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Racing into Shape

Racing ultra distances requires a lot: adequate training, nutrition, and mental fortitude.  Even after months of preparation, ultras usually leave you mentally and physically drained.  Consequently, most competitive ultra runners suggest spacing out your goal races to allow for optimal recovery between races and adequate training in the build up for the next goal race. 

While it is not recommended to tackle a 100 miler every weekend or every month to build up for a goal 100 mile race (although Ian Sharman and Nick Clark’s record breaking summer at the Grand Slam may have proven otherwise), it is certainly beneficial to do at least one if not a couple shorter distance races (50K, 50 miler, 100K, etc.) as part of the build up. 

These shorter, less important, low-key races act as a dress rehearsal for your upcoming goal performance.  It is on these runs that you can practice with the clothing, nutrition, and hydration that you would like to use in the goal race.  It is also at these events that you gain the additional benefits of having volunteers on course, regular and reliable fuel and water sources, and the companionship of fellow runners to motivate and inspire you. 

For those of you like me who don’t live near other ultra runners, sometimes it’s difficult to find someone to join you for a long (2+ hour) training run.  Despite advances in hydration technology, sometimes it is nice to not have to worry about carrying all the fluid you could potentially need for a long run (especially when you are prone to getting lost for additional unexpected miles/hours).  In my experience, I’ve never been dissatisfied for paying an entry fee to gain the benefit of fellow runners to tackle the terrain with and predictable and dependable fueling/hydrations sources along the route. 

In addition to shorter ultra distance races, however, there are also benefits to occasionally jumping into even shorter events.  As a track and cross country coach, I typically encourage my cross country runners to prepare for their fall cross country season by doing plenty of 1500m & 3000m races in the spring.  Likewise, 800m runners often benefit from the occasional 400m or 1500m race.  Even during cross country season when my athletes are gearing up for a 5K race, we spend plenty of time - at least once a week - on the track or grass fields running intervals from 100m to 1 mile and we seek out courses to race on that replicate the course of the goal race – usually the Oregon State Cross Country Championships. 

Although ultra running is very different from mid-distance track and cross country, the training principles are the same.  If you want to improve an aspect of your running you need to deliberately do things in training to improve it.  One of the best ways to improve efficiency over long distances is to practice running faster at shorter distances.  This can take on many forms from less structured strides and fartleks to more formal interval sessions, hill repeats, and shorter races.

Dakota Jones recently wrote about how intervals have enabled him to improve and compete at the highest level of our sport.  Similarly, nearly every time I run with Max King he concludes with sets of 20-30 second strides and dynamic stretches before getting back into the car and sipping his recovery drink as we drive back toward civilization. 

If you are looking to improve your racing results at any distance, I recommend you make an effort to increase your running economy by incorporating short bursts of speed into your training in the form of strides, intervals, fartleks, hill repeats and shorter races much shorter than your actual goal race distance.   Doing these workouts/races with others makes it easier to complete the demanding effort of high intensity running and will help to prepare you physically for the even more demanding race ahead. 

However, if you are like me and occasionally find yourself just trying to squeeze in a run between work, family, and home owner commitments it isn’t always possible to coordinate your training schedule with someone else.  When you try and do the intense speed workout on your own it is usually harder to run the desired intensity (even with a fancy watch or playlist) than if you’ve got someone there to push you.  So why not jump into a local 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or cross country/trail race?  If you need to get in more mileage for the day you can do a long warm up and cool down.  Chances are, you’ll probably meet someone there who wants to add on some mileage as well and you’ll get what you need in terms of volume and quality. 

An added benefit to racing into shape is that these races don’t have to be the end-all-be-all.  They are simply a means to the end.  You don’t have to get nervous.  You don’t have to win.  You don’t have to run PRs every time you toe the line.  You can just chalk them up as “I’m training through this” or “I’m just doing this as a workout.”  And if the PR does come, you can celebrate it and gain confidence from the fact that you are fitter or faster than you even thought. 

Having only one goal race on the horizon is more stressful than having a couple races throughout the year where I want to run well.  If I put all my eggs into one basket and things don’t go as planned – (i.e. you get sick or injured which unfortunately happens when you are human and interact with other humans) it is hard to feel like all of the effort building up to it was actually worth it.  However, if I regularly jump into races when I can fit them into my training I am able to enjoy myself with my fellow runners, practice for some distant goal race in the future, and push myself more than I probably otherwise would if I chose to simply go it alone. 

I’m not suggesting that you race every week.  I wouldn’t even suggest that for those trying to improve at shorter distances, but I am suggesting that if you want to see improvements, you need to regularly remember that racing hurts and is hard.  The best way to prepare for the hurt of a race is to race. 

Should kids be allowed to run ultras?

Each year, more and more people of all ages, abilities, and experience levels want to challenge themselves to do something beyond the traditional marathon distance.  The recent growth in popularity of ultrarunning has to do, in part, with the fact that many ultras are run off-road in wild, often remote places.  John Muir observed, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; the wilderness is a necessity." 

As the majority of communities continue to grow around population centers it is only natural that counter-communities grow up in defiance of the trend toward centering our lives on urban life.  One such community is the ultra community.  Those who take to the trails find a welcome reprieve with others that intentionally try not to bring with them the fast paced craze of the work world - leading to a much less egotistical, much more egalitarian community that embraces others who enjoy hours in nature with tasty treats and drinks.  

Video by Yassine Diboun of T.J. Hooks (a Kid) and I leading the Volcanic 50

Naturally, such an inclusive counter community would want to avoid the historical institutional prohibitions and discrimination of its shorter distance predecessors.  As a matter of principle, people of all ages, genders, races, education & income levels should be allowed to participate in ultras.  Unfortunately, simply because something is right or popular does not mean that allowing everyone that wants to participate can reasonably be done without some challenges.  Fortunately,  as ultra runners we embrace challenges so I'll list a few of them and we can figure out how to overcome them.

One of the challenges of the growth of the sport is that races, particularly remote trail races, fill up quickly.  By opening the races to an ever-growing segment of interested young individuals that means the problem of races filling up within minutes will continue to grow worse.  This might be one reason some don't want kids to participate in ultras.

T.J. Hooks & I ran most of the Volcanic 50 together.  Photo  by Paul Nelson.
Race Recap Here
Another reason some may feel concerned over the desire of some youngsters running ultras could be the fact that by allowing some of these "kids" to participate, the level of competition increases and for a sport that has long been dominated by middle agers, it is humbling to admit that a "kid" half your age has the ability and audacity to hang with the likes of oneself.  Humility, even in ultrarunning, is not always easy to embrace.

The most common reason I hear for excluding kids from ultras is that it is not good for them.  This is the same argument that has been disseminated by overweight medical professionals since time immemorial.  I hear it all the time about my own running and about athletes I coach. I agree that it can take years to develop the stamina and strength to endure even a modest 50K, however, I don't believe that only adults are capable of safely covering such distances.   

