Tag: Ultramarathon

Trail Magic

Pacing at the Rio Del Lago 100 Miler

by Todd Callaghan

Editor’s Note: This is the second portion of a two part story from Todd on his experience in pacing his friend Eric Litvin at the Rio Del Lago back on November 10th and 11th. Part I (Behind the Sweepers) was published on November 20th.

All this time, I had forgotten about Eric, who was receding inward—the sweat from his previous hard work and stress now evaporating, his muscles contracting-a sugar low setting in. His mind is in ontological rewind—becoming a child, an infant, an egg. A situation familiar to winter hikers and trail runners who for whatever reason suddenly have to stop, then realize they can’t feel their hands, can’t remember where they are, need to switch into survival mode.

At this point, several highly improbable events aligned and we were able to rejoin the RDL race course. Suffice it to say that we experienced firsthand some very necessary Trail Magic. For the first time in several hours I felt some sense of relief. We just might get another chance to do this thing. Trail Magic.

Then Eric says “I’m cold,” and we see that he is visibly shaking and uncomfortable. Jeff gives him his down jacket and we prod him to start moving. He’s chattering and moaning, but at least he’s moving. I give him a few stiff-arm shoves to make sure he is moving fast enough—getting blood flowing again and his core temperature back up. As bad as this seems, I’m ebullient.

As we plod through the dark night, I’m enervated by how alive the woods are. There is scraping, scurrying, hissing, and hooting. Our headlamps illuminate the creepy orange zombie eyes of browsing deer. At one point I see a pair of green eyes low to the ground and I make out the spotted hunched back of a snarling bobcat. Later a striped skunk waddles across our path. Near the Granite Bay aid station we pass right under a pine tree where a great horned owl is hooting its territorial call. These calls and close calls bring another dimension to the otherwise two dimensional night. We’re both stumbling, tripping over the rocks that menace our ankles and shins as clouds of light dust swirl above the dry trail with every footfall. Our only focus at that point was to make it to Beals Pt., mile 78 (more like 87 for Eric), before the mandatory 4 AM cutoff.

Several hours later, as we approached the spiraling, red runway lights that directed us down the chute into the aid station, I had an awful realization that it wasn’t over yet. The way the Rio Del Lago course finishes is with an 11-mile backtracking across some of the most difficult and rocky terrain and then runners head out yet again across the same boulders back to the finish. This makes sense from a race organizer’s perspective and for the safety of the runners, allowing the last painful miles to be familiar and close enough for a rescue if necessary. But for a tired runner, it messes with your mind to be at the finish and then have to leave all that comfort behind and head back into the bush for another 22 miles. I tried not to think about how it would feel to have to turn right back around and face upstream into the migratory path of the lucky runners finishing their last few miles. I pushed those selfish thoughts aside and remembered that I was in this race as a pacer. It wasn’t about me. My job was to motivate Eric and keep him on his feet and taking steps forward for the next seven hours.

Getting Blood Pressure TakenWhen we finally made it to Beals Pt., it was 3:30 AM-we made the cutoff by a half hour. Caroline and Ryan were there but I honestly don’t remember seeing them. I recall Eric checking in with the medics, getting weighed, them pressing him to see if he really had it in him to continue. I recall them noting that he was dehydrated and making him swallow a few salt pills. The medic looked at me and said “How is he?” I flatly replied “He’s good.” I was terrified that they’d force us to turn in our race numbers. Word of our getting lost had been passing though the various aid stations and the medic admitted that he’d been keeping an eye out for the two of us specifically. I was relieved when the medic said “Give him another salt pill in 20 minutes” as he thrust a capsule into my gloved hand. It was a good reminder that I should be taking some myself. Everyone was rooting for us at this point—as they were for all runners—but us in particular because of our inadvertently adding on a 10% bonus to the length of the course. Later, after the race, the medic would admit to Eric that at 3:30 AM, he “looked awful” but the medic knew that Eric had “the heart to finish”, so they didn’t pull him from the course.

The last 22 miles were drudgery. At times I had to Heisman Eric in the back to keep his feet moving forward. At one point Eric pointed to a large wildflower bending into the trail and said “There it is” and kept moving peremptorily onward before I could resolve the mystery, as if we had been botanist explorers looking for this rare, withered weed but he was too busy to stop to retrieve it so now it was my job to pluck and preserve it for posterity. Sometime later, Eric declared that he had seen Smokey the Bear. No stranger to the occasional hallucination myself, without skipping a beat I said, “You mean with the hat and ‘Prevent Forest Fires?’” “Yes, in the manzanita,” he said, meaning it. I was warned by our crew chief, Ryan, to expect at least one major crash, a belligerent denial of food, water, and all things rational. Luckily, I have a four-year old at home. Noticing that Eric was filling his pockets at the aid stations but wasn’t eating anymore, I asked him to reach into his pocket and eat three things. This sort of nibbling, setting a defined limitation to the amount that I was asking him to push down his gullet at any one time, seemed to work. Every 20 minutes or so, I’d ask him to eat a chocolate or another three things. Once, he projectile vomited a whole mouthful of pretzels that I had badgered him to eat. So I kept it simple and small. Later, I tricked him by saying that I’d open a GU gel for him and eat half and give him the other half. I wouldn’t eat any and he’d force all the calories down.

When Eric’s pace slowed to nearly a stop, I’d entreat him to swing his arms back and forth and the momentum would help keep his knees moving forward. I also showed him how to press his palms on the end of his thighs near the knees and powerhike up the hills like the European mountain runners. At night, some clever trail elves had hung glow sticks that helped to keep us motivated, giving us a clear visual goal to run to, then slow back to a power walk. To his credit, Eric ate, drank, and forced himself to jog whenever I asked. An ultrathon forces a runner to dig deeper than they ever have before and Eric was there, in his own personal well, willing himself forward, with a strength few people dare themselves to find.

The miles crept on and on like this until the sun came up and we found new energy in being able to see the trail, feel the orange sun vaulting over the ridge, get some dopamine flowing back into our brains. When we reached the last aid station at Granite Bay, about 5 miles from the finish, our entire crew and Eric’s daughter were there. Eric visibly sucked energy from Maia’s hug. I grabbed his water bottles and filled them with a mixture of water and Tailwind energy drink, which I had been doing surreptitiously for about six hours ever since he started to rebel against it (drinking 300 calories per hour was a key part of Eric’s race nutrition plan, so I tried to stay with it).

Ryan had taken a photo of a finisher’s belt buckle (the traditional finishers’ medal for 100-mile races) and showed the photo to Eric. “See this Eric. Only five more miles and it is yours.” I guzzled four cups of flat Coke, ate three boiled potatoes with salt, and devoured the most delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich made by Jeff and Caroline’s daughter, Francis. I was powered up and focused. Knowing how hard the last few miles of a marathon are, and having seen even 2:30 marathoners slow to a jog or walk at the end, I knew that this race wasn’t over. Even though we had an hour and a half to move our bodies only five miles, the California sun was heating up the parched terrain and Eric had been up for 28 hours, covering over a hundred miles. I didn’t want him to blow up.

