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Remembering my running Roots

I ran the Hagg Lake 50K for the fourth consecutive year this weekend.  Some people ask why I keep going back to the same race year after year.  Here are my top five reasons:

1). It is where I ran my first ultra, so it is a way of returning to my roots.

2). The people that put the race on are second to none and there is always a solid field.

3). Despite being the same course year-in-and-year-out, the conditions are never the same so you never know what you are going to get.

4). It is at a challenging time of year which motivates me to train through the dark, cold, wet months of winter.
5). Hagg Lake Mud Runs were cool even before mud runs were all the rage. In terms of mud for your buck you get ten times more mud for half the price and you don’t even have to get electrocuted.  Seriously.  Why spend more, run less, and shock yourself?  

My morning began with my son critiquing my race attire.

“Dad, why don’t your pants go to your feet?”

“They aren’t pants, Cairo.  They are called manpris.” 

“They look weird.”

“I wear them so that my knees don’t get cold.”

“They don’t make you look very manly.  They just make you look weird.”

Needless to say, my confidence was a little shaky.

Unlike my first year, I gave myself plenty of time to get to the start, take care of business and mingle rather than get caught in a port-a-pottie when the gun went off.  I wore the best shoes I could find for the conditions - the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 - and I wore several layers, gloves, wool Swiftwick compression socks, and a hooded jacket for most of the race.

While everyone assumed that Zach Gingerich would take it out hard like he usually does, it was Jason Leman who led up the first climb.  I ran with Jeremy Tolman, a sub 4:00 miler & former All-American steeplechaser, as we tried to keep Jason in our sights.

 With the longest legs and greatest body mass, inertia took over and I found myself in the front by the time we descended and reached the single-track.

I knew going in that after a long break from running I wouldn’t be in the kind of shape I had been in the past few years.  Given the recent record snowfalls I wasn’t about to put pressure on myself to best my previous year’s time, but I needed to get in a solid long run and figured at least I would have some company if I showed up at Hagg.

We settled in to a comfortable pace running as a large group that ranged between two and seven or eight runners.  Early on, I was reminded once again that ultrarunners tend to be well-educated, informed people.  Over the course of 50K I found myself running stride for stride with a medical doctor, two engineers, a health care administrator, and an I.T. guy for Nike.  Maybe I should go back to college to extend my running career.

After about eight miles, shirtless Jason Leman took over the pacing duties.  Zach Gingerich and I tried to hang on.  At about this time Zach realized that his trademark baller shorts lacked a draw sting and were getting weighed down by the downpour. Jason and I joked that we had sabotaged Zach’s shorts by removing the drawstring just to keep him within striking distance.  A few miles later Jason took a pit stop and Zach (now with sagging baller shorts) and I gradually pulled away. 

By the end of the first loop an ever patient Neil Olsen joined me and we started rolling.  We came through at about 2:03 which was only two minutes slower than Neil’s pace the previous year under much more runnable conditions.  This both impressed and frightened me.  While the split was significantly slower than my split the year before, I was already hurting.  

After being away from regular training and racing for so long I made some rookie mistakes – like doubling the duration & distance of my long run in muddy conditions and not sticking to a regular fueling plan because I was so cold.  In the past I’ve done some longer training runs in preparation for the race.  After resuming running a few weeks ago, I’ve deliberately tried to gradually increase my volume, including the distance & duration of my long runs.  I hadn’t run for much more than two hours since November.  Due to my lack of training, after about two hours my muscles just wouldn’t fire, especially when we got around to the even sloppier second loop.  Each place a person’s foot had landed the previous loop became a receptacle of water the following lap.  Add fatigue, delirium, and soggy shoes and that makes for some sore hip flexors and epic spills. 

Enjoying ourselves at about mile 17 with one lap to go.  Jacob Puzey, Neil Olsen, Zach Gingerich
On the nutrition side of things, I typically drink about two liters of liquid (electrolyte drink) over the course of a four hour race.  I also prefer to take in calories through gels/liquid shot/trailbutter every 30-45 minutes and additional salt caps at least every hour.  I knew that the course would be slick and I didn’t want to rely entirely on a handheld bottle to fuel me (because I’ve often fallen and spilled the contents of my bottle) so my loving wife and son met me at each aid station with a bottle of my own concentration of electrolytes.  At one point, Jason commented how nice it must be to have a wife to crew for me.  I couldn’t agree more.  I appreciate it even more given that she had to get up early and still cut her long run short so that she & Cairo could be out on the course cheering me on and helping me out.  Unfortunately, due to the cold and rain I just wasn’t thirsty and didn’t consume very much.  By the end of the race I had only consumed about 10 ounces of liquid (First Endurance EFS Drink) and 1.5 flasks of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, but no extra water and no additional salts.  While this may be enough for some, this isn’t enough for me.  It only equates to 800-900 calories and I burned at least 4,000.

