Wallace Falls 50k

(March 3, 2018)

As I have stated before, the Pacific Northwest is filled with numerous jewels for trail racing. I stumbled upon this inaugural race on a trail which I thought was just for families. I signed up and then about 3 weeks before the race had a chance to run the full loop. After the 2 – 2.5 mile trek mostly uphill to the lower, middle, and then upper Wallace Falls (all with decent views), there is a quarter mile extension – beyond the warning signs – which leads you up to a fire road. It extends about 2.5 miles to an intersection. One trail takes you out to Wallace Lake and Jay Lake behind it. The road veers back to a trail which loops back to the start via the Greg Bell trail, longer and an easier descent than the trip up. It took me nearly 3 hours to do the full 13 mile route as I hesitated at some intersections and also stopped to take pictures and eat some lunch. All in all a gorgeous circle and had me pumped for race day. The 50k would be one full circle and then two limited circles out to Wallace Lake (9 miles each).

On race morning it was a bit cold but the skies were already blue as the ~25 runners lined up to hear the instructions. Mostly younger runners and a few friends as well. There was a 22 mile and 9 mile variation which would start later in the morning. I took it very slow the first time up to Wallace Falls although there is actually quite a bit of runnable trail while you climb. Once we got close to the top we began seeing small snow drifts and as we made our way past Upper Falls we were running on snow and ice. Surprise! As we made it out to the road there was a bank of snow a foot deep covering the easy going course I had flown through just a few weeks earlier. Not today. There was a narrow (18-24″) path which other runners had made. I was close to a few other runners and we followed suit and began our way. The views up top were tremendous but unfortunately it was important to keep your eyes on the path ahead, lest you veer off. We hit the intersection and made the right turn which got us more onto a trail but it was also covered in snow. After a short distance we hit the aid station which was perfectly placed and staffed with cheery, ultra-savvy crew.

This first loop had us going out to Jay Lake which was a lollipop of about 4 miles.  Again, on normal days a wide open flat crushed dirt trail which you could fly on, but today a bit of a struggle to get any speed going. Plus, runners were now coming back at us making for some quick side stepping into mounds of snow. Some of this snow was packed tougher and it was possible to run on top of it. There were a few creeks to jump over and some short icy bridges to carefully step across. Finally, we made it to the turnaround and slowly plowed our way back to the aid station.

There were a fair number of runners together here but as I left the aid station and made my way over to the Greg Bell trail it became more isolated. Greg Bell was snowy but runnable and while there were plenty of curves and switchbacks, nothing too dangerous. Still, you had to be careful, especially the first time as you just didn’t know what was ahead. After about a mile the snow/slush began disappearing and it was just dirt. Now the fun began and it was possible to pick up some real speed. Not too many roots to avoid. I was passed by 2-3 of the younger crowd. It was nice having run the course before hand as I knew what to expect. I made my way back to the start where an aid station was set up. I had done the 13.1 mile loop in 2:45. I grabbed some chips, ginger ale and then realized that I had not taken any gels the first 3 hours of running! Amazingly, I was still pretty fresh – there is something about running slowly in snow (see Mountain Lakes 100) as it doesn’t seem to burn fuel at nearly the same rate. Anyhow, as I headed back out for my second loop, a shorter 9 mile effort, I quickly downed a vanilla gel.

Wallace Falls 2018

The crowds on this beautiful day were now forming and we had passed some impressively sized groups on the way to the trailhead. We now had to figure out how to skirt around them in the climb back up Wallace Falls. Somehow, they seemed to break into smaller groups and it turned out to not be a big deal as people here were polite and let the runners slide by. More on that later.

I made my way to the top with one other guy just ahead of me. I was finding some good tunes and as I looked over to my left to see mountains and valleys it occurred to me that I really needed a pic of this view. Note to self to grab my phone after loop 2. I kept a nice steady pace through the snow gap that had been created, eventually passing the runner ahead of me and got to the aid station in decent time. Oranges, bananas, chips – a nice layout of goodies for the quick stop. I jumped back onto the snow for the connector piece back to Greg Ball and started making some decent time. And then proceeded to fall.

It wasn’t too bad as I caved into the middle of the trail onto the snow. I could feel my knee get skinned by the crust of ice that I fell over. The laughter here was way more than the pain – no one around, I picked myself up and headed over to the Greg Ball trail, plowing down it with a nice pace. No one passed me this time. I got into the aid station at about 5:05, slightly over my target but really enjoying the day. I switched out to my backup Zune and grabbed my phone, also stopping to chat with the race director and folks at the base aid station.