We kept our focus, and even passed a few struggling runners in the last few miles. We were cheered on by mountain bikers and Sunday hikers enjoying Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, incredulous that any human could run 100 miles, let alone do it continuously for almost 30 hours. The roar of the finish line drew us forward. I told Eric that I was going to peel off at the end, let him run through the chute on his own. This was his race, I was merely the pacer. Seeing my friend Eric cross the finish line 29 and a half hours after starting the Rio Del Lago ultrathon, hearing the announcer shout his name, seeing Eric’s daughter Maia run into the chute to greet him, in my addled and vulnerable state, it was like a childhood birthday and Christmas, Halloween, and Easter all rolled into one. It was like burying my whole face into my first birthday cake: a chocolate cake heaped with butter cream frosting, decorated with Elmo holding hands with a purple fairy princess, riding a sparkling rainbow unicorn. It was delicious. I wept.

Author and Finisher

No worse for the wear: Eric (L) and Todd (R). Photo credit: Caroline Hamilton


If you’ve never attempted an ultramarathon or never volunteered at one or crewed for a friend, I highly recommend it. Add it to your running life list. The ultra community is tight, but welcoming and ever-supportive. I didn’t see any competition per se as we know it in the USATF series’ we obsess over here in the northeast. But I did see some awesome competitors and they all appeared to honestly wish their fellow runners well. While a 100-mile race might seem like a 20-plus-hour sufferfest, I cannot tell you how many smiling, cheery, downright perky, runners I saw at the RDL. We’ve got some great ultra races here in New England: the Pineland Farms 50K and 50-mile in Maine, the Vermont 50 and 100 milers, the Pisgah Forest 50K in Vermont, and the Stonecat marathon and 50-mile in Topsfield, Massachusetts, among others. Even if you are not ready to log the hours necessary to finish an ultramarathon, get yourself out there and help someone else achieve their dream: work an aid station, be a pacer. Or just forget your road mileage for a day and ramble in the woods for a few hours, infuse your mind with the sounds and smells, build your own cathedral, create a little Trail Magic.

Behind the Sweepers

Pacing at the Rio Del Lago 100 Miler

by Todd Callaghan


The Rio Del Lago 100 mile Ultrathon, “The Jewel of the Sierra Nevada Foothills” began in 2000 and runs from Beal’s Point along Folsom Lake, about 40 minutes east of Sacramento, out to the town of Cool where runners do two 8-mile loops and then head back to Beal’s Point.  The course traverses oak forests, meadows, expansive river valleys, and scenic bridges. The course is well-marked, well-staffed, and the atmosphere at the aid stations is festive throughout the race, even at night. The race director, Julie Fingar, is an ultrarunner herself and manages several of the popular ultras in California. She and her team NorCalUltras do an excellent job keeping runners safe and focused and most importantly, I was impressed by how they all were rooting for every runner to finish the race, even ignoring their own self-imposed cutoff of 30 hours to allow the last runner to see the finish line in 30:15:14.

Editor’s Note: This is the first portion of a two part story from Todd on his experience in pacing his friend Eric Litvin at the Rio Del Lago back on November 10th and 11th. Part II (Trail Magic) will be published on November 21st.

RDL Racer and Pacer

Pre-race photo: Runner Eric Litvin and pacer/author Todd Callaghan. Credit: Maia Litvin

We follow the windy road down into a desolate canyon until it dissolves into a concrete spillway running dryly into some unknown Stygian river. The rushing violence sounds as cold and dark as the lonely night pressing down upon us. I get a sense like vertigo where I want to throw myself into the marching, wet chaos—end this nightmare.

We’re 55 miles into the Rio Del Lago 100 miler, or at least that was the mileage at our last aid station, Auburn Dam Overlook, before we got lost for two and a half hours. I’m miserable and can’t look my friend Eric in the eyes. As his pacer, I joined him at mile 47, ostensibly to help him get though the second half of his race and safely through the night—whose oppression on a sugar-starved mind can produce an insidious delirium. Simply put, my job was to ensure that he didn’t die, give up, or get lost. I’ve got one strike already and I fear another wicked curveball coming up.

“Maybe it’s a little further” he says hopefully, referring to the elusive race course that we know must lay somewhere in this unforgiving canyon. But there is no further here—just wet, cold, and dead in the murderous river. “No it’s not” I say tersely. I know we need to head back out of this canyon—a steep one-mile climb on an abandoned road violated by bear droppings and the treacherous white arrows that led us astray.

As we start the long climb back up, he says “It’s over” and I sense his resignation in ways beyond auditory. His soul is crushed. I feel sick to my stomach—like when your wisdom teeth are being pulled and you can feel every one being wrenched out, because there is no local anesthetic and they don’t go without a fight and it’s you pulling them with your rusty fishing pliers, one by one. I’m really nauseous and feel the flutter of my flight or fight response kicking in. I am coming to the realization that this dream, to help my college roommate and life friend achieve this goal that he has been working toward for months, is evaporating quickly.

I think back to the Cool aid station at mile 31 (yes, it is in the town of Cool, great name, huh?) when it was 75 F out and Eric didn’t want to eat. “This is so indignant” he complained as I forced him to swallow a fistful of calories without chewing and his 10-year old daughter filmed it on her iPhone for later blackmail currency.  As the turnaround point for the race, as well as a mandatory medical check station and the nexus of two 8-mile loops, the Cool aid station was a convenient place for runners to drop out, to decide that they had given it their all. At least 10 people did, in fact, opt to open their post-race beer at that point.

Red Bull Music Truck

Optimus Prime, er, Red Bull music truck. Courtesy of Todd Callaghan.

The Cool aid station was a study in contrasts. The station volunteers all had on capes: purple sparkles, Superman, Batman, and a red one covered top to bottom with race numbers. As the weary runners approached the station, the caped volunteers were the kindest mothers, medicating with their mellifluous voices and nourishing ministrations. This was counterpointed by a militant bald man with a clipboard keeping track of runners coming in and out of the aid station, unsmiling, pursuing his daylong task with grimacing efficiency. The aid station table was covered with potions, lotion, and ice. Runners staggered over to the orderly rows of drop bags and pillaged, ransacked, and disordered their well-packed bags as they searched for that special something that was going to keep blisters, hunger, and thirst at bay. Crouching nearby was a ginormous Red Bull, four-wheel sound machine. Like a transformer, the roof separated from the chassis and speakers emerged on pneumatic pedestals to pulse the runners with energizing music. Cool was where day merged with night for some of the back of the pack runners, as happened with us.

But that was ages ago and our reality now is that we’re hiking back up this damn hill and we can see a ridge with lit house windows mocking us. Eric says “Let’s bushwhack up to those houses.” He’s delirious with the fear of his hard-earned miles going to waste. We’ll be disqualified from the race if we do not reach the Beal’s Point aid station by 4:30 AM. Beals Pt. is 24 miles away—a good six hours at the pace we were going before we got lost. But it is now 9 PM and we’re at the bottom of some forgotten valley, getting cold, despondent, and now completely unsure of our ability to get back on course.

I reach into my running vest and pull out my phone. I have to give credit here to my wife, Laurie, who earlier harangued me into promising that I would carry a phone with me. Remarkably, I have cell reception. I leave a message for Ryan our crew chief—the guy staying up all night to meet us at the various aid stations to provide support, food and water, change of clothes, but most importantly, mental support—affirmation that all is OK and that we “look good.” I tell Ryan’s answering service that we might not make it to the Rattlesnake Bar aid station where he is waiting. Despite the situation, I used the term “might not” because I’m still holding out that we might experience some “trail magic” and rejoin the trail and get back into our rhythm.

