Monthly Archives: November 2015

Phil Silver Falls 50k Finisher

2015 Silver Falls 50k Race Report

“Hey, did you call me?”

“Oh yeah, sorry, I butt-dialed you.”

“OK, you’re sure you don’t need anything from me?”

“Nope! Everything is good here. How are you? What are your big weekend plans?”

“I have that 50k race tomorrow and Julie has the half on Sunday. We’re heading to Silver Falls in a couple hours.”

“Great. Now I have to worry about you this weekend.”

This was the conversation my mother and I had while I waited outside of Namu food cart for my bulgogi beef plate on Friday afternoon. I’ve discovered that no amount of logical evidence will ever convince my mom that my running adventures aren’t doing great harm to my body. She just knows we’re going to tumble over a cliff one of these weekends or have a heart attack right there on the trail or wind up bear food. All of these things are certainly possible, sure. But I work really hard to build strength and endurance. I could show her my training logs and…she’d probably faint.

Most non-runners don’t really know what type of preparation goes into a major endurance effort. I’ve had people tell me I’m crazy. I’ve had people tell me to look forward to my knee replacement in a couple years. I’ve had family members wonder aloud why I’m not working as hard at raising a family as I am at running in the forest. I suppose just a couple short years ago, I thought running ultra distances was crazy too.

On November 7, 2015, I attempted my first 50k race. To this point, I had run three marathon races and a 30-mile end-to-end on the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. This would be my first official ultramarathon and my first true experience of the trailrunner lifestyle I’d read so much about. Do many people really hike up hills and mountains rather than trying to run? Do runners really adjust their pace from time to time to run with other racers just to have a conversation? Can several hundred people really get so spread out on a course that you wind up spending several miles alone during a race?

I found that the answer to each of these questions is an unequivocal yes.

Follow the Flour

At the outset of the year, I had made a New Year’s resolution to either run 3 marathons or to run my first 50k during 2015. After injuring my ankle and losing out on the Pacific Northwest Marathon in May, that left the San Francisco Marathon in July and the Chicago Marathon in October. I told myself that if my fitness allowed me to recover quickly from San Francisco, that I would sign up for the Silver Falls 50k when they started accepting entries on August 1. Feeling fine just a couple days after San Francisco, I took the plunge. The worst part of this entire process was the Silver Falls 50k website.

I’m not totally at odds with www.silverfallsmarathon.com, but anybody who visits it or needs to rely on it for information would agree it’s a poorly designed site with many, many flaws. Once I got signed up, I was frustrated that I had to constantly refer to the Breaking News section to find out what was going on. If they had a Twitter feed or Facebook feed, or if they emailed when they had actual breaking news, users wouldn’t have to frequently go to the site to see if they had missed anything. I understand that this is a relatively small operation, but in this day and age, take advantage of free communication tools. Start a Facebook page and a Twitter feed and connect them to the website. It takes no time, costs nothing, and allows all your users to stay up to speed. As a web designer, I’m sensitive to this stuff. But lets get back to the race, as this is my only complaint.

My wife and I arrived at the packet pickup on Friday evening and were in and out quickly. The tech shirts weren’t free, but the price of the race is fair and if you volunteer, you get a free shirt. The shirts themselves are stylish for racing gear and are decent quality. From there, we headed 1.5 miles down the road to the lodge, picked up our keys and checked in. The lodges are supposed to hold 12 people in six rooms. There are shared common areas and a men’s and women’s bathroom in each lodge. While we were thrilled to have the place to ourselves for the entire weekend, we were also a little bummed. We hoped to meet other trailrunners and to swap stories and strategies. Instead, we ate cold pizza and beer and went to sleep early.

On Saturday morning, Julie helped me gear up for the 50k and drove me to the race start/finish line. There was plenty of parking and lots of people milling about casually. The crowd laughed at the occasional joke from the announcer and lined up for the start of the race fairly promptly when asked. Nobody really stopped their conversations for the “race briefing,” which was more of an opportunity for the announcer to talk about how pretty the course was and to thank the sponsors. To the best of my knowledge, no information, critical or otherwise, came to light in this briefing. Ready or not, the clock counted down and soon we were off. On this same day, the marathon and 7-mile race would be hot on our heels.

