Category Archives: Race Report

Silver Falls 50k Phil

2017 Silver Falls 50k Race Report

This year’s Silver Falls 50k race marked my first repeat race. Run Wild puts on a great series of races every year during the first weekend of November. My wife and I have made a habit of volunteering for each other’s races in order to get a free race entry for the following year. Despite an ankle injury preventing her from racing this year, we took the opportunity to spend the weekend in one of Silver Falls’ cabins while I capped off my racing year with the 50k.

This was the coldest race I’ve ever started. There was snow packed along the trail at various times and flurries at higher elevations. I brought all my cold weather clothing to the race. The only item I removed at some point was my stocking cap, which I swapped out for a buff to cover my ears from time to time.

For the year, this was my longest run. After last winter’s back strain and my DNF at Mt. Bachelor in July, it was nice validation that my fitness is finally back where it was pre-injury. The course for the 50k hasn’t changed and it continues to be a great layout. The first 3 miles are flat, so you can warm up and mentally prepare for your day. Small hills at miles 6 and 10 are good opportunities to work some different muscle groups while you power hike uphill and cruise down. Those hills were exceedingly slippery because of the mud this year. I’m always amazed how some people can just drop down muddy slopes without worrying about falling. I was slipping and sliding nearly every downhill in the race.

The real elevation challenge lies between miles 15 and 22. I swapped places back and forth with several runners during this stretch. I’m a stronger power hiker than most, but everybody passed me by on the muddy downhills. As usual, the aid stations were packed with great ultra food and terrific volunteers. I really enjoyed the potatoes with coarse salt. I can’t believe that’s become my trail food of choice. Sitting at home, I would never think of reaching for a potato to eat. I found peeled banana halves at the mile 24 aid station, which tasted like the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten. My thrill didn’t last very long.

Sometime around mile 24.5, something went haywire in my left achilles. I could no longer push off with my left leg and it caused an awful lot of pain on downhill sections, which is where I was hoping to make up time on the waterfall trails, where I found far better traction than the muddy backcountry trails. I quickly realized that my goal time of a sub-6 hour finish was gone. My backup goal was to match or beat my previous PR at this course of 6:35. Despite the pain, I knew I would finish the race, and I decided to enjoy my surroundings.

The waterfalls are always beautiful. I enjoyed chatting with fellow runners and joking around with hikers. I even stopped for a photo with some tourists who didn’t speak English. I have no idea why they wanted a photo, but I was glad to take a few seconds to rest anyhow.

Silver Falls 50k Stairs Phil

At the final aid station, with about 2 miles to go, I connected with 3 people who were running together. A man and woman were joking around and having a great time. They seemed to be leading a first time ultra runner to the finish. We ran together for much of the last mile. Despite being totally drained and sore, I was glad to have company and we ran together right up to Nutcracker Hill. We laughed about how appropriate the name was and I was happy to be power hiking uphill again. I think I may have cut them off as I passed. Being that close to the finish line and as tired as I was, I was drifting quite a bit as I climbed. They would wind up finishing arm-in-arm-in-arm just a minute behind me. Compared with my previous descents from Nutcracker Hill, I was surprised how little I slipped in on the muddy trail. I pushed through the final grass portion, over the bridge, slapped a couple high fives, and finished in 6:45, just 10 minutes beyond my goal.

Silver Falls 50k Final Turn High Five


Satisfied and sore, I enjoyed a bowl of vegetarian chili, an apple, and 2 cups of hot chocolate. I really don’t know what it is about the cocoa at this race, but it’s amazing. The post-race chili was apparently prepared by Seven Brides Brewing, who also make the post-race beer. The food was by far the best of all the years I’ve volunteered and raced here. I heard some people complaining that there wasn’t meat in the chili. Honestly, it was just good food and if they hadn’t identified it as veggie chili, my guess is nobody would have even noticed because it was hearty and warm and wonderful.

2018 Silver Falls 50k Medal

I volunteered the following day at the mile 3 aid station of the half marathon races and, as usual, had a great time with the aid station workers and runners. I even met a 72-year-old woman who wasn’t running the full race that day because of hip bursitis, but asked me to show her the best route on the map to still have a short run with her fellow runners. I say this in almost every post, but this community is the best. Silver Falls continues to be a spectacular place to visit and race, and I can’t say enough about the Run Wild Adventures crew. These races go on sale in August every year and sell out every time. That’s no surprise.

Check out the GPS track on Strava and mark your calendar for Silver Falls Race weekend 2018.

Charleston Salmon Run Coast Course

Inaugural Charleston Salmon Run Race Report

There are distinct advantages to running small, new races in little towns. The organizers are genuinely happy you’re there. Small towns and business centers are excited to showcase their uniqueness and encourage future visits. You may find screaming cheering sections during one mile and complete solitude during another. And to top it all off, for those of us who couldn’t be more average, you might just rattle off the run of your life and finish very high in the final results. The inaugural 2017 Charleston Salmon Run featured all of this and more.

The race would take place in a tiny wedge on the Oregon Coast called Charleston. The somewhat larger metropolitan area is known as Coos Bay. Race organizers offered a free race entry with proof of local overnight stay, so we stayed at The Mill Casino and Hotel. There was a shuttle to the race and back, but we drove, as it was more convenient since the shuttle didn’t run very frequently. I picked up my race packet the evening before the race, and was greeted by some overwhelmingly happy volunteers who were obviously thrilled to meet the runners. Their excitement was infectious and gave me a good feeling heading into race day. They presented me with a sweatshirt, a pin, and something called “the key to the city” that could be worn as a wristband. If you were wearing this, several local businesses were offering discounts on all sorts of things.

The night before the race, I noticed that the zipper pocket on the back of my running shorts had torn away from the rest of the fabric, leaving a huge hole in the seat of my shorts. Thanks to my wife Julie for using the hotel room sewing kit to get me all patched up before the race and making sure nobody got an unwanted show.

Calm before the storm. And some pretty decent carpeting. #raceforthetrails #charlestonsalmonrun

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Loud music was pumping at the start/finish line as runners began to gather. There would be a marathon, half marathon, 10k and 1 mile walk. I counted approximately 40 runners at the start, before a young man sang the best rendition of the national anthem I’ve ever heard at a race. A quick countdown later, the race was underway and we rounded the first turn and started uphill. This race featured between 2,000 and 2,200 feet of elevation gain and loss, depending on which mapping tool you use.

Charleston Salmon Run Start/Finish Line

Living in Bend now, I mostly trained for this race at altitudes from 4,000 to 7,000 feet. I was curious to see whether my hill training at higher altitude would pay off with this race being very close to sea level. I had my answer when after a couple minutes of running uphill during the first couple miles, I was breathing comfortably and running easy. The first major turn of the race wasn’t marked and the man directing traffic was encouraging runners to stay straight. Fortunately, one of the other runners knew better and redirected everyone on the course. Many had to run about 1/4 mile to get back on course. Beyond that, the course was well marked and individual mile markers were helpfully posted at each mile.

The hills continued up and down for the first 7 miles. The course featured a couple long out-and-back stretches. The first 7 miles would bring runners into a backwoods area dotted with trailers and lawns, which seemingly doubled as junkyards. There were occasional views of vast valleys, and a few cheering folks came out to the road from their homes, but there were just as many scowls and dogs barking angrily. I soon noticed that there were pilot cars on the road getting traffic in and out of their homes. The runners were all on one side of the road and locals were not enjoying the idea of having to wait for someone to come fetch them before they could leave their driveways. I’m not sure where the miscommunication between locals and the race organizers happened, but this wasn’t the last sign of locals unimpressed with the race.

