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2013 race schedule in the works

This year will be a year of change in many ways for my family and I and, consequently, my training and racing schedule may take a few turns.  The following races are those for which I currently plan to prepare.   Between coaching cross country and track year round and being on the road most weekends in the Spring and Fall at high school meets I am not able to go to every race that entices me, but the following list doesn't appear to conflict with the current meet schedule of Hermiston's Track & Cross Country teams:

2013 Race Calendar

I've done about half of these races before.  I'm hoping to increase my endurance and try my luck at 50 miles & 100K and simultaneously improve my pace over the shorter half marathon and road marathon distances. 

I would highly recommend Hagg Lake, Trail Factor, CCC Trail Runs, White River, Columbia River Power Marathon, and XTERRA to anyone interested on running well organized events, in beautiful places, with great people.

If you have any other recommendations for me, please let me know.   

The love that let us share our name

Kualoa Ranch - site of the XTERRA World Trail Run Championships
I set out to return to Hawaii for the XTERRA World Trail Run Championships in part because of the setting and in part because of my ties to the area.  The views from Kualoa Ranch are second to none.  I was fortunate enough to live just a few miles down the road in the tranquil North Shore community of Laie as I studied anthropology and ran cross country for Brigham Young UniversityHawaii.  

Our Alma Mater nestled in the heart of the Pacific in the peaceful North Shore community of Laie.
The mountains of the Koolauloa Range became a part of my morning ritual followed by a quick dip at Hukilau Beach to clean off the mud.   However, due to the timing, it makes it pretty hard to spend as much time as I’d like on the island with family and friends, enjoying my old stomping grounds, and meeting my professional commitments as a teacher.  Due to the isolated nature of the town in which I currently reside in rural Oregon it takes the better part of a day to drive and fly to Oahu’s North Shore.  To try and pull it off over a weekend makes it pretty tough to acclimate to the heat, humidity, and two hour time change, but when the rewards for such inconveniences are so great, I figure somebody has to do it. 

My brother, Thomas Rivers Puzey of Altra, placed third and forth respectively in the last two runnings of the event.  Last year, I was fifth in my first attempt.  I knew that he would be fitter than ever - in part due to his recent stint of training in Flagstaff and in part because I knew how much it mattered to him.  Despite his ambitions to improve on his mark, he went out of his way to help us find comfortable accommodations and also made arrangements for Ben Bruce of Adidas (the top returner) and his new bride, Stephanie Rothstein, to stay in Laie with us.

Ben Bruce and Max King at 2009 XTERRA Worlds
We were fortunate enough to all room together at the home of Dr. Kim Archibald, Emergency Room Surgeon at Kahuku Hospital, and founder of Tri or, a non-profit dedicated to helping people realize their potential through healthy eating and exercise.  Not only did Dr. Archibald allow us to stay in his beautiful home overlooking the crashing waves of Laie Point, but he also fed us lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and took us out to eat at a very nice restaurant at Turtle Bay Resort called Lei Lei’s.  His generous hospitality saved us substantial sums of money, but more importantly helped us feel at ease and enabled us to acclimate more quickly to the new environment. 

Dr. Kim’s niece and nephew in-law, Nicole and Stewart Adair, were equally gracious hosts and made our stay in Hawaii more than memorable.  Stewart is an accomplished triathlete who runs cross country for BYU-Hawaii and participated in his first XTERRA World Trail Running Championships.  It was nice staying in a place where everyone was on the same page and working toward the same goal of getting up early, running, eating well, and resting.  Although we were only there for a weekend, it certainly made me jealous of those fortunate souls who get to live in training camps with other like-minded people and do nothing but train, eat, and sleep.

Jacob Puzey, Thomas Rivers Puzey, Stewart Adair
Besides the four guys I’ve already mentioned (Ben, Rivers, Stewart and myself), there were several other returners and also plenty of other top talent who made the trek to Hawaii in hopes of becoming the newly minted King of the XTERRA Trail World in absence of the aptly named, four time World XTERRA Champion, Max King.

Mario Mendoza of Bend, OR and I after the race.
One of those guys was former Trail Runner of the Year, and Bend, OR resident, Mario Mendoza running for Salomon.  Another was Joseph Gray of Renton, Washington running for Scott.  Other predicted contenders were Will Christian representing the Navy and Brooks, Jeffrey Moreland of Reno, NV and J.  Marshall Thomson of Crested Butte, CO.

Just before the start of the race it began to rain and the wind began to blow.  It appeared as though we might get some typical Oregon winter weather so I felt like I’d at least have an advantage over those who were not from the NorthWest (not a lot of them), but every little bit helps.  However, just as quickly as it started it blew over and in its wake left a heavy humid haze.  The trail was still relatively dry in most places and much of the first few miles were still runnable.

Start of the race.
Ben and Joseph took it out hard and the rest of us filed in behind them up the first few climbs.  I fluctuated between sixth and tenth for most of the first half.  Some of the really rugged drop off descents through the woods shook me up a bit (the low hanging branches kept me from running totally upright through many sections).  However, once the course opened up a bit I was able to find a descent rhythm, see a few runners in the distance, and I was able to gradually real them in. 

Ben Bruce and Joseph Gray broke away early and battled it out to the end.
Joseph Graph, Ben Bruce, Jeffrey Moreland, Thomas Puzey, Jacob Puzey, Mario Mendoza
Thomas and I working together to try and real in the early leaders up the first big climb.
After the first loop through the valley, before looping around, up, and over the adjoining mountain range, I was sitting in eighth and feeling better than I had during the first few climbs.   I looked up and saw Jeffrey Moreland of Reno who I had run with last year.  Ahead of him were Roberto Mandje of BoulderCO, Willie Schefer of KiheiHI, and my brother Thomas Rivers Puzey.  Roberto and Willie were unfamiliar to me – I had neither seen nor heard anything about either of them, but it was obvious they weren’t out to simply take in the sights – they meant to race and so it was on.  I eventually caught Jeffrey as he was struggling with digestive issues and later Roberto.  He and I ran together for a while before I was finally able to drop him on a series of long down hills.

