing many 50 mile weeks).  After gaining a bunch of weight back from a too-stressful work environment that had lots of free junk food, I’ve spent the past 6 months working at home from a better job (for me) and have dropped 25 pounds.  While still heavy, it allowed me to get through the GVRAT through a ton of walking and from that pull off Hamster.  I also work out w/Matt Campbell twice a week on both running strength (think lots of leg work such as single-leg standups, lunges (front, back, raised), etc. What I didn’t have was enough quality runs (see Lessons below).

Race Day

I set out a little after 8AM.  I ran my course counter-clockwise as the elevation gain always felt better in that direction; I think the ups are more gradual and the downs more steep, which I like more than the reverse.  Given these trails are in the middle of a several thousand home community, I’m always amazed at how many people hang out on the sidewalks instead of the trails.  It was rare to see anyone, and even then just 1-2 small groups, per 2 mile loop. 

One person I was surprised to see was Tamara Smith. I knew she was running Hamster but given she lives well north of me, I was startled to see her pass by me on my first loop. It turns out Tamara was running a 4 mile loop from a friends house in the neighborhood and our courses overlapped for 1 mile. Given our similar paces, I ended up seeing her and her friends every other loop. Very fun to see familiar faces.

My plan had me starting out at a 14-minute pace and then slower doing a bit every few hours.  While that sounds slow (OK, it actually is slow compared to most fit runners), that time also includes stops for water refills, bathroom breaks, etc ever few miles so it’s not quite that bad.  Every hour I added my time to my planning spreadsheet in order to see if I was still OK time-wise; seeing me falling behind, I quickly calculated I had an extra hour and forty minutes to spare in my schedule (unfortunately math is hard while running and the real time was only one hour and twenty minutes which I figured out about 12 hours later as it became apparent I’d be pushing the cutoff).

I picked up my first pacer at 1PM, by which time I was already a mile and a half behind my time (since I’d have to make up the mile at the end when I’d be walking, that equated to 20 minutes per mile).  While my initial pace goals weren’t crazy, I simply hadn’t run enough long (>20 mile) runs at quite those paces. The pacers were great in being on time or early and communicating well so we could coordinate my being back at the start.  Each pacer was amazing: My first three (Cesar, Pam, and Michael) had never paced before.  Takao has been in the race scene forever, both as runner and photographer, and was kind enough to stay late into the wee hours to keep me moving in the dark.  Takao was lucky enough to spot a bear, unfortunately heading down the trail we were about to turn onto. We enjoyed a very loud conversation for the next mile or so until we were sure we were past the bear. Germaine joined the fun early on and got me through until noon when Michael came back and my son Ben joined in, his first time in running more than one half mile after a skiing accident.  The pacers did an amazing job keeping me moving, chatting to keep my mind off the stupidity of doing this, and by running ahead to refill bottles, replace dead electronics, etc as good as any full-time aid-station crew.

The range of emotions throughout a race is interesting. While nervous at the beginning, I was comfortable with my chosen pace. At least for a while. However, once you added in bathroom breaks (fortunately there was a Honeybucket on the course), the times become a bit more aggressive. I got a bit behind early on and then just couldn’t keep up with my hoped for times until my estimates got up into the 19 min/mile range at which point things settled. Fighting cutoffs (if I don’t get to 100 miles in under 32 hours, no belt buckle award for me) always makes me look at my watch more and do math in my head (I eventually switched to just asking Siri) which in turn slows me down even further.

While I usually get really down for 10-20 minutes late at night, I really didn’t have that this time. I certainly wasn’t happy but I didn’t get the “I have no need to do this and should stop now” moments. These are especially common on loop courses where you see your car every loop; being out in the middle of a forest where you can only get a lift back to your car after many, many hours waiting at an aid station. I warned my pacers I would get quiet and grumpy and apologized in advance for anything I might say. I think the worst was when there was a (relatively) steep downhill that my pacers wanted me to run down late in the race; I told them where they could go in no uncertain terms as my quads just couldn’t take the downhill pounding.

The Finish

As I knew since early in the race, the finish was going to be a nail-biter and it was. I hit 100 miles with less than 5 minutes to spare. But I made it.

After pacing me in the middle of the night, Takao came back to get some photos of me at the finish. I will be forever grateful to him for giving me these wonderful memories to enjoy forever.

Everyone who was able came by for the finish at 4, including Takao who got behind his camera as the course photographer (see pics).  My mom showed up at the finish line with a big bag of ice (which initially ended up on my head.  See picture) and ice water.  After a few minutes of attempted distanced pictures, Laura got me into the car and drove the short way home.  In retrospect, I should have run home as the last mile of the race as that would have been easier than getting in and out of the car.

The Aftermath

My quads had hurt once the distances started exceeding my typical runs but eventually they felt better (or more likely, I just couldn’t feel them at all).  I noticed that, despite wearing gaiters, I had some small rocks or wood chips in my shoes but they weren’t bad and I didn’t think I had time to stop to fix it.  I thought I might have had a small blister on my left small toe.

The truth is, my quads and right calf were sore but not too bad.  My left calf, however, was twisted into knots and was unbearable to even touch. I had several smaller blisters on my feet and one giant on my my right heal.

I spent the evening with my feet and calves raised with ice under and over them.  I also rolled my legs (massaged them) as much as possible, although the left calf was having none of that.  The next morning I was able to at least get out of bed myself and hobble to the bathroom.  I also had a chance to weigh myself and I seem to be down about 6 pounds; unfortunately this is temporary and will quickly return as my body gets back to normal.

Lessons

After doing dozens of long races, I still learn something every race.  For this one, I already mentioned over-packing.  While variety is nice, I know what I use and I really can limit things to those.

Food: I know I don’t eat enough on long runs.  I went into this knowing that and concentrated on getting a constant supply of calories as well as larger meal-times.  I still had trouble eating towards the end but it wasn’t too bad.

  • Bagel and protein shake before the start: 500 calores
  • 2-3 Shot Blocks (inc 1-2 caffeine): 600 cal
  • 2-3 Honey Stinger chews: 480 cal
  • 0 gels
  • 2 handfuls of plain potato chips 200 cal
  • 1 handful Oreos 300 cal (these things are crazy calorific)
  • 1 handful of M&Ms (I couldn’t get the @#$%$# bag open when I went back for more): 100 cal
  • 1 handful of Gummy bears (again, trouble opening the bag. I’m sensing a theme.  Open the bags before the race and leave them open if possible) 100 cal
  • 2 PB&J sandwiches for lunches: These were a staple and were perfect when I wanted “real” food. 800 cal
  • 1 double hamburger from Five Guys for dinner: Probably too much food at once so I spread it out.  Two smaller burgers might have been better.  And while the offer of fries was appreciated, they just didn’t sound good. 500 cal
  • Thermos of Ramen noodles: These were a godsend in the middle of the night when it was cold and I needed something neutral in my belly.  They were cooked perfectly with all the moisture sucked up into the noodles.  300 cal
  • 2 Oh Yeah protein bars: These are a staple snack at home. I haven’t used them at a race before but I’m used to them and handle them well.  440 cal
  • 1 Premiere protein shake.  Another staple snack that goes down super-smooth: 160 cal
  • 1 apple & 1 banana: 200 cal
  • Pancake for breakfast: 200 cal

Total calories: 4800 

This is probably still a bit low but it is far better than I’ve done in the past.  I can’t complain.  I still can pack far better, perhaps only bringing 2x the amount of food rather than 5x.

Training: While the Great Race Across Tennessee gave me 50 mile weeks, because of my weight and lack of forethought, these were all very slow, short miles spread across the week. Even my “long runs” were typically under 12 miles with the rare 20 thrown in. I really needed a more structured program with more speed and longer runs (50K, 50M) and doubles (back to back marathon length) thrown in. Matt is great at creating these for me so I’ll work with him.

Weight: The rule of thumb is that you can run one minute per mile faster for every 10 pounds you lose. This absolutely holds true for me. I was 25 pounds lighter for my first 100M (Pigtails) which I ran 2 hours faster and which had 6000′ more elevation (another rule of thumb is treat every 1000′ of elevation as one more mile of running so that would be like running 106 miles). 2.5 min/mile = 250 min (~4 hours faster) and 6 more miles adds 90-120 minutes back in making it right on. I look forward to getting back into top racing shape.

A Little Thank You

Finally, as I mentioned, I am incredibly grateful for all of the people who helped me get through this race.  To thank them, I made them each a little goody bag.  And when I say “made”, I mean I literally took a piece of fabric, sewed it into a draw-string bag, and embroidered “Hamster Crew 2020” on it.  I filled it with things that seemed appropriate for a race in a pandemic.  I helped Laura make facemasks for everyone, many of which had running (running shoes) and trail (trees and animals) themes.  I also picked up running buffs (neck gaiters) that have a slot for a filter; while the science of the usefulness of gaiters is scary at this time (they may make things worse by turning big drops into small drops which hang out longer), the addition of the filter should help.  I also threw in some hand sanitizer, Kleenex, gummy bears, and M&Ms.  Everything a pandemic runner needs.

Finally

So I close again with my gratitude for my friends and family that make this possible and for my body which puts up with this stupidity.  Thank you all.

Chuckanut Mountain, Lake Sammamish, and Hot Chocolate Pacing

Couple of smaller posts that are (or at least started) too small to justify their own posts.

Chuckanut Mountain – A Dear, Distant Friend

On February 11th I ran the Fragrance Lake Half which meanders around Chuckanut Mountain.  I don’t live near Chuckanut and compared to many who live closer I haven’t run on it that much. But I know the trails and I know the beauty of the area.  Running it this time brought back many great, deep feelings that boil down to this:

Chuckanut Mountain is a dear, distant friend.  I appreciate every moment we get to spend together and it warms my heart to meander (I hesitate to say “run” given my speed) along its trails.

I really do love it there that much. The trails are marvelous and varied.  They are challenging. And I’ve finally gotten use to the ridge and passed at least a dozen runners on it at Fragrance Lake, although I continue to hate soul-sucking Cleator with a passion.

2017-02-11-296-x3

Photo Credit: Takao Suzuki

Chuckanut Addendum:

I have run several races on the mountain:

  • 2013 Chuckanut 30K: My first race >25K (seemed like a natural progression). It was billed as “The Chuckanut 50K without the boring parts”, referring to the relatively flat 10K out to the mountain from Fairhaven and then the 10K back. Also my first race getting lost causing me to cut the course by several miles (I somehow went from the ridge down to Lost Lake trail before they naturally run into each other). Realizing that I essentially DQ’d, I climbed Chinscraper and, realizing I had enough time, I went around the Ridge and Lost Lake trails again and completed the race in in about 37K.
  • 2014 Fragrance Lake: I totally forgot I ran this race in 2014.  3:37:48 for a 16:38 pace.
  • 2016 Chuckanut 50K Race (and Training Run): A Pacific NW classic. Honored to have made it in and to have finished it.
  • 2017 Fragrance Lake: 3:53:18 for 17:49 pace, 16 min slower than 3 years before.  However, I’m 30 pounds heavier so I’m still happy (I’m working on getting back down there).

I’ve also volunteered and taken a bunch of pictures there including: Chuckanut 50K several times, Chuckanut Mountain (twice), Bellingham Trail Marathon, and 2016 Fragrance Lake.