I chatted with a local runner who pointed out his property and grumbled about some recent thefts by “tweakers” who were trespassing on personal property and how the local police had no choice but to continually turn them back out into the community. We chatted for a couple miles and then went back to focusing on our individual races. Around mile 6, I started noticing occasional marathon leaders coming back from the first turnaround. Before I knew it, I was at the turnaround point myself. I realized that I was now in 9th place.

I hadn’t brought much food with me. A GU packet and a couple waffles were in my pocket at the start. I intended to pick up my handheld and additional nutrition from my wife at the halfway point, which I thought was back at the Start/Finish line. I was wrong and I ate the last of my nutrition as I turned to start the next big out-and-back at mile 14. My wife and I texted a couple times before I lost cell coverage. I was trying to tell her not to worry about it and I’d figure it out, but my messages never went through.

There were only a couple aid stations that offered food, but it turned out to be enough to get me through. Most of the aid stations just featured water, although a couple had Gatorade and at least one was offering bananas and Chex mix. Realizing that I would be short on nutrition for the second half of the race, I decided to slow my pace from low 9-minute miles to mid 10-minute miles. By mile 15, I was back to 10th place overall.

The half marathon was well underway and followed the same path as the second half of the marathon. At first I was concerned about how busy the roads would be with people at various paces, but I eventually enjoyed the opportunity to focus on a runner up ahead and reel them in slowly.

This is about the same time I saw a coyote pop out of the woods. We stopped and stared at each other from about 10 feet away. I waited for half marathoner to catch up for a minute before I moved ahead again. I’ve had such terrible luck with dogs on my runs this year, I wasn’t taking a chance.

Charleston Salmon Run Coyote

The distractions of overtaking various half marathoners and the coyote confrontation took my mind off my stomach, which was rumbling by the time I hit 17 miles.

Around mile 18, the leader of the marathon was working his way back toward me again. We gave each other a high five and a few words of encouragement. I still had a tiny out and back to do on a side path where the race planner had added in some extra mileage. I ran down the hill to a parking loop, grabbed some water at the aid station and headed back out. The hill felt much, much bigger on the way out. I looked at a half marathoner moving slowly on the hill and put my head down to begin catching her. The hill took a lot out of me and I wouldn’t complete the pass until nearly 1/2 mile down the main road again.

The out-and-back loop gave me an opportunity to see if other marathoners were gaining on me. Indeed, I saw 3 orange bibs, all less than a mile behind me. I maintained my effort for the time being. I knew that if I pushed too hard, I wouldn’t have anything left for the finish. Unfortunately, the loop also meant that I wouldn’t know how many marathoners were still in front of me or how far out. Back on the main road, I enjoyed the distraction of dozens of barking sea lions who made a hilarious racket.

More and more half marathoners and marathoners clogged the road as we moved in both directions. Many runners were on both sides of the road now, leading to traffic snarls and some angry driver confrontations with other drivers and pilot car drivers. I tried to block out these distractions and maintain my comfortable pace. I arrived at the turnaround point, grabbed another cup of water, and walked for about 1/10th of a mile while psyching myself up for the return trip. I looked around and saw a man with a marathon bib about 250 feet behind me. I started running again.

My return run was largely uneventful for the first few miles. Aside from some half marathoners blaring music from their phones, which I always find a little strange, my mind was fairly quiet and my body felt great. Around mile 22, I stopped to drink two cups of Gatorade. On the next hill, I moved slowly and saved my energy for the last couple miles. Nearing the top of the hill, I heard the footsteps of the man with the marathon bib. He caught up to me and I quickened my pace. I had a hunch that he had used a lot of energy trying to catch me on the last hill, so I hung right with him. After about 1/4 mile of running silently side-by-side, he dropped way off the pace and I carried the pace into the final miles of the race.

My wife was waiting for me with 2.5 miles to go. She hadn’t gotten my texts and despite having a badly sprained ankle, she did her best to get me some nutrition for the final miles of the race. I grabbed a waffle and ate half of it and put the rest in my pocket. Just a little food would carry me now.

Charleston Salmon Run 3 Miles to Go

Just past mile 24, two women marathoners caught me as I ran on a flat portion of the course. My energy was flagging and I was eager for the race to be over. I wasn’t feeling nearly as competitive as I had earlier and I watched the women easily pass me and move around a corner and out of sight.

I rounded a bend in the road and headed up the last big hill of the course. My head was down as I just focused on the task at hand. Around halfway up the hill, I realized that the women were no longer running, but walking the hill. My trailrunning and hiking background has granted me terrific uphill speed when power hiking. Recognizing my opportunity, I switched my gait and began to gain on the women quickly. I passed them and as soon as the road began to flatten, I put the pedal down again.

What followed was a gradual downhill that would become more steep as we approached the finish line. The final 1/10th of a mile was a flat sprint to the finish line. I was about 3/4 mile from the finish when the women caught me on the downhill. There was no way I could keep up with them on the rolling downhill, but I knew that my weight and long legs would help me as the road became steeper, and I bided my time.

With 1/4 mile to go, I made my move. I allowed gravity to carry me down the steep road and even though it was painful on my feet and joints, I opened up my stride and pushed as hard as I could. The three of us reached the final turn at the same time and I had all the momentum. I sped along for the next hundred feet, only glancing back once to see if my pass had worked. I realized quickly that I could ease up and cross the line at a comfortable pace. I crossed the line in 4:13:52, good enough for 10th overall and 6th male.

Charleston Salmon Run Top 10

I exchanged congratulatory high fives with the women who crossed the line just behind me, received my medal and a bottle of water, declined a baggie of donuts (kind of strange, but whatever), and shared a bench with a young Portland half marathoner named Devin. Before long, the aggressive effort late in the race caught up with me and I had to lay down for nearly 20 minutes to settle my stomach. My wife found me and gave me a balled up coat to rest my head on and in a little while I was ready to shuffle my way to the car and head back to the hotel.

Tomorrow’s the victory lap. #raceforthetrails #charlestonsalmonrun

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My overall impression of the race is that it was an interesting, difficult course, organized by passionate people who really wanted to showcase their town and do something fun. The medals featured a nice design, the second half of the course was pretty, and the hills required strategy. The young men wearing hats emblazoned with a red W were very friendly and supportive while manning the aid stations. There were some strange conflicts with the locals though. In the coffee shop next to the Start/Finish line, an elderly man was griping about being woken up by the pounding music. Another local woman complained that she had great difficulty getting to her office to open up for the morning (never mind the fact that she was complaining in a coffee shop and not in her office…). Finally, the pilot car program seemed to be a failure. Multiple times, I saw pilot cars nose-to-nose, steeped in confusion and wondering how to give one another the right of way. Locals griped throughout the race and took to Facebook as well. I don’t know if these are organizational issues or simply oversensitive locals who love to complain. Either way, the race brought an influx of money to an area that doesn’t see many visitors, and I’m surprised that so many of the locals seemed so upset to be mildly inconvenienced for a few hours. The behavior of the random, angry locals is enough to discourage me from wanting to visit this area again. I feel bad saying that because the race organizers were some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with at a race.

Here’s hoping they’re able to work with the locals to get the whole town on board with this race in the future. I don’t know if it’s possible. There’s just no pleasing some people, but I’ll be curious to see if this race is repeated in the future or it’s a one-and-done. Check out the Strava GPS to see the full details of the course.

Oregon Coast 50k Happy to be Finished

2016 Oregon Coast 50k Race Report

The race had just begun and I was already arriving at my first water crossing. Ten or fifteen feet of water cut across the beach. There was no avoiding it. As I leapt forward toward the hard sand of the shoreline, I brought my knees higher to blast through the water. I felt it coming on, but either didn’t want to or couldn’t stop it: my idiotic grin exploded into maniacal laughter.