On Friday, after all the racers had gotten weighed and had their blood pressure checked—a process that would be repeated during and after the race to ensure runner safety—the original Rio Del Lago race course designer, a peppy septuagenarian stood up before us with his wife (who has run six 100-milers since she turned 66 he pointed out to those of us who might be doubting our own abilities) and told us about “Trail Magic.” A 100-mile ultrathon is long and arduous, but as many have attested to while hiking the Appalachian Trail, mysterious helpers, both human and supernatural, supply food, drink, a ride, or mental support, just when you need it most. He mentioned being kind to others out there on the course, respecting the wilderness as well as the race, and picking up after one’s self. Lost as we were, we were definitely in need of some help, supernatural or otherwise. Earlier in the day, Eric had bent over to pick up a Styrofoam cup, the remnants of a soup hastily disposed of by a tired runner. As he did so, another runner passing said “Trail Magic.” Maybe, just maybe, our cosmic karma would turn this situation around.

Having not reached our teammate Ryan on the phone, I call Caroline, who was also crewing for Eric all day, but who was now at home getting ready for bed. Her voice sounded tired. I asked her to text Ryan for us to tell him that we might not make it to the next aid station. Her husband Jeff asks for the phone and asks me what has happened. Jeff Hamilton is a former speed skier (and world record holder) and is a good friend of Eric’s from their Aspen days. Jeff and Caroline are Eric’s daughter Maia’s godparents. That is to say, they are in this too, and are willing to do what it takes to help us get back on course. So it’s no surprise—though I was extremely relieved—when Jeff says “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Luckily, Jeff and Caroline are staying in the town of Auburn at his parent’s house. He grew up in the town where we happen to be lost and knows the terrain well. We agree to meet back at the Auburn Dam Overlook aid station where there is easy access for vehicles.

RDL Drop Bags

Drop Bags at Cool Aid Station. Credit: Todd Callaghan

We finally pull ourselves out of the canyon and can see Caroline’s flashlight at the end of the dirt road ahead. While Caroline stands with us and helps us try to find an explanation for what has transpired over the last three hours, Jeff takes off in his truck and drives down the road apiece, to find where the race course diverges from the paved road and tucks back into the woods. There is a concrete culverted stream there, something called “Shirland Canal” I will later learn from Google’s orthophotos. This is what a helpful couple at the Auburn Dam Overlook aid station was calling the “aqueduct” when they attempted to give us directions after the first time we had gotten lost (did I mention that we got lost twice?)-which made no sense to me as I hadn’t traversed this part of the course before. Besides, it resembled nothing like an aqueduct, no sweeping Roman architecture, but instead a rather pathetic, meager rill.

As we are staring into the woods, the helpful aid station couple pulls up in their car and say “You got lost again?!” incredulously, and in a way that seems to me to be taunting. I was angry with them as they were the ones that I had asked specifically if the course turned with a white arrow in the road, went through a green gate and descended a road. “Yes, yes”, the woman said at that time, “Down a long, windy road and then take the right at the bottom.” She was right, but we were thinking of different gates and different roads about a quarter mile from each other. Both of which descended into the canyon, but only one of which connected with the race course.

The helpful couple went ahead of us briefly in their car and then stopped at the entrance to the trail. The old man leans out his window and drops the hammer: “You’re behind the sweepers.” It doesn’t register to my foggy brain what this means. “There are volunteers following behind the last runners and they are removing the orange tags from the trees and all other trail markings.” Oh shit. I look into the woods and there is an obvious path, but who knows what sort of crossroads, forks, river crossings, might lay unmarked ahead. I had not seen this part of the course so I have no mental trail memory to rely upon and it is becoming clear that Eric’s reserving all of his blood flow for muscle movement. After starting down the trail I freeze in my tracks. A terror sets in. Again, I feel sick—“It’s over” repeats in my mind.  They are going to yank us off the course, I fear. The older woman is now trying to give directions again and I feel a shrinking inside. I want to push forward but the risk of getting lost—yet again—is palpable. There is a taste like gun metal in my mouth.

To be continued…

In The Moment: The TARC 100

A Renner’s Experience at the TARC 100

by Thor Kirleis

Friday, June 14, starting at 7 pm, I toed the starting line of an 100 mile trail race. It was my first race at this distance and a long, long dream of mine that, honestly, was never a goal because, well, I never thought I could or would ever want to challenge myself in this way. However, life, as it does, changes, and I found myself with goals and dreams.

Conditions on the trails were very, very, very bad. A rainy month preceding the race, not to mention the last two weeks in which we received more rain than we typically get in three months, made the course dangerous, slow, and very difficult to navigate. Water pooled over so much of the course that you had no choice but to wade through. A common occurrence was having water come up to my knee, sometimes my hip. No joke. You can’t run through the puddles like you can on streets, because you don’t know what’s in the puddle. Run through, hit a rock or root you can’t see, and your race is over.

The first of four loops (25 mile loop we did 4 times) was very slow, but I was still in good spirits if not far more tired than I should  have been. I was starting to get worried about how tired I was this early in the race until I completed the loop and saw the hordes of people dropping out. I was later told that 25% of the field dropped out after the first lap. It was that brutal. I was slightly buoyed by the fact that I was not alone in wondering why I felt like I had run 50 instead of just 25. Either way, I kept going. It took me about 6 hours to complete the lap.

Thor at the aide station 50 miles into the race.

Thor at the aide station 50 miles into the race.

The second lap was, like the first, in complete darkness. It was sloppy and slow and I started to fatigue. I even considered dropping out, but I went on. I thought I hit lows, and I did, I just had no idea how low a low can really get, at least not just yet. By the end of this lap, with me now 50 miles in, I was just over 13 hours into the race. It was 8:30 am. I thought I’d finish these two laps in under 12 hours, but since this was one of those epic type races, I didn’t pay attention to how fast or slow I went. My goal was to finish. Speed didn’t mater. My energy was renewed with the notion that my pacer would be joining me for the next lap.

The third lap was when things got very difficult. I was now joined by my friend Hank, who would be my pacer from mile 50 through 75. I had a turkey sub to get me off to a good start and was feeling good again. I call out the turkey sub because it (and other food items like it) is what is considered “real food” as opposed to Power Bars and Gels. Real food gives back more energy but is difficult to carry, so we often opt for gels and bars packed with energy. Not long into this third loop, things got very ugly for me. In my head, I dropped out a few times, but each time Hank kept me in the game. I told Hank before this event that his goal is to make sure I do not drop unless I have a physical, real medical issue where I just cannot move on. Blisters, not feeling well, and being tired are not reasons to drop. I knew I’d go through the emotions, so I told him up front to never let me drop out. And he, thankfully, drove that role better than I could have even hoped. He kept me in the game when I myself gave up.