 

Lake Sammamish Half

I ran the Lake Sammamish Half for the second year in a row on Saturday.  Cold but pretty day.  I LOVE the starting line they started last year which is at Redmond Town Center.  Plenty of parking and warm bathrooms.  There’s a little congestion at a bridge over the Sammamish River but otherwise a flat, fast, and occasionally pretty race (lots of fence with peaks of Lake Sammamish until you get to the finish).

I finished in 2:19:24 (10:38/mile), a minute slower than last year, which I still consider a great success since I weight 15 pounds more than last year.  My weight is coming down.  It’s good knowing I can keep this pace up at my current weight and if I can drop down where I want to be (about 35 pounds down from here), I’ll be in good shape for some hard summer races.

Here’s the start with the Seattle Green Lake Running Group (I’m an honorary member since I only get over to Green Lake a few times a year, although that may change now that I work downtown) and the sunny finish.

Pacing the 2017 Seattle Hot Chocolate 15K

For the second year in a row I paced the Seattle Hot Chocolate 15K the day after the Lake Sammamish Half.  Not wanting to push things after a hard half, I opt for slower paces and have twice ended up at 15:00.  It’s an annoying pace in that it’s a really fast walk or a really, really slow jog (and if you jog at that pace the runners around you get mad) but it’s nice to not push it two days in a row.

I love pacing because I get to hang out with fun people who are trying to do something amazing, race at a pace that they otherwise couldn’t achieve. It’s usually slower than my normal pace (in this case MUCH slower) so you have time (and breath) to chat w/everyone and cheer them on.  This year had a lot of fun dancing to the music at the Start, high-fives on out-n-backs (Made sure to not use that hand for eating until I washed it. Ew.), and cheering on runners, pacers, volunteers, police, and staff.  It’s a blast.

But the most touching moment was from a comment that I received on my Strava Activity from the race, left by one of the runners who I met before the start:

“This is super random, but thank you for being such an amazing Pace Runner this morning. This was the first 15K my friend and I have done and your enthusiasm and kind words in the starting corral seriously helped us shake some pre-race jitters and stress.”

Aw shucks.  That makes it all worthwhile right there.  I hope all pacers were blessed with similarly appreciative runners.

Payback

Good news: The person who used my electric car charge card contacted me over Facebook with the following message:

Hi Ross. I am the one who used your EZ card. I found it’s few weeks ago on the ground at Centralia’s supercharger. I was first curious on wether [sic] it was working or not, and when it turns out that it was, I somehow wrongly assumed that it was some free Nissan charging card, providing free charging, or something similar. I never thought I was actually making an individual pay for the usage. I am obviously deeply sorry and embarrassed. Please send me your address so I can send it back to you, along with a check for what I used.

He ended up Paypal-ing me for the amount charged.  The card had already been cancelled so I wasn’t worried about that coming back.

I remain disappointed that the person didn’t call up the company using the phone number on the card and give them the card ID so they could track me down.

The “I never thought I was actually making an individual pay” was also incredibly disappointing.  There is no free lunch.  Someone will always pay.  In this case it was Nissan who included the cost as part of the Leaf purchase price, just as Tesla includes the cost of Supercharger usage in the upfront cost of purchasing a Tesla.  Ugh.

Anyway, I let the police know the issue was resolved and hopefully the person learned their lesson.  Also hopefully everyone hearing this story will also think twice before doing something similar.

To Catch a Thief

Many of us have had credit cards stolen, or more accurately the number stolen most likely from a business with poor database security (hello Home Depot) or from an individual copying the numbers from the myriad of places you give your number to.  Either the credit card company notices something strange and calls to ask if you are currently in Nigeria or you notice strange charges on your card and call them.  The credit card company cancels the credit card, they have you report the theft to the police, refund your money, and issue you a new card.  Never do you hear of the thief being caught.

On September 16, 2016, I caught the thief.

In this case, it wasn’t a credit card but an EZ-Charge card which looks like a credit card and which you swipe at electric car charging stations to activate them so you can charge your vehicle.  My EZ-Charge card is tied to 3 or 4 different charging networks, each of which stores my credit card number so that when I swipe my EZ-Charge card at any charging station, the charging network then charges my Visa.  Some of these require you to keep a balance, say $25, which they then deduct from until you run low and they charge your card again.  I keep my card in my car, a Nissan Leaf, so that whoever is driving the car, Laura, Ben, or me, can use the card if needed.

On the morning of September 16th, I received a text message from the Blink electric charging network thanking me for plugging in.  This was a bit strange since I was driving and wasn’t plugged in.  A minute later I received another message stating I had been unplugged.  Stranger still.

When I got to work, I logged onto the charging networks to see what was up and sure enough on one of them, Chargepoint, there were ten charges over the past few weeks that weren’t mine.  I hadn’t received a text message because I hadn’t set up Chargepoint to text me when charging.  I charge at home and my Leaf goes 120 miles between charges so I rarely stop to charge at charging stations.  I also knew I hadn’t charged externally the past few weeks and yet my account showed many charges.  I immediately cancelled the card, ran down to the car, and found that, sure enough, the charge card was missing.  Crap.  Either someone had taken it from my car or I had left it somewhere and someone decided to pick it up and start using it.  Which is just like using someone else’s credit card.  Not nice.

I logged on again and looked at the charges.  Over $29 of charges on Chargepoint alone and I hadn’t checked other networks yet.  The charges were mostly on Mercer Island at City Hall and the Community Center as well as a few at Bellevue Square Mall.  It was then I noticed that I was shown as actively charging at Bellevue Square.  Ha!  I knew what I must do next… 🙂

I hopped in the car and dashed to Bellevue Square.  The chargers are located on the first floor of the parking garage near Nordstrom and Crate & Barrel.  While driving, I called Chargepoint and got the ID of the charging station; it was Charger #1 at Bellevue Square near Nordstrom and Crate & Barrel and had been actively charging for over an hour.  In less than 10 minutes, I was there.  Sure enough, only one car was charging and it was on Charger #1.  It was a white Tesla with license plate “[redacted]”.  I stopped the charge by unplugging the car, but not the Tesla adapter which was locked into the car’s charging port, and plugged it back in; this would alert the Tesla driver if they had the app installed and would stop me from getting charged.  And then I called the cops.

tesla

Within a few minutes, I had Bellevue police as well as more than half a dozen security guards from the mall.  I gave them the rundown but it’s a bit convoluted and difficult to understand.  The officer called Chargepoint and spoke with a supervisor but only got some basic information.  The officer asked some good questions such as “could this simply be a mistake where they entered the wrong numbers?”, which it couldn’t since the only way to activate the device was by swiping a card that has an ID just like a credit card and my card was missing.  I was asked if I wanted to press charges and after thinking about it I said absolutely.  I really just want my money back and the guy to get a slap on the wrist and the way to do that is to press charges; I must trust the justice system to have that reasonable outcome.  After about 45 minutes of talking about it with me and Chargepoint, the owner of the car hadn’t come back so the officer left his business card on the window of the Tesla saying “Call me regarding your charging” and left.

So there are a couple of things to prove that this guy used my card:

  • Was my card being used? The card ID used to start the charge was the card that I had registered almost 2 years ago when I purchased my Nissan Leaf.  I have been actively using it during that time.  I’m betting that a card can only be registered to one online account so the theory that another card had that same ID is tough to swallow since I would expect it to generate an error when the new user went to register it.
  • Was I at the right charger? I verified that with Chargepoint that the charge attributed to that card was used at that specific station.
  • Was the card actually used or the charge activated by some other method (calling in, an app, etc)? Need to verify with Chargepoint but the I believe the number being used is only used by EZ-Charge cards, while Chargepoint Cards and Phone Apps have very different and longer numbers.
  • Was the car at the station the car that had been charging or had it left and a different car arrived at that spot? When I got there, it was actively charging.  I need to verify that the car was still charging at the time I got there and called the police.  The car was definitely charging as it was plugged into a wall and his adapter, something that each Tesla owner has in their car, was locked into his charging port meaning he was trying to charge.  If he wasn’t charging, he was illegally parked.
  • The real proof is to ask the owner of the car: How did you start charging?  A card?  Can we see the card?  Then either the card is either:
    1. My EZ-Charge card in which case he’s a thief. My card would have my number and looks like it’s been around and used occasionally for 2 years; in decent shape but definitely not new.
    2. His own card. In which case we call Chargepoint and see if that card was used at Bellevue Square that day at that station.  If it wasn’t, then his assertion that he used his card doesn’t fly.
    3. His card with the same number, which again had to come from a Nissan Leaf. If it’s a card from a Leaf, he needs to prove it’s not mine and explain how he got it and why he just started using it two weeks before I noticed mine was missing.
  • Was the person at the locations where the card was used at previous charging? Need to ask the Mercer Island Community Center and City Hall if the owner checked in at those times.

That’s the start of this adventure.  More to come when I hear back from Bellevue PD.

Relevant info:

 

Chargepoint Transactions that weren’t mine:

Transaction Date (PT) Station Station Address Duration Fee
Sep 15, 2016 4:07 PM MERCER ISLAND
MI COMM CENTER1
8236 SE 24TH STREET
Mercer Island, WA
1h 11m $1.20
Sep 15, 2016 2:55 PM MERCER ISLAND
MI COMM CENTER1
8236 SE 24TH STREET
Mercer Island, WA
17m $1.00
Sep 15, 2016 9:28 AM MERCER ISLAND
MI COMM CENTER1
8236 SE 24TH STREET
Mercer Island, WA
48m $1.00
Sep 14, 2016 3:58 PM BELLEVUE SQUARE
BELL SQ NE 1
10201-10399 NE 8th St
Bellevue, WA
4h 47m $9.60
Sep 12, 2016 5:12 PM MERCER ISLAND
MI CITY HALL #1
9611 SE 36TH STREET
Mercer Island, WA
1h 16m $1.26
Sep 12, 2016 10:30 AM MERCER ISLAND
MI COMM CENTER1
8236 SE 24TH STREET
Mercer Island, WA
1h 56m $1.94
Sep 8, 2016 12:06 PM MERCER ISLAND
MI COMM CENTER1
8236 SE 24TH STREET
Mercer Island, WA
2h 35m $2.59
Sep 7, 2016 10:28 AM MERCER ISLAND
MI COMM CENTER1
8236 SE 24TH STREET
Mercer Island, WA
1h 22m $1.38
Sep 6, 2016 1:50 PM MERCER ISLAND
MI COMM CENTER1
8236 SE 24TH STREET
Mercer Island, WA
2m $1.00
Sep 5, 2016 4:40 PM BELLEVUE
SBCC #2
14509 SE Newport Way
Bellevue, WA
4h 20m $8.69
Aug 24, 2016 9:20 AM   MICROSOFT

BLDG 17 #1         3801

159th Ave NE

Redmond, WA

1h 4m $0.54
Total Fees: $29.66

Also, the card was used on September 5th at 801 Rainier Ave S in Seattle for 33 minutes.  This charge doesn’t show up because it was free; some charges are free with this card.

Looking at the charges, the last time I used the car was on August 24th in the Microsoft Building 17 parking lot (where I work).