Silver Falls 50k Starting Line

The race started with a 3-mile loop into Silver Falls State Park and through the campground before winding past the start/finish line again. It was about half-road and half-trail. This was a good opportunity to stretch out, warm up, and spread out before we really hit the trails, where it can be harder to pass. There was a short portion in mile 2 where I felt like I was in the middle of a really fast conga line. Being my first trail race, I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for passing or allowing people past on single-track, but I figured if people wanted to sneak past, they’d say something or tap my arm. This was indeed the case, although nobody seemed eager to pass until much later in the race.

I buzzed through the first aid station at mile 3 and pushed into the first small hill of the day, while sipping from a soft flask in the front of my Salomon vest. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty yet, but I was moving at a 10-minute mile and knew I’d start feeling the need for nutrition before too long. I finally took a gel and another sip of water as I passed through the mile 6 aid station and headed into the back country of the park.

There were some pretty steep hills and probably 750 feet of elevation gain in this next section while heading from mile 6 through 8. I basically did my best to hold position and power hike during this section. From just after mile 8 through the next aid station at 9.6, I had my first conversation with another trailrunner. It was her second 50k and her previous race is the next one that I’ll be running in 2016. I was surprised and thrilled that this first preconceived notion of trailrunning was a reality. Trailrunners really are cool and it is totally acceptable to have a conversation with another runner during the race.

After the aid station at 9.6, I started a long uphill on a rocky fire lane. At first, I was nervous climbing this hill, but then my hiking history kicked in. I’ve been hiking for the last couple years with friends all around the Pacific Northwest. I felt strong and fast and even though I was power hiking and some people were running, I still passed a whole mess of people on the way up.

This was when my confidence started to really kick in. I started to see fewer and fewer other runners and I was finding myself alone more often than not. My wife was volunteering at the mile 14 aid station and I was eager to see her. The marathon route collided with the 50k route around mile 12. I dodged a few marathoners and was chatting with a couple other 50k runners when we hit the obstacle on the course: a creek crossing. Everybody else made their way upriver to a small rock crossing 15 feet away. I quickly glanced and realized that it wasn’t as deep, but you would still get your feet wet if you went that way. I sputtered, “the hell with it!” and splashed right through. After a tenth of a mile, my feet weren’t water-logged anymore. After a quarter mile, I didn’t notice any moisture in my shoes at all. Wrightsocks and Altra Lone Peak 2.0 shoes did the trick for me. I wouldn’t have any moisture issues all day.

I was making really good time as I cruised into the mile 14 aid station and I planned early on to spend a minute or two there just talking to my wife and soaking up some positive vibes. I ate half a banana and a strip of pizza (I had cut pizza slices into strips the day before) and a cup of flat Coke and headed off at a slow pace while I finished eating.

Silver Falls 50k Mile 14 Aid Station

The elevation chart showed that miles 15 through 18 were going to be tough. This was the climb up Buck Mountain and the next aid station was scheduled to be at mile 19. I took it pretty easy on this climb and power hiked a lot more than I ran, but there were some runnable portions as well. The trail was slick and muddy, but I was satisfied with my pace and soon I reached the next aid station.

This aid station was rocking. AC/DC’s Let Me Put My Love Into You was cranked. I dunked a boiled potato into a bowl of salt, shoved it in my mouth, took a shot of Heed electrolyte, and took a moment to celebrate being a true ultrarunner. I have read time and time again about boiled potatoes in salt. It always sounded gross until this moment. For some reason, the training mileage, the elevation, the race itself, nothing made me feel more legitimate. Boiled potatoes. You never know what’s going to charge you up. A young lady at the aid station asked me if I was feeling all right. I was surprised to hear the question because I was feeling so good. I answered with an emphatic affirmative and went bounding down the trail. I was feeling so great, I forgot to fill my soft flasks with more water.