Thomas Rivers Puzey, representing Altra Running, near the half way point.
As we approached mile eight, I could see my brother’s blue Altra singlet in the distance and saw that he was getting challenged by Schefer up the long climb from mile nine to ten. 

Near the half way point.  Climbing again, chasing down those who went out too hard. 
I eventually caught Tommy and we ran together up the hill and through the wooded section that requires a rope on sections of the descent.  We shared a gel and started picking up momentum on the down hill through the single track.  I was feeling great and knew that he could close any gap I put on him (because he is notorious for running smart races and closing well).  We pushed through the single track. I stumbled upon the same rock I tripped on the year before and responded in like manner – and unfortunately we were in a valley so I think everyone heard me cursing the thing (including my brother who instinctively called out to get back up and finish the thing). 

Enjoying the single track.
The last three miles seemed to take forever because you could see down the valley toward the finish and although the single track was mostly runnable  just when you found a rhythm you had to weave between the intermittent 10K participants who were literally out for a walk in the park.  As we approached the finish they were announcing Mario’s name and so I felt pretty good about where I was finishing.  The last time I raced Mario I DNFed with pneumonia and the second time I couldn’t maintain his crazy pace and fell to forth at the USATF 50K Trail Championships in September.      

Just when I started rolling the race ended.
When I finished the first thing I wanted to do was check on my brother.  I figured he must be right behind me and just wanted to get my back in case someone tried to run us down in the final stretch.  He’s kind of a big guy for a runner so his imposing presence would do the trick for most people trying to get by. But, unfortunately, when I looked back it wasn't him that was finishing, but rather Roberto Mandje of Boulder, CO.  I couldn't see Tommy.  He finally came in and high-fived everyone in the final finish chute. 

Although he was noticeably exhausted and disappointed he didn't try to make a big deal out of his performance, but then suddenly as our family began to gather together to congratulate him he fell back, began convulsing, and was out cold.  He was unresponsive.  He didn't know who he was.  His eyes rolled back in his head.  The guy that everyone in our family admires for his strength, bravery, and courage was lifeless on the grass.  We tried to get him up and walk him to the medical tent, but he was totally limp. 

One of the disadvantages of being a scrawny distance runner is that when you need to lift dead weight you aren’t really all that well suited to do it.  It took five of us, including my two younger, and much stronger brothers to get his corpse like frame to the paramedics.  They got him some oxygen and starting checking his vitals.  Still no response.  No one knew what to do.  All of us were at the verge of tears and yet our disbelief that someone so strong could go from such extreme physical aptitude to critical condition - particularly after doing something so short and mundane compared to many of his daily training days. 

At about the point that my brother, Aaron, said he doesn't think he was ready to marry Tommy’s wife and be his daughter, Harper's father (in keeping with the Leverate marriage tradition), the paramedic pricked Tommy’s finger and he opened his eyes.  He gouged him again and this time Tommy verbally responded, started swinging, and color began to flush back into his face. 

We all felt bad for the way things ended up.  We had hoped that we would be able to run people down together.  For a moment I was happy that I had caught him and felt good about holding him off (simply because he beat me last year), but that small feat was minimized by a much more significant battle - a fight for one's life.  That moment both scared and scarred me.  

I've blacked out.  I've run myself into complete exhaustion.  I've bonked so hard I wanted to drink out of puddles and lunge into the Puget Sound just to cool off (despite the snow and freezing rain all around), but this was different.  When someone who has such discipline and dominion over his diet, his training, and his body, it was altogether too foreign to see him, of all people, lose all control and convulse helplessly on the ground.  It was even more gut-wrenching to try and control his trembling and yet despite my greatest yearnings and best attempts to see his eyes roll back in his head and see him slip further and further into unconsciousness.   

Top 3 Male and Female for Ages 30-34.  This was the first lei I received since my graduation from BYU Hawaii.
I am happy that we were able to run together on that day and happier still that we were able to walk out of there with nothing more than a few scratches and temporary tattoos to show for it.  While we both would have liked to have brought home a fatter pay check, I think we can all agree that we’d much rather be alive and know that we will have more opportunities in the future to push our bodies to the limit.I was happy I was able to be there with him and my other two brothers, Aaron and Dallin, and I was more grateful we were all able to leave there together.  Our family certainly would not be the same without Tommy.

Photo by Jonathan Lyau (second from left).
Once he recovered I was able to help out some of my fellow Power Bar Team Elite members at the Power Bar tent.  It was nice being able to share some of the efficient fuel and recovery sources that help me in my training and racing.  It was also nice meeting new friends and catching up with former competitors.

We capped it all of with a little family concert and Thanksgiving Feast.  My brother Aaron appropriately sang  a cover of the Avett Brother's hit song, "Murder in the City" about "the love that let us share our name"  and Tommy and Dallin sang a fitting duet of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer."

Personally, I think both renditions were better than these videos, but I didn't get to record them so we are left with the originals.  The lyrics and melody certainly set the mood.

XTERRA World Trail Running Championships Highlight Video

First 50M - White River 50 Mile Endurance Run

I decided to sign up for the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run shortly after finishing the Trail Factor 50K and watching the documentary of the 2010 Western States Endurance Run, Unbreakable.  I wanted to see what my body could do and felt that 50 miles was the next step in the right direction.

Then I got sick.  Sicker than I have ever been.  So sick I didn't want to get out of bed for about two weeks.  So sick that I couldn't even finish the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships when I planned to place in the top three.  So sick that I didn't even start the Rock n' Roll Seattle Marathon which I had planned on winning.