As a general rule, running is generally better than not running, and running more, through a gradual build-up, is generally better than running less or not running at all.  The risks of muscular, skeletal, cardiac or pulmonary stress are no worse for those running ultra distances at young ages than the far more common practice of ultrasedentary lives of ultragaming.  

If I have a choice between staying inside seated in front of a computer all day or being outside, upright and moving I will always choose the latter. Shouldn't kids have the same choices? Society needs more and more kids constructively dealing with ADHD, depression, anxiety, obesity, diabetes and all of our other self-imposed maladies through activity in the outdoors, not fewer.  

Despite the great benefits of ultrarunning, we must remember that ultrarunning is unique in its ethos.  We do not want to lose the healthy vibe of the sport with the influx of kids who really don't want to do it whose parents push them into it prematurely.  Nothing is less motivating than being forced to do something inherently optional to fulfill another's ambitions. The intrinsic rewards for participating in ultras will be greatly diminished if personal drive and communion with fellow runners and volunteers are limited by the overbearing ambitions of parents.

If kids want to run ultras and they can figure out how to safely prepare for and complete them they should be permitted and encouraged to do so.  But if kids aren't ready or don't want to they should not be coerced, manipulated, or incentivized into doing them.  It will ruin their relationship with parents, ruin the sport, and ruin the potential fulfillment they could ultimately find in an activity and community that is socially, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. 

Volcanic 50

When I heard about the Volcanic 50 course that circumnavigates Mt. St. Helens I couldn't resist the invitation to test my mettle against such seismic extremes in terrain and temperatures.  You know that the race is going to be gnarly when you are told to expect to run the time you would on a course that is 20 miles longer, not to mention that you are required to carry a wind breaker, emergency blanket, and whistle as well as a means of transporting at least 40 oz of water.  Of the four remote aid stations, two were stream fill-ups and aid station volunteers had to pack all the water and aid in to the others - and actually one of the streams because the rain made the water unfilterable. The fact that the morning of the race we were told to be on the lookout for three missing hikers sought by search and rescue would normally appeal to my masochistic side, but at the time I have to admit I wasn't sure if I was actually ready for this type of challenge.

Some of the heroic volunteers who hiked in water and aid at the last minute to an area we were potentially going to be able to drink from that got flooded out.  Photo by Gerad Dean.
To say that I was disappointed after illness forced me to drop from the Waldo 100K a few weeks ago would be an understatement.  I had planned my year and training around one race.  With no regard for my plans, fever and fatigue crushed them.

To prepare for the altitude and mountainous running of Waldo, I spent some time in Central Oregon taking some continuing education classes for three weeks leading up to the race. Despite some solid training sessions with some of Bend's finest - including a scorching 20 miler with Mario Mendoza, a lunge searing speed workout with Max King, and a Cascade Lakes Relay course record - I got to Waldo sick, tired, and unresponsive.  My muscles wouldn't fire.  I ached all over and couldn't stay hydrated.

Video of the Cascade Lakes Relay by Silvain Bauge

I had been going back and forth on the weekends to be with my family, put on a trail race, check on my team, attend some meetings, and teach a few classes, but for the most part I felt I was recovering well and covering all my bases. I did my best to prevent catching my son's cold, but hand sanitizer and zinc lozenges will only work for so long.  I woke up two days before Waldo and could hardly get out of bed.  I still ran and worked on my feet all day and tried to loosen up in the pool after work, but couldn't warm up after getting out of the pool.  I hoped that by Saturday the fever and fatigue would subside and I'd be rested and ready to compete so we made the trek down to Willamette Pass for the race.

Despite having the opportunity to meet and run with some really great people, I knew early on it wasn't going to be my day.  Not that one always has to win, but I could tell by the way I felt an hour into it that I would never be able to catch the leaders with the amount of effort it was requiring to maintain the modest pace I was running.  I was already well off my goal pace and then began worrying about my faithful wife waiting for me at the half way point with my over-active son and needy newborn daughter.

Eventually, I decided to pull the plug, but still had to run another 12 miles just to get to them (making it about 30 miles any way).  For a moment, I had forgotten all of the good times I had experienced earlier this year. "Why did I sign up for this?  This is miserable!"

I hitched a ride to the next aid station with the wife of another competitor in the race, Steven Petretto, and found my family.  Jen had already been warned that I'd be arriving late by Trevor Hostetler who had seen me at a previous aid station and I asked him to let Jen know I was alright.

Trevor is one of the race directors of the Volcanic 50.  He is not only a really smart, nice guy, but he has a way of finding beautiful and challenging courses and turning them into excellent destination races.  As the date approached for the Volcanic 50 I felt bad because I wanted to do the race and I hoped to do well as a means of thanking Trevor for helping me and my family out at Waldo, but I wasn't healing as quickly as I had hoped and I honestly wasn't sure if I'd be ready for the challenge. 

What much of the course looked like.  Daunting and breathtaking all in one.  Photo by Paul Nelson Photography.
The cold symptoms had simply moved from my lymph nodes and sinuses to my chest which kept me from sleeping well.  Work was beginning to pick up with the start of the school year and cross country season and I knew I wasn't in the kind of shape I'd hoped to be in. But I also knew that this would be the last weekend that I wouldn't be at a cross country meet for months and I had to get out of town and enjoy one last weekend in the mountains with friends.

I didn't know until the morning of the race whether I would be racing or volunteering.  I prepared for both, threw my stuff in the back of my truck and made my way to Mt. St. Helens.

To think that such an iconic and historic site lay only four hours from my home and I had never been there is disheartening.  Sadly, this phenomenon is far too common with me.  I live in a very beautiful part of the world, but I've spent so little time exploring it. I really appreciate those who organize races in such places because they enable me to take in such beautiful settings in a much shorter amount of time.

Approaching the second aid station with T.J.  Photo by Gerad Dean.
The course traversed through the most diverse terrain I have ever experienced in one place. Each time the course would open up and you'd begin to feel like you could run you'd hit another boulder field, stream crossing, or canyon.  If it wasn't a boulder field, the ascents and tight rope ridge lines made you feel like you had shown up for an audition for the circus.

River crossing.  Being shown the rope to ascend the other side.  Photo by Gerad Dean.
Crossing the Toutle River Drainage.  Fortunately there was a rope for this climb.  Photo by Brian Donnelly.