This is how the Oregon Coast 50k started for me. My first race with Rainshadow Running was meant to be the Gorge Waterfalls 100k in Spring, but after a winter of difficult training and minor injuries, I decided to pull out of that race. The good people at Rainshadow Running were kind enough to allow me to transfer most of my entry fee to this race. I ran several other races this year. I attempted some things that were outside of my comfort zone and well outside of my abilities. To say this year provided me with more running disappointments than triumphs wouldbe an understatement.

Leading up to this race, my training had hit more snags. I was originally hoping to run a sub-6-hour race, but I had difficulty fitting in my training runs. My largest setback came during a 10-day trip to Iceland in which I only managed to sneak in a single 7-mile run. Less than two weeks later, I would be at the starting line, nervously questioning what in the world I was thinking. Before the race, I had told my wife and several running friends that I didn’t expect much. I planned to enjoy the coast, enjoy the camaraderie with other runners, enjoy a long jog next to the ocean.

Packet pickup on the morning of the race was laid back and easy. I loaded onto the first bus and chatted with other runners around me during the 10-minute ride to the starting line. It seemed like every single runner used the restrooms and we made our way down to the beach. Race Director James Varner dragged a starting line in the sand and fired off a few reminders and instructions through a megaphone. He looked down at his watch for a couple seconds. I was surprised moments later when, without a countdown of any type, he shouted, “Go!”

Immediately through the water crossing and onto the hard sand of the coast I ran. After hearing about the terrible weather the last two years at this race, I was pleasantly surprised to find hardly any wind and super mild temperatures greeting me. I kept a steady tempo and occasionally splashed through shallow water crossings and waves. I had a smile on my face for most of the beach section and caught myself staring at the ocean on several occasions. I moved about 30 seconds per mile faster than I intended to on the beach, but the weather was so great and my body felt rested. I wasn’t concerning myself with pushing or holding back. I was following my plan to take it easy and enjoy.

Oregon Coast 50k Glenn Tachiyama Beach

A little over six miles later, I pulled off the beach and ran along the Coast Trail. A short time later I found my way to the Adobe Resort, which was the first aid station at mile 7 and would also be the finish line. I saw my awesome crew (wife) there and swapped out my road shoes for trail shoes and slipped into some dry socks. I also swapped out my handheld water bottle for my hydration vest. I enjoyed a slice of gluten-free tortilla with peanut butter and jelly from the aid station. I have to note that it’s really unusual to find such a thing at any aid station at any race. I had read that Rainshadow Running provided such things, but didn’t believe it until I saw it.

Oregon Coast 50k Footwear Exchange

For nutrition, I would mostly rely on Tailwind. Additionally, I planned to eat a Gu packet every hour and if something looked good at an aid station, I would eat that too. I’ve acquired a habit lately of not eating enough calories. Complement that with a strange new habit of allowing myself to get super dehydrated, and I was determined to stay on top of things from the start.

Soon after leaving the first aid station, I found myself running through a neighborhood on the coast. I rounded a bend and there was a man outside working in his yard. He was yelling at his cat, who had climbed most of the way up the screen of a sliding door. A woman inside the house was running over to pull the cat down from the screen. I had a good chuckle at Theo the cat’s antics. After a couple miles running around on coastal roads and along the 101, I crossed the highway and entered into the trails in earnest. I caught and passed a couple of other runners as I moved through the first couple of undulating trail sections. There are three main climbs in this course. They appear roughly at miles 9, 16, and 24. The first and third climb are the same trail, but out and back, featuring nearly 1,000 feet of gain each time. The middle climb is the killer at 1,500 feet. I looked forward to the elevation profile of this race because I like to get into an uphill or downhill rhythm. The frequent ups and downs of many races can break up your pace badly as you’re never sure if you should be holding back or pushing your pace. As I approached mile 9, I knew exactly what to expect.

I jogged on the gradual inclines and power hiked the steep portions. I passed several groups of runners during this portion. I’m not especially fast on downhill or flat surfaces, but I can move well uphill. I knew most of the runners I passed would catch and pass me later, but I was determined to push my way up the inclines. As I wound through the well-marked trail system, I occasionally would smell the ocean. I could hear waves crashing in the distance. As I came out to the overlook at the summit of the first climb, I took a moment to eat some Gu and look out at the winding coastline. A whole bunch of other runners passed me at this point, but I wasn’t concerned. They would have likely caught me on the downhill portion anyhow.

Oregon Coast 50k Glenn Tachiyama Cape Perpetua

Coming down off the first summit was difficult initially. The rocky, slippery footing was challenging to me. Eventually the trail became mostly dirt and the only challenge was maintaining control while dropping nearly 1,000 feet over the next mile and a half. At the mile 14 aid station (anybody with a GPS watch insisted it was only mile 13) I enjoyed a handful of grapes before pushing back out onto a moderately hilly portion of the trail. Around mile 15, I swallowed another Gu packet for good measure. It only took a minute of running again to realize I was now overfed. As much as I hoped the next climb was a ways off, I knew it was around the corner.

I exited the forest trail onto a service road and started working uphill. The initial incline was very gradual, but I had no choice but to hike as my stomach was quickly devolving into pain and chaos. Up to this point, I had been drinking Tailwind every 10 minutes, but I held off for about 20 minutes. The road exited onto a trail. Though there were some steeper sections, the trail was very gradual and runnable. Had I felt better, I probably would have tried to run nearly all of it. I began to feel marginally better and ran about one-third of this section before I noticed another sign directing runners to another trail. It was obvious that this is where the real climb started. I started pushing it again and began to reel in several runners in front of me. Nearly 400 feet into the climb, I was beginning to feel sick. Approaching mile 19, I had to stop completely and close my eyes.

When I opened my eyes again, I was totally alone. I had lost contact with the runners in front of me and had pushed well beyond the runners I started the climb with. I took a moment and marveled at how even on a course with hundreds of other runners, you can be completely alone in these magical environments. I took several deep breaths and got myself together for the final push to the summit. I even passed a few other runners as I summited and started my way down to the next aid station. I was surprised to find Portland’s very own Wy’east Wolfpack handling aid station duties. Loud dance music, full-on pirate outfits and an incredible energy brought me back to life. I filled my soft flasks with plain water that I knew I would want for the final push. I ate a few more grapes and took a couple for the road. With less than ten miles to go, I knew I couldn’t stomach another Gu packet. I left the aid station feeling good vibes and a renewed vigor.

I conserved a little energy as I entered the major elevation loss for the day. The further I dropped down, the more comfortable I felt. Again, I was catching and passing other runners. A couple times I could feel that I was approaching that ragged, uncontrollable edge and had to reel myself back in, and as I exited the forest into a parking lot area connecting the trail back to the lollipop portion, I was shocked to find my wife waiting for me on a picnic table. She had been exploring the area and checked Apple’s Find Friends app out of curiosity. She discovered that I was less than a mile away and waited for me. It was a great surprise and once again I was feeling motivated and inspired as I moved into the final climb of the race.

Oregon Coast 50k Less than 10 Miles to Go!

At mile 24, I had another handful of grapes from the aid station. I had been saving a Bounce Nutrition coconut macaroon to celebrate conquering the major climb of the race. I took one bite and tossed the rest. It was immediately apparent that the macaroon was much heavier than I thought it would be. Eating the entire thing would have destroyed my digestive system at this point. I moved into the final climb of the day and, once again, started power hiking to the summit.

I felt sluggish, but I was still moving well. I passed several more runners on my way up the climb, and once again enjoyed the overlook. This was also the first climb of the day where I was passed. A couple blew past me like I was standing still at one point. I have no idea how they had the energy, but they were just chatting away like they were completely fresh. I crashed the final downhill, worked through the coast trail, and emerged on the 101. I had to wait a few minutes for car traffic to pass before I was finally able to get moving again.