At the doctor's suggestion I took two weeks completely off.  Then I tried to slowly work my way back up.  I figured it wouldn't be worth rushing back into fitness so I anticipated pulling out of White River as well.  But after a few weeks of building back up I figured I might as well make good on my investment of the race entry and try my hand at 50 miles.  What did I have to lose?

Trying to find lodging before the race proved to be the greatest challenge.  I couldn't find a hotel or lodge online within an hour's drive of the start.  I finally ended up reserving the last campsite I could find.  It was only a few miles from the start.  Then when we went to packet pick-up and drove to the start to get a sense of how long it would take to get there in the morning we saw that many of the participants had decided to just set up camp right there.  We did the same.

Because the start and finish were a ways away from any towns or restaurants we packed our food and water for the weekend.  I ate a hearty lunch of black beans, brown rice, quinoa, barley, eggs, and spinach (gallo pinto is what they call the white rice version of this meal in Costa Rica).  By the time dinner rolled around all I wanted was something fresh so I ate about 3/4 of a seedless Hermiston watermelon and some quinoa salad with fresh, locally grown yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers.  This made me very grateful to live where I live with such great supporters who produce such tasty, nutritious food.  Thank you Bellinger Farms.

We set up camp and retired to our tents early in anticipation of the early wake-up the next morning.  My five year old son really liked the fact that due to the limited supply of water (no running water) we would have to urinate on the fire to put it out.  The joys of being a little boy.

I woke up just before 5:00am, ate two slices of Killer Dave's Bread and a banana and drank a pint of orange juice. Then I crawled back into bed for a few more minutes to let it all settle and to clear my head.  I got up a few minutes later, decided on the shoes and gear to wear for what appeared to be a beautiful, clear day.

I loaded my shorts with the PowerBar Energy Gels that I would need for the first part of the run and filled my Nathan Quick Draw hand held water bottles with PowerBar IronMan Perform sports drink and made my way to the starting line.

Final instructions before the start of the 2012 White River 50 Mile Endurance Run.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
As we awaited the start, I had a few minutes to catch up with some of the guys (Gary Gellin and Sage Canaday) that I had run with before.  I ended up running much of the first half with Gary Gellin and his HR monitor helped both of us start conservatively amid the mayhem of the first few miles.

Start of the 2012 White River 50 Mile Endurance Run.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

The first few miles were relatively flat, but certainly not tame.  Several young guys took off as if they were running a short cross country race.  Most of them returned within the first few miles and all but one, Sage Canaday, fell off the early pace by the half way point. Gary led an early pace line that patiently inched its way up toward the early leaders.

Jacob Puzey, Joshua Brimhall, and Gary Gellin working our way through
the early starters and those who started out too fast.
Photo by Takao Suzuki
For the most part, most of the people we passed were friendly and appreciated Gary's trademark, "Beep! Beep!" as we approached.  However, one guy responded rather uncharacteristically for a trail runner and just went berserk, shouting all sorts of expletives in Gary's ear telling him how rude it was for him to notify those ahead of his eminent arrival and need to pass by sounding "Beep! Beep!"  I was impressed that Gary kept his cool and that the guy, who was easily three times the size of Gary was able to increase his pace so rapidly without having a heart attack in the process.  Gary and I concluded that this guy should be excluded from the list of the people Dakota described in his recent iRunFar post.  At the very least, we figured that we could reenact the scene after the run and send it to Brooks for a spoof on their "Run Happy" ads.

Throughout the first half, Gary and I laughed at Nick Clark's description of his pace, "an awkward choppy tempo dictated by his heart rate monitor," but I for one was glad to have his experience and sound judgement guide me on my first 50 miler.  Eventually we caught everyone but the early favorites, Sage Canaday and Vajin Armstrong. As we approached the Buck Creek Aid Station at mile 27 and the end of the first mountain, Joshua Brimhall of Henderson, Nevada (owner of Red Rock Running Company) made a break.

We passed a few guys as well as we approached the aid station, but this was also where we got separated.  As with most of the other stations Gary sped through and continued on his way, running the entire way up Sun Top.  I was a bit more conservative.  I felt pretty good.  I had been eating a gel, two salt caps, and about a half a bottle of PowerBar Perform every hour.  But I was beginning to approach the unknown.  I had never run more than 50K and it was getting hot.  My foot (an old recurring injury from college) had flared up and the shoes that I started with didn't seem to be the right ones for the next section with a significant downhill.  I felt like I needed a rock plate and a bit more stability so I changed shoes, reloaded my pockets with PowerBar Energy Gels, removed my shirt, changed head bands, and took off down the trail with two Nathan Quick Draw water bottles.

Photo by Takao Suzuki
The second half wasn't physically any harder than the first, but wrapping my head around completing a marathon and then doing another climb and descent of about a marathon in length was a bit challenging.  Despite being exposed to a bit more sun on the next ascent, the climb was actually quite gradual and the wild flower lined trails made it well worth the effort to get to the top.  Intermittent stream crossings provided cool water to dip in and the snow capped mountains in the distance added significance to the sufferfest.

The aid stations along the way were well stocked and shaded.  The volunteers kindly refilled my bottles and added ice to the liquid I already had.  This enabled me to use one bottle of ice water to cool my head and body with while the other which was filled with PowerBar Perform allowed me to stay hydrated and keep my energy and electrolyte levels in check.

Elevation profile comparison compiled by Dan Ripple.
At the top of Sun Top (mile 37) I filled up on oranges and watermelon and cola, refilled my bottles with ice and water and headed down the hill.  When I first decided to do White River I thought it would be nice to break 7:00.  After getting sick and sidelined for so long my goal was adjusted to simply finishing and trying to get close to 7:00.  When I was at the top of Sun top my watch read about 5:35 so when I started doing the math I thought, "1:25 isn't that fast for a half marathon.  I can do that.  Besides half of it is down hill."  So I went for it.  This was the first and only time the trail actually opens up.  It was actually a gravel service road.  I was in my element and making up ground.  By the time I got to the last aid station at the bottom of the hill I had caught Adam Lint who passed me going up Sun Top.  Gary Gellin wasn't far ahead.  The competitive juices were flowing and I wanted to run with and push them for the last few miles, but after the overt assault on the downhill my feet and legs were having a hard time keeping me upright.  The roots, tight turns, and meandering streams didn't help my efforts.  By the time I got back to Buck Creek I wasn't even thinking about time or place.  I was simply thinking about finishing and not getting out-kicked by Ellie Greenwood - literally the fastest woman in the world.