The best way to get down to most streams was simply sliding down and the best way up was by hand.  One of the canyons had a rope.  I tried not to use it, but then T.J. grabbed it and it sprung up between my legs.  Despite being overwhelmed with two children you never know when the Mrs. will want another so I figured I should grab the rope before future posterity was no longer a possibility.
Occasionally a path would emerge.  Photo by Paul Nelson.
The ground was wet from rain the previous two days and when we were in the woods it was cool and shady, but then we'd get into the blast zone and be exposed to the sun for hours with no sight of life for miles.  Knowing that it would be both wet and hot, I wore wool Swiftwick Compression Socks to aid in drying and wicking away the sweat and water.  Despite the changing temps, stream crossings, and technical trails I didn't get a single blister or hot spot the entire six hours I was on my feet. This can also be attributed to my trusty Pearl Izumi Emotion N1 Trail shoes which have led me to victory and happy feet all year. 

Over the previous weeks all I had really done was try to get healthy.  I knew I could run with anyone in the race on open flat stretches or non-technical downhills because that is what I do where I live, but I knew that the others had the advantage of mountain experience on their side.  My friend, Brian Donnelly, cracked a rib on the course last year so I wanted to be cautious about how recklessly I took the technical sections.  I conceded to their strengths when we were in the canyons, on the boulders, and on the climbs. When we got to more runnable sections I tried to use my strengths and size to my advantage so I bombed the descents and strided out on the flat sections.
Boulders for days.  Photo by Paul Nelson.
The course and the heat gradually whittled what started as a group of four of us - Brandon Sullivan, Brett Long, T.J. Hooks, and I - down to two.  T.J. and I ran most of the last two thirds of the race together including a little extra detour with some epic climbs reminiscent of Hawaii's Stairway to Heaven.  (The course was clearly marked.  I was having a hard time seeing in the bright sun because I was rushing frm the boys room to to the start and forgot to grab a cap or sun glasses and I was hallucinating at the time we made the detour due to exposure to the sun and lack of water, so the extra mileage was no fault of the RDs, volunteers, or anyone else but my own). The extra climb didn't seem to faze T.J..  He seemed about as content as a kid in a candy store, so I wasn't about to complain.

 Video by Yassine Diboun of one of the more desolate sections of the course where he and Jason Leman ran into assist others with aid.

We eventually found the trail again just as Brandon was reaching the trail intersection on the correct trail.  We waved and proceeded to try and regain the ground we had lost.  The trail was relatively flat for the next few miles so T.J. and I started rolling. We weren't sure if anyone had passed.  I ended up breaking away by a bit going into the last aid station.  I had removed most of my extra clothing and stuffed it into my pack, giving me the false impression that I had more liquid in there than I actually did so I didn't refill my bladder.  I guzzled some soda to settle my stomach and continued on my way.

The last eight miles seemed like they'd never end.  I had gapped the field by enough that I couldn't see anyone.  I was looking forward to the final descent back to camp, but still had some challenging sections to endure.  By the time I got to the final creek crossing and went to finish off drink I had left in the pack I realized that I was out of fluid.  The stream water was too silty to drink.  I dipped my head in and tried to cool off, but having tried to drink silty water before while backpacking through southern Utah as a teenager I figured the silt would probably make me thirstier. I just continued to eat a PowerGel every thirty minutes  With nothing to wash them down and the sun rising in the sky I was really looking forward to fresh water. 

I slowed considerably as I reached the final boulder field.  I had made it that far without crashing and burning (which is a first for me - I even wore biking gloves because I was certain I'd be taking some tumbles).   I wanted to finish no worse for the wear.  T.J. eventually caught and passed me as we navigated the final stretch of boulders and made our way back to the trail upon which we started.  As we reached the final descent T.J. pulled over and waved me by.  I asked if he'd be ok with us finishing together. I had nothing to prove. I am twice his age and I have an affinity for tough young runners.  They make great training partners. He said that his legs had nothing left in them and I should go on ahead.  I know his coach, Karl Meltzer, isn't too keen on the idea of people crossing the finish line hand-in-hand, but I felt like he deserved the win.  We had run most of the thing together and to be honest, had he not been there I would have been perfectly content just taking in the views.  T.J. pushed me and everyone else out there and I wanted him to be recognized for it, but like a true champion he wouldn't let me give it to him and he encouraged me to let gravity pull my much larger frame down the final stretch toward the finish.

Finishing in record time thanks to great course markings, beautiful weather, generous volunteers, and great competition.
Enjoying some hard earned rest time with T.J. Photo by Paul Nelson.
People had said that the race was beautiful, and despite running in some pretty places in my life, I was not prepared for the vast diversity of beauty on the course.  At times I'd be thinking "This is like Flagstaff," or "This is like the Green Lakes in the Sisters Wilderness Area," or "This is like Diddle Diddle, or Stairway to Heaven, or XTERRA in Hawaii."  With Rainier as a backdrop it looked like White River in sections.  It reminded me of Costa Rica and Guatemala in other sections.  The Volcanic 50 has it all.  They don't sell you short when they claim that it is 50K +.  That + is exponential.
If the Volcanic 50 is not on your bucket list, it should be.  It will continue to be on mine.  I only hope I am quick enough to sign up before it sells out next year.  But if I don't get in, maybe I'll be a gentleman like last year's front runners, Jason Leman, Brian Donnelly, and Yassine Diboun, and meet  the runners out on the trail with nutrients I pack in.

I'm happy I was able to make it up to Mt. St. Helens and grateful to the great race directors, Trevor and Todd, and countless volunteers who went above and beyond the call of duty to pull the race off.  With the start of the competitive high school cross country season, I'm not sure when the next time will be that I am able to race, but for now I will try and heal up and focus on my family, my work, and my team. 

I ate a PowerGel every thirty minutes. They got me through some rough patches.  Proof to my friend, Paul Nelson, that it is possible to eat all the gels I pack. Photo by Paul Nelson.
This year has been a lot of fun.  I've seen some beautiful places with some amazing people.  I couldn't do it without the support of my family and my sponsors.  Thank you Pearl Izumi, PowerBar, Bellinger Farms, SwiftWick, TrailButter, and Columbia Court Club.

Also, thank you to Todd, Trevor, Renee, Paul, and all of the Animal Athletes and other volunteers out on the Volcanic 50 course this past weekend and at all of the other races in the Northwest Mountain Trail Series.  Every time I do a race in the series I feel like I am with family - and its not just because Yassine and I are brothers.  You set the bar so high it is hard to get excited about racing anywhere else!

The role of parents in developing athletes

I've been thinking a lot lately about the role parents play in the development of athletes.  As a coach, one question I am frequently asked is at what age should kids begin training?  My response usually depends on who is asking - the kid or the parent.  If the parent is wondering it is probably too early.  If the kid is chomping at the bit and excited to talk training, then it is probably fine to begin as long as the emphasis is on having fun and making gradual, incremental improvements rather than simply winning.

In my experience I'd say there isn't one right or wrong age to begin training, but an emphasis should always be placed on being outside and living an active life from a very early age.  Then when the time comes to train specifically for a particular event or discipline, the underlying strength and endurance will already be there because the body has been preparing itself for years.

