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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.

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