I was so motivated to make my time back up from the road crossing that I missed a ribbon and wound up on a dead end street. Stupid. That mistake cost me a few minutes and took the wind out of my sails. I got back to work. I didn’t really have any goals for this race other than to finish before the 8-hour cutoff and to have fun. But in the back of my mind, I was hoping to at least come close to my 50k PR of 6:35. I would be satisfied finishing under 7 hours. I moved quickly through the final couple of miles on the road and worked my way to the back side of the Adobe Resort.

Oregon Coast 50k Glenn Tachiyama Finish Line

As I made the final turn, I could see the final hill, the chute with the flags, and James Varner waiting to welcome me back. I heard my wife cheering me on and crashing waves, and the sun was shining, and I realized I was grinning again. I crossed the line, hugged James, and clicked my watch. 6:54:49.

Oregon Coast 50k Job Well Done

This was my final race of 2016. It’s been a long and difficult road. From my longest distance ever (American River 50 Mile Endurance Run) to a failed attempt at running around the Timberline Trail on Mt. Hood to nagging injuries to a general lack of inspiration throughout the year, this was the race I needed right now. The attitude I brought into this race allowed me to open myself up to the joy and fun that only running on trail can provide.

2016 Oregon Coast 50k Sunset

Some notes on the race:

  • We were incredibly fortunate with the weather. It was perfect. In fact, until mile 27 or 28 when I was exposed to the direct sun on a cliffside, I hadn’t thought about the weather even once. That’s rare for any race in any climate.
  • We stayed at Silver Surf Motel. The staff could not have been friendlier or more helpful. When I told them I was coming to town for the race, they immediately offered the upstairs room all the way in the corner because it would be quiet and have the fewest neighbors. It also had a kitchen in it with small stovetop and oven, which came in very handy.
  • After the race, there was a great party. Bluegrass music, food, kegs, and happy people everywhere cheering on every single finisher who worked their way in.
  • Gluten-free stuff all over the place. Tortillas at the aid stations, cider in the keg, and best of all: wood-fired pizza! Only a Rainshadow Running event would have wood-fired gluten-free pizza.
  • Did I mention that the race photographer was none other than Glenn Tachiyama Photography? I don’t usually purchase race prints, but come on. Even I look good in Tachiyama photos.

Ragnar Trail Zion, Utah

One of the more interesting races I’ve run this year has to be Ragnar Trail Zion Utah. A few months ago, I suggested to my office running club that we get together and run a relay as a team. We agreed on Zion. I created a training plan and most of the team stuck to it. We’d need to prepare for running on trail, running at night, and running on short rest. We had 8 volunteers, perfect for a traditional Ragnar team. The owners of the company not only paid the entrance fee, but they also covered most of the supplies for the weekend and sponsored a bonus night in Las Vegas at the Bellagio Hotel. In addition, the owners are avid runners who joined the team.

Most of the supplies were shipped to me in Portland, as I planned to road trip to and from the event. The remainder of the team was flying in from Chicago and renting a van. Max, one of my teammates, flew out to Portland and road-tripped with me. We drove up to Timberline Lodge to spend some time on Mt. Hood on the way out of town.

Timberline Lodge Mt. Hood

We stopped by Smith Rock on the way out and ran the Summit Loop Trail. The long-sweeping ascents and descents and dusty climate would provide solid race preparation for Zion’s elevation changes and sandy trails. You can see more of our Smith Rock Summit Loop run in the video below.

We slept a couple hours at a Nevada motel before hitting the road again and making it to Zion by early evening. We met the rest of the team and set up our camp along the trail. We would be about 1/4 mile from the start/finish line and staging area – great for cheering on runners throughout the weekend.

Ragnar Trail Zion Camping

We made camp in a quiet area and were kept up all night by a family who decided to bring their two very young children along. After a poor night’s sleep, we awoke to race day.

Ragnar Zion Yellow Trail

For this race, everybody would run about 15.5 miles. There was a 3.1 mile easy loop, a 4.3 mile moderate loop, and an 8-mile hard loop. Each person would run every 8th loop. Teams had 30 hours to finish. The race elevation is entirely over 6,000 feet and the elevation gain and loss ranks among the most difficult in the entire Ragnar Trail catalog.

Ragnar Trail Zion Race View

I chose to run the easy loop first. Based on our pace estimates, that would have me running my longest loop in the middle of the night, where I could enjoy the cool air and crisp, clear skies. The easy loop turned out to be anything but. I started out too quickly and soon discovered the severe lack of oxygen compared with my sea level training. The sudden and frequent elevation changes added to the difficulty. I was frustrated with my first loop, but I learned a lesson about going out too fast at elevation.

Zion Ragnar Trail Squatch

On my night run, I got into a nice rhythm and never pushed until the end. The moon was bright, I could hear animals yipping and moving about, and I met several wonderful people, as you often do on the trails. At one point, I saw a woman running off trail and realized she had made a wrong turn. I yelled to her and she turned around just before she would have been out of earshot. Night running is not without it’s perils. I finished the “red loop” strong and slept very well after. In the morning, I headed out and put in my fastest time on the moderate loop. This loop featured extended altitude gain on sandy trails, followed by a long, sweeping drop down hard-packed horse trails. My previous hill training kept me in control throughout and I was thrilled to finish strong.

Ragnar Trail Zion Run

The venue for this race was terrific. From showers between runs, to great food, to a climbing wall and collective party area, this event supported everyone comfortably.

View from Bellagio

After the race, we drove to Las Vegas for a celebratory dinner and a night out. In the morning, I pointed my car back toward Oregon and made as much time as I could. The drive was beautiful and I only wound up stopping for about one hour at a rest stop for a nap before getting all the way home. As a team, we’re working on lining up another relay for 2017, as Ragnar exceeded everybody’s expectations for adventure, excitement, and fun.


American River 50 Mile Endurance Run Medal and Race Bib 2016

2016 American River 50 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

Just one month removed from my poor showing at the Salmon Falls 50k, I found myself back in the Sierra Nevada foothills for my first attempt at 50 miles. A lot changed in the previous month. I made the switch to liquid nutrition with occasional solid food to supplement. My long run pacing was now all about consistency and not spiking my heart rate. And I ran my longest run to date, 36 miles. Because this race would feature so much asphalt, I trained more on road than usual. My wife, Julie, and I drove down from Portland once again. This time, we took an extra day at the beginning and end of the trip so we could relax a bit. It turns out that all of these steps combined for a much more successful race.

The night before the race, we stayed at the Hampton Inn in Folsom. I’m pretty sure this is a new hotel. It was quiet, wonderfully appointed, and very clean. Compared with the screaming kids in the hotel room next door at the Best Western before the Salmon Falls 50k, this felt like the Ritz Carlton.

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run Gear Prep

I set out all my gear and went over my nutrition and pacing plan with my wife, who would be my crew for the race. I set alarms for 3am, 3:30am, and 4am, just in case. I jumped into bed around 9pm, but my heart was racing and it was hard not to think about the race the next day. I managed to get about 5 solid hours of sleep, which isn’t bad for me on race day. Breakfast consisted of a banana, a bite of a Pro Bar and a handful of dark chocolate-covered espresso beans. There was a shuttle bus from the Hampton, but Julie insisted on coming along to see me off. She was a trooper, considering how long of a day we were expecting. I was grateful to have a cozy car and seat warmers to relax with before the race.