Backpacking with my brother, Thomas Rivers Puzey, and my dad, Kim Puzey, in the sanctuary of Southern Utah.
Paradoxically, when training and competition are pushed on kids to fulfill a parent's or coach's needs or dreams the long term result generally doesn't turn out as well.  Particularly in endurance sports, the ones who are still competing after high school and college are most often not the ones who have been doing it their whole lives and/or had immediate success.  Rather than falling in love with the sweet taste of victory right off the bat, those of us who are still running fell in love with the road to improvement and the incremental little victories that came along the way.  It is generally these people enjoying the sport into their golden years.  

As a coach, my goal is to prepare my athletes for long term success, meaning I hope they not only enjoy the sports of cross country and track for the few years I am their coach in high school.  My hope is that they realize the existential nature of running and will continue to do it because they want to do it for the rest of their lives due to the priceless intrinsic benefits it brings.

As I reflect on my own life, I wonder what it was that led me to want to run and what it was that keeps me running.  Interestingly, many of these same factors also apply to my wife who is also still running and has no plans to stop.  

Both Jen and I agree that the number one factor that led us to run and keep running is the individual nature of the sport. We both come from relatively large families and we are both older than most of our siblings.  Consequently, resources weren't plentiful and we were taught the importance of work, responsibility, and individual accountability from a very young age.  Our parents are not athletes and never were.  None of them participated in organized sports.  None of them signed us up for sports so that they could feel busy, important, or fulfilled.  In fact, had we not begged our parents to sign us up for soccer, basketball, field hockey, and eventually track and cross country they probably wouldn't have even thought to enroll us.  

Rather than an emphasis on sports, in our homes we received an emphasis on learning and accountability.  Jen learned to read when she was three years old.  She was an ideal child and liked to sit quietly for hours reading and memorizing.  Conversely, I learned to ride my bike when I was three.  If my parents had money or health insurance I probably would have been diagnosed with ADHD and been put on a heavy prescription of Ritalin.  Instead they gave me nature's drug by permitting me to roam the high plains of eastern New Mexico.  Though my home was filled with books, the only reading I cared to do as a youngster was about snakes and lizards.  I still can't read fantasy literature because for all intents and purposes my childhood was idyllic.  I never needed or wanted to escape through a wardrobe or any other means to another reality.  With my brother, Tommy, and friend, Jesus, we dug holes, rode bikes, threw rocks, caught reptiles (even the occasional rattler), built cages for our new pets, caught their food, watched them eat, built forts, and made fires.  There weren't a lot of rules other than be home by dark, don't cross 21st Street, if you kill something eat it, and if you catch something you have to feed it. Through these experiences I learned a lot.  If I didn't know something, then I'd read about it.  

Shortly after learning to ride a bike, my dad and I started building ramps to see how high I could get.
That bike became the vehicle to countless adventures through the desert wonderland of New Mexico.
The TV was rarely on aside from the 30 minutes in which my dad was watching the news.  We didn't have cable, a VCR, computer, or a video game console.  We had a typewriter, and we all knew that its purpose was for work - thesis after thesis, a voluminous journal, all culminating in a dense dissertation.  

Neither Jen nor I were signed up for little league anything until we reached the age of eight.  Even after being signed up, our parents were never our coaches and to be quite honest, they never really got into the games.  Despite attending most of them, they didn't yell at refs, bad mouth our coaches, or talk about the games after they were over.  Our post game talks usually consisted of "Good job!  Did you tell your coach or the team mom thank you?" In my case there was usually a bit of chastising about my poor attitude.  "If you are going to play with a scowl on your face and a bad attitude then you shouldn't be playing at all!  This is supposed to be fun!"  No talk of stats or strategy.  What happened at practice or the game stayed at practice or the game and then it was over and off to the next thing - usually a paper route, a lawn that needed to be mowed, or homework.  

By the time we started running we had already played other sports for years.  Despite relative success at other disciplines, we both really liked the individual nature of running.  Neither of us experienced immediate success in running, but we both enjoyed the fact that we were 100% responsible for our own progress and performances.  One thing that I believe is challenging for people who play, coach, or have been around other team sports is that there are so many other variables and stats that someone else can be blamed for a team loss and no one really has to take personal accountability for their own mistakes.  In running, neither is true.  The clock doesn't lie.  You either showed up or you didn't.  You either responded to the competition or you didn't.  You either put in the necessary training or you didn't.  Some crumble under such pressure, but as a microcosm of life, Jen and I found running to be so appealing that we were all-in from day one.  We gradually worked our way up day by day, week by week, year by year until  we were relatively competitive at the high school level and then through the same process tried to compete at the highest level we could in college and beyond.  

After hiking up to Mary Jane Falls near Mt. Charleston outside Las Vegas, NV we found and explored a cave.
To be fair, we were both fortunate to have loving, caring coaches who patiently taught us to love the sport and encouraged us to challenge our own limitations.  Along the way, we were supported by our parents to the extent that they were able, but they were never the kind to show up to our races with splits and race plan in tow.  Not once did they try to discuss training, strategy, or anything else related to running.  They tolerated endless weekends of Chariots of Fire, Fire on the Track, and Endurance.  They hosted team dinners and were always willing to feed our teammates when we'd show up unannounced for lunch. 

However, the greatest way in which they supported us is that they let running be our thing.  It wasn't about them.  It was about us.  Our performances (whether good or bad) were a reflection on us and our preparations and our desires, not them.  They weren't the ones waking up early to put in the miles and they didn't find the need to take credit or feel shame for our performances.

Our parents usually weren't the ones paying for our shoes or the camps we attended and if they did they were either birthday or Christmas presents.  They also made it very clear that despite the early emphasis on education they weren't going to be paying our college tuition.  This inspired us to do well in school, save the money we earned, and do our best in extracurricular activities. This is primarily why we chose to attend the college we did - it was the best education we could get at the price we could afford.  It was what led us to walk on to our college cross country teams and eventually earn athletic scholarships.  It is what continues to lead us to push ourselves educationally and athletically.

In addition to letting running be our thing, our parents also assured us that they loved us unconditionally.  Neither of us were perfect and our competitive focus on excellence assuredly wasn't easy to live with.  However, they never once withheld their love or treated us as more or less than their own flesh and blood depending on a race performance or report card.

My son, Cairo, exploring the shores of Henry Hagg Lake after crewing for his dad in the 50K.