I made it to mile 23 before I realized that I was carrying about four ounces of water. I had written down the aid station locations and goal mile splits on a piece of paper the day before the race. I looked at the aid station list that I had taken from the website and saw that another aid station was coming at mile 24. Perfect! I can take a quick sip at the beginning of each mile and still get a refill at the next aid station. I was thrilled that I wouldn’t run out of water.

I got to mile 23 and there was a funny trail junction. There were multiple signs pointing in multiple directions. I was pretty confident that I was going the right way, but I was nowhere near any other runners, so I was on my own. I started down the trail and it was all downhill. I ran until my Garmin watch chirped mile 24 and looked around. I was in the middle of a huge downhill section at a complete stop. I decided to wait until another runner showed up to see if I was on the right track. I stood for about 4 minutes before another runner came down the trail. She was fully confident we were on the right track. I was thrilled that I didn’t have to hike back uphill. I had unfortunately lost all momentum and several minutes to waiting.

Also unfortunate: the website had let me down again. The aid station was at mile 26, not 24. I was parched when I got to the next aid station. This was definitely my lowest point in the race. I was dehydrated and exhausted and I had lost a few places. Any of the pain I felt on the way into the aid station was quickly replaced when the volunteers started screaming. “What can we get you?” “What do you need?” “Can we fill your water bottles?” In moments, a wonderful woman had filled my soft flasks and replaced them in my vest for me. I had discovered at the mile 6 aid station that I was in love with potato chips, but they were fresh out at mile 26. I took down another pizza strip and started descending on a rocky trail. It was a few moments before I realized I was getting into the “pretty part” of the race.

The first thing I saw was the South Falls as they poured into the canyon. I actually stopped to marvel at it for several seconds. A big portion of the remainder of the race was on the rim trail, which takes you through the canyon and behind/around several waterfalls. This section was busy with hikers, but not to the point of being annoying or uncomfortable. I was surprised to make up a lot of time between miles 26 and 29. I passed many other racers in this stretch and felt great. Just under a month ago, I was struggling to finish 26.2 miles in the Chicago Marathon. Another ultrarunning truth proved accurate: road marathons are way more intense. At mile 27, I was measuring the remaining distance and still targeting a 6:30:00 finish.

Phil Silver Falls 50k Trail Race Mile 28

I was moving at a good pace when I crossed the metal bridge at mile 28 and started heading uphill. Before long, I was on stairs. They don’t mention the stairs on the race website. Had they mentioned them, I would have done some stair training. Instead, I relied on my hiking training, drove my quads high, and hit them two at a time. This was the most difficult time of the race for me. I remember gripping the metal railing and feeling that I was actually digging deep with each pull of my arms. By the time I got to the next aid station, I realized something was off.

This race isn’t a 50k. A 50k is just over 31 miles. Somewhere along the way in this canyon, my watch shot out a full mile ahead of where I actually was. The watch had been super accurate all day. I wasn’t the only one who noticed and I was surrounded by people in the last few miles upset that the course signage seemed off. It didn’t bother me all that much though. As I ascended to the aid station at “28.6” miles, which was actually more like 29.5, the volunteers cheered and screamed and pumped me up. I downed a handful of potato chips and a cup of flat Coke and walked quickly back onto the trail. Before long I was running again. I knew now that I was less than a 5k from the finish.

Silver Falls 50k Final Bridge

A large amount of this last section was on road. Another runner by the name of Josh caught up to me. I accelerated a bit to keep up with him and we talked for quite a while leading into the home stretch. We saw the finish line area and remarked how cruel it was to throw in this road portion leading to a finish line, only to send runners into something called Nutcracker Hill. As soon as I hit the hill I went into power hiking mode. I caught three people on the way up and tentatively started working my way down the steep downhill portion. It was extremely muddy and I slid for several feet at a time, but never fell down. A woman caught up to me at the end of the hill and she had a full head of steam and passed me by. I caught up with her and we compared GPS mileage as we came to the finish line. We were both showing just over 32.1 miles.

