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.

Trail Running Herman Creek Columbia River Gorge

5 Lessons Old Guys Taught Me About Running

During the recent Salmon Falls 50k race, I had a fun interaction with a couple older runners. These two guys were teasing me on the trail that I had blocked them out of the group photo at the race start. I’m 6’3″ and that does tend to happen. I chastised them back by mentioning that the race director (RD) asked me to stand tall to improve the handsomeness of the photo and block some of the riffraff. A little later on in the race, these guys confidently jogged past me as I was struggling to power hike a low-incline hill. Again they gave me grief about blocking them out of the photo. This time I told them I was about to take a nap, but I’d catch up to them later on. I mentioned that the RD also asked me to spend some time at the finish line to improve the race finish photos for all the old guys. We shared a laugh and away they went. That was around mile twelve. I never saw them again.

In January, I was running around the Willamette bridge loop. An old guy caught up to me and seemed to slow for a moment. He gave me a glance and then took off. I recognized the challenge and stayed on his heels. I managed to keep up with him for three full miles before we went our separate ways. A quick wave and I headed for the Hawthorne Bridge and home. Throughout the run, I was watching his stride. It seemed effortless. He didn’t bounce with each step like I did. He never seemed to take a quick breath. Just long, slow breaths and the most consistent pace ever. No headphones. No distractions. Just blasting around the river and taking me to school. I felt fortunate to recognize his fluidity and effortless stride and consistent gait.

That’s the same thing that struck me about the old guys at the Salmon Falls race. Super consistent and effortless. They joked with everybody they passed. The last time I spoke to them, I was nearly gasping.

Now, a qualification. I say “old guys” with utmost respect. These men were all in their upper 50s or lower 60s. At 36 years old, I’m still referred to as “kid” by a lot of old guys I see on the trail. When I say old, I don’t mean it in any derogatory way. Having just started my running habit fewer than three years ago, I know I’m still a beginner and have much to learn. I am hungry to improve and I read books and blogs constantly looking for any tips. I study my successes and failures on race day in order to remedy nutrition and hydration errors. Every training run and every race is an opportunity to get better.

Without further ado, here are the running lessons I’ve learned from old guys. To be fair, some of these lessons have also been reinforced by older women I’ve met on the trail. Running wisdom obviously isn’t exclusive to one gender.

  1. Set a comfortable pace and stick with it. I have a terrible habit of going out really strong on race day, only to hit a wall. I wind up walking as much as running during the second half of many races. When I get skunked by old guys in races, it’s because they have their pace dialed in. They’ve been training on long runs at that same pace they’ll use on race day. They don’t get caught up in the moment. They don’t spike their heart rate trying to separate from the pack on a long uphill. They don’t see people passing them early on and panic. Old runners stick to the plan. The endurance running adage goes something like this: start out slow and then go slower.
  2. Move efficiently. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. It took months of physical therapy to iron out my erratic running motion. I bounced when I ran, wasting precious power vertically that could have been used to propel me forward. I never fully extended my legs behind me, which was robbing me of the power of toe-off and stunting the forward continuous rotation of my legs. I wasn’t twisting my hips at all, which was forcing my legs to land out in front of my torso and making balancing more difficult. A proper stride should feel natural and somewhat effortless, but it doesn’t come easy for many of us. From heel strike to slouching at the shoulders, so many of us are guilty of allowing bad habits to rob us of speed and endurance.
  3. Never deviate from your nutrition and hydration plan. At the second aid station I arrived at during a recent 50k, an older volunteer asked me if I was eating enough. He had the build of a runner, but I just assumed he was being silly. I was only an hour into the race. How many calories could I possibly have consumed so far? It turns out that my nutrition was way off. I should have been taking in more than 200 calories per hour on race day. Up to that second aid station, I had taken in nothing but water. It sounds like such a rookie mistake, but when you feel good at the beginning of a race, you can get caught up in the moment. I didn’t want to slow down to take in a gel or stop for a handful of potato chips at the first station. I bonked hard in that race, even though I felt that my training had been perfect. It wasn’t my fitness level. It was my terrible nutrition choices on race day. I’ve recently been working with liquid nutrition, like Tailwind. Sip every 10 minutes, supplement calories with gels or potatoes. I’m excited to try it out on race day.
  4. Train with a partner. Or two. Or ten. I rarely see old guys running by themselves on the weekend. Perhaps they do during the week. But when it comes to long training runs, they run in pairs or groups. And on race day, there they are. Running together at an agreed-upon pace that they know will work. They check each other’s effort and nutrition. And sometimes, they talk about where they like to go for pancakes after a run and they make your stomach growl during a 50k race. It’s harder to shorten a training run when you have a partner who will push you. It’s easier to make it through a difficult training run or race when you have someone who will joke with you and provide encouragement. During my most recent race, I listened to two older women discussing their running group. “Danny is in Mexico, but Ray is around. He’s still dealing with a quad issue from that 25k run.” They went through the rundown of their entire running group. It was clear that they cared about those other runners and wanted to see them succeed. That kind of encouragement on a regular basis is priceless.
  5. Leave the ladies alone. This lesson is one that I never struggled with, but one I felt obligated to call out anyhow. I’ve been in multiple races where groups of guys were running together and they had something to say to everybody who ran past. It’s all fun and games with other men, generally. But for some reason, every woman that ran near them got a fair share of mysogynistic nonsense. Comments about looks, short shorts, tight clothing and even sexual overtures make you sound like an idiot. Whether this is a generational thing or just a small cross section of morons who have infiltrated the running world, don’t be one of these jackasses. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about endurance running, it’s that distance levels the playing field. The longer the race, the more likely that women will finish as well as men. My massage therapist recently noted that of her husband and wife clients, men are the babies and women are the ones with higher pain thresholds. Let’s stop eyeing women as “the fairer sex” when we’re out running and start seeing them for what they really are: hardworking competitors who deserve respect. Let’s keep the catcalling out of our sport.