One experience that is seared into my heart that motivates me to want to be the kind of parent mine were to me occurred at the end of my senior year in high school.  I had slowly worked my way from being the last guy on JV as a freshman to being one of our top distance runners as a senior.  I had worked hard and hoped that I could qualify for the state track meet.  However, in order to do that I would have to place top two in our conference meet and I would have to do it at altitude in Bend, OR.  The good thing about having Bend in our conference is that there were always good athletes to raise the level of competition.  The bad thing about having the Bend schools in our conference was that you usually had to be a DI runner just to advance to the state meet.  That year Bend High School was ranked 5th or 6th in the nation in Cross Country.  They perfect scored the conference meet and then put their top five guys in the top 15 at the state meet.  I felt like Daniel in the Lions Den.  In order for me to qualify for state I would have to beat at least two of three guys.  Two were already planning to run at the University of Oregon and Northern Arizona.  If one of them was having a bad day, I would have to beat the guy who went on to win the state XC meet the year after we graduated.

I went in thinking I had a chance of qualifying and knowing that most of my college running prospects hung on my ability to qualify for and compete at the state meet.  This was a BIG year in Oregon for running and guys had been talking about going for Pre's record of 8:09 at the state meet. I knew that if I could just get into that race I could get pulled to a BIG PR.  I just had to get there.

The race started out as expected and the top four ran together for the first mile.  I competed to the best of my ability, but unfortunately ended up placing forth behind the aforementioned formidable competitors.  Consequently, I didn't qualify for the state track meet.

I was absolutely crestfallen.  Everything I had worked for, everything I had hoped for, everything I was planning for was over.  I was numb and the my world was spinning out of control.  I had done everything I could to prepare for that day and still failed.  I had not qualified for the state meet and consequently would not even be able to walk-on at some of the schools I had hoped to run for.  After a few minutes of fumbling for my trainers and warm-ups I began cooling down.

As I finished up my cool down and was headed to my bag I ran into my dad.  This was not who I wanted to see at this time. I was ashamed and assumed he would be too. I was afraid he wouldn't understand.  I worried that he would feel that he had wasted his hard earned money driving down there, staying in a hotel, and eating out just to see his son place fourth.

I tried not to make eye contact with him. I wanted to be anywhere but there.

He tried to hug me.  I pushed him away.  Through rare tears, I cried, "I'm sorry!"

He pulled me close and explained something to me that I will never forget.

"Jake - I love you.  It doesn't matter to me how fast you are or how many races you win or how good of a student you are or what other awards you win.  If you want to run fast and win races and get good grades that is fine, but it will not change the fact or the amount that I love you.  All that matters to me is that you know I am proud of you and that I love you."

When I think of the role I need to play in my own kids' lives I remember this and the many other lessons my parents taught me.

The next time I am asked what role parents should play in developing athletes I will recommend:

  1. Promote and encourage an active, adventurous lifestyle outdoors.  
  2. Teach kids to work and to be personally accountable for their own actions.
  3. Don't sign them up for sports until they want to do it.
  4. Teach them that sports are supposed to be fun.
  5. Let the coach coach.
  6. Let their sport be their thing.  
  7. Love them unconditionally.

If kids grow up outside, knowing they are loved by someone who teaches them to work, be responsible, and not make excuses, the successes in school, sports, and life will take care of themselves.

My son, Cairo, running up the hill at the 2013 Tough Rhino Mud Run.
Epilogue: Both Jen and her brother, David, were the valedictorians of their large high school in Las Vegas, NV and received academic scholarships to the universities of their choice.  Pretty good for the daughter of an immigrant father who moved to the U.S. not knowing any English and a mother who only completed a semester of college.

Of my parents' six children, five have attended college and all five received academic scholarships.  Three of the five received athletic scholarships.

Much of the emphasis on sports, particularly in small towns, is an emphasis on earning a college scholarship and eventually making it to the big leagues.  In most cases I have witnessed as both an athlete and coach, the kids who have a balanced foundation in academics, ethics, and athletics usually get more total scholarship money and stay in school longer than the ones whose parents emphasize sports at all costs.   Their lives end up being more fulfilling and if they do make it to the ranks of professionals they figure out how to make it work rather than burn out and fade away.   

Running on empty

Life has been a whirlwind since I last raced at the Peterson Ridge Rumble.  With the birth of our second child in the heart of the high school track season my training and recovery have been placed on the back burner.  That said, I wouldn't have it any other way.

A few weeks ago our family welcomed our baby girl into the world.  She was born in Portland, Oregon near countless miles of wooded trails.  The night she was born there was a small trail race in the park and my ever competitive wife even suggested I try and fit it in before the delivery.  Even I knew better than to risk not being there when the baby came.  She was born without any complications and both her and Jen are doing great!  The next morning, Jen assured me it was alright to go for a run and take in the trails.  I knew that a few weeks later I'd be returning and would need to know the trails well to avoid getting lost in the pedestrian's wonderland.  As expected, I got lost, but hoped it would help when I returned for the Trail Factor 50K.

Since the birth of our daughter, sleep has been sporadic and secondary to her needs.  My son and I have had a bit more guy time, but I have been on the road three out of the past four weekends coaching high school track.  It has been challenging knowing that there are needs at home to which I should attend while also knowing that I made a commitment to the kids I coach and that they have made a commitment to one another to empty the tank weekend after weekend.
Cooling down after qualifying for state in the 1500m at the Columbia River Conference Championships in Hood River, OR.
The past few weekends were special as many of them ran personal bests and qualified for the state track meet - a feat I never personally accomplished when I was their age.  An added bonus to living in Oregon is that the high school state championships are contested each year at Historic Hayward Field in Track Town USA - Eugene, OR.

One of the banners on the stadium wall carried the visage of Pre and challenged athletes to "Run to be remembered!"  One of the joys of coaching the kids I do is that like Pre they come from working class backgrounds and aren't afraid to work. They represented their families and community well and as their coach I couldn't be prouder.  They ran to be remembered and neither I nor they will soon forget the messages they sent when they fearlessly ran to win.

Hermiston's Jose Macias and Eduardo Juarez pushed the pace in the 3,000m at the high school state meet in Eugene, OR.
Inspiring stories aside, driving a 15 passenger minibus the six hours back from Eugene after a very long day is not always my favorite part of the job.  I typically avoid caffeine, but I was concerned for the safety of my athletes so I indulged in some stimulating beverages as we made our way back home at 2:00am Sunday morning.  I was too tired to clean, refuel, and return the bus to the bus barn so I went home and slept for a few hours.  I was greeted by my son who needed a drink of water, but was still kind enough to tell me he missed me.  I assured him the next time I went to a race he got to go with me.  Little did he know, that would be a few hours later.

We attended church as a family, ate Sunday dinner with my parents, and then my mom, son, and I returned to the wet and rainy side of the state to stay with my sister and her family and run the Trail Factor 50K.   They are always great hosts and she is always eager to feed me.  Since we had already eaten a substantial early dinner and I put down an apple with some Trail Butter on the way down, I was content with a bowl of watermelon for dinner.