Starting Line American River 50 Mile Endurance Run

Brown’s Ravine Marina provided the race start. There were fairly long lines for the restrooms, but things moved pretty quickly. As was the case with my previous race in this area, I was shocked to find that so many people knew each other. The running community around here is something else. I swallowed a Gu packet and we watched the first wave take off right at 6am. These were the runners expecting to finish the race in under 10 hours. Naturally, I was in wave 2 as I tend to drift toward the middle and back of the pack. I liked being able to start in a smaller wave where it would be easier for me to find my pace without being in anybody else’s way. My goal for the day was to finish under 12 hours. I would need to average 14:24/mile, including all aid station stops.

After a brief countdown, wave 2 slowly left the starting corral at 6:15am. Right off the bat, I recognized that I was getting caught up in the moment. Several times over the first mile, I reminded myself not to follow people who passed me and to reduce my speed. As we slipped off the asphalt onto trail for the first time, I eased into a comfortable pace. Recognizing that the first half of the race is mostly asphalt and generally flat, I targeted a pace around 12:30/mile for the first 25 miles. I got a sense of deja vu in this section. The first trail portion was the final trail portion of the Salmon Falls 50k. Dropping off the trail and onto the nearly mile-long dam section, I started chatting with a man named Eric from Livermore, CA. We would wind up chatting and running together for the next 20 miles.

My nutrition plan for the day revolved almost entirely around Tailwind. I had 2 bottles of Tailwind with caffeine for the start of the race, and I would use regular Tailwind for the remainder of the race. Ever since I started using liquid nutrition, I’ve found that I drink more frequently, even late in races. I have a bad habit of not eating anything at all until it’s much too late, so Tailwind has me covered. I planned to drink every 10 minutes and supplement my nutrition with boiled potatoes dipped in salt, occasional glasses of Coke, and a potato chip or two at aid stations. Julie surprised me with seedless red grapes at the aid stations she had access to.

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run Negro Bar Mile 20

20 miles in and feeling great.

There were aid stations at miles 5, 12.75, 17, and 20. Mile 20 was the first time I was able to see Julie. Up to this point, there was very little elevation gain. Eric and I had similar plans for the day and helped each other keep our pace in check. We both have a tendency to rush a little bit early on in races. Between miles 20 and 24, I started to feel a nasty pinch on the inside of my left knee. I never get pain there, so I attributed it to so much road running up to this point. From here on in, I shortened my stride and ran on gravel and rocks alongside the road, wherever I could. There were some nice trail sections between miles 24 and 29 and my knee seemed to appreciate the change in terrain. By the time I hit the Granite Bay aid station at mile 29.45, my knee pain had subsided.

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run Beals Point Mile 24

Enjoying the view at Beal’s Point, mile 24.

Eric picked up a pacer at mile 24 and I was feeling strong, so I left that aid station on my own. At this point, the course was mostly hard-packed single track with small hills and some rocky technical spots. I was happy to run in the shade of the trees, as the heat of the sun was starting to make things uncomfortable. At one point, I started chatting to a local guy named Martin, who also wasn’t enjoying the sun. The more we chatted, the faster we seemed to go and we clicked off some pretty quick miles together. We eased into the Granite Bay aid station, where Martin warned me to fill up on calories and top off all my fluids. We were about to hit some of the gnarliest terrain of the day, during one of the hottest periods of the day, and our next aid station was nearly 9 miles away. I was appreciative of his advice and took it to heart. Julie topped off all the bottles in my hydration vest and filled up the bladder with Tailwind. She shoved some grapes and potato chips in my mouth, followed by a couple espresso beans. Out of solidarity, she had a couple too. Neither of us was too excited about the taste and both spit out about half the beans. They were tastier first thing in the morning.

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run Granite Bay Mile 29

About to enter the Meat Grinder with Martin, mile 29.

Martin and I headed off together past a small sign identifying this next trail section: “The Meat Grinder.” I was surprised I hadn’t heard that monicker thrown around previous to the race. I braced myself for the worst, and headed in at a comfortable pace, averaging 13 to 14 minutes per mile throughout. Perhaps this is where my hilly, muddy Oregon trail training kicked in. I didn’t find this section overly difficult. I moved through methodically, shortening my stride on long uphills and dropping softly on long downhills. Other than a few technical, rocky sections, I was moving well. I turned around when I hit mile 30.1, to let Martin know we had just crossed the 50k threshold, and he was nowhere to be found. I looked around for him as I went around bends in the trail, but didn’t see him. I passed quite a few people in this section and a few who were really struggling with the heat.

I spiked my heart rate for the first time while climbing a hill a little too briskly at mile 34. I spiked it a second time during the same mile. And a third time as I entered mile 36. I reminded myself that it was a very long race and slowed down a bit to take some deep breaths. I also took a moment to acknowledge that every step beyond this point was a new distance record for me. I quickly popped in and out of the Horseshoe Bar aid station at mile 38, knowing Julie would be waiting for me with cold water and fresh Tailwind at mile 41.

The next couple miles were brutal. The heat and terrain made it difficult to maintain my pace. I wavered from 15 to 17-minute miles during this 3-mile stretch. The entrance to the Rattlesnake Bar aid station is an out and back trail where you drop off the trail and then have to climb back up to it. It was a bit of a pain avoiding other runners in each direction, but even more annoying that there were spectators sitting, standing, and walking on the parts of the trail where it was steepest and most narrow. I did my best to avoid them, but I know I bumped a few who I couldn’t get out of the way of. After 41 miles, I didn’t have the patience or ability to stop and turn on a dime. Hopefully, this gets roped off or something in the future.

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run Rattlesnake Bar

Dodging spectators at Rattlesnake Bar, mile 41.

At this point, I was a wreck. Emotionally, I was swinging wildly from elation to overwhelming gloom. My mind was still functioning, but my body was starting to feel weaker and weaker. I ate a couple potatoes with salt, and Julie topped up my fluids. I ate a few grapes and stopped for a second for some encouragement from Julie. I needed the reassurance at that point that I was going to make it and I headed back up the trail, knowing I wouldn’t see her again until the finish line.

The next couple of miles were a blur. There were some wide expanses of tall grasses separated by a deep horse trail, completely bathed in sunlight. It was somewhere around mile 42 when I heard something that shook me wide awake and fired me back up. A rattlesnake rattled a warning at me and rustled past me in the tall grass, just a few steps to my right. I immediately broke into a run and didn’t stop until the aid station at mile 44, where a nice volunteer filled up one of my bottles with ice water and another dunked my hat in the coldest water I’ve ever known. They must have recognized that I was beginning to overheat and needed the refreshment. A couple minutes after I left this aid station, I heard another runner coming fast. This would be the first and only time I was passed during the second half of the race. “Who in the heck could possibly be gaining on me?” I stepped off the trail and turned around to see a grinning Martin howling as he blasted past me. He yelled, “Back from the dead!” and disappeared into the forest, laughing maniacally. “He must have accidentally dunked a potato in cocaine at that last aid station,” I muttered to myself.

When I finally regained my composure in the last forested trail section, I was back to passing other runners regularly. I suppose the combination of the rattlesnake, the ice cold water, and what seemed at the time to be a figment of my imagination, but was simply a renewed Martin, pulled me back from the brink. Several runners were being nearly dragged along by their pacers. Others had simply decided to walk to the finish line. At mile 40, I had given up my hope of a sub-12 hour race, but with 3 miles to go, I felt renewed.

The last 5k of this race features nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain. I have long legs. I hike regularly. I train on hills. And this was going to be my moment. Steadily, I worked my way up the hill. Varied terrain awaited. Some asphalt, some dirt, some loose rock. Each time the elevation became less steep, I started running. I passed a couple dozen runners on this home stretch. At one point, a woman walking past encouraged me to listen closely to hear the voices of people cheering at the finish line. I told her that I’d been hearing voices for miles.