The third loop, also 9 miles, was a bit slower going up the trail – walking more sections than before, but still very much enjoying the day. I stopped to grab a few pictures one the snow road and walked a short bit to get some food into me. Otherwise it was another steady loop with no breaks, and no falls.

Wallace Falls Snow 2018

I was making my way over to the aid station and saw a couple ahead – the husband 30 yards ahead of his wife. Both had dogs with them. I came up to the woman and as normal, I commented “one behind you”, or something like that. She didn’t move. OK, I stopped and then started walking onto the middle of the path, my feet sinking into the snow with each step. She kept walking beside me so we were side by side for about 10 seconds. She clearly didn’t want me to pass her or was dumber than a doornail and didn’t think to stop. She said something like “Oh well” and I went back behind her for a few steps, stewing a bit and figuring out what to do. I then found another gear and went beside her again, this time in full sprint trying not to fall and said “Thanks for nothing” as I raced by. Her husband stepped into the middle section and let me pass by, per normal protocol. (Of course his mean looking man-eating dog stayed in the path which caused another slight delay).

After sharing my story with the aid stations dudes, I bounced back to finish off the downhill. I checked in at 7:34 which is pretty slow for a 50k but given the snow an acceptable time. The 8 hour time limit had been extended to 9 hours but even then nearly half of the group had to downgrade to either the 22 mile offering or stop after the first 13 miles. It was a good test to my mental strength to tackle an unexpected challenge without losing confidence or fortitude.


Wallace Falls Ouch
It’s Not a Trail Race Until Blood Is Shed





The Need for Speed

With the debacle of the San Diego 50 behind me, I returned to marathon form. I noticed late last year that there would be a series of flat, fast marathons in the area in the December – February period. I have become more ambivalent about my time on races in the past few years, preferring to measure success based on the experience itself. I do check to see how I do in my age group as that is a reasonably solid metric, especially for races with larger crowds. But with some opportunities to push a bit faster in the relatively shorter (marathon) distance, I began making a concerted effort to improve on speed. This involved reducing my weight (moderate but inconsistent success here), track workouts and shifting from trail to treadmill for a few workouts each week.

I showed immediate success in a series of four races in November – December, starting with the Seattle Marathon (3:41) and continuing with back to back sub 3:40 efforts in late December. The next cluster of races are scheduled for January 28 – February 17. I am collecting my summaries on these races in this one report.

Seattle Locks

seattle locks

This was my 3rd or 4th running of the Locks course. It starts near Green Lake, goes down Stone Ave to the Burke Gilman trail and then weaves over to Ballard and Shilshoal Bay. The out and back is a half marathon and so we do it twice. I was a bit worried preparing for this one given cold, wet weather during the week (a frigid bike workout) but as I checked in, it seemed to be kind to us with low-mid 40s and dry skies. Fortunately, that held all day.

I started out reasonably fast, although there were a group of people flying down Stone and I didn’t chase them. I made it down the hill (about 1.8 miles) and turned onto the asphalt trail. It was still early in the day, so not many people out. I snuck under 8:00 min pace for the miles out, passing a few who were pulling back to a more realistic pace, and reached the turnaround in 52 mins. I was in 3rd place at this point and given the speed of the top two runners knew I wouldn’t be close to their low 7 min pace.

The course is a combination of visuals: the bridges and locks along the side most of the way make for pretty viewing – sure enough we saw some (UW?) crews out on their shell. There are warehouses, small boutique restaurants serving brunch, dinosaur hedge carvings, breweries. About halfway out, there is an infamous section of the Burke Gilman which is on a road with cars – they plan on fixing that over the next few years. The section on Market Street in Ballard had a portion of the sidewalk blocked off, but I just ran in the road (vs. crossing to the other side) the first loop.

The return trip was reasonably fast as well. My legs were feeling good, breathing fine. I made it to Stone and began the climb back up. It’s not overly steep but is a good 3/4 – 1 mile long, before flattening some. The lead runners were plowing down rapidly as I made my way up to Green Lake and turned around in 1:47, an excellent time. I quickly turned around and headed back out. The trip back down was not as carefree as the first time. I had my 2nd gel and was being more careful with the road traffic, which had picked up at this time of day.