Finishing my first 50 miler in 7:10:52.  Photo by by John Wallace III
It was good to be back with old and new friends that I had met on the trail.  My son was more than happy to join me in the White River for a much needed ice bath.  And then we got to just eat and relax in the sun near the finish as we waited for everyone to finish.

My family decided to stay a few extra days and nights camping at Ranger Creek.  There was no cell service, running water, or electricity and it was only $5 a night so why not?  The weather was perfect: cool at night and in the morning, getting just sunny enough in the afternoon to warm you up after bathing in the river each day.
A rope swing my family discovered near the final aid station.  Got to find something to do while dad is running.
My son loved building fires and cooking over them, being able to pee anywhere he wanted, and most importantly, that his bath only consisted of jumping in the fast moving river and scrubbing all the soot off his hands and face.  My wife and I got to better know the trails as we hiked/ran different sections of the course each day.  I'll certainly have a better sense of where I am at next year and, hopefully, I'll be a little better prepared.  Maybe, I might even be able to give Gary a break and I can help him with the pace line leading duties.

The race was very well-marked, well-organized, and run by very friendly, experienced runners and race directors.  The volunteers were knowledgeable and the awards and prizes were substantial. I can't think of a more perfect setting for a reunion of family and friends.  The White River 50 Mile Endurance Run was my first 50 Miler, but it will certainly not be my last.  In fact, I think it will become a family tradition.  Who knows?  Maybe some day I can get my wife and son to do it with me.

Thank you to all those who put in so much time so that the rest of us could enjoy ourselves for a couple hours on the trails! 


I've been thinking a lot this week about my introduction to the world of endurance.  It was by no means intentional on my part.  In fact, I've actually been trying to think about something other than running as I try to recover from pneumonia and the failed race I tried to run in the midst of a feverish spell.  But it was at my previous race that the flood of memories began to roll through my mind.

As is customary, we tried to make it down a little early for my race to preview the course.  One of my favorite aspects of trail running is that this time can be family time and my son gets to run and explore the course with me.  He loves maps and he likes to tell us where we are and where we need to go.  This trip was no different than many others before it other than the fact that I had been feverish all week and despite the warm spring weather I was layered very heavily and still struggling to stay warm.

As my wife and son jogged the first few miles of the course I tried to hike it and keep up.  Though I could hardly keep up, my son's infectious enthusiasm and sense of adventure penetrated some of the layers of compression and wind gear and got me excited about the upcoming event.  As we previewed the course I also saw a father running the path with his toddler son riding his bike beside him.  Both of these images (my son running effortlessly through the woods and this man and his son running and riding side by side) reminded me of some of my first memories as a child.

As a kid, I was always either on the run or on my bike.  My feet, legs, pedals, and wheels got me everywhere I wanted to go and were usually the means through which my dad and I connected.

When I saw that kid riding beside his running father I saw myself riding along side my father as he ran down the dusty dirt road near our home on the North Plains of Eastern New Mexico.  I remember enjoying those rides, but I also remember when they abruptly stopped.  My dad was not a runner.  He was a thinker, a graduate student, working on a masters in religion at the time, and running was his means of escaping our noisy home and thinking.  But it wasn't long after that run with me at his side on my trusty white Schwinn that he came down with pneumonia and never quite recovered.  He still wore his New Balances and he still walked regularly.  He eventually bought a bike and we spent a lot of time biking, but when he came down with pneumonia, when I was the same age as my son is now, his running took the back seat and never quite returned.  He and my mom still made great efforts to keep me and my siblings outside.  They knew that we would benefit more by the outdoors than by anything we could possibly learn from television.

My dad taught me to take risks.  He taught me that I could do anything - even if it looked scary.  He taught me that he would be there to encourage me and he would be there to catch me and help me up if I fell.  But through all of this, he taught me that there was a lot I could do without the assistance of training wheels.  We took the training wheels off my bike before my fourth birthday and before I was five we were building ramps and trying to catch as much air as possible.

My dad also taught me to endure.  As I mentioned before, although he never really saw himself as a runner, he had run two three hour marathons off of nothing but a couple weeks of running.  He only mentioned it to me when I told him that I might try to do a marathon someday. His real gift was for the long stuff.  He and my mother fell in love as they ran month-long survival trips through the deserts and mountains of Southern Utah.   Is it any wonder that I have an affinity for the desert and the mountains?

In addition to endurance, my dad taught me about sacred places and he taught me about the sanctuary one can find in the solitude of the desert.  He taught me how to find and drink water in the heat of the parched sandstone.  He taught me to respect the places that had been preserved and protected for millennia.   He taught me a lot of things, but he taught me most by example.  He taught me to appreciate books and to appreciate nature.  He taught me to value learning and encouraged me to seek learning out of the best books, by study and by faith.  He always seemed able to articulate his thoughts, but he also always seemed to be reading, writing, or walking and thinking.  Now that I am that age I find myself wanting to do those same things both for their own benefits and because I would like my son to learn to value these practices.

While I hope that my current bout with pneumonia doesn't leave me sidelined from running for the remainder of my life, I hope that my son remembers the times he has been at his father's side and moved in unison with him.  I hope he remembers the times he has cheered and the times he has crewed for me and handed me bottles of honey, water, gels, S-caps, and clothing.  I hope he learns and remembers that after hiking though tough terrain and biking long distances that he can do hard things and that he can find joy, strength, and meaning in and through them.  I hope that as he grows older he won't resent his dad for seeking solace in the solitude of long runs, but will rather seek opportunities to find greater strength and wisdom through similar means.