This lap was spent running and walking. By then I wasn’t able to run for long periods, mainly because when the terrain would get technical or tilt up, I had nothing in me to run. This is normal. But I was still able to run on the flats and downs. Troublesome was the fact that my left and right knee, each at separate times, started to give. Although I was still able to run, I knew that feeling, and I knew it wasn’t good. It always means that eventually it will get bad enough where I will no longer be able to run. As we were finishing this lap, there’s a two mile section that contains roughly 1.5 slow miles of wading through mud and pooled water covering the trail. It reminded me of being in the Amazon. It was during this time when my energy levels dropped very low. Hank kept me going even though I was now moving slower. This lap took 7 hours. We completed it around 3:30 pm Saturday. I had now been running — or, really, moving forward with both running and walking — for 21 hours. If I could keep going, I was on track for a 26 to 28 hour finish. If I could keep going…

75 miles deep

75 miles deep

The fourth and final loop was brutal. It started with me being buoyed with another turkey sub and the fact that my other buddy, Andy, was joining me as my pacer while Hank was now leaving. Andy and I have run together for nearly 15 years. He, like Hank, is a great friend who knows me very, very well. I felt bad because he, being so fresh and spry, was getting me at a very, very low point. But that was also his job. I had told him the same deal I told Hank: don’t let me drop out unless it’s an emergency. After gobbling up the turkey sub over the first mile of this final lap, Andy and I got back to running. For 10 minutes, before the shit hit the fan again. I was trashed, beyond tired. My legs were cooked, my lungs were tight, my heartrate was high, and my energy and spirits were low. Poor Andy. We walked the rest of that segment, three miles worth.

As we were walking, I came up with a plan: I was going to drop out. After mulling this over in my head for an hour, I finally told Andy. “I think I’m done,” I said to Andy. He wasn’t sure how to respond. He was new to this type of racing, so he didn’t really know that he had to get me out of this funk by trying to help me figure out why I was feeling so low. He didn’t yet know that there is always a reason — always an answer to get you back going. After a half hour, I finally stood with defeat in my eyes. “Andy, I’ve put this off for a half hour.” Andy knew what was coming. He did his best to remind me that I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. “If it were easy,” Andy told me, “I would be doing it.” I laughed. But I was done, defeated long ago. “I’m handing in my timing chip.”

Before Andy could catch me, I walked away. I hobbled over to the timing station, my legs so stiff that my knees wouldn’t bend, and went up to the race director. “Josh,” I said, “I’m dropping out.” Josh, the race director, asked if I really wanted to drop. He said to sit down for a while. He reminded me that I had plenty of time before cutoff. I said I already did sit. I want to drop. Are you sure? I don’t know. I’m defeated. That’s when his friend jumped in. He said, “The next aid station is in 2.5 miles. Just go there. You can do that. Get some food in you, grab some salt, and go to the next station. If you want to drop out, then drop out there. We’ll send a buggy to come get you.” No, I’m defeated. But in the back of my head, I didn’t want to drop. I wanted to keep going. But I had nothing. That’s when Josh said, “You’ve come so far already. 80 miles. You can’t just quit. You look good. You’re healthy. You have to go on. Here’s what I want you to do. You’ve been sitting for a while, so I want you to walk with really long strides down this grassy section. Long strides. Stretch the legs. Then when you get to the pavement (parking lot), try to run. Even if it hurts. Break up the junk in the legs. Take high steps.” I stood there as I processed what he was saying. He was right. I was in a funk. I needed to somehow break out. And maybe this would work. One long stride after another, I walked the grassy path, and then when I hit the parking lot, I started running — like really running — and then did high knees, bouncing on my feet, renewed. I ran back to Josh and his friend and Andy and said, “Andy, I’m in. Let’s do this!”

Andy and I set out toward the next aid station. I was feeling far better, and I was running again. And I was dreaming again about finishing this race. I marvel at the ups and downs — extreme downs. In decent time, Andy and I got to the next station, at mile 82.5, and kept going. For a half mile. My right knee, holding on by a thread, finally gave. I tried to numb it out by forcing a run, but it would take it. I had no choice. I would have to walk the rest of the way. Assuming the dark times stayed at bay. Unfortunately, they did not.

Again, I came up with a plan to drop, but each time I went to tell Andy, I somehow fought off the urge, and I kept power hiking. Each time, Andy sensed my negativity, figured out I was slipping into a dark place, and got me back out. Wading through water and mud didn’t help the knee or my energy. By mile 85 I couldn’t even power hike. I was reduced to a slow walk, dragging my leg behind me. My knee was done. I was done. But Andy, now having learned that those dark periods come and go and that it’s his job to make sure I keep going when it gets dark, kept me going. And going. My knee got so bad that at times I had to stop and sit for 5 to 10 minutes to get it back to the point I could walk again. I knew these periods beside the trail weren’t good. Time was running out. In between those periods, I was back to that dark place — no energy, no power, barely walking. But Andy kept me going.

One of the things I learned was that after 75 miles, Power Bars and Gels no longer gave me energy. They did nothing for me. So it was at the aid stations, where I could get real food, when I would get real energy. Because of this, Andy, back at the mile 80 aid station, where I almost dropped out, grabbed a Ziplock bag and stuffed it with pizza (three slices) and turkey sandwiches. So every twenty minutes, when my watch would beep signaling it was time to eat, Andy would rip a slice of pizza in half for me to eat or he’d give me a turkey sandwich. He joked that I was the real Dean Karnazes. This worked well for a long time. But it didn’t always work. I still found that dark place. Not able to talk, for it took too much energy that would take away from moving forward. I was surviving. Barely. It sounds gruesome. And it was. Dark and ugly. But Andy kept me moving forward. I learned long ago that in endurance sports, when dark times come, the only way to keep going is to block out all thoughts, especially when they turn negative, and stay in the moment. You focus on the here and now, not the finish, not anything else. Breath, feel it, step, repeat. I barely heard the frogs croaking and the coyotes howling in the darkness. On I forged.

After what felt an eternity, we finally, and I mean finally, came to the aid station at mile 90. There was now under 10 miles left. It was 10:30 pm Saturday night. I had been running for 28 hours. I had 2 hours and thirty minutes to hike 10 miles. Could I do it? I knew the answer. I would not make it. I couldn’t. I could barely walk. Running was out of the question. I tried running time and again, hoping the pain would numb out, but each time after two paces, I was reduced to walking. At one point, desperate to keep moving forward, I ran a pace, walked five, ran one, walked five, with each run pace on my left leg, the one with the good knee. I was no faster. And then reality hit. Another dark period came. My knee was wonked, and I had no energy. By this point I had to sit on a rock beside the trail every half mile. Wading through the mud took too much out of me. Each time I sat, I saw time slip away. I had to finish by 1 am, which was no less than two hours away.

By the time we got to mile 89, I knew I would not make the 30 hour cut off in the race. So tired and beat, I no longer cared. There was nothing more I could give; that much I knew. I also knew that as long as I followed Andy’s step, listened to his words of encouragement, and stayed focused in the moment, I would go through many more dark, dark periods where I’d want to drop, but I would get through them, keep moving, and finish this thing.

And that’s when things started to change. For the bad. And these bad things were completely out of my control. Not in my head, and not in my body. As Andy and I made our way in complete darkness, the path lit only by our headlamps, with me now moving forward for 29 hours over the course of three days — three days! — and 95.5 miles, two runners came the other way, these two, a runner and his pacer, on their way toward the finish only two miles ahead of me. As their headlamps came near, the pacer said, “Are you Thor?” Yeah, I said while wondering how and why they would know my name. I knew a lot of people on the course, but I didn’t know these guys, and yet they knew my name. Was someone looking for me, and why? The pacer went on, “Two guys behind us are looking for you.” Looking for me? Were they just concerned about my safety? Or was there more to it? I would soon find out.