While I figured I’d pull away for the win when we hit the dam, Neil asserted himself as a challenger.  I was happy to have some company through my suffering.  I wasn’t feeling as well as I had hoped to at that point in the race. We talked for quite a while about our families and the high school cross country teams we help coach, Crater and Hermiston, which are often some of the top programs in the state and when we line up against each other it is usually a fight to the finish.  Crater is similar to Hermiston, so I knew that despite beating Neil in the past, he wouldn’t just roll over.  They have a four word motto at Crater:  “Work Hard.  Work Harder.”  Neil and the Crater program embody that mantra.

At one point, Neil asked if the long haired child crewing for me was YassineDiboun’s daughter.  People often mistake Yassine and I, but this was the first time that our children have been mistaken for one another.  I tried to explain that my son just insists on growing his hair out until it is as long as Qui-Gon Jin’s.  He thinks it will help him become a Jedi master.  

I began to struggle through some of the slicker climbs and descents and eventually went down hard with about six miles to go.  It took me a while to regain my composure and get back on my feet.  By the time I was upright Neil had already gapped me.  I tried to real him back in but just kept slipping.  I knew that my best chance of regaining the lead would be the next stretch of pavement where I could rely on my youth and longer stride.  Unfortunately, by the time we reached the pavement he had already pulled away so much that I couldn’t see him.  I was struggling just to stay upright and fight through the cramps in my arms and legs.  I was cold, wet, and dehydrated and just needed to get warm.  My only motivation from there on out was the hot soup waiting at the finish. 

Finally finishing with Cairo, Jen, and Todd

When I finished, I was pleased to see so many friends and family.  I wish that I hadn’t been so cold, because normally I like to stick around and share war stories and cheer on others as they finish.  But I couldn’t stop shivering and my body was aching so I figured I needed to take a hot shower and get in some warm clothes. 

I had a rather piercing post-race conversation with my seven year old son on the way home.  One of the hardest things about parenting is when your kids actually listen to you and then use your own words against you:

"Dad, why didn’t you win? Why did you let that guy beat you?"

"He was running better than me in the mud and I was too tired to catch him."

"Why couldn’t you catch him?  He wasn’t even running that fast?"

"He was running fast for as long and as muddy as it was."

"No he wasn’t.  I ran next to you guys on the road (for about a stride).  I’m faster than both of you."

"You might be, but we were running for a long time, so we were trying to save our energy. "

"You still should have won.

"I’m sorry.  I’m just not in as good of shape as I used to be."

"Why not?"

"I took a break and I haven’t been running as much as I usually do.  I’m only running a couple of days a week."

"You should be running everyday if you want to get better.

"I know."

"Then why don’t you?"

"I’ve been working a lot and trying to get healthy.  I’m starting to run more.  I want to be healthy all year so I'm trying to be patient.

"That’s not an excuse.  You should be running everyday so that you win next time."

"Duly noted."
A few other things I learned/remembered from my return to running and racing:

Catching up with Trail Butter founder, Jeff Boggess
  • You can’t fake fitness.  There is no substitute for consistency. 
  • Never underestimate old man strength.
  • Never rely on the spryness of youth.
  • If you consume two boxes of Triscuits after the race there is a pretty high likelihood that you should have consumed more salt during the race.
  • Avoid Girl Scouts after a race.  One box of macaroons quickly becomes the standard serving size.
  • Set & stick to a hydration plan even when it is cold and you aren’t sweating or thirsty. 

Many thanks to Kelly, Eric, Todd, Renee, Trevor and the countless other volunteers who make the event what it is!  Thank you to my sponsors for helping me do what I love.  Thank you to my family for supporting me.  Thank you to my competitors for pushing and inspiring me to become better.  


  1. Great report. Your humility is always refreshing. Love the Cairo comments.

    1. Thank you, Brian. Likewise. I hope we get to run together soon. Hope you are well.

    2. I definitely could have used a simple bottle out there. I wanted to keep my hands free so didn't carry anything, but dearly paid for it the last quarter of the race.

  2. You are the best. I love reading what you write.

    1. Thanks, Andy. I write so that my brain doesn't atrophy. Hopefully, someday I'll be an academic like you and get to write for a living:) Take care!

  3. I'm with Cairo, the manpris are not very manly... but if you can run 50k's you can wear anything you want.