With one mile to go, I saw a discarded Maple Bacon Gu packet on the ground. I wondered, “What sort of maniac would reach for that flavor of Gu so close to the end of this race?”

You must be truly desperate to come to maple bacon gu for help at mile 49

With 3/4 of a mile to go, I reeled in a man who looked like he was struggling. I tried to encourage him.

Me: If we finish out this last mile at an 11:30 pace, we can still finish in under 12 hours!

Man: I was wave one.

Me: 12 hours and 15 minutes!

Man: …

My embarrassment complete, I started running uphill. I crested the final climb, turned two corners and found myself on the home stretch with a raucous, cheering crowd. I pushed hard across the line, feeling strong. 11:54:45. 14:18/mile. I had reached my goal, finished strong, and still felt great. A medic asked if I needed anything. I asked, “Is this where we donate toenails?” He laughed and I enjoyed the thought that I still had a functioning brain at this point.

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run Finish Line

Approaching the Finish Line, mile 50.

I received a medal, a fleece, and then a terrific greeting from Julie. We spent a few minutes admiring some of the professional athletes who stuck around after the race, including 3rd place female Nikki Kimball. Gordy Ansleigh had been telling stories and announcing finishers. I told my wife that I had a good feeling about Chris Denucci that morning and he did indeed win the race. It turns out that Martin finished 5 minutes ahead of me (he wasn’t a figment of my imagination after all), and Eric reached his 13-hour goal as well.

Filthy feet after American River 50 Mile Endurance Run

Dirt, dust, and a job well done.

This race goes down as my most successful run to date. I could have gone faster. I could have pushed myself more in the middle and late stages of the race, but I finished 5 minutes ahead of my goal time. I have a new nutrition strategy that works for me. I kept a balanced heart rate nearly the entire time. Julie was a rock all day. She texted me to remind me when to prepare to remove my vest to refill it at upcoming aid stations and kept me informed of upcoming restrooms, should I need one, and any tips she thought might be helpful as I headed out for each section. The race featured some beautiful views. I would have liked to spend more time on trail than on asphalt, but that’s part of what makes this race so unique. My only real complaint is that I would have liked to see a few more blazes. There were definitely times when I was running by myself for long stretches and didn’t see any flags for what seemed like forever. I never made any wrong turns. It would have been difficult to make wrong turns for the most part. I’m just a guy who likes occasional reinforcement after he lets his mind wander a bit while running. Ultimately, race director Julie Fingar and NorCalUltras do a great job with this event. I’m not surprised that this is the biggest 50-mile race in the country. Every aid station was well-stocked with great food and the volunteers were enthusiastic, helpful, and encouraging. I look forward to running in this area with these great people again soon.

Check out the video below and Strava GPS to see some photos and videos from the race along with the GPS data for the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run.

2016 Salmon Falls 50k Medal

2016 Salmon Falls 50k Race Report

This weekend, my wife and I took a whirlwind road trip from Portland to Coloma, California. I had registered to race the Salmon Falls 50k as part of my 100k race training. I didn’t look into the area before we left and it didn’t dawn on me until we got there exactly where we were. Our hotel was located in Auburn, near the finish line of the legendary Western States 100 mile race. We drove through Cool on the way to the race (home of the Way Too Cool 50k). As we passed along the American River, it dawned on me. This was the second time in six months that I had booked a trip to a trailrunning hotbed that hosted a major event. I realized that I was preparing to race against some legitimate hardcore runners and I felt a bit out of place.

At the starting line, big groups of runners started to gather. I felt like everybody already knew everybody else. I wasn’t surprised that there was such an incredible community of runners in this area. Then I started seeing familiar faces. Nike-sponsored Sally McRae bounced up to the packet pickup area. Five-time Western States winner Tim Twietmeyer wandered past with his trademark permanent grin. I was starstruck and intimidated. As the race prepared to kick off though, my nerves subsided.

Salmon Falls 50k Start

This is trail racing. If you’re an endurance runner, you’re already a part of the scene. If you’re willing to pour your heart and soul into training and if you leave it all on the course, you already belong. Race director Tim Casagrande offered a few last minute remarks. Everybody huddled in for a group photo and away we went.

Right off the bat, it was clear that this was a different race than anything I had been a part of before. This was only my second 50k race. My other race was the Silver Falls 50k that started on a road and allowed everybody to spread out right away. The Salmon Falls 50k start was on a rutty, narrow, hard, dirt road. In fact, that’s the thing that struck me the most about all the trails on this course. The ground was super hard. I guess I’ve grown accustomed to the soft dirt and mud of the Pacific Northwest.

Inside of the first mile, we came to a creek crossing. There was a series of stepping stones off to the left and a precarious fallen tree crossing off to the right. Noticing immediately that the water was only knee deep, I bounded through the creek. I left a whole lot of people behind who were lining up to try and stay dry. My combination of Wrightsocks and Altra Lone Peak 2.0s dry out so fast, I had no worries about the water. In fact, I was pretty excited for an early cool down.

I entered an area of long, sweeping uphill and downhill trails. The scenery was breathtaking. I was able to drop downhill with speed. I power hiked uphill in a rhythm that allowed me to recover and keep my heart rate low. The American River swept through the canyon to my left. The trail alternated between technical rocky patches and hard-packed tan and orange dirt. I was having so much fun running and enjoying the scenery that I forgot to eat anything. And so my struggles began. I knew what nutrition I had in each pocket of my hydration vest. But I still started doing a mental inventory because nothing sounded good to me. I wound up passing on food for the time being and sipped water, knowing an aid station was up ahead. It was mile 4.65 before I ate anything. I swallowed a small glass of Coke at the aid station. I dumped some jelly beans into my mouth while I started hiking the next long climb.

Salmon Falls 50k Mile 12

Somewhere around mile 8, I realized my breathing was becoming labored. I checked my GPS watch and realized I was moving at a 6:55/mile pace. My goal pace for this day was 12:30/mile. Idiot. I backed off and tried to just maintain a 12:30 pace as I dropped into the aid station at mile 13. The scene at this aid station was ridiculous. There was a DJ scratching records, some guy in a horse costume (might have been a cow? I didn’t pay much attention), and all sorts of people cheering and volunteering. I was beyond hungry, but I knew I couldn’t eat much of anything. I downed some Coke, a couple glasses of water, and two bites of a Pro Bar protein bar. I walked up to the bridge crossing and started jogging down the road toward the second half of the race. This was the run around Lake Folsom.

A Tale of Two Races

I expected things to get tough at this point, but I didn’t realize what I was in for. Running around lakes is not something that appeals to me. Viewpoints are sparse, hills are steep and frequent, pesky bugs are more frequent. This situation was no different, save for an overabundance of poison oak. Thanks to the race director’s pre-race warning about this miserable plant, I escaped unscathed.

The stretch from mile 16 to mile 24 was the longest unsupported section of the day. I planned for this and refilled my hydration bladder at mile 16. When I got to mile 24, I had to fill it again. The heat was brutal. I can’t remember the last time I ran in shorts and a t-shirt without gloves or arm sleeves. The weather was beautiful, but it was one more thing I wasn’t prepared for. I wound up with a sunburned neck for my efforts.

Salmon Falls 50k Home Stretch

I played leapfrog with several runners between miles 15 and 31. It seemed like those of us this far back in the pack were all suffering from one ailment or another. Every person I passed or who passed me throughout the day had a word of encouragement to share. People were checking on each other and anybody who was struggling received heartfelt encouragement. Every aid station volunteer asked how we were and encouraged us to eat and drink up. The people you meet on the trail are the best part of trailrunning and this race reinforced that idea. The aid station fare was also well-planned and delicious. I fell in love with seedless red grapes and I’ll try to carry them with me whenever I run long from now on.