As I made my way toward the next set of headlamps in the darkness, a familiar voice called out ahead: “Is that Thor?” Yeah, it’s me. “We’ve been looking for you.” As they came near, I realized it was Paul, a runner friend who had volunteered his time on the course at the aid station. But it didn’t yet occur to me that there was a reason he was looking for me. As Paul and his volunteer friend joined Andy and I, they turned and walked with us. Paul said, “You sound good. But your knee doesn’t look good.” I was dragging my leg behind me. Paul didn’t have the heart to say what he was really there for, why he was really looking for me. Instead he went on. “I got a beer for you at the aid station.” I laughed. Paul knew me well enough to know that I like my craft beer. “Ha, I’d love a beer but I have 5 miles left. A beer would knock me out right now. But thanks for the offer.” Just then Paul realized that I didn’t get what he was trying but never quite got around to saying. “I’m really sorry, Thor,” Paul finally said with straight honesty, “you didn’t make cut off into the aid station (at mile 95.5). You missed it by 15 minutes. I can’t let you go on.” And there it was. My race was over. I made it 95.5 miles in 29 hours and 20 minutes.

Many people are saying sorry, offering that it must be bitter sweet, suggesting that it wasn’t fair. There’s nothing bitter sweet here. I gave it my all. I kept going when even I gave up on myself. I quit 20 or more times. But each time I got knocked down, I somehow, some way got back up and kept going. And going. And going. Why? I don’t know. I really don’t. I thought a lot about this. Maybe it’s ‘Just because.’ It’s the best I got. And in this race, I gave it the best I had. I am in awe, as it if were someone else, at the stubborn fight, the never quit approach, in me. I mean, I was left for dead time and again. But I kept getting back up. I took the fight to the battle. They had to yank me from the course. I would not let it defeat me. And I didn’t. I didn’t.

Living The Dream

Amy Rusiecki, along with her husband Brian, has been selected to the US Team for the IAU World Trail Championships. The race will be held in Wales this summer. Since Rusiecki is her married name, some of you may know her by her maiden name of Amy Lane. Still others may be more familiar with her nickname of Amy Fucking Lane, as was revealed in her profile in the October 2012 issue of Level Renner (There Will Be Blood, pgs 14-17). That name would seem appropriate for a bad ass character in a Tarantino flick and is quite fitting here given the reputation she has developed as a tough-as-nails runner.

Here’s a firsthand account from Amy herself about being selected to Team USA:

When I was young, I remember driving in to Ashland and watching the Boston Marathon. I would cheer on every athlete out there, because they were amazing to be out there, running Boston. Running that far seemed so incredible, and it didn’t matter to me where they finished…they were inspirational to be doing it. It inspired me to be a runner, and started the dream of someday achieving something as incredible as the marathon.

Courtesy of Scott Livingston

Courtesy of Scott Livingston

I’ve run for most of my life, and while I’ve enjoyed races of all distances and all terrains, I found my true passion with trail running and ultrarunning. Perhaps I’m a masochist, because the longer the better…the tougher the better…I crave adventure. I’ve won the highly competitive Seven Sisters Trail Race, I’ve completed four 100 mile races (with two more coming this summer), I’ve twice raced a 6-day 120 mile stage race over the Colorado Rockies, I’ve won numerous 50k and 50 mile trail races throughout New England. I enjoy pushing my limits and continuing to learn about myself through distance running. I feel at home in the community that trail and ultrarunning provides.

Running has given me so much – it has given me an outlet for my energy and passion. It has given me a community of training buddies and Western Mass Distance Project teammates that inspire and motivate me. It has given me confidence in myself that I lacked for so long. Several years ago it found me my husband and gave us common ground to share. Most recently, running has given me the opportunity to represent my country and race on an international platform at the IAU World Trail Championships, fulfilling the dream of my youth to wear USA across my chest and run for my country. Even better, it is allowing me to share this opportunity with my husband, Brian Rusiecki, who has also been selected for the US Team.

The USA Team selection is coming off many successful years of ultrarunning competition for myself and my husband. Brian has been a dominating racer in New England over the past 4 years, but 2012 was his most successful season.  He won more ultra races than anyone else in the country (an honor I obtained in 2010). He dominated races up and down the east coast, ranging in distances from 50 mile to 100 mile, and was voted #6 on the ‘UltraRunner of the Year’ by UltraRunning Magazine. I had my best 100 mile finish (finishing just 2 minutes shy of the female winner), won the storied Vermont 50 mile race, and finished 2nd in the 6-day, 120 mile TransRockies Run stage race. Coming off that success, Brian and I are both honored to have been selected for the US Trail Running Team.  It is the first national team selection for either of us.

The World Trail Championships, taking place in Wales, will be a 75k technical trail race in early July. The 10-person team includes three New England runners: myself, Brian, and Ben Nephew (CMS).  I think that the technical rocky terrain we play on in New England will serve us well when we race this challenging course in Wales, and played into the selection heavy on east coasters.

I think my feelings on this are summed up well by Sabrina Little, who recently competed on her first US team at the World 24 Hour Championships:

“There are some exclusive clubs that are difficult to gain access to, but once you get in, life is easier. You can relax. Take Ivy League institutions, for example. A U.S. National Team is not like that. Earning the American singlet is difficult, and once you do that, more is demanded of you because running is no longer a singular pursuit. You represent your country—your coaches, your family, and your freedoms. It was weighty, so I was feeling anxious.” – Sabrina Little, US 24 Hour Record Holder, on her first US Team selection.

Note: The USATF does not support the US Trail Running Team at this time. To support Amy and Brian’s effort, click here.

TARC Spring Classic 50K Race Report: “Flat and Fast…”

Guest blog by Michael Robertson

On Saturday, April 27, I accomplished a goal that had been percolating in my brain since I read Born To Run: running an ultramarathon.  When I signed up for the race on January 4, I was essentially starting my running from scratch, having come off a long injury layoff.    I knew that it would be a tough goal, but with Rebecca’s encouragement, and some input from our good friend Alett, I was reasonably optimistic about pulling it off.

I picked the Trail Animal Running Club (TARC) Spring Classic 50K for my foray into the ultra world.  After getting out on the trails in the Middlesex Fells a few times with soem Animals, I was getting pretty worried about a 50K trail race, but I was assured that the race trail was much easier both in that it was a lot less technical in nature and everyone considered it “flat and fast.”  Now, SPOILER ALERT, after having run the race, it should be noted immediately that trail racers and road racers mean something entirely different when they say “flat and fast.”  Animals seem to forget that the implicit “for a trail race” qualifier that is necessary when saying “flat and fast” is not explicit to a newbie trail racer.  To me, the course could fairly be described as rolling with a couple significant, but short, inclines that popped up each loop.

We arrived at the race around 6:45 a.m., mostly because I wanted to be sure to get one of the custom t-shirts made by Animal Emily Trespas.  Totally worth it.  One cool aspect of the race, apparently in “fat ass” tradition, was that the aid station was stocked by the racers.  Everyone was asked to bring an item, for example I had the “salty” category and contributed some pretzels and Pop Chips.  Even before the race started, it was easy to see how different a smaller trail race is from a road race.  Everyone seemed to know each other and I got the feeling they were all just looking forward to a fun, organized, timed run together.  I was happy see my fellow Goons, Thor Kirleis and James Provenzano there, as well as Marathon Sports Run Clubbers Ryan and Bethany Couto.