BLINK Transaction Details

The BLINK Charging Network charge which generated the text message:

Location: The Bravern, 11111 NE 8th St, Bellevue, WA 98004 US
InCard: 10032777
Serial Number: 216223
Session Duration: 1 minute 57 seconds
Session Billable Duration: 1 minute 57 seconds
Fee Amount: $0.03
Grace Period: 1 second
Initial Grace Period: N/A
Rate: $0.39/kWh
Service Fee: $0.00
Energy Consumed: 0.09 kWh
Occupancy Cost: $0.00
Occupancy Rate: $0.00/1 hour
Occupancy Rate Cap: $0.00
Occupancy Grace Period: 0 seconds
Occupancy Elapsed Time: 0 seconds
Occupancy Billable Duration: 0 seconds
Tax Rate: 0.00%
Charge Time: 2016-09-16 12:55:26 EDT
Billing Unit Type: kWh Based
Fee Id: 1981823
Usage Fee: $0.03

 

 

2015 White River 50M

I finished.  In the end, I finished.  I didn’t DNS (by getting injured, despite trying to break my face two weeks before at the training run).  Nor did I DNF getting injured on the course (despite a few stumbles I never hit the ground).  Nor did I DFL (you can’t be DFL when you run in with 2 other runners, right?).  It was my day.  I broke the streak of (one) 50M DNFs (Sun Mt, see other post, someday if I ever publish).  I finished.  And the White River 50M is in the books.

I run for the social aspects.  And the finish line; the finish line is cool.  I ran with, saw, and made so many new friends on the course it was astounding and inspiring.  When you feel stuck and like you can’t go on, there’s nothing like having someone be there for you to give you that little extra push you need.

2015-07-25 1024 (852x1280)

Michael and me at Corral Pass. Photo by Takao Suzuki at http://Runners.Photos

For 90% of the course, that person was Michael Covey.  I’ve known Michael for 3 years now.  He is a trainer at the ProClub in Bellevue, head coach of the ProTri team, and runs a great Running Development class on Wednesdays at 6AM (!! When did 6AM become a thing?!?!).  For the past 2 years, I have worked w/Michael on my training plans, some of which I followed, and some not so much when I didn’t run enough or sometimes running too much (I might have forgotten to tell him I was going to run the Pigtails 100K (my first) one week after the Sun Mt. 50M (which I completed 44 miles of, but that’s a different story/blog-post).  Knowing White River would be tough and after Sun Mt didn’t go quite as planned, I asked Michael if he wanted to enter White River and hang out with me for a while.  Michael is much, much faster than me but he’s a great guy and agreed to stay at the back of the pack with me to keep my company (whoops, there goes his Ultrasignup ranking).  Michael stayed with me the vast majority of the race but I’m thrilled that he finally charged ahead of me in Skookum Flats in order to make the 14-hour finish line cutoff as it was unclear I was going to make it.  Seriously, it was important to me that he do it and he did it with style.

Race Weekend

The race weekend for us started on Friday afternoon as we left Redmond for the Crystal Mountain Hotels.  It was a splurge but I figured if (when!) I finished the race I would have earned it and if I couldn’t finish the race (DNF’d) then I’d be in such bad shape that I’d need it.  The first hiccup, and there always is at least one, was when we were halfway to the hotel, about 1 hour in, when I realized my hydration bladder and bottles were still at home in the freezer.  Whoops.  No way I wanted to drive back and miss registration and dinner so we kept going and called Eric Sach of Balanced Athlete and Glenn Tachiyama at 7 Hills Running Shop.  Eric was already at Crystal and was kind enough to offer spare bottles (although I’m not sure he had the ones that fit my Salomon pack) but I lucked out that Glenn was still at the store and had the Salomon bottles.  I bought 3 (and I’ll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hydration bottle today, although I guess I could/should have given him a credit card over the phone, sorry, didn’t think of it) so I could put 2 up-front and 1 in the pack.  Hopefully that would be my one “bad thing” for the weekend (it really was, whew).

Michael also came in on Friday and stayed in a single room while Laura and I had a “family loft” with a queen bed downstairs and 2 full-sized beds in a small loft for our kids.  Unfortunately our kids didn’t come (Ben was having fun white-water rafting in Utah and Meg was whale-watching and Vancouver-aquarium-ing with Grandmom) so we had a spare loft.  This actually worked out well as the weather had turned and my friends Vivian Doorn and Leslie Miller were not excited about camping on Friday or driving up at 2AM on Saturday so we gave the loft to them for the night (they were heading home Saturday evening).  It was wonderful having (excellent!) company, getting dinner beforehand and enjoying some great conversation.  After eating dinner in the dining room, we went downstairs to The Snorting Elk Cellar to get the race briefing from Scott McCoubrey and see a movie of the course (Video Part 1 & Video Part 2) from 2002 (whoa, the short-shorts and guys in tank-tops, fashion has changed just a bit since then).  This was the most comprehensive race briefing I’ve ever heard with details of what was carried at each aid station (and each one was customized with special items), including personal commentary on how Coke was a bad idea early in the race but they were going to provide it anyway (thanks, but the only time I drink coke is at races and it’s simply a nice option to have if I’m in the mood).  Great briefing.  Then off to the room for final preparations.

Training Runs

I’m going to back up for a minute and talk about the training runs.  2 & 3 weekends before the race, Eric Sach organizes training runs that cover the second half and first half of the course.  These are brilliant in so many ways.  It really helped knowing the course, especially in understanding what was going to suck and knowing the suck really would stop at some point.  The training runs were beautiful this year:

The first run, which was actually the second half of the course, boosted my confidence that I could finish that section of the course in 6.5 hours (especially if I didn’t miss the trail up to Sun Top and kept running down the airstrip an extra ½ mile.  Dang it!).  I describe it as 4.5 miles of suck followed by some beautiful, very enjoyably runnable downhills before a crazy up to Sun Top and 6.5 annoying dirt road down to Skookum (the last two I skipped and just got a ride back to my car w/Eric).  This was also cool in that Eric had us start w/Skookum Flats so we could enjoy it, something we likely wouldn’t do on race day because the world would suck by that point (he was right, it did).  What wasn’t cool is that it hit the 90’s that day which was brutal, but if I could run that in the 90’s then I should be able to handle anything on race-day (kindof).

The second day of the training runs we did the first half of the course where just 1 mile in I learned that my feet should go Left, Right, Left, Right and not Left, Right, Left, Left.  OK, I actually hit a root while going full speed.  Did a face plant (literally), going down so fast I couldn’t break my fall with my arms (and didn’t really want to risk breaking my arms or legs) so I hit my face.  Surprised me but I didn’t get knocked out (I think).  Everyone (Steven Yee (MM Prez), Patti, and a bunch of people) were already well ahead of me and called back to see if I was OK; I felt fine and stood up so told them “yup” and they kept going (good).  Monte was behind me, asked again if I was OK (yup), and we headed off.  That’s when I felt the dripping on the right-side of my face.  I’m one to sweat a bunch but it was early in the day.  I stopped and Monte asked   if I was OK to which I replied “I’m not sure, can you take a look?”  He looked and with experience trail-runner attitude said “you are a bit scraped up but you’ll be fine.”  We then pulled my first aid kit (you do carry a small first aid kit, right?  I always do and won’t be leaving home wo/it in my pack).  Dabbed up the blood on my eyebrow and eyelid and then applied anti-bacterial ointment to prevent bad things from happening and mainly stop the flow.  Then we were off again.  I had no idea how bad it was until people started passing me, did a double take after seeing my face, and every last one declared “Oh my God!  Are you OK?  I have a first aid kit in the car, do you want to come down and get it.” (I wasn’t excited by that prospect as I was already 12 miles into a 25 mile run).  It got to the point I’d look away and cover my face when people came by (seriously, it got annoying).

Once I got back to the car, I took a Selfie and realized I really didn’t look great.  Headed home (stopping for another shake at Wipiti Willies, I must have looked really scary) and at White River Training 2 WipeoutLaura’s behest stopped by the Swedish Urgent Care by our house.  They were suitable impressed, glad to hear my pain level was just a 1 or 2, cleaned me up with alcohol (OOOWWWW, pain level 9! 9! 12!, seriously that HURT) and proceeded to glue my eyelid back together.  I didn’t look great that night but looked absolutely horrendous the next day with a scrape down my entire face.  Made for great stories and double-takes at work.

Oh, and the training run was again great although I realized that I was going to have to work harder if I was going to make the cut-offs as it took me about 7:20 hours and I really wanted to be under 7 on race day which would also have 2 miles more distance.  Ugh.  There was also an annoying bet that some other runners started as to how soon they thought it would take me to get lost (I bet 92 minutes).  Turns out we all lost as I didn’t get lost once (thanks, Monte!) and it was Sabrina who zigged when she should have zagged at the (race-day) Ranger Creek aid station (it really is a tricky spot with lots of trails meeting there).  Eric again provided a great aid-station which we especially needed given the lack of water on the course (it has been a DRY summer).

I tend to do a bunch of planning for races, reading the Runners Manuals, looking at the elevation charts and aid station locations, etc.  One trick that Alley Kloba taught me at the 2014 Gorge Waterfalls 50K was to print out the elevation chart, write in the Aid Station locations and Cutoffs, bring it with you.  I’ve done this ever since and here’s the one from White River:White River 50M Elevation with Goals

I grabbed the chart from the website which had the basic Aid Station names then added in the exact distances, elevation (which I find to be far more accurate that the GPS watch distance which tends to get off in the deep woods as it loses satellite but the elevation is based on barometric pressure in my watch so is almost always within 50’ of actual.  I also added in a fairly realistic goal time based on my training runs.  I forgot the cut-offs in this version but hand wrote them in for the printed versions.  Note that the Goal clock times (6:48AM) are perfect but I screwed up the time-on-course times to the left of them which were wrong for Fawn Ridge and Sun Top.  Ah well.  I then print a variety of sizes, fold them in half (no sense in leaving a blank back), and laminate them to bring along.  Love it.  Thanks, Alley!  I had a bunch and gave some to Michael, Vivian, and Leslie.

And They’re Off!

Race morning came and we were up and out by 4:45AM (ugh!).  Got to the race, checked in, said “hi” to a few people, grabbed my bottles from Glenn (thanks again, Glenn!), and got everything ready for race.  Too many cool people to count.  Then it was time to line up, get our picture taken by Glenn, some last minute instructions from the RDs, and at 6:03PM (this is important later on) we were off.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama at http://tachifoto.net

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama at http://tachifoto.net

We took off at a solid pace (needed to drop my time from the training run) and I carefully avoided another face plant at the previously location.  The first aid station is Camp Sheppard at 2,500’.  It’s only 3.9 miles in and at that point I hadn’t eaten or drank anything so I blew right past it.  It’s really early on the course for an Aid Station but sometimes aid-station access is limited so…  I also took advantage of a Honeybucket at Camp Sheppard (yeah, yeah I know, I should have gone 3 times before the start) unfortunately letting most of the pack past us; this was part of our strategy, however, in letting the speedsters wear out so we could overtake them later in the course.  Yup, that was it.   It was then that we ran into Erica who had all sorts of cool things like a Spot tracker on the back of her pack, funky gaiters, and some impressive tattoos.  We chatted for a bit then went our separate ways (well, not exactly, we went the same way but at our own speeds) doing a touch of leapfrog but mostly with her leading.  More on Erica later.

From Camp Sheppard, the course starts the first hill of the day with about 4,000 feet of elevation gain over 10 miles.  We made good time and I love my new poles.  They are new poles because my old poles were stolen 2 weeks before when my car was broken into at the Redmond Watershed.  Ugh.  I continue to discover things that were missing and I came up with 2 or 3 new ones at this race including 2 sets of gaiters, one pair which was my special Pigtail gaiters that Betsy Rogers made.  😦 😦  Could have used those for the race.  Harrumph.