Until then, I'll leave it to him to entertain:

As we were getting into our sleeping bags the night before the race, ( I was in two and still couldn't seem to get warm) Cairo asked, "Dad.  Is it ok if I take the bagel out of my pocket now?"  "Yes.  Cairo.  It is ok to take the bagel out of your pocket."

Band of Brothers

Photo by Michael Lebowitz of Long Run Picture Company

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition.
And gentelmen in England, now abed,
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here;
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii by William Shakespeare

I first read this timeless call to arms by William Shakespeare as an aspiring high school distance runner reading Chris Lear's chronicle of the University of Colorado's 1998 cross country season. As I read Running with the Buffaloes, I imagined Mark Wetmore rallying the troops in preparation for a battle over 300m intervals. I thought of how close I had grown with my high school teammates (one of whom was my actual biological brother, Thomas Rivers Puzey), and have since reflected upon the bonds formed with college teammates, competitors, and training partners.

It wasn't until I actually read Henry V in its entirety that I learned this faux battle cry was more parody and political commentary than patriotic fervor. Despite this reality and gross overuse of the quote, Shakespeare touched on an element of truth and the fraternal bond formed in the woods and on the trails. John L. Parker Jr. described this bond as the "Trial of Miles: As with shipwreck survivors, hostages and others in dire circumstances, duress fosters familiarity, sometimes love" (Once a Runner, 1990, 11). After my experience at the Trail Factor on Memorial Day, I felt the war cry aptly described how we felt on our own Saint Crispin's Day.

I knew going in to the Trail Factor 50K that Nick Triolo and Yassine Diboun had been coming off of some BIG training weeks and some standout performances over the past few months. My hope was to run with and continue to learn from them. I met Nick at my first ultra, the Hagg Lake 50K, a little over a year ago and met Yassine at Chuckanut last year.
Nick Triolo, Jacob Puzey, and Scott Jamie after the 2011 Hagg Lake 50K. Photo by Kelly Barten

Then we all ran Hagg Lake this year. Each time I have run with these guys I have been impressed by their humble tenacity and infectious love for the trails. When I heard about the Trail Factor 50K, that it would be run through Portland's enchanted Forest Park and that these guys would be there along with a strong contingent of Trail Factor runners and volunteers I couldn't resist the urge to plan our family's Memorial Day weekend around the event. It looks like it will be a new family tradition for years to come.
Yassine had an impressive start to the year at the Bandera 100K and then came back even stronger with a near win over 2:14 marathoner Ryan Bak at Hagg Lake in January. When I first met Yassine he was passing me as though I were standing still at Chuckanut. He helped me through that rookie middle-of-the-BONK-with-no-aid-in-sight-patch.

It wasn't until I started trying to figure out more about the sport that I began to really learn about some of Yassine's endurance exploits. Recently, while reading Bryon Powell's Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons I saw a picture of Yassine in there (on page 78) and realized that like so many of the other ultragiants that I have had the privilege of meeting and running with Yassine is unassuming and kind, but also really tough.

There is always something eerily intimidating about reading a book or blog about or by someone and then lining up next to them and trying to run with them. Nick won both the Capitol Peak 50 Miler and the McDonald Forest 50K in the past month and looks to be rounding into shape well as he prepares for Western States in a month. After reading and watching a post race recap from McDonald Forest I knew he would be tough to beat on his home turf, on trails that he runs daily (he lives less than a block away from the start and finish of the race).

The 50K and Half Marathon started together and ran the same route to the first turnaround. Like a European bike race there were intermittent prizes for being the first to a particular checkpoint. The first male and female to the turnaround earned a jacket. Nick, Yassine, and I started together and ran through the first aid station in unison.
Nick Triolo, Jacob Puzey, and Yassine Diboun. Photo by Michael Lebowitz.

We assumed we were the top 50Kers because there weren't many runners ahead of us by the time we got to the turnaround. However, when we got there we were informed that we were behind Zach Gingrich who led all runners to the turnaround. Naturally, as the newbie in the group I didn't have a clue who the guy was, but Yassine, the veteran ultra-runner in the group, remembered his name and resume from the last few years at Badwater. Needless to say, the guy has street cred.

For some reason none of us really responded and we just casually continued chatting as we meandered through the maze of trails. We stuck together through at least half the 50K distance and learned a lot about and from one another.

Suddenly, the trail opened up and we were descending after a relatively long and gradual climb. I'm a bit more accustomed to this type of open Fire Lane type running and naturally opened up my gate. On that day, my fresh, 80 mpw legs compared to their heavy, middle-of-last-big-training-block-before-Western States 100 120+ mpw legs had a little more spark in them. While I didn't intentionally drop them, I was feeling pretty good and figured I might as well enjoy the ride as long as I could. After a while I even thought about trying to catch the leader, Zach Gingrich.

Early leader, Zach Gingrich. Photo by Michael Lebowitz.

Eventually, we caught up with one another and exchanged the basic info – where you from? What's your name? How you doing? etc. He seemed to be hurting after his strong start to the turnaround (which won him the coveted jacket) and he wasn't carrying a bottle. He said he was alright and we parted ways.  We reached a few hairy trail intersections and I yelled back asking if he knew which way to go. Eventually, we both made our way back to the finish in similar times.

It appears as though we took alternate routes (two paths diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by - which apparently wasn't the one I was supposed to take – and that made all the difference – in this case it meant I didn't win). I came up on Gingrich again several miles after initially passing him and passed him again for good measure about a half mile before the finish.

Unfortunately, I missed the final check point and aid station at mile 24.2. At the previous checkpoint (mile 17.4) Gingrich was 8 minutes up on our group. Although I crossed the line first, it was determined that because I missed the previous checkpoint (and aid station) Gingrich was the winner. (I only mention this because one of the unique features of the event is it's NSPIRE instant reporting via social media and I have had lots of questions about whether I actually won or not).

