I’d competed in one 100 miler before this summer; the Leadville 100. I wouldn’t say I ‘ran’ the thing, though. Instead, I ran a good 60 miles before hitting a wall made of hyponatremia and altitude. I never recovered and walked it in pretty darn disappointed in myself. Like anybody, I had a lot to learn about running this distance, and I wanted to figure it out as best I could, but the next year I skipped the distance and ran 75 mile efforts at Lavaredo Ultra Trail and an FKT on a section of the PCT. I figured I would edge forward the longest distances and durations I’ve run in an effort to increase confidence and ability for the distance that had wrecked me.
This year I felt it was time to really go for it in the 100 mile arena. I’d earned my Golden Ticket after a few years of trying, was high on the waitlist for Cascade Crest, and was even toying with the idea of Javelina Jundred to round out 3x100 over 4 months. Each race offered its own challenge, challenges that lead to lessons learned and a foundation of experience to build upon. There are so many races to experience in the years to come and it’s the really big ones that I don’t want to just leave to chance. I want to put myself through this distance, for my legs to grow wise, to celebrate at the start line that I’m ready for what’s ahead.
Doing three of these things means sacrificing a perfect race and instead going after a bunch of pretty good races. I’m ok with that because this was the year I would go to school and focus on the learning process. This synopsis doesn’t touch on every detail of every race. Instead, it describes the moment that mattered most and the lesson I now carry from each race.
Western States: 14th in 16:51:32
Doesn’t need much of an introduction, does it? The Grandaddy of them all, the one I’ve wanted to line up for most of all and missed by slim margins. The mountains to the canyons to the river, usually in heat and racing many of the best.
The Training: I approached Western States with a periodized plan that shifted from shorter interval sessions for speed development, to tempo to improve lactate threshold, to marathon paced runs for additional aerobic strengthening, each block building upon the one before it. This is the type of build up I’m used to and found some success in. At the same time, I chose to use restraint after talking with multiple veterans who explained the pitfalls of training too hard because I was finally in the race. This was invaluable advice when I discovered some knee pain a couple months out from race day. Rather than despair, I pulled out of a training race and focused on healthy and happy running. Two weeks of lower volume running and I was able to ramp up training again and carry that momentum into the race itself. Between planning a wedding and getting married (a VERY big deal), the end of the school year, a busy track season, and the race, this was a challenging lead up to a race I wanted to do well in, but perhaps that even saved me from driving myself into the ground and getting to the start line exhausted.
The Moment: Rachel and I descended from Pointed Rocks toward No Hands Bridge on the hunt to pick off one more runner. Rachel knew this section from a few months prior at FOURmidable 50k and it was incredible to be here again after so much anticipation. I appreciate that each part of the Western States course carries memories of training runs, exploration, and excitement. Rachel wasn’t feeling great, having crewed me all day and neglecting some of her own needs, but we ran well and caught Ian Sharman just as we crossed over No Hands. Our friends Michelle and Varun had waited hours for our arrival and jumped out unexpectedly to cheer us on. We were running on the fabled No Hands Bridge! At Western States! This was a surreal moment and I caught such a massive wave of adrenaline as we began the final climb, but Rachel started to falter. She was a total champ, not really letting me know how much she was hurting, but when we were just short of Robie Point, Rachel said she needed to puke and that I should go on without her. We could see Ian’s lights approaching, but I couldn’t leave her behind. The dream was to run a lap around the Placer High track, yes, but it was also to run around it with my wife. She’d patiently supported my effort to get here and the training I needed to reach this very moment. I rubbed her back and said I wanted to finish with her. The difference between 14th and 15th wasn’t worth the cost of finishing without Rachel, and there’s certainly no shame in being passed by a Western States legend. Still, she actually started feeling quite a bit better after heaving for a minute or two and started running so hot that she almost dropped me! We enjoyed that final stretch through Auburn, were joined by all our friends as we funneled onto the track, and I crossed the line with my wife.
The Lesson: Look for and appreciate “the moments within the moments”. Be present and wait for the magic to unfold. The whole journey is one great, beautiful unraveling of a very good story.
Cascade Crest: 1st in 18:04:40
This is one of the northwest classics. 30 miles on the PCT, a solid 23000’ of climbing and an entire course of new-to-me trails in the Cascades. The best thing about this race, though, is that the Washington and Oregon trail running communities are out in full force, so friends are everywhere!
The Training: What training? We were just having fun! Mine and Rachel’s race calendars were finally aligning as we prepped for our respective big mountain races, so our main goal was to get out and explore. We stuck around the PNW and visited some places we’d wanted to go for some time: Squamish and Whistler, a family trip to the Wallowas, the burly North Cascades, a bucket list adventure fastpacking the Wonderland Trail over three days. My running on weekdays was pretty dismal, and I was perfectly ok with that. I didn’t run a single workout and just focused on the fun factor and lots of vertical gain. The draw to the mountains was so strong that I likely short changed my recovery from Western States; we were running up and across ridges the very next week. I’m pretty ok with that too.