At Mile 11.7 and 5,030’ we got to the (limited) Ranger Creek aid station where we filled up our waters, grabbed a Gu, and quickly took off. My goal was to minimize time at the Aid Stations and I did pretty well, although sometimes it took longer than I’d liked to fill up water and then get Nuun into it (need to remember to split Nuun tabs in advance so they fit into my bottles without me farting around with them at the stations).

Then it was up to Corral Pass at mile 16.9 and 5,800’.  The one really annoying thing about this part of the course was that part of this was an out-n-back and we lost several minutes pulling to the side of the narrow, single-track as the front-runners (OK, OK, as well as the middle-runners) charged by us on the trail.  They were inspiring to watch but it got old pulling over.  Ah well.  At Corral Pass we got a full-service station, enjoyed some good food (all detailed below) and headed up for a final push to the top before heading back to Ranger Creek.  The volunteers were great and, as they had offered to do for me on FB the previous week, kicked my ass out of there as quickly as possible.  Thanks guys! (no seriously, thanks for the ass-kicking).  It was here that we ran into Takao Suzuki who got some great pictures of us (thanks, Takao!):

Then it’s some rolling downhills to Ranger Creek (touch more water) followed by a beautiful, extremely runnable, non-technical trail down to the road and then Buck Creek.  Once I got my groove on the downhill, I was doing 8-9 minute miles (both by feel and Garmin) for reasonable stretches. It was that much fun.  So I screamed down, felt great on the legs during and after, and just had a blast.  Road crossing and 1/2 mile to the Buck Creek Aid Station.

The Buck Creek Marathon

I describe White River as 90% physical and 10% mental.  The worst part of the mental is the Buck Creek Aid Station at Mile 27, which is back near the Start/Finish line.  The majority of people who are going to drop will do so at Buck Creek.  Seeing your car, as well as having gone through an incredibly hard marathon-distance, it’s just too tempting and convenient.  It’s so popular that it even has a name: the Buck Creek Marathon.  Fortunately I was feeling good, refilled water, grabbed PB&J on saltines (yum!) and some Mt. Dew and we were off.  Oh yeah, and this is where Laura was volunteering so there were also lots of hugs and kisses which were quite helpful as well.

Second Verse, Shorter (but Harder) than the First

After a quick run around the airstrip, we were on the trail to Sun Top and another long climb.  While having less elevation than Corral Pass and 4 less miles (23 to the finish), it is steeper and on more tired legs.   Not pleasant but the training runs were fabulous in helping me know that the pain would end and I’d get a glorious downhill until the final push to Sun Top.  Fawn Ridge Aid Station (Mile 31.7 and 4,280’ of elevation) was a quick stop for water and some snacks and then off again.  I completely missed the fact that Erica was sitting behind the station working on a blister; she got going, caught up with us, and suffered with us another 18 miles to the finish, exchanging life stories along the way.

Oh, the weather for the day… was either Awesome or Awful depending on your point of view.  For running, it was far better than the 90+F on the first training run up to Sun Top, but at 52-62F and light rain most of the day it was chilly and wet.  And the clouds.  Completely clouded in.  Which meant no picture of Rainier at Corral Pass.  I frequently choose races based on Glenn’s pictures (no, seriously, I do, and perhaps some other minor other criteria such as what the course is like and where it is) and this time there was no Corral Pass picture.  Bummer.  I got lots of good pictures at the training runs but didn’t have someone get the amazing photo at Corral Pass on that run.  And it didn’t happen at the race.  It was still *wonderful* having Takao up there (and Glenn for the faster folk) getting good shots of us but they just aren’t quite the same.  And Glenn’s Sun Top photos are great as always.  But I’m sad about my missed shot.  Oh well, just have to do the race again next year. 🙂

Another 5.3 miles from Fawn Ridge to Sun Top, with 1,000′ elevation but more like 1,500′ gain with all the up-and-down.  Much of it is up but there is a section 2/3 of the way through that is a beautiful, wooded, runnable downhill that was glorious after the second long slog.  After coming out of the woods from that downhill it’s a little over 1/2 mile to Sun Top, an incredibly steep and painful 1/2 mile.  There were only two good things about this: I knew it was relatively short and I knew Glenn was at the top waiting to capture our suffering faces.  We reached Sun Top right at the cut-off so it was a quick refill then off again.  Here is some of the suffering along with a bit of goofiness with Erica (sorry, Erica):

I wasn’t too worried about cut-offs since all I had to do was maintain a 13 minute pace downhill for 7 miles and I’d be in with lots of time to spare.  Easy, right?  Ummmm… No, not after 37 miles.  I got to Skookum Flats with 2 minutes to spare on the cutoff.  However, since the race started 3 minutes late they thought I had missed the cutoff.  They were pretty adamant that if I wanted to continue I’d need to hustle so I just grabbed water and ran until I was out of sight.  Then I walked.  I did a run-walk interval but I was just tired by this point and was definitely leaning more on the walking side.  Somewhere mid-Skookum after 13.5 hours the battery on my Garmin 920XT gave out.  I’m a bit bummed by this as it successfully made it through 15:40 hours at the Pigtails 100K so I figured I’d be fine.  I had the same equipment (heart rate monitor and foot pod).  Need to figure that one out.

At the start of Skookum, I was DFL and slowing dramatically. I knew I couldn’t made the Finish time which didn’t help my speed, nor did it help knowing I would be OK (still get credit) with coming in late (better to have had the pressure to finish sooner, although I’m not sure I could have anyway).  But I was able to catch up with Erica who was also struggling.  And we caught back up with Taryn, who we had been playing leapfrog with for much of the course and who was hurting more than either of us.

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Finish line arch by Leslie Miller and Vivian Doorn. Photo by Takao Suzuki at http://Runners.Photos

With 3 miles to go, we decided to pull together to get to the finish and with some helpful (but incredibly annoying!) pushing from Nancy Szoke as well as Taryn’s mother, we made it to the finish line.

We were able to do the last 1/10th of a mile looking strong (where strong = a non-walking, slow-shuffle/jog) and to great cheering.  OK, most of the runners were long gone but from those few dozen hardy souls who hung around it sounded like a thunderous, deafening welcome back and was much appreciated.  It almost brought me to tears (and again now as I write this) but it didn’t.  Nope.  No tears.  That I’ll ever admit to. 😉

And we finished.  We also had the honor of a Finish Line Arch thanks to Leslie and Vivian who were kind enough to hang around waiting for us.  You guys rock.

And Michael.  I can’t express enough appreciation for Michael.  He stayed with me almost the entire race, and while he gave me some advice, it was really limited (thanks!); I wasn’t excited about the prospect of being harassed the entire time (pick up your feet, stand up straight, less arm swing, etc) and I didn’t get any of that.  I got great company with some good conversation and some encouragement to keep moving out of the aid stations.  It was perfect and really helped me through.  Michael was there waiting for us at the finish line, already covered in blankets and being well cared for.  I was such a wreck I didn’t see him (didn’t help that they carefully lowered me into a chair facing away from him); sorry for not cheering earlier for you Michael.

While we were sitting warming up under the blankets and drinking warm water (sounded weird, tasted weird, but was just what we needed to warm up, thanks Eric & Medical!), medical was checking out Michael, Erica, and me who weren’t looking that great; Laura said I was pale as a ghost.  Medical and Eric Sach were great at giving us hot water to drink and hold, which took me about 10 minutes to realize was to warm up our core temp.  Warm blankets and dry clothes also helped.

Photo by Takao Suzuki at http://Runners.Photos

RDs at the Finish Line.  Photo by Takao Suzuki at http://Runners.Photos

Still, it was quickly clear that none of us should be be driving home as planned so we came up with a cunning plan (OK, it took us a while to figure out but everything was hard to think about at that point).  Michael was clearly in bad shape (ended up being sick on the way back) and I wanted to stay close to him to make sure he was OK.  Erica was also stuck as she had planned on driving home but again clearly needed rest.  So we drove back to the hotel, Laura driving the van w/tired runners and Medical driving Erika’s car, Erica stayed in Michael’s room from the night before, Michael got our queen bed downstairs, and Laura and I got to hang out in the cool loft since Vivian and Leslie drove home earlier that day.  Worked out great for all involved.

As soon as we got back to the hotel at 9:30PM, we called the restaurant which was in the process of closing but was kind enough to make us some pasta with chicken and a variety of desserts.  Hit the spot for Erika, Laura, and me; Michael was on a no-see-food diet and ended up skipping the smelly pasta (good call for him although the pasta was yummy and hit the spot, although I think anything would have tasted good at that point).  Then it was quickly to bed for some much needed rest.  In the morning, everyone was doing much better and we all headed our separate ways.  We bumped into Michael one more time at Wapiti Willies where much Huckleberry ice cream & shakes were enjoyed.

I learned a few days later that I was the “Last 7 to Glenn”.  Seven Hills frequently has contests, giving away prizes and store credit for those people wearing Seven Hills gear, such as my race shirt, and reach Glenn first or last.  White River is cool because there are prizes for First and Last to both Corral Pass and Sun Top.  Since Glenn has to leave Corral Pass early in order to make it to Sun Top before the first runners reach it, someone in the middle of the pack becomes “Last 7 to Glenn” which is a nice way to reward those who aren’t super-speedy or super-slow.  The good news is that being DFL has it’s advantages and I was indeed the Last 7 to Glenn winning me store credit.  The bad news is that I had already spent it on the replacement bottles.  Ah well…

All-in-all an amazing adventure.

More Pictures

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Congratulations Kiss.  Photo by Takao Suzuki at http://Runners.Photos

Numbers:

  • Entrants: 373
  • Starters: 319
  • Finishers: 276

Nutrition:

Night before: small Huckleberry Shake from Wipiti Willies (500 Kcal), Pasta Dinner (bread (300), pasta (300), meatballs (200), Homemade Bagel (150), Total: 950

  • Pre-race: Homemade Bagel (thanks, Laura!, 300 KCal), half an amazing biscuit (thanks, Vivian & Leslie!, 100), Protein Shake (thanks, Costco!, 160), and half a banana (thanks, God!, 40). Total 600 Kcal
  • A/S 1 Camp Shepard: Nothing, blew right by it without stopping.
  • A/S 2 Ranger Creek: 2 Nuun Waters, S-Cap, 1 Shot Bloks (frozen!, 200 Kcal), Total: 200
  • A/S 3 Corral Pass: 1 Nuun, 1 Water, S-Cap, ¼ PB&J Bagel (100), few M&Ms (50), few chips (50), coke (50), 1 Honey Stingers (mmmmm, soft, 160), Total: 400 KCal
  • A/S 4 Ranger Creek: 1 Nuun, 1 Water, S-Cap, ½ big Almond Butter (200), Total: 200
  • A/S 5 Buck Creek: 1 Nuun, 1 Water, S-Cap, Mt. Dew (50, out of coke!  S’ok, I like Mt. Dew but still ;-), PB&J Saltines (100, out of bread!  S’ok, the saltine was perfect), M&Ms (50), Shot Bloks (200), Total: 400
  • A/S 6 Fawn Ridge: 1 Nuun, 2 Waters (had a third in my pack), S-Cap, BBQ chips, ¼ PB&J (PB&J was hitting the spot today, 100), M&Ms (50), BBQ chips (maybe not here, but wherever I had them they were really yummy, 50), coke (50), ½ big Almond Butter (130), Total: 400
  • A/S 7 Sun Top: 1 Nuun, 1 Water, S-Cap, M&Ms, Coke, handful of goldfish crackers (50) and chips (50), chomps from Buck Creek (100), Total 200
  • A/S 8 Skookum Flats: 1 Water (they were worried about the cutoff), ½ Shot Bloks (100), Total: 100
  • During Skookum: ½ Shot Blocks (100), Total: 100

During the Race Total (inc BFast but not post-race dinners): 2,500

  • Finish: Hot water (weird sensation but felt good), bowl of BBQ chicken (surprisingly good, surprising because I didn’t expect to want to eat but it was yummy, 300), Total: 300
  • Dinner at hotel: Chicken Pasta (300), blueberry crisp (600), Ice Cream (200), 2 Sprites (300), Total: 1,400

Post-Race Total: 1,700

Day Total: 4,200

Cal burned: 14 hours @ 500 cal/hr = 7,000.  Rats, only short 3,000 which is about 1 pound.  Must find better way to lose weight. 😉

Additional Notes / Lessons:

I love my Garmin 920XT but the battery gave out 14:30 in (halfway through Skookum flats).  It has an Ultra mode that is supposed to go 50 hours but it only gets the GPS location once a minute which is simply too slow except perhaps for long, straight roads.  I really wish they offered an in-between mode such as every 5 seconds instead of every second.  It also lost the GPS signal from Ranger Creek to Buck Creek on both the training run and race; those are some dense trees.  I can dream of a watch with super-strong signal reception…

I really need to figure out where to stash my Yurbuds when I don’t have them in my ears.  I typically tuck them in the pocket with my front bottles but when I go to take the bottles out the covers come off the Yurbud headphones and I end up losing them.  Have to think about that one.