Being firmly of the belief that if you look good at a race, or at least have fun with how you look, you’ll feel good as well, I broke out a new race day outfit, pictured below:


If you’d like to recreate this vision of green plaid, the shorts are theBrooks Infiniti IIIs and the top is the Race Day singlet.  I went with my Zoot compression socks and Brooks Cascadia 8 for footwear.  Thanks to Tom Poland of Greater Boston Running Company Andover for making sure that the singlet got in by the Friday before the race so I could rock it.

The Course

The race course is comprised of 5 10K loops, giving plenty of opportunity to get familiar with the terrain and come up with a plan for the miles ahead.  The first stretch of the loop featured, in my opinion, the two most challenging hills, not so much for their length, but steepness.  The second of these inclines was described by Animal Mike Saporito as “douche-grade,” which seemed very appropriate as it was tremendously steep, even if it was only 15 yards or so (or less even).  I did not even attempt a single running step on this hill on any of the loops, knowing it made much more sense to power hike it during the early loops and then just try to trick gravity into letting me up the hill during the later loops.  Maybe I was just really tired, but changing the laws of physics seemed easier during the 4th lap than walking.  Apart from those two hills, the course featured more gradual slopes that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow during, say, a 10K road race, but added up over 50 on the trails.  Thankfully the hills generally didn’t involve technical terrain on either the uphill or downhill.

Several runners described the course as “really runnable” overall, meaning you could spend a lot more time running and less time picking your way over rocks and roots, like one might in the Fells.  At least, that’s what I assume it meant.  I did manage to take a decent fall during the second lap when my mind started wandering, but it was on soft pine needles and there was no damage done.  There were only 3 sections I can recall that really forced me to tread carefully and walk, not because I was exhausted or sore (though I was), but because my trail running technique isn’t up to snuff yet.  All 3 sections involved “stream” crossings, or at least the crossing of water by virtue of rocks or logs.  On my first two laps I stepped directly into the water on the first crossing, misreading what was more solid mud and what was…less solid.  I did get the hang of it as the race went on, trying to find a balance between moving quickly enough over the rocks to avoid losing my balance and not going so quickly that I took a misstep and ending up in the drink.  Even though the last section was the most mentally taxing for me in terms of having to concentrate on each foot plant, it was also the most rewarding to get through because it meant the end of each lap, and then the race, was close at hand.

The Race

Going into the race, I had a feeling that the fourth lap was going to be the hardest one, both mentally and physically.  I was not disappointed.  I had zero, literally zero, expectations for what I was going to do in terms of pace and final time.  I figured I’d go out at a very comfortable pace and try to hang on for dear life.  I ended up at the start standing next to Luciana and Jayme of TARC, with whom I had run in the Fells a few weeks prior to the race.  I decided to start with them and see how the pace felt during the first loop.  At some point, feeling decent, I picked up the pace a little and continued on my own.  I hooked up with an Ed and Mike from Weymouth for a portion of the first lap and then again during the…third lap, I want to say.  Ed and Mike were good guys and I hope they finished strong.  I spent portions of the second and third lap with Ryan Couto, who is quite the accomplished ultra runner, along with his wife, but he passed me leaving the aid station and I never caught back up, finishing about 14 minutes behind him in the end.

It was during the fourth lap that my muscles started to rebel, first my quads, and then my calves.  This development meant hiking a lot more than I had the prior 3 laps in an attempt to avoid the muscles locking up completely, which I knew would spell doom for the remainder of the race.  I also knew that I had to hold back some during the 4th lap, not knowing just how much more energy I would need for the last one.  After a long slog through the woods, I finally made it back to the start/finish, where Rebecca helped me out greatly (again) not just by grabbing fuel from my bag, but in gently encouraging/urging me to get going for the fifth and final lap and not to loiter any further.  It also helped to see Thor finishing strong and cheering me on as I departed for my last 10K.  Maybe it was because there were some cool personal moments during the last lap, maybe my brain was just fried, but somehow the last lap felt much better than the 4th.  There was the moment early on in the loop where I knew for sure that I was going to finish the race and be an ultra runner.  There was the moment my GPS told me I had completed a marathon distance.  And there was the moment the GPS clicked over to 30 miles.  All these moments added up to help get me across the line, a moment Rebecca captured:


My final official time was 6:15:02, but here’s the story my Garmin told as well as the pace breakdown from it (I inadvertently restarted the GPS after the race, so the total elevation numbers will be off as well as the last mile stats):

GarminPace Chart

After finishing, I did my best to keep walking, and upright, not wanting a repeat of last year’s post-Boston experience of deciding it would be a good idea to lay down and then not being able to get back up again without feeling dreadful.  I did manage to get a picture in with Cesar, a great guy and an Animal.

Me and Cesar


This was probably an aspect of the race that could have used improvement, though I’m not entirely sure what I would have done better, specifically.  I used my Ultimate Direction Blaze Plus fuel belt to carry one flask of Gu Brew and another of water, which I refilled at each aid station.  I made it a point to drink at least every mile and then on occasion when needed as well.  I took an Accel Gel every 4 miles and a SaltStick cap every 10K (except before the last loop, when I took 2).  At the aid station I would generally grab a handful of pretzels to munch on along with some liquids.  I think I took one pack of Gu Chomps as well after Lap 2.  Although I carried Sport Beans with me, I never ended up using them.  Thankfully, I didn’t have any stomach issues during the course of the race.  That said, maybe my legs wouldn’t have started cramping if I had taken in more sodium.  All things considered, I was able to manage the cramping and would prefer that to stomach distress.


Doing a trail 50K race was an entirely different experience than anything I’d done on the roads, and not just because of the distance and terrain.  Letting go of self-imposed expectations for pace and performance was liberating.  Ironically, the distance made me less apprehensive about the miles remaining, like I might feel during a half marathon.  I think I could count on one hand the number of times I looked at my Garmin in between miles (I had a beep set up to alert me at mile markers so I could be sure to manager hydration), an urge that is sometimes hard to resist during training runs.  Moreover, I was able to run, and push myself, without any outside forces, at least when I wasn’t going through the aid station area where Rebecca, and our friend Courtney, was cheering me on.  Sure, for some stretches I would run with others, but I never felt that I HAD to, or that I needed music (or Joy The Baker podcasts) to keep me going.  Just trying to make it through the trail and across streams without falling kept my mind engaged.  When I didn’t have to fully concentrate on the trail, I was mostly just blank, not getting any deep thinking done, just being out in the woods and covering miles.

Will I do another ultra?  I honestly can’t say.  I don’t have the same sense of unfinished business that I do with the marathon.  I don’t have the compelling desire to keep lowering my PR like I do with the 5k-1/2 marathon distances.  But then again, maybe those are both the perfect reasons to want to do one again.

There are many people that helped me along the way in my training, and I thank you all.  I hope you know who you are, if you happen to be reading this.  You pushed me during tempo runs and kept me honest during easy runs.  Thanks to Brooks and my ID teammates.  Thanks especially to Coach Sage for the workouts and encouragement that got me to the end in one piece.  Thanks to my sister, Sarah, for the advice on injuries and just for being a great source of encouragement.  And, most of all, thanks to Rebecca for supporting and encouraging me during this crazy “journey” (he said while he stared meaningfully into the distance).

Run Happy!

To keep up with Michael’s training and racing adventures, follow along on his blog Once a Runner, Always a Runner.