The Moment: My pacer Jeremy and I were told at the last aid station that runners who still had something left in their legs could finish this last stretch in 2 hours. I calculated that 2 more hours of running would get me to the finish line in 18:20, so set a new goal to push for 18:15 to challenge myself to stay sharp. The final descent was rocky, fast, and challenging. I must’ve almost tripped at least 10 times. It started to look like I could even go for 18:10, so I shifted my goal further and worked for every minute. Having this purpose kept me engaged and focused on running my best so late in the race. We reached the final aid station (after seeing a flying squirrel on the trail!), celebrated with a rowdy set of volunteers, grabbed some coke for the final push, and kept moving. Finisher Hope kicked in once again and my pace steadily increased over these final miles. I felt as good as I could’ve dreamed. Jordan met us a quarter mile from the finish and said I’d just miss the CR by a minute and change. I had no idea how close I was! We crossed the line in 18:04:40 and I can’t complain.
The Lesson: Goal setting for the 100 mile distance is kind of a shot in the dark, so adjust goals in small increments during the race to keep sharp, focused, engaged and always pushing for your best. If the day isn’t going so great, adjust back in 5, 10, or 15 minute chunks, but keep them small to resist apathy. Keep running for something.
Javelina Jundred: 2nd in 14:02:41
20 mile loops in the Arizona desert at the biggest Jalloween party ultrarunning has to offer. The competition is great and it serves as a perfect celebratory end to the season, but the race is deceptively challenging. It’s theoretically runnable but with a good amount of climbing and in a hotter climate than I’m used.
The Training: Summer adventures had come to an end and the school year started almost directly after Cascade Crest, but I appreciated the shift to a more structured training plan (and life!). Honestly, while grinding up and down the mountains all summer I’d come to crave a good track workout or the smooth feel of a solid tempo session. I took my typical two week break, jogging/walking with some of the new runners on the XC team when it felt right. I designed the JJ training block to have a two set of back-to-back high volume weeks with a lower recovery week in between, then a couple weeks taper. The turnaround felt quick because of how different these races are, but the aerobic base and strength I’d earned from Cascade Crest was a fine foundation. I focused on running out and backs on Leif Erickson as they mimicked what I thought I’d see at Javelina, and put in a tempo or marathon pace workout during the week, along with a few strides. Those initial workouts felt clunky and slow, but it only took a couple weeks before I was feeling smooth and fast. I’d end my bigger workouts fighting through 4x200s running really hard, just enough to develop some speed without making it too much of a focus. My recovery runs were a chance to dial in the perceived effort for 100 miles. I don’t claim this is the perfect way to prep for the race, but it was good enough for the time I had.
The Moment: Having Justin Grunewald as a pacer for this one was an honor. We only met a few months prior but I felt so wrapped up in his and Gabe’s story, and noticed some parallels with my own, so it felt so right running for the Brave Like Gabe Foundation to support rare cancer research and quality of life for cancer survivors. I set out to run under 14 hours and asked others to pledge $14 dollars if I did, and $10 if I ran under 15 hours. Having this purpose behind each step led to a transcendent race of connection and love. The final lap was special as Justin and I pushed through the toughest sections of the course and made a final dash to slip under 14. I’d told Justin I’d run this lap for he and Gabe, and they carried me to the best running all day. The discomfort of the race filled every part of me but we found the strength to keep pushing. I had no excuses or explanations for why I couldn’t race as fast as possible, so I just kept quiet and churned. I thought about how I wished I’d been able to meet Gabe, about my sister in law we’d lost to cancer, about how blessed I am to have a partner like Rachel, about honoring my friend Justin by emptying myself out. In the final miles of an incredible season I ran my heart out, narrowly missing the time goal and completely at peace with going for it like that.
The Lesson: This is about more than running. Finding greater, spiritual purpose behind such an undertaking can carry us further than the perfect track workout or long run. Run with soul, run for others, run for a greater message of hope and life.
The lesson I learned a long time ago in this sport is that you can't go it alone, so there are a ton of people that deserve thanks for their hard work and dedication that allowed this journey to happen. My selfless and giving crews were made up of Rachel, mom, dad, Jordan, Alex and Danielle, Matt (Western States), Jordan and Jeremy (Cascade Crest), and Rachel, Justin, Andy, and Billy (Javelina). They saw me through every trial and cheered me to these finish lines, but friends and family like this also shape me to be a better man. Thank you.