Cover photo by Glenn Tachiyama at http://tachifoto.net.

Volcanic 50 DNF

A wise man named Matt once said that “Like a first scratch on a car, it means you can finally relax when backing into parking spaces.”  I can now relax.  In short, I was trained enough and on pace to finish until I made the mistake of following a group who went down the wrong trail, which I made worse thanks to my poor mapping skills.  I could have handled a minor hiccup, but this was a 3-mile, 1 hour major hiccup which lead to the downfall of my race.

The Volcanic 50

The Volcanic 50K is a 50K+ (32 mile) race circumnavigating Mt. St. Helens, an active volcano located about 4 hours south of Seattle. St. Helens’ last major eruption was in 1980 although it does have a dome that has been actively growing. Except for 4.5 miles, the entire race is on the Loowit Trail. It starts in Marble Mountain Sno-Park and has about 7,000 feet of elevation gain. The Volcanic site has a great Course Description that gives the full description of the course.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it but in talking with friends Alley Kloba and Bill Sepeda who ran it last year, it was an absolute Must to do: “how many times do you get to run around a volcano?”

Prep

I drove in from Bellevue the night before and spent the night at the Lewis River Inn which is at the turnoff from I-5 and Highway 503 which takes you to the mountain. A fine hotel and if you stay there make sure to ask for a room facing the river. Grabbed a bite (Subway) on the way down and tried to stay hydrated as the next day was going to be long and hot (80+F predicted).

I had already spent the previous night at home preparing my pack so didn’t have to go through that exercise. I had a veritable smorgasbord of food. 090814_0127_Volcanic50D1.jpgI also had the mandatory water filtration (Sawyer mini-filter and Steripen Traveler… overkill, but that’s the way I roll), jacket (Patagonia Houdini), whistle and emergency blanket (both of which came with my Soloman Adv Skin Hydro 12 pack.  I love, love, love my pack. I thought I’d hate the front bottles but the 500ml soft-flasks are great and there is plenty of room even with my over-packing. My two problems with the pack are the exorbitant cost and the fact that it doesn’t come w/a bladder although it has a pocket and sleeve for one; the bladder you have to buy directly from Hydrapak. Fully loaded with water, the pack came to a ridiculous 12 pounds (someone actually brought a scale to the race to see how much he lost during the race).

I’ve learned many things from my running friends. Alley and Bill have provided some great advice including for this race in particular. 090814_0118_Volcanic50D2.jpgOne trick I learned from Alley while we were at Rainshow Running’s Gorge Waterfalls 50K was to bring along the elevation chart with the aid stations and cut-off times. I made one up, copying the chart from the Volcanic website and then adding the cut-off times (the only one being 4PM at Aid Station #4) but also adding in some Goal times. Alley is about 10-15% faster than me so I listed her times and then extrapolated out to what I thought were reasonable, conservative goals for me. This had me making Aid Station 4 at 3:30PM, 30 minutes before the cut-off. A bit close but not too concerning… or so I thought.

The Start to Aid Station 1

On Saturday morning I got up at 4:30AM, had a relaxing start, and headed out at 5AM for the hour drive to the Start. Stopped at a mini-mart in Cougar, WA for a quick drink and bathroom stop; unfortunately the bathroom ended up being a Honeybucket out back, but at least there wasn’t a line as there would be at the start.

I got to Marble Mountain Sno-Park around 6:15AM, picked up my packet and ran into Takao Suzuki, my photographer (extraordinaire) friend who was also running at about my same pace as well as Lee Newbill and Paul Nelson (amazing photographer covering this race). Went back to the car to get organized and then back to the start for the race briefing and start.  After the short briefing, we were off.

   Volcanic Start

The first 4 miles is nice single and double-track trail which gains 2,100′ before turning onto the Loowit trail. We turned left to go clockwise around the mountain. This is where things go crazy. I think of a trail as a clear path through the woods or over grasslands. Here, “trail” meant “Look 1/10 mile ahead, spot the pole, marker on a rock, or cairn, figure out a way to hop over the boulders to get there.” The boulders ranged from 6″ to many feet wide and tended to be pretty sharp (thanks to Bill for suggesting to bring gloves). This lasted a mile or two before turning better as we cruised into Aid Station 1 2:15 later at 9:20AM, exactly on my goal time (no, really, it was literally perfectly on my goal).

 090814_0127_Volcanic50D5.jpg Volcanic Start to AS1

Paul Nelson, our extremely talented race photographer, was up taking photos on some of the trickier rocks. I really appreciate all the effort he took to get to the location to get a great shot.

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Four images above and Cover photo by Paul Nelson http://PaulNelson.smugmug.com

Aid Station 1 to Aid Station 2

The best comment from AS1 was “it’s much easier running from here to the next aid station” and they were actually telling the truth. While it felt like I was cruising, I think the previous bit had taken a bit of a toll and in areas the trail was more half-track than single-track, fairly overgrown and it took 2 hours (11:20) to get to AS2 5.2 miles later. I was now 20 minutes past my goal time. I wasn’t too worried but knew I’d have to pick up the pace.

The race was well organized and despite my wrong turn was very well marked. I love the little orange half-cone course markers.

   Volcanic AS2

Aid Station 2 to …

After AS2, you immediately drop down to the Toutle River, climbing down a rope, crossing the running river, and climbing up the rope on the other side and continuing climbing another 800′. The river was a little over a foot deep at its deepest and Takao got a nice shot of me trying not to fall in.

 090814_0127_Volcanic50D15.jpg090814_0127_Volcanic50D12.jpg  Volcanic Toutle River Crossing 2014-09-06 019-X3

Photo by Takao Suzuki http://Runners.Photos

Takao and I had hung together for most of the race up to this point, doing a bit of side-by-side but mostly playing leap-frog. Early conversation turned into quiet, focused racing and it was great being able to switch off and let the other push the pace a bit. It was wonderful running with Takao. Unfortunately Takao was coming off of an injury a few days before and then had a huge cramp at the river crossing. He wisely decided to head back the Aid Station and was done for the day.

I climbed up the other side of the river and headed off towards AS3. There was a range of terrain from woods, to rocky to sandy to hard-pack in and out of tons of canyons. And this is where things went wrong.

090814_0127_Volcanic50D17.jpg 090814_0127_Volcanic50D18.jpg I was lost and then I was found.

Just over a mile in, you do several long switchbacks up some very sandy hills (see picture). At the top of the hill (in the distance at the top-left of the picture) is a post which it turns out is the junction of Fairview Trail, 13.4 miles in (13.9 on my Garmin Fenix). At this point, there were 3 people directly in front of me who I followed straight down an obvious trail, not noticing there was a potential turn to the right (did I mention the trails weren’t always very trail-ish?). If I had looked to the right, I would have seen a marker but I didn’t so I plowed forward following the other 3. This was Lesson #1: Watch the course instead of the people ahead of you. Lesson #2: I brought a Turn-by-Turn instruction list which said to turn right at around that spot. I should have referred to it, although since my Garmins aren’t that accurate the location was 1/4 – 1/2 mile off from the instructions.

About a mile in from our missed turn, everyone paused and mentioned they hadn’t seen a marker in a while. We stared at the map a while and realized we couldn’t tell where we were. Comparing our elevation to the chart, it seemed like our elevation was doing the right thing but we weren’t clearly hugging the mountain. That happens during switchbacks so I wasn’t too concerned we ended up going back around 1/2 mile before deciding we had to be right and so turned around and did another mile deeper in the wrong direction. Lesson #3: If you haven’t seen a marker in a while, turn around and keep going backwards until you find one. After about a mile in the wrong direction, we finally gave up and headed back to find a marker. At this point I was worried the sweeps would have passed us and removed markers but sure enough we got back to the turn, saw the marker, and were back on course.

Where the Wheels Came Off

Unfortunately I wasn’t sure how many miles and how much time we had blown and therefore wasn’t sure if we would make the cut-offs. Looking at my chart, I knew I really had 45 minutes of extra time in the schedule to make the AS4 cut-off and I figured I was close to using that up.  In reviewing my Garmin, I now know that I spent an extra hour, 3 miles, and 600′ elevation at the longest part of the course between Aid Stations, so there was already no way I could make the cut-off.

However here is where things went from bad to worse.  I knew that I was going to run low on water. I carried 2 half-liter soft flasks in the front of my pack with Nuun water. I also had a 1.5L of pure water in the pack bladder. I try to just use the soft-flasks as I need the sodium in the Nuun and then consider the bladder “backup.” However I started to dip into the bladder pretty deeply as this section of the course is extremely exposed and windy and it was getting into the high-80’s to 90F. Put together, I was burning through water fast and after a few miles of being back on track I started to ration the water to just a few sips every once in a while.

Unfortunately since at the time I didn’t know how many miles I’d blown, I didn’t know how much further I was from AS3. I was thinking I had wasted 2 miles on my Garmin but it turned out to be 3 miles which means I thought I was closer to the aid station than I really was. About a mile and a half from the aid station, I was down to a last few sips of water. There was a muddy stream crossing where I dipped a bandana for my head but kept going without filtering (it really was pretty gross water). Within 1/4 mile there was another, much-clearer stream. However since I figured the AS was just over the next ridge, I didn’t stop to fill up. This was Lesson #4 as I still had 1.5 miles to go and ran out of mile about half a mile later still hoping the AS was closeby. What really made this stupid was I knew I had already missed the AS cutoff so there was little reason to not stop for 5 minutes, filter water, and leave with a full pack. But I kept thinking there was better water just ahead and perhaps they would let me continue so I couldn’t waste the time. Huge mistake. I started dragging, not just walking but walking slowly not just up the hills but even the flats. A mile later, still a half a mile from the AS, I ran into 2 other guys who were sitting on the side of the trail also out of water. They had sent a runner ahead and asked her to send someone back from the AS with water. After a few minutes of hanging out, I encouraged everyone to get moving and we slowly made our way along the trail until we met an AS worker carrying water. We kept going to AS3 and arrived around 3:45PM, 15 minutes before the AS4 cut-off, which was 4 miles and a ton of elevation away. The workers made it clear we were staying and were done for the day.