When my watch alarm sounded it felt like my head had just hit the pillow, which with four little nieces and my son running around wasn't too far from the truth.  With the rain coming down and showing no signs of relenting, part of me just wanted to stay in bed and take advantage of the day off from work.  The more sensible side of me knew that I would definitely regret not getting to meet up with my friends at the race.

I knew my Moroccan twin brother, Yassine Diboun, would be there and ready to push it.  I knew that rain or shine Todd Janssen and Renee Seker of NSPIRE would put on another great race even if they had to move the start and finish area to another park or lift port-a-potties over the fence so that we had them before the race.  I knew that there would be other familiar faces and friends that I have either met at other races or online or that I would meet and I definitely didn't want to miss out on meeting.

Last year's weather was amazing and the course was perfect for the time of year.  I got to spend time with some incredible people, so in spite of the rain and lack of sleep, I certainly did not want to miss out on another memorable Memorial Day in Forest Park.

Ethan Linck, Brian Donnelly, Jacob Puzey, Yassine Diboun
Yassine took it out pretty hard considering the mud, but that didn't keep two other local runners in Animal Athletics kits, Brian Donnelly and Ethan Linck, from accompanying us.  We caught up and visited the first few miles during which time I learned that I was surrounded by not only some fit runners, but some rather well-educated fellows.  I mentioned to Ethan that I studied anthropology in college, but once we started a family I felt like it might not be prudent to bring our son to Papua New Guinea to continue my studies of biolinguistic diversity/recovery.

Ethan, a recent graduate of Reed College, asked if I had ever been to PNG.  The fact that he knew the place by its acronym excited me, but the fact that he had spent the last three years studying there and hoped to do his dissertation about birds there just floored me.  This would be his farewell run in Forest Park before moving to the Bay Area to take up research for the University of California.

Not to be outdone, Brian is a technical writer with a bachelor's degree in English from Berkeley and a masters in English from Stanford.  I couldn't think of a more interesting group of people to run with, but part of me felt bad that by my very presence I was lowering the cumulative IQ of the group.  I tried not to utter any hickisms so as to not alert them of my humble roots in Eastern Oregon.

Trying to make a break and grateful to be wearing Swiftwick Compression socks and sleeves.
Despite water running through my shoes all day, my feet remained blister free.
Yassine and other Animal Athletes had done a great job of marking the course the night before, but I didn't really have to pay much attention the first half because I tried to cover his every move.  He was bombing the descents and causing me to remember the last time we raced in rainy conditions at Hagg Lake in 2012 when he confidently charged past 2:14 marathoner, Ryan Bak, late in the race.  I certainly felt at a disadvantage considering I hadn't run in much rain or mud this year, with the exception of Hagg Lake, and even that was uncharacteristically dry.  I guess I couldn't have all the races my way, so this was pay back for the uber pleasant warm weather I was fortunate to encounter earlier in the year.

Without a crew to meet me along the course, I packed all the fuel I'd need in my Pearl Izumi Ultra Split Shorts and my UltrAspire Surge Hydration Pack.  PowerBar Perform in the bladder and PowerGels every 30 minutes did the trick.
Despite his dominant downhill skills, Yassine started having some GI issues and had to make a couple of stops.  Brian and I helped him catch us the first time by falling and sliding down a gravelly trail until he passed us.  However, the next time we were closer to Leif Erickson Trail, where it is wider, flatter, and drains better, and my inner road runner kicked in and tried to open up a gap.  I knew that if Yassine was near me in the last few miles, given the hilly 120 mile weeks he's been putting in and his superior mud and downhill abilities I'd be in trouble.

I pushed from trail intersection to trail intersection until we eventually we got back to trails we had run out on.  Unfortunately, everyone else had also run out on them too and with the rain some of the temporary markings had been washed away.  Fortunately, Brian lives right on Forest Park and knows it well.  He was patient and gracious enough to tolerate me hollering back to him and asking him which way to go at each interchange for the last several miles.  Thanks to his first-hand familiarity with the course, we were able to get back quicker than Zach Gingrich and I did last year under much sunnier, drier conditions.

Finishing in record time thanks to great competition, great gear, great nutrition, and lots of help out on the course by volunteers and Brian Donnelly.
Wouldn't have made it back to the start without the help of Brian Donnelly.  We were both rocking the Pearl Izumi E:Motion N1 Trails and they handled the course pretty well.  Good for two guys under the previous CR.
As usual, the race was well organized, well-marked, and well attended.  NSPIRE always puts on great events with practical prizes from generous sponsors.  Long Run Picture Company was on site taking great pics as usual.  I'm happy I ignored the voice in that morning telling me to stay home and sleep-in and I'm also glad that I can shut it down for a little while to recharge and enjoy my family.

My son and I are going to do his first mud run in a few weeks and then after lots of family reunions we're going to all meet together for the Mt. Hood 50 where my endurance fiend brother, Thomas Rivers Puzey, and I will do our best to run to be remembered and take a stab at Ian Sharman's course record.  Should be fun.

The next family pic we take will include our triplet, Thomas Rivers Puzey, at Mt. Hood 50, but before that Yassine is going to have another stellar race at Western States 100.

Return to the Roads

After a hard effort at the Hagg Lake 50K I took the week to recover and then made my first return to the roads in over a year to add some much needed threshold work to my winter training.  After Hagg I took a day completely off from running, did some light swimming, aquajogging, and mountain biking with some easy running mixed in.  The Saturday after Hagg I accompanied my friend and long run training partner, Rian Beach, to Richland, WA to participate in the second annual Tri Cities Half Marathon.

Rian has had a profound impact on my running over the past few years.  Doing my long runs and long workouts with him has been both fulfilling and beneficial.  We were actually rivals in high school, but we reunited at a local fun run, the Salmon Walk 10K, a few years back and have been training together as much as possible ever since.  It was actually kinda funny the way we were reacquainted with one another.  My brother and I started out pretty fast down a hill pushing infants in jogging strollers.  The strollers probably helped on the descent, but when we had to climb back up the hills pushing them it got a bit more difficult.  When Rian tried to pass my son, Cairo, removed his shoes and began throwing them at him.  Rian kindly reached down and picked them up, thinking that perhaps it had been an accident.  Then Cairo started throwing snacks, granola bars, gold fish crackers, etc. and Rian finally got the hint that Cairo was far more competitive than the guy pushing the stroller.
My brother, Thomas Rivers, and I pushing our kids at the Salmon Walk
Rian lives in Pendleton, about 35 minutes away.  For much of the winter of 2010 we drove back and forth to each others towns to run with each other on the weekends.  Both of us had completed a couple of marathons, but we both felt that what we needed to dip under the 2:30 mark was consistency in our long runs.  We both got it during that winter.  Most of the time I'd be dragging the last few miles, but Rian insisted on dropping sub 6:00 miles the last few miles of our 18-24 mile training runs.  This stimulus had both psychological and physical benefits.  That Spring I PRed by over 5 minutes at the Eugene Marathon.  With his help, I was able to complete a number of marathons under the previous ceiling of 2:30.