As long as Gingrich and the other runners vying for top honors don't care or think I maliciously tried to cut corners I really don't care about who is/was declared the winner. Gingrich ran a gutsy race and deserves both the jacket and gift certificate to Fit Right NW. He'll be running BadWater soon and will consequently be going through a lot more shoes than I will be in the next few months. While I am extremely grateful to the generous sponsors for contributing to this and other events (they are certainly needed), I learned a long time ago when we moved back from Hawaii and had to dump extra weight to save money on freight that the intangibles of running far outweigh any medals, gear, or even cash prizes. Though these are certainly nice to get, I find it rewarding to run each day and an even greater privilege to run in such a beautiful place surrounded by such inspiring, like minded companions.

Perhaps this is why I so greatly appreciate the work of artists like Michael Lebowitz who spend countless hours shooting and then uploading their pieces to share so that we can remember the moments of trial and triumph. These transcendent treasures capture and help recreate the memories from the trails and far outweigh other more transient trophies and titles.

Yassine Diboun, Jacob Puzey, Nick Triolo – "Coming and Going" by Michael Lebowitz

Apparently Yassine and I spent so much time together on the trails that not only did we develop a greater respect for one another, but we ended up looking like one another. As I approached the finish his wife and daughter came running toward me. My wife also mistook him for me both before and after the race. I consider it a great compliment to be confused with such a nice, humble, healthy, capable guy. We joked about how fun it would be I were to wear an Animal Athletics singlet and also have my brother, Thomas River's Puzey (who also looks a lot like us and is about as fast) wear one and then tag Yassine in the pictures from all over the world. Talk about effective advertising.

I honestly can't think of a better way to spend Memorial Day. Good people doing good things and then eating good food (veggie burgers and chips - only after an ultra) served by more good people. We even had a chance to pay our respects to ultrarunning legend, Dave Terry, as we passed a memorial in his honor. I felt akin to the band of brothers across the globe that have gone before and continue to test the limits of human endurance and excellence. I appreciated the opportunity to share the trails with guys like Zach, Yassine, and Nick as we each prepare for our respective upcoming races: BadWater, Western States, and White River. 

Many thanks to race directors, Todd Janssen and Renee Seker, Michael Lebowitz of Long Run Picture Company, and the countless volunteers at the start, finish, aid stations, and throughout the course. 

Thank you to the Portland Trail Running community, TrailFactorPDX, for prepping the trails and being out there on the course. Also thank you to the many sponsors, Fit Right NW, NSPIRE, Nathan, Animal Athletics, Skora, and yurbuds. 

Nutrition used: Before the run – two pieces of dry whole grain toast, glass of orange juice, a banana with 12oz of PowerBar IronMan Perform, and two Metasalt caps. On the course – PowerBar IronMan Perform, three PowerBar Energy Gels (Chocolate), six S-Caps, Gummie Bears, and Water. Post run – two veggie burger patties smothered with potato chips. Then a pot luck at my sister's house in Tigard with all sorts of tasty treats (I did have to move a few piles of bark dust around in order to earn my room and board, but it was well worth the comfy floor and scrumptious meal).

Shoes: Altra Provisions w/ stability wedge.

Filling up

Trail runs are popping up like wildfire. The growth of the sport is certainly something to celebrate, but those who have grown accustomed to the laid back nature of trail running had better get used to the more recent demand or may find themselves shut out of some of the events that they have been training towards. With limited trail capacities, even brand new events are filling up well before the start date.

For many popular venues, you must register early or apply for a lottery to get in. But unlike large road races large capacities, some races are limited to less than 100 participants. In the Internet Age, those spots can fill up almost as quickly as registration activates. For example, in the next few weeks in Oregon alone I hope to run in a new event – The Trail Factor Half Marathon & 50K – that has nearly reached its participant limit.

Another event, the Dirty Half, that will serve as the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships for 2012, has already reached its 800 person limit. Those who tend to wait 'til the last minute to decide whether to race or not are simply out of luck – or have to hope they know someone who has registered and will not be participating so that they can transfer registrations (and even that must be done by May 31).


However, with so many races available that one could easily fill every weekend, it is actually tough to decide which events to sign up for and which to defer for another year. I decided on the aforementioned Trail Factor 50K and Dirty Half for a couple of reasons. While I have never competed on either course, I have done races directed by the same race directors and that in itself helps me know what to expect.

The Trail Factor races are organized by the Portland trail running community, Trail FactorPDX. The course is conveniently located and traverses some of the storied trails of Portland's famed Forest Park. Despite being from Oregon, I live three hours away from Portland and have only actually run in Forest Park a handful of times so when I heard about the Trail Factor 50K I figured it would be a great opportunity to visit some epic trails with some great local runners and friends.

When I learned that Todd Janssen would be the race director I was sure it would be a quality event. Todd is one of the race directors of one of my favorite trail runs, the Hagg Lake 50K, and he has proven that he knows how to organize a trail run with an eye to the details of course markings, post-race spread, and great sponsors. 

One of those sponsors is a new training company called Animal Athletics co-owned by trail, mountain, and ultra runners, Will McBride and Yassine Diboun. I've had the privilege of running with Yassine in a few 50Ks. Yassine's experience and encouragement has been very helpful for a novus trail runner like myself.  Yassine created this video preview of the course:

Yassine will compete as he makes his final preparations for Western States as will Nick Triollo who is coming off wins at the McDonald Forest 50K and Capital Peak 50 Miler.  Sage Canaday of vo2max productions did an interview with Nick shortly after his win at McDonald Forest in which Nick discusses his training building up to Western States with fellow Portlander and Animal Athlete Yassine Diboun. 