Recovery

At this point I didn’t care about the DNF as my body was feeling pretty miserable.  I took a couple slugs of water on the trail but headed back to the AS where I crashed on the ground and let one of the workers fill my bottles. Despite the thirst, I still Steripen’d the water from the spring (again, that’s just how I roll). I downed 2 liters of very, very cold water very, very quickly. It tasted great but soon after I started shivering, probably from too much cold water too fast. Tried to down a PB&J which tasted great but I couldn’t get down more than 1/3 before giving up.

I walked into the sun and about 20 minutes after arriving was back to feeling pretty good. My legs and body were in good shape, I had just been dehydrated. Unfortunately the workers made it clear there was no continuing. There were a couple sucky things about this. It was a 3 mile hike and 2 hour drive from AS3 to the Finish. I figured the next AS was an hour away for me and then it was a few miles hike and 15 minute drive to the finish. It wouldn’t have saved much time but it would have been an hour and a half less of sitting around waiting for the sweeps to come through.

090814_0127_Volcanic50D20.jpg 090814_0127_Volcanic50D21.jpg 090814_0127_Volcanic50D22.jpg Volcanic AS3

The Long Ride Home

Once the sweeps were through, we packed up and headed the 3 miles back to the parking lot. There was a road just a mile away but a gate stopped cars from going through. Ah well. Unfortunately so many people got stopped that we only had 10 seats for the 13 people who needed to get back. There was an aid car hanging out in the parking lot which had an extra seat I squeezed into and the other 2 extras rode in the back of the pickup for the 2 hour drive back. Ugh. It was a paved, although a bit bumpy, ride back. Exchanged stories with the employee and volunteer EMS crew; really appreciate their expertise and time in being out there for the runners. Fortunately their services were not needed except to help w/an IV at the finish for a dehydrated runner. A ProBar served as a meal/snack on the way back and they had bottled water which was also much appreciated.

It was dark when we got back at 8:30PM, well after the 7PM race cut-off, but there were still spectators cheering people in. Better yet the kitchen was open and cooked me up a veggie burger, and while not sounding great when initially offered I thoroughly enjoyed a Popsicle (from a plug-in freezer onsite.  What a brilliant idea!). It was getting cold so hopped in the car for the 1:15 drive back to town where a warm shower and comfy bed awaited.

Did a bit of rolling with The Stick that night and in the morning and really felt pretty good.  The race did not tear me up that much, despite the 23 miles and tough terrain.  I attribute much of that because I tend to putter along and enjoy the view, not pushing to go as fast as possible.  I may not win, or even finish, but I will always (or at least most of the time) have fun.

Reflections and Review

This was a really hard race. It was a ton of scrambling over boulders, slogging through sand, going on ropes down and up canyons, river crossings, etc. But it was beautiful. I was trained to finish with some time to spare but not well enough to handle a major hiccup. I will train more and take my lessons learned to have a great race next year.

In looking at my Garmin course, if I had stayed on-track instead of blowing an hour and 3 miles in the wrong direction, I would have arrived at AS3 at 7:21hrs (2:21PM) just a bit behind my 2:15PM goal. I wouldn’t have run out of water so would have been in good shape to power on to the finish well before the cutoffs.

This is also a good reminder of “The Butterfly Effect,” which I first heard about in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” in which the seemingly-inconsequential killing of a butterfly in the distant past changes the future in dramatic ways.  In my case, if I had been just 2-3 minutes faster I wouldn’t have been behind the other runners and probably would have made the correct turn.  If I hadn’t gone back to chat w/the photographer or if I hadn’t spent so much time at the Aid Station or if I simply pushed a touch harder on the course, I could have avoided an unfortunate ending.

Lots of lessons for me:

  • Run my own race. Don’t trust/follow other people. Watch the damn course and markings.
  • Every second counts. Don’t talk to the photographer. Don’t over-filter water. Don’t take too many pictures. It all adds up and when you are worried about cut-offs there is not time to spare.
  • Check all batteries. Did well except camera. I wasn’t worried if it had a low battery in the camera because I always keep a spare in the case. Except this time I didn’t.
  • Find some way to download a map to my phone (since no online access) and use GPS (which works everywhere) to pinpoint where you are on the map. Perhaps I could have done that on my Garmin too, but the phone would be easier to read. That would have immediately told us we were off-course.  Update: For Windows Phone there is MapCache and MapCache Offline Maps.
  • Don’t over-pack. I brought 3,000+ cal of food. I really don’t eat more than 250-300 cal/hr and the aid stations each had at least 100 cal of food I liked. So I could have gotten away with bringing 2,000 cal.
  • Manage the pack better: I love my pack because there is lots of storage up front for food. But at AS2 after having gone through more than half of it, I should have taken the time to restock it. I would have eaten better if I had a nice variety of easy-to-access food.
  • Need to plan for Sodium / hr. I know I like between 350-500mg/hr from Nuun. That means 3,500-5,000mg (yes, 3.5-5g, I get it) over the course of this race which means 10-14 Nuun tabs. I only brought a bottle of 8 and only had 6 easily accessible. I was OK until the 4 hr stretch between AS2 and AS3 and blew through my 1.5L of plain water in my bladder. If I’m drinking plain water mid-race, I should have S!-Caps (341/capsule) or something.

Thoughts for the Race Directors

Compliments

  • The course was well marked. Really. Well, except that one turn but that really was my fault. I *love* the little cones.
  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for staying out late (8:30PM even w/7PM cut-off) and having people cheering, music playing, and food on the grill
  • The volunteers were all fabulous.  I would especially like to thank the workers at Aid Station 3 who brought water when we needed it, made sure we were doing OK, and held us back when we needed to be held back.

Suggestions

  • Cutting people off at AS3 was annoying since the drive was 2 hours vs 15 minutes from AS4. It would have been great if those of us in good shape and well ahead of the sweeps could have continued to AS4.
  • The sweeps at AS3 were surprised they had to continue on the course as they were hoping for replacements. Probably a good idea in the future.
  • The sweeps were pretty far back from the cut-off times, arriving at AS3 at 5PM when the AS4 cut-off was at 4PM. They walked people in to AS3. It would have been interesting to see those people’s times at AS2 and perhaps adding a cut-off to each Aid Station.
  • It would have been great to know where the sweeps were. Perhaps time to rent a Spot that could be communicated to the Aid Stations?
  • There were only 4 spare seats in the cars at AS2 but 7 pulled runners. 2 ended up in the back of a truck bed and 1 ended up in the EMS car which just happened to be hanging out.
  • There was a gate blocking the 2 miles of road to the 1 mile trail to AS3. The EMS guys were happy to open it. Both for the volunteers hauling in equipment as well as helping everyone on the way out, it would be great to get the gates open.

Details for My Training Review

Below are the stats for the run. While I was good for the first 12 miles to Aid Station 2, my nutrition went to pot getting to Aid Station 3. Just too many hours and not enough food. I knew I was hungry but I didn’t want take the time to stop and eat.

Pre-race:

Nice, relaxing pre-race, well fed and hydrated.

  • Food: 460 cal: Protein Shake (160cal), slice of Great Harvest cinnamon-chip bread (200), and banana (100)
  • Water: At least 16oz of water going in
  • A bit heavy on the calories coming in but I started eating 2 hours before the race so wasn’t worried.
  • Weather: Cool, probably in the 60s

Start – AS 1

OK nutrition given big breakfast.  Moderate uphill at beginning that I could have pushed harder.

  • Distance: Actual 6.3, Fenix II: 6.85, Garmin 910xt 6.65
  • Time: 2:15hrs, 9:20AM, Goal 9:20AM
  • Food: 250 calories (110/hr, Low but I started High): Shot Blok (200), AS M&Ms (50)
  • Water 1/2L Nuun (360mg sodium = 160/hr, low but started High)

AS1 – AS2

Felt good although ended up at the aid station much later than expected.  I get the sense the aid station was actually further than marked.

  • Distance: Actual 11.5 (?), Fenix II: 12.7, 910xt: 12.5
  • Time: 2 hours (4:15hrs race clock), 11:20AM, Goal 11:00
  • Food: 520 cal (260/hr, good) , PocketFuel Almond Butter (170), Shot Blok (200), AS M&Ms (50), Gu (100)
  • Water: 1L Nuun (720mg sodium = 360/hr, good)
  • Weather: in the 80’s

AS2 – AS3

A long section already (8.75 miles) in a hot, open area made worse by going off-track for 3 miles and an hour.  Turned disastrous when I ran out of water and also handled nutrition very poorly.  Should have readjusted fuel at AS2 for easy access and then used it.  Should have filtered stream when I knew I was low, even if AS turned out to be just over ridge.  Need to pay attention to nutrition over time, not nutrition between Aid Stations.

  • Distance: Actual: 20.25, Lost for 3 miles, Fenix II: 23.93
  • Off-Trail: 3 miles, 1 hour, 600′ elevation
  • Time: 4:27 hours (8:42hrs race clock), 3:42PM, Goal 2:15PM.  Extra 27 min was from me dragging last few miles.
  • Food: 270 cal (60 cal/hr, barely measurable = disastrous), 1 Caffeine Gu (100), PocketFuel (170)
  • Water: 1L Nuun Water (720mg sodium = 170mg/hr, very bad), 1.5L plain Water, ran out (horrendous issue)
  • Need to keep the Nuun going or start carrying S-Caps.
  • Weather: high 80’s to 90F.

AS3 – Finish

Couldn’t eat much at AS (PB&J) but started refueling on way home.

  • Food: 1600 cal, 1/3 PB&J (100), 1 ProBar (360), Veggie Burger (400), pretzels (100), popsicle (40), chips (600)
  • Water: 2+L at AS, 1/2L in ride out

Continue reading

Sun Mt. 50K Race Report

Last year the Sun Mountain 25K was my very first 25K. It was a gorgeous race and Glenn took an amazing picture which ended up by the ProClub in their marketing. This year I had to try the 50K. Had a great time carpooling with Angela Vaughan on Friday night, saving me from five and a half hours of complete boredom on the drive to Winthrop (accident on I-5 added an extra hour and a half).  She’s finishing her Junior year at UW and has been studying environmental science.  Has spent some great summers working in the woods around Winthrop.  Great stuff.  Highway 20 had just opened a few weeks before and there were some impressive snow piles on the side of the road.  Also wild seeing the temperature go from 67 to 44 to 67 as we crested the mountain. 10380180_10201957329402332_2484181831717218476_o (Medium)I spent Saturday volunteering at the 25K. Got there early for registration and ended up staying through cleanup. Too many friends and it was quite the party with 315 starters and with all the racers ending within an hour or so, everyone hung a round to cheer each other on and enjoy pizza, beer, and The Pine Hearts.  Got back, got a great dinner w/Glenn at The Old Schoolhouse Brewery, and then back to the room to get ready and an early night Got up early on Sunday, grabbed a yummy scone from The Rockinghorse Bakery, and headed to the start.  Ran into several friends but missed several others who had left several hours earlier to run the 50M.  At 9:50AM we lined up for the course briefing and were off.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

The race starts with some double-track before quickly getting down to single-track, running along Patterson Lake before heading into the woods.  It’s mostly a gradual climb with occassional steep parts that I had to hike. I really, really need to work on my hill work; these things are slowing me down waaaay too much.  At 5.5 miles in was Glenn in a field of flowers snapping photos. A few more miles to the first aid station, which I clocked in at about the same pace as last year’s 25K.  Hoped for faster but given I was going a bit longer this time I was happy with the time.  Gained about 1400′ over 8 miles. WP_20140518_047 (Medium)A bit more uphill on the road then there is a ridiculous scramble up and then down a small loop before continuing down, crossing the road, and heading off on the second half.  The start of the second half is very runnable.  I was surprised to still be running through the woods, since the 50K pictures always show grass and flower covered hills.  We stayed in the woods until the turnoff for a loop back up the hill and around Sun Mt Lodge, a painful 700′ gain over 1 mile.  It was amusing coming up the backdoor of the lodge, running around the side, through the parking lot, and over a grassy area before getting back on a trail.  There were several couples laying out on the grass enjoying the sun who were kind enough to cheer us on. The loop circled back to the original course.  Again, fairly runable until mile 24 when we started a 1200′ gain over 2 miles.  Just when you thought you were cresting the top, there was another hill in the distance with little dots of runners going up (and down).  Ugh.  On a happy note, Glenn caught us coming down the mountain (as opposed to coming up).