A Race I Didn’t Finish

The North Face Endurance Challenge: A Race I didn’t Finish

Guest blog by Sage Canaday

This weekend hurt a bit.  Besides the physical struggles of having a sub-par result (my first DNF in any race longer than a 10k), clumsily falling over and over in the mud, and pummeling my legs for about 38 miles I am also somewhat mentally scarred.  But that can be a good thing. It gives me a new perspective to work with. I actually needed some ego bruising this weekend because I feel like I’ve been taking a lot of things for granted in my life this year (not majorly bonking in my first couple of ultras for example). Having this minor set-back of not running up to snuff this weekend at the North Face 50 Endurance Championship was a learning experience that will be applied to my future running. Sometimes it’s good to get a dose of reality (and failure) and re-learn to ride the downs with the ups.

Now on to the race that I didn’t finish:

First off, I will point out some of my mistakes (mistakes that a nube ultra runner such as myself might make but hopefully will learn from and apply to the future).

1. Ten minutes before the starting line I realized that I forgot my headlamp in my parent’s car that was parked over 1 mile away. Luckily my dad had an extra (crappy) light that I was able to use instead.  The sun didn’t rise fast enough!

2. I decided that since the fire roads seemed to drain well the day before that they would in fact not be muddy and that I would wear my road racing flats (The SCOTT Race Rocker instead of my new SCOTT trail shoes) because I usually am all about speed and minimalism instead of traction. They worked great for the first 20 miles. What I failed to realize that the descent to Muir Beach became a mud pit on the second lap after all the runners (including crowds of 50k runners) had passed over it. I fell quite hard at least 5 times and basically had to crawl up the hill using my hands to lift my body up in places. I felt like Bambi trying to learn how to walk for the first time…on ice! That was another silly and costly mistake.

3. I got greedy and paid the price, When I opened up a couple minutes on Adam Campbell around the half-way point (before I knew that we had both cut part of the course) and didn’t even see the rest of the pack in sight I became cocky (never a good thing). I thought to myself:

“You’re going to win this thing as long as you don’t bonk!”

But I still had a long way to go. I still had muddy miles that I didn’t know were coming.  I had a double descent and ascent to Muir Beach that I didn’t know even existed because we totally missed it on the first lap. Nonetheless at that point just getting first or finishing strong didn’t even become the focal point. No, I entertained in my mind that I wanted to try to win by 10 minutes. I wanted to make a statement! So I kept pressing the pace in the middle miles (obviously too hard as I did end up bonking).

Around mile 32 Bryon Powell of iRunFar asked me if I had missed a turn. You can see him run after me as I leave the aid station where my Dad is crewing (and filming) in this raw footage clip:

“No” I replied, confident that I had followed every orange ribbon and  arrow sign on every path.. There were a couple times in the early dark miles where I stopped at intersections to double check these things. After getting lost at Chuckanut and UROC I was ultra (pun intended) paranoid about going off course. Adam Campbell and Jason Wolfe had run together with me in the dark for the first 18 miles or so. Surely we had gone the right way?!

Suddenly doubt started creeping into my mind. I started thinking, dwelling: Why was 4th place so far behind that I didn’t see them at the half-way point out-and back stretch around mile 23? Why did it seem like we hit the Tennessee Valley aid station two times in a row (and there was almost a 10 mile stretch in there without aid!)? A sinking feeling developed in my stomach: “Crap, if we actually cut the course we’re going to get DQed for sure!” It was upsetting. I thought about the $10,000 for first place slipping away. Just like that. Months of training and anticipation down the drain.

With hundreds of 50k runners out on the course ahead of me I clearly saw the Muir Beach “out-and-back” the second time around in the light.  When we ran this section of the course on the first “lap” in the dark with the rain and fog we had about 15 feet of visibility. I didn’t even recall a fork in the fire road being there the first time! There was no sign with an arrow that I remember seeing and there was no person there to direct us in the early morning. The trails both ways were “correct.” The path we took that first time in the dark had the orange marking ribbons for the 50-mile course.  We had simply continued on up the trail instead of doing the “out-and-back with a loop” down to Muir Beach because we never even saw it that first time! I was devastated.

Sliding down the muddy hill in my road shoes I took my first big tumble. My handheld 20-ounce water bottle from Ultimate Direction popped out of my hand  on impact and toppled down the hill.  Rolling in the mud I started bleeding. Arms, knees, and my back got a bit cut-up and bruised. I feared a pulled groin and/or career ending injury. When I finally made it to the aid station at Muir Beach I saw Meghan of iRunFar.com and finally was able to confirm that I had not been to this part of the course before. Discouraged and thinking that I’d surely be DQed I still decided that I was going to try to run the full distance anyway…I was going to do this whole “out-and-back-with a loop” twice to make up the exact distance that we had cut out earlier. I wanted to do it out of principle, to just see where I’d be at in the race if I hadn’t made this unfortunate error earlier in the day. At that point I had know idea who was in what place or whether or not I was going to be DQed (it later stood that if I had in fact finished I wouldn’t have been DQed). I slogged up and down that Muir Beach hill twice and ran around the parking lot loop a couple times. The mud made me sick to see because I knew I couldn’t run up the hill anymore due to traction issues and on the way down I just kept falling over and over and over. My arms were cut and bleeding and I started bonking. Officially (or shall I say unofficially) I was still in 2nd place (I saw Miguel Heras climbing up the hill on my last way down) but I was done. So done that I realized I was going to have to drop out (a tough choice to make and something that  I’ve only done 3 times in hundreds of races). At that point I couldn’t even jog to the next aid station…so I walked.  It was encouraging to see so many people that passed me ask me if I was alright. Another elite runner that got lost, Tim Parr came back and walked it in with me for the last 30-40minutes…saving me a couple more times from slipping and falling as I walked down the muddy trails. One runner who came by, (bib #1275 I think) gave me his jacket as I was freezing cold in the rain and wind (I hope he got his jacket back as we left it with a note at the finish line area).  It was inspiring to really see how kind and supporting ultra running community is and I really appreciated all these other runners’ concern for my well being. Amazing group of people out there!

Congrats to all those who finished and stayed on the course for the full distance. The rain storms definitely made it a mud bath out there and the vertical was still quite challenging despite all the last-minute changes. I was humbled again by the competitiveness of the race and what the course dished at me.  As always it was quite the experience. I hope to redeem myself in my next ultra!



PS Also a big thanks to those of you who helped support Vo2max Productions in donating to UNICEF last month! I wish I could’ve won a bit of money at this race to add to this donation but unfortunately that was not the case.  Next time.

Thanks again to Sage for letting us post this. Find this and more on Sage’s blog. Featured photo courtesy of Dennis Coughlin.

Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked

It was just another Tuesday of #KeepingItOnTheLevel when an update from the GBTC popped into my newsfeed:

Is that for real? I can’t even comprehending pulling off a triple like that. This deserves some more attention, so here’s a Q&A with the beast himself, Sam Jurek:

Let’s recap:

10/14: Mount Desert Island Marathon – 2:38:59
10/28: Cape Cod Marathon – 2:37:37
11/3: Stone Cat 50 Mile Trail Race – 6:13:14

And you broke the previous Stone Cat course record by over 10 minutes, correct? On top of all the other “shorter” marathons? Really?

I have to start by thanking you for showing interest in my recent string of events. Having the support of the running community makes the training and the racing efforts that much more enjoyable and worthwhile.