While Nick and Yassine will be doing the Trail Facor 50K in preparation for a longer 100 mile race, I'll be stepping down in distance and hope to run a competitive road marathon at the end of June.  Consequently, I'll be headed to Bend, Oregon to test/sharpen my speed at the Dirty Half.  To be honest, it wasn't until I started trail running that I began appreciating Bend.  Before then, it was simply the dreaded place we had to go for conference championships and race solid competitors at altitude.

This past summer as I was preparing to run the Flagline 50K, another well organized event that Dave Thomason directs, I spent a little more time than usual in Bend and really enjoyed it.  It didn't hurt that Bend has so many trails and so many great runners.  When I went into FootZone to find out about the trails in the Flagline 50K I met a super humble, Max King, who not only took the time to describe the course and tell me which sections were not under snow, he even let me try and run a few sections of the trail with him.  Add great food and stunning scenery and you've got yourself a trail runner's paradise.

Last year, as part of his practice of back-to-back hard efforts, Max amazed the crowd with his stamina at the Portland Track Festival the night before the Dirty Half when he ran an impressive 13:56 5K and turned around 20 minutes later to lead a fast 10K from the gun.  I was there watching my wife who ran the 10K the night before and was struggling to handle the 5K 24 hours later.  I didn't learn until later that Max hopped in his Civic and zipped back to Bend to add another national title to the collection.  If he's around town and not doing a steeple chase, mountain run, ski competition, or any other race at the exact moment of the race he will obviously be the favorite, but there are lots of fast locals and others who will most assuredly assemble to make it competitive.

The reciprocity of running

One of the things that I have grown to appreciate most about running is its reciprocal nature – its ability to return everything you put into it.  Such reciprocity engenders a sense of gratitude, respect, and responsibility.  Due to the inestimable returns (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, etc.) received on one’s investment, one can’t help but want to invest more both in one’s own pursuits and in sharing the inherent benefits with others.

Many of us began running and keep running because of the influence of others.  Perhaps it was a coach, a friend, or training partner that got us started.  Now, as runners, we benefit from the efforts of people we may not even know - authors, bloggers, race volunteers, spectators, competitors, medical professionals, nutrition providers and developers, and shoe and apparel designers.

This phenomenon of benefiting from the efforts of others leaves some to feel a sense of gratitude and a desire to give back.  As an undergraduate in Hawaii (where I studied anthropology and ran for a small DII school) I was introduced to the Hawaiian principle of KuleanaKuleana embodies both the rights to benefits and the responsibility one has as a beneficiary to give back.  Though I am not a native Hawaiian, I tried to incorporate the principle of Kuleana into my everyday life.  I was amazed at how much more fulfilling my life, studies, and running became.

Our small NCAA DIIliberal arts university only had a cross country team, so in the winter, spring, and summer we were not technically allowed to meet regularly as a team.  This meant that most of my teammates took up surfing and worked more hours to pay the bills.  My wife and I enjoyed this break from structured training and ended up doing a lot of training on our own in the mountains and along the beach.  One day, while on a run my wife ran into some high school kids that were running.  This was not a common sight in the area.  Though the local high school, Kahuku, was nationally recognized for its football and women’s soccer recruits, it was certainly not known for its distance running tradition.  The sight of other runners intrigued her and she soon introduced herself and asked if she could join them.  Although distance running wasn’t part of the culture on Oahu’s North Shore, there were some willing athletes, patient parents, and seasoned track coaches (also football coaches) who were willing to let us volunteer as distance coaches.

Little did we know how much we'd gain from our little investment.  We’d race out of our last class of the day, blitz down the road (about three miles away) to the high school and arrive just in time to work with aspiring distance runners.  Through the process, we came to know members of the tight-knit community and were eventually welcomed in.  Parents fed us and thanked us for working with their kids and we did our best to try and give all we could (shoes, clothes, experience, and occasional road race winnings that we weren’t allowed to accept somehow made their way into the team’s account). 

The athletes made gradual progress.  Eventually, a few of them qualified and placed at state.  By the end of the second year we had the privilege of being there when the team won its first state track title.  That still remains one of the most impressive and inspiring athletic performances I have ever witnessed.  Not surprisingly, our own running also improved (it must have been the daily tempo runs out to Kahuku followed by hills, sand, and intervals, with a 3 mile cool down back home). 

Our experience coaching prepared us for a phone call we received shortly thereafter from my high school coach and mentor.  He was stepping down and asked if my wife and I would be interested in moving back to my hometown in Oregon to assume the roles of the boys and girls cross country coaches.  While this was not in our plans, we moved back to Oregon upon graduating and have been coaching at my Alma Mater in Hermiston, Oregon ever since. 

This opened up more doors to try and give back.  As a means of extending the benefits of running to the community, developing an appreciation for race administration, and raising funds for our program, we established a community race series – the Columbia Corridor Corredores Race Series. This experience has opened my eyes to a side of running to which I had previously been oblivious.  I have come to appreciate the little details that go into making a quality event.  I have developed a huge appreciation for committed parents and volunteers.  Now I always want to thank the race directors and volunteers of all events in which I participate, large or small.  They have inspired me to never complain or write scathing emails to race directors (whether I take a wrong turn, stub a toe, don’t like the electrolyte replacement drink, or would prefer a different color or material of race t-shirt).  And they have led me to view the races in which I participate through a different lens – now rather than simply showing up to race, I am also looking at the details (or lack thereof) to see what to incorporate or not incorporate in future events.

More recently, I participated in a side of the sport that was certainly new to me.  I have always enjoyed attending race expos to see the latest products and test the freebies, but I had never before been on the side of the retailer.  When the owner of the local running store, Runner’s Soul Tri Cities, told me he was considering having a couple of booths at the upcoming Bloomsday race in Spokane, Washington and asked if I’d be interested in helping, I gladly obliged.  He has helped me over the years take care of my own running needs, but more importantly, he has gone above and beyond to help my team and athletes stay healthy by assuring they have good shoes at affordable prices.  He has also generously donated to the runs we put on, so I figured the least I could do was try to thank him by giving back while getting to do something I have always wanted to do – work in the retail running business.