WP_20140518_070 (Medium)Two more miles brought us down to the road and then a bit of uphill back to the Finish line.  As always, James was there giving high-fives to all of the runners and I took the obligatory photo with the RD.  Lots of great food and people hanging out listening to the Pine Hearts.  Beautiful day and a great way to finish the race. I wore 2 watches since my new Fenix 2 keeps freezing and I wanted a backup (both worked great today), both of which showed about 29.5.  Interestingly the Fenix 2 was consistently 1% longer than the Garmin 910xt, but I’m thrilled with being that close compared to the Fenix being off by >10% at the Gorge Waterfalls 50K.  Total time was 7 hours and 41 minutes. I was hoping for under 7:30 but am quite pleased with the 7:41.  Full Garmin track here.

Looking onto the Methow River out the window of my hotel room.

Looking onto the Methow River out the window of my hotel room.

Rooted on the next few finishers but needed to get back into cell-phone range for a conference call.  After the call, a much-needed shower, and some FB updates, it was early to bed in order to get up at 5:30AM to get to work.  Had a great room (they are all great) at the Hotel Rio Vista which was right on the Methow River.  Even with the Windows closed you could hear the gentle roar of the river going by.  Very relaxing. Truly a beautiful course.  Fields and fields of yellow and blue flowers.  Gorgeous views of the valley and distant, snow-covered mountains.  I will come back as often as I can. Of course Matt Stebbins assures me that the extra 20 miles in the 50 miler is really the best part of the course. Maybe someday, although I’m actually pushing for a 20 mile race that is just the first 20 miles of the 50 miler. Nutrition: 7 Nuun in 100oz water, refilled front bottles at every aid station 17 oz pure water: too little, should have refilled hydration bladder 3 ShotBloks 2.5 Honey Stinger Chews: 160 cal, 80mg Sodium = 400 cal, 200mg Sodium 1 ProBar: 160 cal, 15mg Sodium 2 Gu Proctane: 100 cal, 125mg Sodium, 35mg Caffeine = 200 cal, 250mg Sodium, 70mg Caffeine 1 Gu: 100 cal, 55mg Sodium, 20mg Caffeine Aid stations: 2 Peeps, few M&Ms, few chips Still hungry at the end but not as bad as at Gorge Waterfalls.  Unlike at that race, I took a Gu and some chomps 2 miles from the finish.  Ran out of plain water with 5 miles to go having started about half full (1.5L / 2); need to either take more or refill at the aid stations.  The day was warm and dry and I probably drank more than normal. More pics:

Squak Mt. 12K

My first experience at Squak Mt. was “just” a 12K.  It was a combination of wanting to start small (although the Half would have been a fine option) and running with friends who were doing their first trail run.  Squak was not a good place for a “first” trail run.  It was, however, a glorious day with sun and perfect running temperature.  It had also been relatively dry leading up to it limiting the amount of mud to just 2-3 “bad” spots.

The Squak 12K has 2,400′ of brutal elevation gain:Image

It starts out with a good uphill on a road before cutting into a flatter section of trail.  The trail loops back to the road for some more uphill then back onto the trail again.  At this point the trail becomes brutal with a ton of switchbacks and lots of hiking.  Back out to the road and up, up, up to the aid station.  From the aid station there is a bit more uphill past the radio towers and then back on single-track for a mostly downhill, although surprising bit of uphill just after the peak, race to the finish.

The final few miles were glorious.  I’m a huge fan of downhill and like to scream down.  I did get passed a few times as I pulled out food and/or waited for friends, but in general I kept my place to the finish. Also wiped out once; no blood but was sore for a mile or two until feeling good again.  With a pure downhill finish on a clean gravel path, I flew across the finish line.

Based on Alley Kloba’s results last year of 1:48:57, I expected to be in the 2:04 range as I’m about 10-15% slower than her.  My actual time of 1:53:44 was a very pleasant surprise.  This placed me 63rd out of 98 finishers (104 overall), 15 out of 29 in the 40-49 age group, and 36 out of 45 Male finishers.  I have a half-hearted goal of being in the Top 50% of a race. I’m not sure I’ll get there as I’d have to drop 1 min per mile but you never know.

Great seeing Jerry Gamez, Roger Michel and Eric Sach at the start and on the course saw Kristin Parker (heading out again as I came in to the finish), Leslie Miller (who wasn’t feeling well and ended up bailing at the half), Stephen Ferry, Earl Fenstermacher (who doesn’t know me but I know him), and GW.  There were lots more friends on the Full and 50K who I didn’t see; have to go longer next time (although I’m still not overly excited about the 2-loop hilly courses like Squak and Grand Ridge).  Paul Nelson was out taking pictures and should have gotten 2 nice ones of me with his new, super-wide lens.

Full Results: Webscorer

Race-day details:

Weather and Equipment:

  • Weather: 49F at the start to 55F at the finish, mix of clouds and sun
  • Shorts, short-sleeve shirt, light vest, Solomon 12 hydration pack.  Could have done without the vest once I got going up the hills, although it was nice at the top and coming back down the mountain.
  • Fenix 2 GPS watch.  What a piece of crap.  Froze at 5.6 miles.  Lost heartrate, after having it, several miles before.  At Gorge Waterfalls 50K (31 miles) it registered 35 miles.  It’s going back.

Food:

  • Pre-race: Half a bagel (160 cal), half a banana (100 cal), protein shake (140 cal) for 400 cal.
  • Filled 2 17oz front bottles with water and one Nuun tablet each for total 720mg sodium.  Drank 2/3 for 480mg sodium.
  • Packed 3 Honey Stinger Chews for 480 calories and 240mg sodium.  At 2/3 for 320 cal and 160mg sodium
  • Packed 3 gels for 300 cal and 165 sodium.  Only had 1 with caffeine w/45 min to go so got 100 cal and 55 sodium
  • Grabbed handful of M&Ms for about 100 cal and 15mg sodium
  • Totals: 20 oz water, 700mg sodium, 520 cal

Post race:

  • Bit of cheese and crackers: 100 cal
  • 1/2 costco muffin: 350 cal
  • Multi-grain chips: 200 cal
  • handful of M&Ms: 100 cal
  • Rest of banana and bagel plus one more bagel: 550
  • Total: 1,300 cal

Burned around 1,200-1,400 calories. Need to cut back on the post-race food.  🙂

Gorge Waterfalls 50K – My First 50K

As the title of this blog states, I write these for my own memories.  If you really want to know about the race, feel free to jump down to “Running the Gorge Waterfalls 50K” otherwise you can start here and learn about…

My History of Running

From the day I started running in the early summer of 2012, when I weighed 90 pounds more than I do today, my goal has been to run an ultramarathon.  This was inspired by two good ultrarunning friends who make doing ultras look easy.  While I knew that I would never be fast, I knew that with training I could keep going and going and going (take that Energizer Bunny!).  On Saturday, March 29, 2014 I completed that goal and finished my first 50K.

I had always targeted the Chuckanut 50K as my first race, both for my friends who ran it as well as it really being the premier race in the area.  Chuckanut has been around for over 20 years and has been run by, and still attracts, many of the best ultrarunners (I was going to say “in the region” but in the 2014 race it had runners from Canada, Alaska, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and so on).  It was also where I reconnected with Robert Lopez, a good friend I used to work with and prolific ultrarunner, who eventually took me under his wing, encouraging me to continue, inviting me to run with him, and introducing me to some of the most amazing runners in the area.

However, I have also fallen in love with Rainshadow Running’s race series, again having friends who have run it as well as thoroughly enjoying it’s billing as having the Most Beautiful and Most Challenging races in the region.  Beyond Chuckanut, my other goal race was the Sun Mountain 50K, which again friends had run and was known as being a beautiful course.  I ran it in 2013 as my first 25K, both enjoying the run as well as getting a picture taken by Glenn Tachiyama which became one of the reasons I ended up in a full-page ad for the ProClub in the March Alaska Air magazine (OK, losing 44 pounds, gaining it back and more, and then losing 101 had a bit to do with it as well).  It was also due to this race that I heard about the Gorge Waterfalls 50K which also quickly got onto my bucket list as

For 2014, due to some scheduling challenges with the amazing ultrarunner Krissy Mohel, it was announced that Chuckanut would be on the same day as Gorge Waterfalls.  While my heart had always been aiming for Chuckanut, Gorge was too tempting to pass up.  When I won the lottery to get into Gorge, it was a done deal.

Running the Gorge Waterfalls 50K

I headed down to Portland early on Friday afternoon in order to beat the traffic, which failed miserably as the entire Seattle area seemed to have the same idea and what should have been a 3.5 hour drive took over 5 hours.  But everything else went smoothly and I checked into my hotel for a good night’s sleep before the race.  Up at 6:15AM thanks to 2 different alarms (and no thanks to the Wake-up Call system which was an hour off time-wise), I had a relatively relaxed morning, getting my things together and having a light breakfast (typical banana, protein (yogurt this time), and some bread (bagel and a muffin).  The weather had been iffy all week but it looked like it would start in the high 30’s and get into the mid 40’s with only a slight chance of rain.  As well as could be expected and completely wrong in actuality.

Hopped in the car and headed to the Finish line where checkin was quick, I met up with friends Alley Kloba, Bill Sepeda, and Glenn before boarding the bus to the Start line at Wyeth Trailhead/Campground.  As Alley pointed out, it was a long, long bus ride.  We were pretty sure the bus had missed an exit or two given the length of time we were doing highway speeds, but sure enough we ended up at the Trailhead.  Oy we had a long way back.

Start Photo by Paul Nelson

Start Photo by Paul Nelson

After a short walk to the start line, which we were eventually told was back at the buses so after a short walk back, we got a quick course briefing and then the race was off.  After immediately crossing our first of dozens of foot-bridges, we were immediately on single-track up a gradual incline for the first few miles.

The course is one of Rainshadow’s easier runs although it has a surprising amount of elevation over the entire course and a killer of a hill at the end:

Cool elevation lamination by Alley Kloba

Cool elevation lamination by Alley Kloba

Elwah Falls

The course was beautiful and hard.  To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what was where but I have great memories of beautiful single-track, at least a dozen stream crossings (some of which I even made with dry feet, but most not so much), and past innumerable waterfalls that we ran past, behind, and under (no, truly, with all the rain and the wind kicking up the spray we essentially ran through one of the larger falls).