Silver Falls 50k Finish Chute

2015 Silver Falls 50k Medal

I crossed the line, kissed my wife, received my medal, and officially accepted the title of ultramarathoner. My total time was 6:35:31.

I downed three cups of hot cocoa in front of a raging fire and my wife drove us back to the lodge. We had dinner in Silverton and I’m pretty sure I slept for 12 hours overnight.

The Sunday after, my wife hammered the half marathon at a 12:05 pace. I enjoyed seeing her off and checking in on her at the aid station at mile three.

When she came over the bridge to the finish line a full 45 minutes ahead of expected time, I was beside myself.

Finisher Silver Falls Half Marathon Medal

This was a great racing weekend. I came away with pride, confidence, excitement, and satisfaction. I didn’t set a marathon PR this year, but I ran my first trail race, my first 50k, and I don’t feel like an outsider anymore.

Julie Silver Falls Half Marathon North Falls

When I hear people talking about 100-mile races, it doesn’t sound crazy. I’ve learned that hard work, dedication, and knowledge can push you way beyond your boundaries. The next challenge is just that: a challenge. Nothing is impossible.

Tonight, I had a video chat with my folks and told them about my next race: The Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Mom asked if I’ve got a death wish. I don’t think I’m going to show her my training schedule for this race either.

Chicago Marathon Medal

2015 Chicago Marathon Race Report

Nothing in the real world is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness.

– Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I was at mile 10 when I realized my body wasn’t accepting any nutrition. No gels. No water. Nothing. The morning had been warmer than expected and race officials had been warning all runners for a week to be sure to take in plenty of fluids. At mile 6, I started feeling the heat of the day and decided to take a cup of Gatorade at an aid station. I never drink it, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. At mile 8, I took another. It would be the last thing I kept down for many miles.

Chicago is my hometown. When I moved to Portland and started running longer distances, I harbored a dream that I would one day return to Chicago, blast through the marathon, and lay down a personal record in front of all my friends and family. Fireworks would explode overhead, millions of spectators would cheer, and Deena Kastor would lay a kiss on my cheek at the finish line and tell me how inspired my race was. The course is flat, the weather is generally conducive to fast running, and the excitement of the crowd propels runners to greatness. When I got into the race via the lottery, I was stoked. This was going to be a glorious day.

I arrived in town several days before the race. I still work remotely for an office in Chicago, so it was nice to work amongst people for a few days. I enjoyed a couple of group runs with office friends and felt that my taper was going well. I didn’t sleep well leading up to the race, but I still felt relatively well-rested. Staying at other people’s homes, you never know what to expect. I was able to relax and enjoy my time back in Chicago during the week. The Cubs were in the playoffs, the weather was great, and it was fun to see so many familiar faces.

The morning of the race, I wasn’t hungry. I had some water and a gel, but no coffee or anything of real substance. My wife accompanied me to the starting line where I handed off my jacket and separated for the day, confident that we would be celebrating a great success together in a few short hours. She would be corralling our family and friends and organizing places to cheer and meet up afterward. I would be running the race of my life.

I found my corral easily and approached the 3:45 pace group. I was confident that I would run a sub-4 hour marathon. I had been training well, I was feeling fast, and I was totally healthy. Slowly but surely, the race started and each corral inched closer to the starting line. I was keeping my emotions in check; feeling very cool, calm, and ready.

I found myself cruising through the first mile. I was taking it easy and settling into my pace. Around 1 mile in, I spotted my wife and her friend cheering me on. I’m still not sure how I managed to see them. In the sea of millions of people, they stuck out and I was elated to spot them so quickly. Enjoying my pace and tooling around the city, I felt relaxed and comfortable. Eventually, I realized that I had outpaced the 3:45 crew and I had jumped to the 3:40 pace group. I wasn’t concerned yet. I wasn’t breathing heavy, I felt totally comfortable, and I have a history of going out quickly and trying to hold on in these races. I promised myself that I would walk a couple of aid stations down the stretch and that would allow the 3:45 group to catch up to me eventually. Still feeling great, I put the first hour behind with a smile.