Rian and I cooling down after the Wheat Field Half Marathon & 8K in The Dalles, OR 2010
Photo by Scott McMullen
It was that first winter of training with Rian that actually got me interested in running trail 50Ks to extend my training runs even further.  Now, it is my turn to try and help him make similar jumps in his racing.  Due to a coaching conflict, I won't be able to join him at Eugene this Spring, but I'd like to be able to run with him as much as possible between now and then.  So when we heard about the Tri Cities Half we decided to go for it.
Rian and I running up Dead Man's Pass in the Blue Mountains outside of Pendleton
Then we heard that it would be cold and windy.  Really windy.  Oh well, we'd adjust our goal.  We initially talked about trying to run 1:13 or 1:14.  Neither of us have been doing much in terms of speed, so we figured that would require a solid effort at this time of year, but we also thought it would provide a solid stimulus for our future aerobic development.  However, with the wind it was pretty tough to hit any sort of even splits.  The course was horse shoe shaped - started by going north about 3 miles, turned east toward the river, turned south into the wind and ran along the river about 3 miles and then turned around and retraced the same path.  The wind was at our backs about half of it and in our faces the other half.  So it really didn't seem too tough to go out in 5:20s with the wind to our backs for the first three miles, but once we turned into the wind it was more than a challenge to stay under 6:00 per mile.  Our initial time goals had to go out the window and our goals of winning, breaking the previous course record, defeating last year's champion, and getting a good workout in were still attainable.

Photo of the Start courtesy of Mark Harper, KAPPTV
We ran together for the first three miles or so.  After the initial blitz, I was bigger (taller and wider) than anyone else in the lead pack so I just tried to get as much wind in my sails as possible on the way out.  On the way back it seemed to have the opposite effect - the wind seemed to slam into my barrel chest and held me in place as others made up considerable ground.  We were still pretty close together at the turnaround.  Rian and I had opened up a gap on the others, but third and fourth were still in striking distance.  I tried to use the tailwind to my advantage from miles 6.5 to 9.5 and tried to drop the pace again to give me a cushion when we got back into the head wind from mile 10 to 13.

Swiftwick Aspire Twelve compression socks - perfect for the cool , windy weather.
Between the warm up, the race, and the cool down I would be running about 18 miles on pavement which is about 18 miles more than I typically run on pavement on any given day so my upper legs and lower back were not reacting well.  Thanks to the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve compression socks, my feet and lower legs were able to get the rest of my body back to the finish with no cramps and no hot spots or blisters.  I was still a bit sore from the effort the week before so the last few miles into the wind were more about focusing on form and trying to run as efficiently as possible.  The socks helped me stay focused on form and not on my feet.
Me, race director, Miguel Reyna, and overall women's champ,  Erica McElrea
Photo by Rian Beach
It turned out that both of us were able to beat the previous course record.  After fueling up at the PowerBar station and downing a few bananas we cooled down with the 2012 champ, David Hurtado (who is an engineer that coached soccer at the same school where I coach cross country and we shared a few athletes).  We looked for a healthy post race meal option, but the only place that was open that early was Zips so we had no other choice but to eat greasy hamburgers.  Protein is protein, right?

I've done two races this year and set course records at each.  I've got my first mountain bike race of my life this week at the Echo Red2Red XC and let's just say I don't expect the streak to continue, but I do plan to have a lot of fun and enjoy one last ride before I am on the road every weekend at high school track meets.

Sometimes a great notion

Shot of Hagg Lake near the Start by Michael Lebowitz
In 2011 I took up 50K trail runs as a means of occasionally extending my long runs beyond the three hour mark and assuring that my water bottles wouldn't be picked up by others before I got to them.  Honestly, all I really had in mind was becoming a better road marathoner and if it meant I had to drop a few bucks on entry fees and travel to secure training partners and the necessary aid I'd do it.

Photo by Michael Lebowitz, Long Run Pictures
Then it happened.  It only took one race, the Hagg Lake 50K, and I was hooked.  The unknown world of trails captivated me. I was quickly on to the next one.  Went out hard, bonked hard, crawled back home...  Yet, rather than deterring me from doing more, this experience and many other newbie mishaps kept feeding my desire to do more - to familiarize myself enough with the terrain and the technique and my gangly body that I could navigate the trails the way so many others did as they flew by me on the rooty, rocky descents.

In most races, my aerobic capacity covered my ineptitude on the trails.  Despite the fact that I was either unable or unwilling to try and compete with the stars, I was able to manage relative success in the new milieu.  However, I decided that this year, if I'm really going to 'race' on trails, then I had better figure out how to prepare for the technicality and I had better prepare to actually 'race', embrace the red line and hang on, rather than do everything in my power to avoid discomfort.

Creek leading into Hagg Lake near first muddy climb.  Photo by Micheal Lebowitz.
I knew that if I hoped to be more competitive on the trails I needed to switch things up a bit in my training.  I needed to train on more single track, more hills, and more rocky, uneven terrain.  So this winter I made a conscious effort to train on more winding, technical trails to learn to navigate them with less hesitation and reservation. I needed to actually start racing and stop seeing trail runs as simply training runs.  Until I flipped that switch in my mind, I wasn't going to be able to compete on the trails even at the level that I had on the roads.

Shots of the lake by Michael Lebowitz
The stars aligned at Hagg Lake and I was able to begin 2013 the way I had hoped.  My training has been going relatively well.  I am healthy.  Work (teaching and coaching) hasn't been any more stressful than necessary.  My family is healthy and happy.  So what could stop me...

Start of Hagg Lake 50K with the legendary Joelle Vaught.  Photo by Micheal Lebowitz.
I woke up the morning of the Hagg Lake 50K to find that my GPS watch had not charged, was frozen, and would not respond.  I wasn't hungry enough to eat any solid food so I just had lots of orange juice with lots of pulp.  Based on the results from the past few years and the list of entries I was favored to win which in itself would be a nice way to start the year.  Word got out that the weather had been nice and although the mud was supposed to still be present around the perimeter of the lake it would be runnable (other than a few sections on the back side that still weren't draining properly).  After running the course the two previous years I felt confident that I could push the pace longer than I previously had.  I also knew from recent training and racing experiences that I could grind through discomfort as long as I was fueling properly.  I could run fluidly for at least three hours at a relatively high intensity on varied terrain.

However, I did not intend to lead from the gun.  Jason Leman and I ran side by side up
the first hill to the turn-around of the out-and-back and I planned on running with him for a while, but on the descent my legs were longer and I didn't want to put on the brakes and tie up my quads early in the race so I just let gravity pull me down and hoped to use a bit of the momentum to recover from the climb and propel me through the first loop.  I figured I'd see him once we got into the technical stuff.