Those are my top five lessons learned from old guys. I’m sure there are way more lessons that I’ll come to recognize in time. What did I miss in this list? Have you picked up any nuggets of wisdom or helpful advice from an older runner? Comment to let me know.


Henry Hagg Lake Loop

Henry Hagg Lake Loop Mud Run

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I woke up to an unexpected sunny day. Taking full advantage of the weather, we went looking for a new trail to run. After so much time spent on the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park this winter, I felt eager to branch out. I love the Wildwood, but after running it almost every weekend for two months, I needed a change of scenery. Spring-like weather led us to Henry Hagg Lake southwest of Portland. Neither of us was familiar with this area, save for the 50k and 25k Mud Runs that take place here every winter. Our run happened to fall on the weekend before the races.

Henry Hagg Lake Loop Trail

An unusual stretch of several dry weather days left the trail in pretty good condition. There were pockets of slippery, mucky mud. For the most part, we ran easy over soft dirt and rolling hills. This trail is also well-known as a mountain bike trail. We felt fortunate to take advantage of the trail before the bikers and runners tore into it later in the season.

Henry Hagg Loop Trail Phil Krooswyk

We paid the park entry fee ($4 or $5) and parked at the dam. Starting off, we entered the forest right away and enjoyed the intense green of the flora. Though we trudged along at times, we put together some quick segments as well. From time to time, the trail blasts out of the forest and into wide open expanses with no shade of any kind. We welcomed these areas and soaked in the sun whenever possible.

Henry Hagg Lake Loop Mud Run

Our final mileage total was 13.7 miles. In the end, we realized this was my wife’s longest distance and mileage run ever. I’m not a huge fan of lake runs. But the hills around Henry Hagg Lake were more gradual than most and the scenery was terrific. All told, we only saw a one or two other runners and fewer than ten hikers. It turns out that a warm winter day when the weather is dry is the perfect time to enjoy this trail.

Henry Hagg Lake Trail Lizard

Phil and Julie Henry Hagg Lake Trail 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
Trail Running Muddy Henry Hagg Lake

Running Books for Inspiration, Training, and Cycle-Breaking

It’s winter here in the Pacific Northwest. And while I appreciate the mild temperatures that allow me to get outside (compared to my previous home in Chicago), the rain (and snow) have taken their toll. I’ve tried to stay positive regarding my training, but it hasn’t been easy. From unexpected ice on steep trails to downed trees from overwhelming winter storms, to shoe-sucking mud that pulls you down like quicksand in a cartoon, I’ve found it difficult to keep a smile on my face. I have more cuts and bruises on my body than I’ve ever had before. Every piece of running gear I own is stained with mud and blood.

After my successful first 50k race back in November, I was feeling confident. A little too confident, probably. I had beaten my goal time, felt amazing afterward, and was optimistically anticipating another unseasonably dry and warm winter. So I signed up for a 100k race in April. Then the rain came. And the storms blew through and wreaked havoc on every trail in the Gorge. And winter dragged on and I started missing my long run goals. An alcohol-fueled late night online shopping session found me trying to avert the training blues by signing up for an upcoming 50k in a warmer, drier climate. But even that hasn’t fully inspired me to hit my training goals, even though the 50k is just two weeks away.

Queue my last-resort secret weapon of choice: running books. From fiction novels to encyclopedic training programs, nothing inspires me like a good running book. There are several I keep close at hand for just these situations. Some are stories of challenges overcome, some feature the ins and outs of endurance training and racing, and others feel like a perfectly targeted kick in the pants. No matter what, I’m always much more eager to lace up my filthy, mud-caked trail pigs for another extended jaunt in the elements. I’m including links to each of these, but keep in mind that these are all available from the library — many as audiobooks or digital downloads. Let’s get started, in no particular order.

Once a Runner by John L Parker, Jr.