Then, the Gatorade. I had convinced myself at some point in the first 6 miles that I would do well to combat the coming heat with some electrolytes. Never mind that the Gu gels I brought along had electrolytes and that I was still moving comfortably. I thought that if I hydrated with this stuff early, I could just sip water down the stretch. I was mistaken.

At the mile 12 aid station, I rushed to a portable toilet off to the side of the course. Everything I had ingested for the last hour was coming back up. I barely made it into the toilet. I don’t enjoy throwing up. I rarely do it. I never puke while running. This was an uncomfortable, rare occurrence that I couldn’t explain. I got it together, calmed myself down, and headed for the aid station. A man there refilled my handheld water bottle for me and I looked up just in time to see the 3:45 pace group turning the corner about 100 feet in front of me. For a split second, I felt relief that I was still on pace to hit my goal.

Then a funny thing happened. I tried to accelerate to rejoin my pace group, but my body wouldn’t do it. The adventure in the portable toilet had taken so much out of me, that my energy was totally sapped. I wasn’t about to try eating anything just yet, but I had to try something. I took a sip off my water bottle and realized it was coming right back up. I had no choice. I started walking. Every time I tried to run, the water was trying to rise up out of my stomach again. After about 100 steps, I was able to get moving again. I turned the corner and heard a mess of people screaming my name. I looked over to see more than half a dozen friends cheering me on. I mustered a wave and a half smile. I was determined to press on, but my dreams of the day were fading fast.

I was still tailing my original pace group when I crossed the halfway checkpoint. My friend back in Portland was following along with my race. I recently bought a Garmin watch that syncs with my phone. A text came through from my friend saying, “Wow 3:45! good job!” That was followed by another text that said, “oh, that’s your estimated time. keep going!” Despite the well wishes and good intentions, I knew I was in trouble. I had hit a new kind of wall. I had slammed into it at full speed and without the ability to take on nutrition of any kind, I had no way to recover.

Philip Krooswyk Chicago Marathon

I went through my options in my head while I headed west toward the United Center area turnaround. I could quit. “Sure, that’s always an option,” I thought. “Fly 2,000 miles just to quit the race you’ve been training all year for.” I could fire up the Jeff Galloway method. Wouldn’t that be a fun way to move for the next 13 miles? Just walk a mile, run a mile, walk a mile, run a mile. “With any luck, you’ll finish around 4pm.” Not an option. So then, shuffle to the finish? “Shuffle to the finish.”

I was able to keep my sights on the 3:45 pace group for most of the westward section. I think I lost them around mile 15. I was walking through an aid station and considering drinking some water at mile 16 when the 3:50 pace group passed me by. They didn’t just slowly move past me. It felt like they were sprinting. I could feel wind coming off of them as they blew past me. I felt like I was standing still. I found some shade to run in for the next mile or two and was able to keep a close eye on this group. Eventually, I succumbed to my roaring stomach and drank some water.

At mile 17, I saw my family for the first time. They were cheering and screaming my name as I plodded through Greektown. They had made signs and it was like a vision. They’ve never seen me race before and the excitement of that moment carried me the next mile as I finally felt my energy coming back to me.

Phil Chicago Marathon Family

Each time I drank, I had to walk for almost a quarter of a mile before I was able to safely run again without vomiting. At mile 18, I made the bold choice to drink while I was running. Within 20 steps, I found myself holding on to a dumpster in an alley, throwing up behind it. I didn’t even make it to a portable toilet this time. I felt blackness surrounding me and I could barely stand. It took me a minute to compose myself. I was sure that I would black out at any moment. I slowly walked back to the road, seeing stars. I gradually picked up speed. And soon, I was at a slow trot. Pushing once again for the finish line.

At mile 19, I watched helplessly as the 3:55 pace group whizzed past and disappeared from sight. It took less than 5 minutes for them to sneak past me and vanish. In the next few miles, the 4 hour pace group would catch me and pass me. At this point, I was in a race with myself. My personal best is 4:11 in the marathon. I was losing confidence that I could still beat that number, but I had to try.