In addition to some apparel, hydration equipment, and electrolyte sources, Runner’s Soul Tri Cities was working with a new shoe company – Altra.  While working at the Runner's Soul booth I was able to catch up with my former college teammate, and Altra founder, Golden Harper.  We were busy all day.  We stayed up late talking into the night as though we were still in college, woke up early, and worked all day.  The entire 48 hour experience was invigorating.  It didn’t hurt that we got to work with people before they had a challenging experience and they were happy to be there.  We were happy to share products that we genuinely felt could help them in their training and racing.  I enjoyed watching Golden in his element and I enjoyed seeing the satisfaction customers experienced when they tried out a new product. 
Our college cross country team.  I'm on the far left.  Golden is on the far right with the headband.
My admiration/appreciation for Golden and other innovators in our sport significantly increased.  Golden and I were teammates, but we also battled over top honors on a team with about five or six guys that at any given point could be our #1 runner.  As a prep All-American and son of running store owners, Golden’s future was pretty well set.  But rather than doing the natural and easy thing - going home to take over the family business after graduation – Golden challenged the financial recession and the shoe industry’s giants by turning conventional running shoe wisdom on its head.  He went off on his own and created shoes to fill the void that a life on his feet and in the running store made all too visible. 

As his teammate, training partner, and friendly rival, I have to admit that I attributed a lot of Golden’s early success (2:45 marathon as a 12 year old, 9th at Foot Locker Nationals in record time, etc.) to his privileged advantage with access to all the latest products as the son of a running store owner.  It wasn’t until recently that I was willing to admit that he occasionally got the better of me because he has what all of us need and most of admire – guts.  It used to annoy me when he’d hammer the downhills on our training runs through the Ko’o’lau’loa Range, but I have since come to admire his brazen recklessness. 

It took guts to race and set a world record in the marathon at age 12.  It took guts to run down and outkick Alan Webb in his high school prime.  It took guts to overcome injuries and letdown, transfer schools, win conference, and set new school records.  However, in my mind all of Golden's titles and records pale in comparison to what he has done in this economy, in the already oversaturated shoe industry with the deck stacked against him (a recent college graduate).  It took and continues to take guts to turn one’s ideas into a reality.  Through his innovations, the running shoe industry has been revolutionized and products are being made that allow people to run that once thought they'd never be able to run again.

Former teammate and founder of Altra Running, Golden Harper, climbing his favorite peaks in shoes he developed.
Golden and I parted ways as he made his way to the airport and I jogged to the starting line.  He texted me after the race to ask how it went.  It was exhilarating.  I didn’t win, or run terribly fast.  I wasn’t even in the money.  But I got to run with some really fast people, take part in a HUGE, well-orchestrated event, and I got to do something I have always wanted to do (work in a running booth) and in the process I got to catch up with a good friend-a modern day Bill Bowerman. 

In the race, as the trail pack and I approached the infamous “Doomsday Hill”, a wheelchair athlete nearly clipped my feet as he bombed the tangent on the descent.  My first emotion was annoyance for his recklessness, but that soon changed when I realized that he had lost control and I was forced to watch helplessly as he hit a curb and was catapulted from the chair and strewn across the pavement. 

When we got to him he was already covered with blood and losing more.  All he asked was that we help strap him back in (which was no small task--his legs were dead weight, he was covered with blood, and to get back in racing position the body is contorted in the most uncomfortable aerodynamically efficient position possible - with feet and legs tucked under the body as he leans forward sitting on the legs).  I was inspired by the fact that none of the runners who stopped asked for protective gloves or if the injured contender had participated in any risky behaviors that could potentially affect them.  All any of us thought was that one of our own had fallen and we wanted to help him back up.  When asked if he wanted someone to call 9-1-1 he simply responded that there is no way he wouldn’t finish the race. 

After a few minutes of getting the wheel reset, his helmet back in place, and him back into the chair we all resumed our original pace.  Several runners had passed us, but after seeing the grit and guts of the athlete who crashed and was still losing blood, I couldn’t help but see those who passed as simply another opportunity to challenge myself.  I raced up Doomsday with added vigor and determination and actually ran people down rather than being run down as had happened the last time I ran it.  I caught everyone in sight and worked my way up probably about 100 spots in the last three miles.  While I didn’t get the time I had initially hoped for, I had a much more fulfilling experience at Bloomsday than I had anticipated.  I remembered to always appreciate any chance I get to run and to never take the chance to run with others for granted.

These are just a few of the recent running experiences that have been greatly enriched as a result of the efforts of others.  I have come to better appreciate their efforts as I have tried to do the same.  I will be eternally indebted to the many coaches, mentors, teammates, training partners, friends, race directors, volunteers, spectators, competitors, authors, bloggers, medical professionals, and innovators who have helped me make running a viable lifestyle.  I hope to reciprocate at least a portion of what they have given me as I run, coach, volunteer, organize races, and blog.  I hope to embody the reciprocal nature of running in my life as I strive to incorporate a spirit of Kuleana in all that I do. 

If you would like to enrich your running and the running experience of others I encourage you to look for opportunities to give back.  I did not mention my own experiences to limit you in your efforts, but rather to show how my life and running have improved as a result of the efforts I have made to look beyond the next PR or win and look outward to helping others find fulfillment through running.  

We all live in different places with different experiences, but we can all contribute to the sport through our individual and collective efforts to give back.   One of the best parts of trail running is the sense of community.  As trail runners we volunteer to prepare trails for upcoming races.  We crew, cheer, and pace our competitors who ultimately become close friends.  We challenge one another to be better and even when we train alone, we know that we owe it to ourselves and others like us out there to put in the work so that when we meet up we will be ready to test one another.