I’ve never been a competitive runner. Not really. I didn’t run cross-country in high school or track in college. I never ran around my block until I was 33 years old. My 9th place finish in my age group in the 2015 Lincoln City Half Marathon remains my best showing, but there were only 15 men in my age group. But something about this book seems to speak to the competitive nature in me that I didn’t even know existed. This is a fictional account of a competitive college-age runner. There are incredible details related to the sort of wonderful and terrible feelings you experience as a runner when you push your boundaries. I see this book now has a sequel and a prequel. I haven’t read either of those, partly because I don’t want to ruin the special relationship I feel with this book.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

This nonfiction account of Murakami’s life as an endurance athlete is a significant departure from the surreal fiction he’s known for. This book helps to keep me grounded while also reminding me that my greatest rival will always be me. Admire the athletes who surround you while training and racing, but don’t compare yourself to them. Everybody has their own road to travel.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

This is the gateway drug of running books. Scott Jurek, Jenn Shelton, the Tarahumara Indians, El Caballo Blanco, Ann Trason, Eric Orton… The list goes on and on. This account of mostly true early ultra running folklore introduced me to some of my most heralded endurance athlete heroes. Just try to read this book without seeking out Eric Orton’s The Cool Impossible or Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run, Jenn Shelton’s terrific essays or Ann Trason’s trophy history. Hollywood is turning this one into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey as El Caballo Blanco. Hopefully, the focus of the movie is the same as the book: overcoming incredible odds and pushing beyond previous limits. They’ll probably turn it into a terrible love story.

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek

This book is a great introduction to Scott and a killer recipe book as well. From his difficult family situation at a young age to discovering his passion for endurance athletics, the book doubles as a memoir. The Seven-time Western States winner has a lot to say about his mental training for endurance racing and he shares the recipes he relies on to keep up his intense training effort. The onigiri recipe has become a staple of my long distance nutrition plan.

Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell

This is an unflinching look at what it takes to become an ultra runner, but it also features solid advice for anybody hitting the trails. Honest and straightforward advice comes from several heroes of the trail running community. Even if you never run anything longer than a half marathon, I believe this book should be part of your running education. There are training programs for several distances that you can apply to your own race plan.

You’re tougher than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can. – Ken Choulber, Leadville Trail 100-mile founder

Field Guide to Ultrarunning by Hal Koerner

If you’re really going to go for it in the ultramarathon world, this book deserves a spot on your shelf. Hal Koerner is a legend in his own right and his advice is indispensable. This comprehensive handbook will prepare you for running any ultra distance, with training plans, nutrition suggestions, race day advice, and gear suggestions from one of the masters. This book is more fun than it should be and always inspirational.

These are the books that inspire and motivate me. There are several more that I could have added to the list, Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra, for instance. But the list of favorite running books can be a rabbit hole and I wanted to keep this list just to my absolute favorite books. What do you think? Am I crazy for suggesting any of these? Am I obviously missing any? Comment to let me know.

Mount Hood from Trillium Lake Snowshoeing

Trillium Lake Mount Hood Snowshoeing

While the weather hasn’t been perfectly conducive to outdoor activities, I was able to escape to the wildly popular Trillium Lake on a gorgeous, sunny day. Five of us ventured to Government Camp and, despite the crowd at the parking lot, we had the loop pretty much to ourselves. Most of the other folks we saw were nordic skiing. The road is divided 50/50 for skiers and snowshoers, so there’s plenty of room for everyone.

Trillium Lake Government Camp

We viewed Mount Hood in all it’s glory with the afternoon sun putting on a light show. The entire trek turned out to be just under 5 miles and the effort was rather light.

Trillium Lake Loop Hike Snowshoeing

The only downside was the hillbilly with his kid on his lap trying to put on snow chains for 30 minutes while blocking the exit. By the time we left, the mountain was clearing out and traffic was a bit of a mess. We had good company to enjoy, so nobody complained about the traffic too much. All in all, this is a great beginner trek for snowshoe novices. We walked on the frozen lake a little bit and soaked in the mountain views. If you live nearby and you haven’t gotten out there yet this year, do yourself a favor and get after it. Winter won’t last forever. Check out the video below for more scenes from our excursion.

Phil Silver Falls 50k Finisher

2015 Silver Falls 50k Race Report

“Hey, did you call me?”

“Oh yeah, sorry, I butt-dialed you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the Flour

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

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

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

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

Silver Falls 50k Starting Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silver Falls 50k Mile 14 Aid Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil Silver Falls 50k Trail Race Mile 28

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

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

Silver Falls 50k Final Bridge

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

Silver Falls 50k Finish Chute

2015 Silver Falls 50k Medal

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

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

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

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

Finisher Silver Falls Half Marathon Medal

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

Julie Silver Falls Half Marathon North Falls

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

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

Chicago Marathon Medal

2015 Chicago Marathon Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philip Krooswyk Chicago Marathon

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

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

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

Phil Chicago Marathon Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil Chicago Marathon Finisher

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

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

Phil Chicago Marathon Finisher Medal

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

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

Trail Run Columbia River Gorge

Gorge 400 Trail Training Run

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