As I approached the last mile of the race, I was a little confused by where to go. I guessed correct and wound up running along the top of a huge dam. This lasted more than half a mile before reaching the trail into the finish line. This is a brutal way to end a long race. Seeing the finish and hearing the crowd for ten minutes proved encouraging and devastating. The cheering crowd at the finish line was amazing though. Turning that final corner and hearing my name called by the announcer, I couldn’t help but smile. I didn’t meet any of my pace goals for the day. I was still elated to run across the line and claim my medal.

Salmon Falls 50k Finish Line

The Salmon Falls 50k is a great race. The scenery, volunteers, planning, and execution were all terrific. With paid registration, we received quality jackets and race photos. I can’t think of a single thing to complain about. From the hard-packed terrain to the brutal elevation changes in the second half of the course. This is trail racing. You can’t always predict what you’ve gotten yourself into. You can prepare for every eventuality and still find yourself in pain on race day. It’s like Haruki Marukami said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Download and review more race details with the Garmin GPX file below.

Race day gear:
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 2.0
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, 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.

SF Marathon Medal

2015 San Francisco Marathon Race Report

When you first start running, you tend to think small. Maybe running around the block is your goal. Perhaps running an entire mile without stopping to walk. Eventually, you start to think a little bigger. Maybe you train for that first 5k. Maybe a 10k. And for some people, that is enough. But there are those ambitious enough to start eyeing a half marathon. And if that goes well, the possibility of a full marathon comes into view. At some point, you get comfortable on long runs. You find a rhythm and pace that feels like cruising and you realize that distance is no longer the challenge. Your new enemy is time. There are so many great races out there; so many incredible places to see. Deciding on a race can be overwhelming. But there are those destinations that make the decision easier. Places so spectacular to visit that they top the list of any vacation plans, let alone a destination marathon. San Francisco easily fits that mold.

My personal relationship with running can likely be characterized as obsessive. Nothing clears my head at the end of a workday like a hilly 10k. No weekend is complete without at least a half marathon training run. If I’m exploring a new trail, cruising along a river, or tackling technical trail to find an expansive mountain view, even better. But when injuries crop up that prevent me from running, I’m nothing short of distraught. I feel aimless. I get cranky. That’s the position I found myself in two short weeks ago.

I stepped off a bar stool and my right leg locked up at the knee. The pain was excruciating. I could barely ride my bicycle home that evening. Six months ago, I had put the San Francisco Marathon on my calendar. Now it was 9 days away and I could barely walk. I was fortunate to get an appointment with my physical therapist, who rubbed, massaged, poked, prodded and beat on my leg until I was able to perform various exercises satisfactorily. I felt mildly better after the appointment and improved greatly over the following days. Once I had my confidence back, I was able to continue with my taper week running, although I missed out on an 8-miler that would have been my last somewhat long fitness run before the race. I asked my PT for a couple sentences on just what in the heck happened to me.

Your tibia/fibula joint was “jammed”, likely due to a mild strength imbalance in your hip extensors. The speed work increased the demand on these muscles and the stability of the joint causing it to get “sticky” and when you put your foot down quickly, the joint stuck, or jammed, and as a result, you also got a muscle spasm of the popliteus/plantaris, the muscles that unlock the knee from extension. When you increase the output demands on your body, the mildest imbalances can get highlighted and cause “alignment” issues.

Right. So that hurts about as badly as it sounds. On the bright side, by the time the race rolled around, I had no lingering effects and I was excited to get out there and set a new marathon record for myself. Even though San Francisco features double the elevation gain of the Portland Marathon, I am a much stronger runner than I was ten months ago for my first marathon. I felt that I had every reason to be optimistic.

My wife and I arrived in San Francisco Saturday, one day before the race. We headed to the expo to pick up my race bib and various other swag. We got settled into our SoMa AirBnB and went out to The Flying Pig for dinner. If you happen to be gluten intolerant, you should seek this gem out for everything from breakfast to late night fare. The food was fantastic. Because my wave 3 start would leave the starting line at 5:42am, we decided to turn in early. Unfortunately, our home for the night turned out to be a door-slamming factory of some type. I estimate that I slept less than an hour all night. On the bright side, I didn’t need my alarm because I was already awake.

We ordered an Uber and rode to the starting line for a few quick photos before I headed to my corral. The weather was very mild and the temperature was comfortable in the low 60s. There was some issue with the audio technology and nobody could hear the emcee barking out instructions near the starting line. Before we knew it, our wave was being shuffled to the front. A quick countdown and we were off. We left the starting line right on time, while it was still dark outside.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk

I was a little disappointed at mile 1 that the darkness and fog prevented a view of Coit Tower. I didn’t dwell on it too much, as I knew there would be many landmarks still to come. I made quick work of the first 2.5 miles, passing Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason and the first aid station at a 7’28” pace. Unfortunately, my smartphone GPS had failed me. I had no idea how fast I was going. My goal pace was in the neighborhood of 9’40” per mile. According to my Nike+ feedback, I was hovering close to 9’30” per mile and I was feeling confident. Soon, I found myself buzzing through Crissy Field on the way to the first real climb of the day. A guy behind me tripped and fell flat out. Fortunately, he had a handheld bottle and he slid on that for a few feet, dragging his legs behind him. He quickly gathered himself up and moved on. Close call.

SF Marathon Golden Gate Phil Krooswyk

From the Presidio, I passed through mile 5 and up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The sun was up now, but the fog showed no signs of lifting. The bridge looked like a haunting goliath waiting to destroy my pace, but up I went. The elevation gain here wasn’t as bad as I thought. I pulled out my GoPro and shot several videos while crossing over the bridge. I was happy to see that Alcatraz was in plan view from the bridge. Once across, I hit the aid station for a package of Gu Chomps and hustled back out to recross the bridge. While crossing the bridge for the second time, I heard my GPS announce that I was at mile 9.75. This was curious, because I was staring at the Mile 9 course marker. I knew my GPS was way off now, but it seemed to be swinging wildly from underestimating my distance to overestimating it. I had no idea what my actual pace was. I started listening for my total time and measuring that against the miles I had already covered. I’m not great at math in my head. Particularly when hurtling through San Francisco at breakneck speed trying to avoid other runners and stay vertical on wet pavement and metal beams that hold the bridge together. By mile 11, I figured out that I must be under 8’30” per mile. I started to relax a little bit on the hills.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk Park

Between miles 10-13, the course featured a great deal of vertical climb heading into Golden Gate Park. My wife had planned to meet me at the halfway point, but because my pace was so far ahead of expectations, I got there before her Uber arrived. She called me and we agreed to meet up at mile 16. I continued on my way through the park. I was excited to see the bison paddock and was still feeling strong around mile 15. That’s when I noticed a curiously familiar pain building up in my right leg. My tibia injury was back. At first I jostled the leg while running, hoping to just pop it loose. By the time I reached my wife, I was in agony. There would be no quick fix on this run.

All this time, I had been carrying a whole lot of gear. I had a portable charger for my phone. My phone battery had barely survived the previous marathon and I didn’t want to take any chances. I removed that and handed it to my wife. I also unloaded the GoPro. I wasn’t in any mood to shoot additional video. Finally, I got rid of my sunglasses. Had I taken any time to view a weather report before the race, I never would have taken them along. Down to only the essentials, I hobbled toward the last ten miles of the race.

