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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.


  1. Stud! I want to be like Puzey when I grow up.

    1. Thanks, Eric. You have accomplished more than I ever will in just about every area of life. I will call you, though, and would like to get something going in the future. Thanks for being willing to help!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Tommy! Please watch your acronyms! There are children that frequent the Internet.

  3. Awesome race and report Jacob! I'm glad I had the opportunity to take part and chat with you after the race. You're truly an inspiration for many! Keep it up my friend!

    1. Thank you, K! It was great to visit with you as well! Hope you have a great year! See you on the trails or roads!