My family (wife, son, and mom) were there to cheer me through the start/finish area where I was able to ditch a jacket.  They circled the lake providing me with PowerBar Energy Gels and PowerBar Perform at each of the aid stations.

The aid stations were close enough to one another that I was able to forego carrying a bottle or bladder and just drink at each aid station as I would in a road marathon.  I'd switch out the wrappers of the gels I'd eaten and replace them with new ones and wash them down with a swig or two of PowerBar Perform and a salt cap.

The fact that my GPS wasn't working was actually a boon.  I wore a simple chrono watch and just made sure I was eating a gel at least every 45 minutes and salt at least every hour.  Rather than basing my pace off of a predetermined standard I simply had to go off of feel.  I tried to stay at threshold effort.  I didn't have a HR monitor to tell me what zone I was in or the GPS to tell me the exact mile splits, but I simply tried to run out of my comfort zone without going anaerobic.

The Mountain Hard Wear 3/4 tights I was wearing have a good sized pocket in the back that held my gels and salts and used gel wrappers close to the body so that I couldn't even tell they were there until I needed them or needed to dispose of them.  The flap rather than zipper made the pocket easily accessible without compromising the security of the contents.  I used them on a few long runs this winter and will definitely use them again in the cooler races this winter and spring.

The Swift Wick Aspire Twelve compression socks wicked away the ankle deep mud and moisture (as much as a sock can) and enabled me to focus on the course and my body rather than blisters and hot spots.

For the first time in a long time, I felt like a kid in a candy store and not simply because I was consuming copious amounts of chocolate.  I bombed the root laden hills and didn't worry about twisting an ankle or crashing and burning.  While I still had to use my hands a bit more than one would normally use them in a road marathon to brace myself from falling or support myself across the slick bridges and tight turns (and a couple of times to pull myself up some muddy hills), it was actually a lot of fun to feel free and competent on the trails.  My winter of trail training, cross training (MTB on similar surfaces), and accumulation of races (trail and road) all seemed to come together for me.

Photos by Michael Lebowitz, Long Run Pictures

By the start of the second lap I knew I was on pace to challenge Max's course record, but I was also tiring and my quads and hip flexors were tightening up.  While Max's course record was a goal of mine going in, I actually entered the race with a number of goals and wanted to be sure that I fulfilled as many as I could in order of priority:

1). Be grateful & try to communicate gratitude to race and aid volunteers, RDs, spectators, photographers, other participants, and my family/crew.
2). Be nice to everyone - treat others the way I would like to be treated - which is exactly how I have been treated by my fellow trail runners
3). Have fun and make some new friends
4). Take risks
5). Don't get too comfortable
6).  Fuel wisely (gels at least every 45 minutes and salt at least every hour washed down with PowerBar Perform)
7).  If conditions permit, improve on last year's time
8). Try to PR on the course (3:46 from 2011)
9). Race to win - win or lose, at least give myself a chance to win
10). Shoot for the stars (Max's record) and if I don't get it, maybe I'll get Andy Martin's longstanding #2 all time mark of 2:41

Hagg Lake 50K Top 10 through 2012
Max King
Andy Martin
Ruben Galbraith
Neil Olsen
Ryan Bak
James Kerby
Jacob Puzey
Andrew Schupp
Stan Holman
Lanny Gower

Nearing the finish and hoping my watch was right and I could finish without slipping and falling.  Photos by Michael Lebowitz of Long Run Picture Company.

Photo series by Michael Lebowitz of Long Run Picture Company
It worked out.  I achieved each of my goals (though I did startle a few people wearing headphones as I tried to pass:(  My apologies.

To be fair, had Max or Ryan Bak or Andy Martin or any of the other speedsters who have raced Hagg before been present, the course record would have been broken by even more.  When it comes to Max I have decided that you can pretty much replace his name in all of the Chuck Noris jokes and they are usually even more true with him.  I am humbled to have had such a fun day and honored that I was able to run faster than I ever have over 50K.  Hopefully, my new-found confidence can propel me into more solid performances in 2013 and a more fulfilling life as a trail runner.

This day would not have been possible without the endless support of my family and the generosity of so many volunteers along the course.
Race directors, Eric and Kelly Barten, Todd Janssen, and Timing Team NSPIRE.  Photo by Michael Lebowitz
Special thanks to race directors Eric and Kelly Barten and Todd Janssen and the NSPIRE timing crew for putting on such well-organized events, slogging through days of rain and mud so that we could enjoy a couple hours of fun in the mud, broadcast our progress in real time to our friends through social media, and enjoy scrumptious meals at the finish line.  They set the bar extremely high for all races and race directors and hope they know how much we appreciate their attention to detail and desire to make each event that they do an experience that participants will remember and cherish for a lifetime.

State of the art timing, tracking, and broadcasting system by NSPIRE.  Photo by Michal Lebowitz
Also, special thanks to Micahel Lebowitz and his crew from Long Run Picture Company.

While Michael Lebowitz is usually the guy behind the camera, Paul Nelson got a great shot of him before the start.
Between Michael, Eric, Kelly, and Todd it is hard to imagine a trail race I've done where all or at least most weren't present and in some way involved.  They have helped me fall in love with this sport and they are a big reason why I want to keep doing it.  I look forward to participating in more events directed, timed, and photographed by them in the coming years.  If you are looking to do a well organized, well managed, well timed, well marked, well captured event I'd encourage you to look at the list of races that these great people direct, time, and shoot.  Click on the links below or to the side for a complete list of races.

Special thanks to all of the volunteers who made the event possible and the sponsors who continue to make this sport great.  Thank you to a new Oregon based company, Trail Butter, for having your amazingly delicious, hardy, healthy Trail Butter available to sample and purchase after the race.  We had a long drive home and needed something to eat with our Dave's Killer Bread and apples.  Your Ozark Original Trail Butter hit the spot.  Hopefully, we can get it into some stores out in the sticks where I live.

Special thanks to my family/crew for helping me along the way.  I think Cairo gets as much of a thrill out of the races as I do.  He is fascinated by the maps and the strategy and my mom pays close attention to detail.  She wants to be sure I have the right concentration of electrolyte drink, gels, water, salt, and anything else I might need.  Jen, who is currently six months pregnant, ran before the race and then drove two loops around the lake to beat me to each aid station and assure that I had what I needed when I needed it.  

My main man, Cairo.  Photo by Michael Lebowitz
Strategic map drawn by Cairo of the course and each aid station and what he would give me at each spot.

Special thanks to the people and companies that support my passion for running and the outdoors, particularly PowerBar who have helped me with my nutrition in training and racing and support the events that I direct as fund raisers for the high school and middle school cross country teams I coach.  

Nothing like hot soup and grilled cheese to warm you up after the race.