At mile 22, I made a deal with myself. No more water. No more nutrition of any kind. I was going to finish this race on guts. I wouldn’t walk again. I wouldn’t let negative thoughts into my head. And I was going to finish this race with some semblance of pride. I picked up my feet, I started driving my quads more, and for the first time in many miles, I started to hear the crowd again. At this point, it was about the experience of running in Chicago. It was about seeing my hometown from different angles; gaining new perspectives.

The crowd was incredible. The volunteers were encouraging and hard-working. The sky was beautiful. The roads were clean and smooth. And as I pushed through these last 4 miles, I felt reinvigorated. It was difficult. I was digging deeper than ever before. I focused on my breathing. “One step at a time” became my everlasting mantra. And as I turned the final corner and hit the last uphill before the finish line, I knew I was in trouble again. I was pushing so hard and so determined, that I had stopped paying any attention to what was happening in my body. At this point, it was impossible to ignore.

I finished the race, I received my medal, I found a shady spot in the grass, and I collapsed.

I’m not sure how long I was there for. I was awakened by my phone vibrating. I answered to hear my wife asking where we could meet up. I thought I was in a public area, but I must have still been in a secure post-race spot. We agreed on a meeting point about 300 yards away and I told her I would need some time to gather myself before meeting them.

Probably 20 minutes later, I started stumbling toward them. Every few steps, I stopped to keep from vomiting. Eventually, I was overcome, but I made it to a portable toilet. I felt a crack in my chest this time. This was the most violent experience I’ve ever had in a port-a-potty and not one I’d like to repeat anytime soon. As I stood there, my phone vibrated again. I answered and said I’d be out shortly. I composed myself, wandered out and started stumbling for the exit. For a second, I saw medical personnel keeping a close eye on me. Just about the time they were starting to move in my direction, a man 25 feet away collapsed and they sprinted to him.

Phil Chicago Marathon Finisher

I made it to the exit fine and within 100 feet, I started feeling better. By the time I found my family and friends, I was feeling great. My strength was coming back, my stomach had settled down, and there were no signs of the issues that had plagued me all day. My wife handed me a coconut water, I posed for photos with everyone, and we jumped on the Brown Line to head back to the apartment. The rest of the day was easy. I spent it hanging out in the city, enjoying time with family and friends, eating everything I saw and generally feeling great.

My final time was 4:14:32. Not my best attempt, but better than my worst marathon finish by more than a minute. I was disappointed that I missed all of my goals, but proud of my overall effort. This was the worst adversity I’ve faced during a race. My takeaways are pretty simple. Eat something for breakfast. I wasn’t hungry, but even a handful of cereal would have made a difference. Don’t eat anything on race day you haven’t tried during training. I usually don’t drink electrolyte drinks. The Gatorade was so sweet, I knew almost immediately that it was a bad idea for me. I should have stuck with water. I might still have had nausea issues, but I can’t imagine they would have been that severe.

Phil Chicago Marathon Finisher Medal

As for the marathon itself, it was a wonderful time. The expo was great, the city is amazing, the race officials were helpful, and the volunteers were incredible. I doubt that I’ll ever experience another feeling that rivals being cheered on by millions of spectators. Running in front of my friends and family was a special bonus that I didn’t take for granted. As satisfied as I am, I’m excited for my next venture. I’m transitioning to trail and endurance racing. I’ll be toeing the line at my first 50k in less than 24 hours. Writing about Chicago in the lead-up to this next race has been cathartic. I’ve trained well, I’ve worked hard, and now it’s time to correct the mistakes I’ve made previously.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be eating something for breakfast.

Trail Run Columbia River Gorge

Gorge 400 Trail Training Run

I spent Halloween morning trail running on the Gorge 400 Trail with some terrific and goofy running partners. We started from the John B. Yeon trailhead, scooted past Elowah Falls and much more. We have had some rain recently and the waterfalls were in spectacular form. It was a slippery, muddy, rainy, and altogether gorgeous day. Video footage below from a really fun training run.