You have all the information correct; 20 days, three races, fortunately capped off by a PR/CR at Stone Cat. Ben Nephew set the previous course record in 2010 at 6:24; this year there were three of us who dipped under that mark – thanks to ideal weather and dry terrain.

Okay, so…why? How many marathons/ultras do you typically do a year?

Why, you ask? That’s a simple, yet incredibly tough question to answer. In short, I love the sport. I don’t do it to lose weight, impress others, or compete, I do it because it’s enjoyable. Getting on the trails is a different aspect, just as the indoor track and cross country seasons have their own unique vibe. I’m not a creature of habit – I don’t think – so changing race distances and training regimens makes the sport interesting and keeps me from getting in a rut. I average 4-5 marathons a year along with 4-5 ultras; as of today, that means 50-kilometer and 50-mile races. Hopefully next year will afford me enough fitness to attempt a 100K and a 100-miler.

Was this something you’ve done before (and would do again), or was it a new experience (doing so many so close together)?

In the buildup to a 50-mile race, I like to run double long runs over the weekends. Two 20-milers is typical, with my peak training weekend including a 20-miler and a marathon. Until this past month, I never raced anything close to over 100 miles in a 20-day period. I was nervous thinking about it and training for it, but October came quick, and despite the less-than-ideal weather at MDI and Cape Cod, I think the races went well. I always have lofty goals, so coming into MDI I thought 2:30 was within reach. After finishing I realized I don’t have that speed in my legs right now, but sneaking under 2:40 twice within a couple weeks was still a huge confidence builder leading into Stone Cat.

What is the distance you’re training to race for?

I’ve always wanted to run sub-2:30 for the marathon, but I didn’t look at any of the three races as being the “goal” race; having a solid effort whenever toeing the line is typically all I concern myself with.

What did you do in between races? Rest seems like it’d make sense, then three weeks of rest with three big races mixed in might be hard to do.

After MDI I took a single day off, then resumed training. I only ran easy mileage between the marathons with two short speed workouts to keep goal race pace fresh in the mind, though I did still log over 75 miles the week following MDI. After Cape Cod I was pretty spent and could only think about the Stone Cat 50 being 6 days away. I took three of the next five days off, made sure to eat and sleep well, and simply hoped for the best.

What was your peak weekly mileage heading into these races?

Throughout the year I’m not able to sustain high mileage, relatively speaking. I might get 5 weeks a year in around 100 miles, but likely average 60-70 miles/week. I tend to find weaknesses often within myself, so cross- and strength-training have become a large part of my weekly routine.

What’s your marathon PR?

The past three years have been a long lull as far as my running is concerned. I ran my marathon PR in January 2009 at Disney World; 2:34:25 (I think), then didn’t touch sub-2:40 again until MDI this year. It’s good to be back in this range, but 6:13 was my 50-mile PR by 21 minutes, so at least one race distance is improving.

In the two marathons, were you just running those as workouts gearing up for the 50 miler? Your times are so close for those two races that upon first glance it made me think you might’ve just done them for pace work (real serious pace work!).

Haha…the marathons were looked at as more of confidence builders than anything. Since 2009, I haven’t raced frequently until this past summer, so they were needed more for a mental edge than a workout. It was a fluke that they were nearly identical in pace. I blew up in both races, opening up the first half of each in 1:17 and, well, you can do the math from there. I shouldn’t be as disappointed as I am, but as I’m sure you can tell with my redundancy, I really think 2:29 is possible for me, and I want it.

Was the plan to go for the course record in the 50 miler? or were you surprised to find that you felt good and went for it?

I run a lot of miles with Josh Katzman. He’s a popular ultra guy in the New England area and won Stone Cat last year. I picked him up around 4:30am the morning of the race and we chatted about strategy and possibly shooting for the CR. We decided to not be as ambitious as we were in 2011 when we ran the first 25 miles in 2:56. We practically failed in holding ourselves back and ran the first half of this year’s race in 2:59. I thought we would blow up again, but luckily held on for a solid second-half effort in 3:14 for me and 3:19 for him. I really believe that fueling and hydrating well is what keeps you in the game during an ultra; that came together for me at this race and fortunately paid off.

Again, simply incredible. A couple of quick take aways from this:

1.) Sam typically averages 60-70 mi/wk, but in the week following MDI he still logged 75 miles (on six days) when he was only at the beginning of the grueling 20 day stretch.

2.) His emphasis on strength- and cross-training can’t be overlooked. That could be the reason why he recovers so quickly in between races. If you’re not recovering very quickly after a marathon, cross-training could be one area of your training to investigate.

3.) “I do it because it’s enjoyable.” If you really love what you’re doing and are all-in, it’s amazing what you can do.

This interview is a companion piece to the article ‘Pushing the Limits’ in the Nov/Dec issue of Level Renner.

Note: Photo is courtesy of GBTC.

RI 6 Hour Ultramarathon

By Bob Jackman

The 4th Annual Rhode Island 6 Hour Ultramarathon & Relay took place on November 11, 2012.  The RI 6 Hour is Rhode Island’s ONLY ultra-marathon and served as the USATF-NE Ultrarunning Championship for the 4th year in a row.  This year there were 60 ultra-runners and 15 teams signed up representing 16 states as well as Brazil and Sweden.

Once again race day greeted us with ideal conditions for an event held in November in New England.  Slightly overcast skies and temperatures in the 50s, made for a good day for running and hanging around in between relay legs.

The race played out pretty much how I had anticipated.  Two-time champion and course record holder, Ben Nephew was back and stood out as a favorite on the men’s side.  On the women’s side 2011 women’s  runner-up Maddy Hribar was back and I noted that she ran a 18:16 at the Pine Creek Challenge 100 in September, taking the overall win there.  So with that fitness she was bound to be in the hunt for the win.

In the relay, two-time defending champions acidotic RACING was back and were aimed to finally break the 60 mile barrier.  Ready to chase them down were the Fuel Belt Racing Team and the home town favorites, the Tuesday Night Turtles, most of which were volunteering at the race, as well as running in the relay.

As predicted the pre-race favorites made their way to the front of the pack and never looked back.  But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any excitement during the race as the second through fifth places were jostled around all day long.  With an hour to go it was still uncertain who the top three placing runners would be and in the relay third and fourth place ended up being separated by less than 2 minutes at the end of the final loop.

When the smoke cleared, the top three men were Ben Nephew (45.92 miles), Thor Kirleis (40.52) and Alan Bowman (39.17).  On the women’s side Maddy Hribar took the win and third overall with 40.52 miles, followed by Kimberly Battipaglia (37.81) and Lindsay Anspach (37.81).  The runners split $550 in cash awards.

The USATF-NE Open titles were won by Ben Nephew and Lindsay Anspach.  The 40+ Male title was won by Thor Kirleis.

The relay saw acidotic RACING taking their third title, just missing the 23 laps they were looking for but finishing with the fine total of 59.42 miles.  They were followed by the Tuesday Night Turtle “A” Team (54.02) and then Fuel Belt (51.32).  The relay teams were awarded with cases of Bucket Brewery Park Loop Porter.  This beer was brewed specifically for the RI 6 hour and was flowing free of charge at the after party located at Track 84 in Warwick, RI

The date for next year’s event is undetermined at this time, but we will be back and look to increase the numbers for the 2013 event.  Click here for full results of the 2012 race.

All images courtesy of the talented Scott Mason.

Contact Form Powered By : XYZScripts.com