By mile 17, my pace had risen to 9’09” per mile. I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that each step was proving very painful. I was also hungry. I can only eat so many Gu gels. My wife had offered me a Picky Bar, but I was craving real food. Bacon and eggs. Maybe some pancakes. Something. I entered Haight-Ashbury during the breakfast hour and the smells caused my stomach to rumble. I swallowed another Gu gel and did the best I could to ignore the aromas.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk Haight Ashbury

From here on in, I walked the aid stations and alternated between water and electrolyte drinks. I was surprised by how much of the second half of the course was uphill. I knew that miles 15 through 17 were tough, but 18 through 20 didn’t seem any easier. Frustrated and in pain, my pace continued to rise. By mile 23.5, my pace was up to 9’32” per mile. I actually stopped at one point to eat a gel and rest my leg, but the pain became worse. I tried to walk for a stretch. The pain decreased at first, then increased. As painful as it was to run, it was the only way to consistently keep the pain down. Somewhere near the end of mile 24, a man held out a tray of watermelon. I scooped up a block of it and hungrily destroyed it. It was the coldest, most delicious thing I could imagine at that moment. Only one aid station had cold beverages, and that was very early on. I had run out of water in my handheld bottle around mile 20. There were plenty of aid stations, but I was still running low on fluids. I don’t know that I was ever in danger of overheating, but I tend to be wary of that sort of thing.

One thing that made this race even more difficult was a lack of mile markers. After mile 19, I didn’t see a single marker. With my GPS acting screwy and no idea of my actual pace, I became totally frustrated. During long races and big efforts, it’s easy to go to dark places mentally. Every race is an opportunity to practice your response to these dark places. I had shared my Nike+ run on Facebook and I was receiving cheers every time someone liked my post or commented on it. I was glad I shared. Some of those cheers were the reminders that snapped me back to reality. I told myself to live in the moment, take one step at a time, and just get this done.

Finally, at mile 25, I arrived at AT&T Ballpark. I had run here one time previously when I visited San Francisco in 2014. The familiarity of it was encouraging and I felt a bit of confidence for the first time in many miles. Maybe I was delirious from pain and lack of nutrients. It didn’t matter. I perked up a little and would run from here on in. No more walking. Perhaps it was hobbling. Or stumbling. It didn’t matter. Running is moving forward. Good enough.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk ATandT Park

Just past the aid station at mile 25.5, a man behind me tripped and fell. I stopped at first to help him up. I saw his head raise and then slowly drop back down. It was immediately apparent that he was unconscious. Several other runners and spectators were already surrounding him screaming for a doctor and running toward the aid station for help. Realizing there was nothing I could do, I moved on. It’s a frightening thing to see. I had seen this twice in the Portland Marathon as well. People falling and knocking themselves out. Just three days before the race, a friend bragged to me that she thought she could finish a marathon, no problem. She isn’t a runner, but she claims to be in decent shape and doesn’t see what the big deal is. I immediately thought of her when I saw this man fall. He was in great shape. But things go wrong. Maybe his nutrition was off. Maybe he was dehydrated. Maybe he did everything right, but just happened to catch his toe on a manhole cover. Whatever the issue, marathons are not to be taken lightly. Don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise. Marathons are a test of will. They push you further than you ever thought you could go and they will destroy you if you don’t respect them. I encourage everyone to try one someday, but prepare yourself physically and mentally for one of the toughest challenges of your life. Pulling myself back together, I turned for home.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk Home Stretch

As I passed under the Bay Bridge, I finally saw the finish line. I could have cried. I was passed frequently in the final quarter mile by runners who saved something for that last home stretch. Unfortunately, I had nothing left. I just kept my pace and crossed the line safely, happy to be done. I shut off my GPS and headed back to the AirBnB. We had to check out in an hour. Later on, I checked my official time on the marathon website. I finished in 4 hours and 15 minutes with a pace of 9’46” per mile, 4 minutes slower than my Portland Marathon time.

SF Marathon PK Finish Line

I was so depressed with my leg situation and my finish time, that I didn’t even take the time to enjoy finishing the marathon. It wasn’t until several days later that I started to appreciate the effort. My wife and I spent a couple days recuperating in Napa. I found a hot tub at the hotel and in less than 10 minutes, my leg pain disappeared. Apparently, bubbles are the key. Either way, I will be seeing my PT again very soon.

Now, I set my sights on the Chicago Marathon in October. Chicago has virtually no elevation change. And I have plenty of time to heal before then. I suppose I better get to it. I really want that marathon personal best. Training begins now.

Enjoy some of the GoPro video and sights from the marathon in the video below.

River Running Eugene

Pacific Northwest Half Marathon 2015 Race Report

While my physical therapy is going really well and I’m getting stronger all the time, I still lost too much training time to make an attempt at the full marathon in May, as I had previously planned. This was meant to be my “A” race this year, but the race organizer was very cool to allow me to switch to the half marathon when I realized a full marathon was out of the question. I was excited to check out this race for a number of reasons.

First, this would be my first trip to Eugene. All I ever associated with Eugene was the University of Oregon and a burgeoning craft brewery scene. Both of which turned out to be amazing. If you get the chance to visit the sports complex, take advantage of it. That football stadium, in particular, is something else.

Second, this was the inaugural running of this race. I don’t make a habit of seeking out the newest races, but reading how this would be “flat and fast” by design was enticing. I say this pretty often, but running a race in order to tour a new city is always appealing to me. This was a nice opportunity to tour a new place at a comfortable pace and still score a PR.

Finally, my wife had signed up for the half marathon. This was to be her first half marathon and I was psyched to see her accomplish her goal. At first, I was disappointed to give up my full marathon hopes. When I realized that I would get to pace my wife, I perked right back up. Watching her achieve her goal would be just as rewarding and I always enjoy running with her.

We rented an AirBnB about two miles from the starting line. There was ample parking near the race. We joined everyone else in the empty first floor of a newly-constructed building to stay warm. The call eventually came to form up on the starting line, final instructions were read, and we were turned loose.

Throughout the race, the instructions were all very clear. Cones, sidewalk chalk, volunteers and warning tape were placed well and liberally to ensure nobody got lost. There were several quality aid stations to take care of everyone. One station in particular was stocked with more energy gels than I’ve ever seen before. We topped off our energy with bananas, water, and sports drinks throughout the race.

There had been some route changes in the weeks before the race. We thought we’d get to run along the rivers more often, but it turns out we only had about 1/2 mile of riverside running in the entire race. That was too bad, but it was still a beautiful, sunny day and the flat nature of the race made for an enjoyable cruise through several neighborhoods.

My wife and I had decided that 2 hours and 30 minutes would be a good goal for our race. My wife is the most consistent runner I’ve ever seen. It’s like she has an internal clock that she runs to. I’ve never been a super consistent runner when it comes to pace, but she was incredible even at total exhaustion. In the end, we wound up finishing in 2:20:52 at a 10’31” per mile pace. We were both thrilled with the result.

Finish Line Pacific Northwest Marathon

I was very impressed with my wife’s resolve throughout the race, but particularly at the end. The last three miles, she couldn’t eat any food and was struggling to keep it together. She never walked and we finished at a strong run, hand-in-hand, and smiling. The crowd at the finish line was tremendous. I have never heard more cheering at the finish of a race. I don’t know if it was the home stretch between rows of tall buildings that allowed the noise to echo or if this crowd was particularly vociferous, but it was a very uplifting feeling. After finishing the race, we filled up on finish line food and enjoyed some post-race treatment from the readily available massage therapists.

After the race, we spent a fair amount of time brewery-crawling and exploring. We brought home a whole mess of beer and cider from the Bier Stein and devoured their nachos, pretzels, beer cheese soup and more. This was a great place to celebrate a successful effort.

Bier Stein Pretzels

In the end, I highly recommend this race. The race shirts and medals were well-designed and while it was obviously a small organization in charge of the race, they gave it a personal feel and worked very hard to make it a success. If you’re looking for an Oregon race that also happens to be a Boston qualifier, you’d be hard-pressed to choose a better race than the Pacific Northwest Marathon.