Memorable moments

After we spread out a bit from the start, I was fortunately in the right section of the pack, (near the back : – ) so not much passing going on.  We quickly came upon some rock slides, which fortunately were very run-able unlike later ones which were not due to more ankle-twisters than trail.  Also got my first taste of the many stream crossings, most of which went “Yeah!  I made it three steps across without getting wet Oh CRAP I MISSED THE LAST STEP” and ending up with one soggy foot.  I made a half-hearted effort to switch up which foot got the dunking so the other foot didn’t feel left out or get too warm.

The first climb was slow but not that bad, comparable to many at Cougar Mt which is my usual hilly-trail stomping grounds.  There was the full gamut of trails, ranging from nice single-track, clean dirt through rock-slides, annoyingly rocky and non-runable through rockslides, fire roads, real roads, streams, waterfalls, and occasional stretches of mud.

Some good mudThe mud was the bane of my run.  My first wipeout was due to a muddy-slide about 1/4 of a mile before Aid Station #1.  I was plowing down it when my right leg didn’t stick and slipped out in front of me, doing my best imitation of a slide into home plate.  My whole right side was covered in mud.  Fortunately, I just felt a touch sore so hopped up and continued on to the aid station where they had plenty of water enough for me to wash my hands.  The Project Talaria videographer strongly suggested I wash off my leg, which I wasn’t planning on until I looked down and there was a bit of red mixed in with the mud.  Upon washing it off, sure enough I had some pretty good, bloody scrapes.  Fortunately they weren’t too bad (dripping just a bit 🙂 so after some quick snacks I headed off out of the aid station.

It feels worse than it looks.

It feels worse than it looks.

My next wipeout really took care of my leg.  I’m not quite sure what happened, perhaps I was leaping over a boulder on the trail (which was likely closer to a tiny rock) but the next thing I knew I was doing my very best tuck-and-roll coming back up into a sitting position with my feet dangling down the side of the hill (not quite a cliff fortunately).  Two guys in funny hats (literally one said “Goofy”) immediately came up and asked if I was OK.  After patting myself down and thinking for a minute, I decided I was indeed fine and they helped me back up.  Of course it was then that I realized I’d ripped a good chunk of skin off of the same knee as before and now had a far more impressive amount of blood showing, although not enough to stop me.  I got back going behind the guys, who I’d run into again later on.

For this run I was rockin’ a new Garmin Fenix 2, something I had picked up in the past week because I knew I’d be pushing the battery limits of my Garmin 610 which lasted less than 8 hours.  I also needed something far better for the Volcanic 50 which is likely to take me 11+ hours.  I like the watch, although it was on this run that I discovered something is up with it’s GPS distance calculations.  I didn’t note the distance at Aid Station #1 but I kept watching the distance as I started to look for Aid Station #2 and the aid station just never came.  Half a mile past the distance, no aid station.  One mile, no aid station.  Two miles no aid station.  At this point I figured they set up in the wrong place or I was off the trail, which I wasn’t since I was still following the flags.  Finally when the watch showed 2.5 miles late, I did indeed hit the aid station which both they and other runners assured me was in the proper 18.2 location.  My watch was 2.5 miles off at the 18.2 mark.  Ug.  I also accidentally hit the Split button so it now beeped at a random offset rather than on the actual mile mark.  I obviously have some investigating to do and if I can’t figure it out quickly, the watch is going back.  Bummer, I like it otherwise.

DCIM107GOPROWaterfalls.  Did I mention the waterfalls?  The waterfalls were numerous and stunning.  There were a couple memorable ones, Elwha Falls.  Elwha has a low bridge running in front of it.  However with all of the rain along with a stiff breeze, the falls was now blowing well over the bridge.  It looked exciting enough for me to turn on the GoPro and shoot this fun video of me running under the falls.  It was really cold, but at least I’d dry off soon and be able to enjoy the rest of the run.  Not.

Shortly after “Yeon” Aid Station #2, there is a 2 mile stretch of road before heading back into the woods.  While it had drizzled a touch up to now, as I left the aid station onto the road it began to come down in buckets.  And then almost immediately turned into hail.  Coming sideways.  I must say that this was the most miserable run I’ve ever had; I was just soaking and cold.  The hail stopped after about 5 minutes but the temperature was dropping and the rain didn’t let up until after I was back in the woods.  For the remaining 5 miles to “No Name” Aid Station #3, I have never been so cold.  My normally hot hands were freezing and shaking so much that getting into my pack for munchies just wasn’t going well.  It was ugly.  By the time I hit the aid station, I had dried off enough that I could start to feel my fingers again and the rain had completely stopped.

Aid Station #3 is the final aid station before the big climb up over Multnomah Falls and back down Wahkeena Falls where Glenn takes his amazing finishing pictures.  It’s only 5.5 miles to the finish so I was surprised and a bit disheartened when the volunteer said it would take about 2 more hours to get to the finish.  I’d been hoping for less than an hour and a half which would give me a finish time I would be quite proud of.  However, he was right and it actually took me a bit longer due to an unfortunate encounter.  From the aid station, we continued on the trail with a gradual climb until hitting the paved switchbacks that went to the top of the falls.  It was amusing to see that where I started on the switchbacks was right where my family and I had stopped as we were too tired the last time we had visited the Multnomah Falls.

After about 900 feet of gain, I ran into my “Goofy Guys” again who had just come upon a runner who was sitting down on the trail.  She had literally passed out and they had just gotten her up into a sitting position.  She was in bad mental shape, and was just “checked out” in terms of responding to requests.  Her brain was elsewhere.  She was also shaking uncontrollably.  We were able to get some water and salt tablets into her and then some food.  One of the guys had some spare mittens which was also got onto her hands.  After about 10 minutes, she was able to stand and we decided to proceed forward rather than going back as we thought it would be quicker.  I’m not sure it was the case, but it was close enough that we all, including her, had a chance to finish.  She wasn’t steady getting up but once she got moving, which meant walking which we were all doing anyway given the steepness of the hills, and warming up, she rejoined the living and you could see she was getting her mind back.  Scary stuff.  Once we neared the crest of the hill (aside: my watch measured elevation perfectly, it showed the crest at 1510 which was almost exactly on according to the course elevation profile), I took off ahead and dashed down to base where I was pleased to see that someone had called ahead and EMS and police were waiting.  I spent another 5-10 minutes with then telling them her state and where she was (15 min back I figured).  They started up and I headed off to the finish which was a mile away.

It was on the downhill where I ran into Glenn towards the bottom of Wahkeena Falls.  I worked hard to make sure I looked great for the photo but ended up hitting my shoulder on the pillar on the turn where he takes his shot.  Fortunately, Glenn is a star and we got the photo below.  While I was excited about the shot, the best part of it, and probably the most supportive comment of the entire race, which had tons of great volunteers at the aid stations cheering us on, was Glenn shouting (and I do mean shouting, something I’ve never heard Glenn do before) “All right!  You made it!  Great job!”  I’m not sure he’ll ever understand how much that meant to me.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

From the parking lot where I met EMS, it was another mile or so around the lake and back to the finish line.  This is one of those annoying times where you see your car and then have to run away from it before running back.  Ug.  While my nutrition had been great up to now, I was now starving.  I figured it was too late for a gel to matter and there was pizza at the end so I pushed through.  I passed one couple as I started around the lake and they kept a good pace which pushed me far faster than I would have gone otherwise.  I was able to stay ahead of them and finished strong, plowing through the finish-line mud and into the waiting arms of James, the Race Director.  I was all smiles and Trey Bailey of Uphill Running took some photos and did a post-race interview.  It would have been a much better interview an hour later; I was just brain-dead at that moment and just wanted something warm in my belly.  A quick dash to the pizza trailer (best invention ever, a clay, wood-fired pizza oven on a flatbed trailer) for an amazing piece of pizza (I have no idea what I ate.  It was hot and therefore amazing) and I was done.  I saw Glenn again as he had finished up (yeah, I was that late in the race.  He also didn’t have to run around the lake.) who congratulated me again before I headed off to my quickly warming car and headed back to the hotel.  Bill Sepeda and Alley Kloba were staying in the same hotel and were kind enough to offer me more pizza and swap stories until I couldn’t keep my eyes open (which wasn’t very long) and I crashed for a very short night.

I finished 216th out of 233 with a time of 8:51.  Given how much fun I had, how many pictures and videos I took, and how good I felt about helping another runner in need I am thoroughly proud of my race.  And now I can look forward to going faster next time.  🙂

Volunteering at the Gorge Waterfalls 100K

I had offered to help Glenn on Sunday with shepherding tourists during the few seconds runners were running by Wahkeena Falls.  This is always an amazing shot and I was happy to help make sure it turned out as well as possible.

One thing I didn’t realize when I volunteered however was that it was going to be easiest for me to meet up with Glenn in the morning and stay with him until we got through the Falls which would happen at the end of the race.  This meant getting up at 3AM so I could be at the 4AM start.  Glenn has a great photo of the headlamps at the start.

We hung around for a bit before heading to the first aid station where we watched the first few runners blast by before we headed on to our first location.  James had suggested a trailhead that lead to a footbridge over a stream on one path and some cool looking rock-slides in the other direction.  We tried the footbridge first and it just didn’t have the visual pop that Glenn loves so off we went in the other direction in search of rocks.  We went.  And we went.  And we went.  It was our understanding that the rocks were just a bit from the trailhead, where “a bit” was something under a mile.  2 miles in we began to wonder.  3 miles in we had serious doubts.  4 miles in we were beginning to question our sanity.  Finally at about 5 miles in we came upon a rock slide.  Concerned we were on the wrong path we started texting and calling folk to figure out where we were but before too long the runners started showing up.  Glenn took pictures and I played around with time-lapse on my GoPro.

One surprising thing was that the first runners came back to us in under 30 minutes, meaning the turn-around aid station was only about a mile away, far closer than the trailhead we entered on.  We called and arranged transportation from the aid station and then hung around as long as possible until we had to leave to get to the next spot.

After some debate on trying something different, we ended up going to Wahkeena where we knew we could catch the front-runners and get an amazing shot.  This is where I finally got to add some value and helped usher the few tourists who braved the weather out of the pictures.  Waiting for runners

I had some fun trying out my GoPro with high-speed video.  Here’s one of Jess Mullen:

And I must now say to Van Phan, I am so sorry I failed you.  I truly did my best to have these folks pause while you ran by but they were having none of it.  I won’t show it here but if you really need to see it, you can view it on Glenn’s Site.  I hope you are able to laugh at the goofiness of it.

I should state that while I have always had great respect for Glenn, that respect absolutely soared after watching him stand and brave the elements and waterfall spray for 6+ straight hours.  The man is amazing and does everything in his power to get the best picture for every single runner.  Truly awesome.

We finally left around 7:45PM and headed to the finish for a quick bite of pizza before I headed home having to work on Monday.  This was a horrible idea.  I had 5 hours of sleep the night after my first 50K and then was up for 17 hours before starting a 4 hour drive.  Bad, bad idea.  I made it 2 hours to Chehalis before giving up and finding a hotel for the night.

Couple more videos and images

Running under Ponytail Falls: http://youtu.be/VfY9iridivA

Compilation of other waterfalls: http://youtu.be/poesvRRVTfk