I got into a reasonable groove at around 8:20-8:30 per mile which seemed ok. There were racers of all categories spread along the course – some early starters, lots of half marathoners who had started at 9:00. I figured I’d make the turn at about 2:42 and sure enough that’s what my watch said. I didn’t seem to have the energy in my legs to get under 3:40, so elected to slow things down a bit. I was still in 3rd place – didn’t really matter – but there were a couple of runners within a few minutes of me. I still did the flat sections in under 9 until I got close to the bridges. I was passed here by a powerful woman runner. I had to stop at the light at the start of the climb, which pushed her out of sight but allowed me to catch my breath.

I managed to run up the entire last section, albeit slowly, but was passed by one other Maniac. I had a longish stop at the light at 45th or 50th but pushed ahead to the softball fields and made the turn into Woodland Park and that final steep hill, just missing my target time with a 3:46 (5th place) finish. More importantly, I saved my legs for next weekend’s effort in West Seattle.

West Seattle Beach Run

I found this race a few years back and it’s now one of my favorite flat courses in the Seattle area due to the amazing views as you get over to Alki Beach. The race is now directed by Mike Mahaney and his wife Doerte. I offered to help with registration again. With a 7:00 am start on Super Bowl Sunday we needed flashlights and headlamps at the pavilion at Lincoln Park. It was a pretty big crowd with lots of people opting for the half marathon and 25k, which started later. The marathon and 50k crowd headed out together with temps in the mid 40s.

It’s an easy course to navigate – head out along the water and up to Beach Road and then follow that until you hit the stretch along Alki. 6.55 miles out and then turn around. I was near the front from the beginning and got into a nice groove along Beach. I chose to run in the road in stretches to avoid the broken sidewalk. Not many people out as the sun rose behind us. There seemed to be a slight wind behind us as we got out in the exposed area along Alki. We started seeing some of the early starts coming back at us. As we got close to the first turnaround, I would be able to see which runners ahead of me were turning around and which ones would continue on another mile or so for the 50k. There was only one gentleman ahead of me by a good minute or so – it was the same guy who won this race last July. No worries, he looked strong and was at least 10-15 years younger. I made it out in about 53 minutes which was quite good.

Turning around I got to feel the headwind immediately as I started seeing folks coming at us. It’s such a low key race with racers, regular joggers, bikers, roller skaters, families with strollers. I quickly worked my way back to Beach Road and some protection from the wind. I was mostly keeping at 8:15-8:30 pace. Once I got back to park section abutting the water the wind started gusting even more and it took a concerted effort to keep any type of pace. I stumbled in at 1:48, shouted at Mike, and turned around for my 2nd loop.

I was still in 2nd place about 4-5 minutes behind the leader which was substantial so I focused on finding a decent pace and enjoying my Sub4 playlist. Lots of friendly faces walking and running the course. I got out to the Alki turnaround in 55 minutes which was decent and headed home. There was a stretch where I thought I was catching the leader but it was another guy in a blue shirt. It’s strange how my pace noticeably improves if I am trying to catch people. The wind this round was not too crazy but still it was nice to close out with a strong push, coming in at 3:41 – ten minutes faster than my July time.


(Paid) Photo by Ross Comer



Sedro Woolley Marathon

This was a race I had been looking forward to for awhile. I first ran the course last year and actually won the marathon with a time of 3:55. It’s a flat one-time out and back with most of the stronger runners electing to do a longer 50k. Unfortunately, during my track workout earlier in the week, I had tweeked a groin muscle badly. I did a slower treadmill workout on Thursday and it felt OK but I knew I would need to take it easy out of the gate. It was a cool 38 degrees as we lined up to listen to Terry Sentinella, the Race Director, walk us through the details.

I headed out with a decent pace and made it through the first 5 miles or so slightly under 8:00 min per mile. The asphalt had turned to crushed gravel. There were some puddles and mud piles to avoid, but mostly easy running. The views of the farms in the Skagit Valley were worth the cost of admission. There were 3 or 4 people ahead of me and like most of the small multi-distance races these days it was hard to guess which distance people were running. The half marathoners would turn around at the 6.55 mark and sure enough most of the crowd started coming back at me. I knew the remaining few ahead were doing the 50k so quickly surmised that I was leading the marathon distance.

I tried to keep a strong low 8 min pace which I was able to hold until about mile 11 when I slowed slightly. There was a side wind picking up – the rain had fortunately held off for now. From a distance I could see the white tent which I knew would also be my turnaround. I clocked in at 1:45, an excellent time, and quickly began retracing my steps as I headed back. I was looking at bibs of the people coming at me now and saw a man about 2 mins behind and then a women whom had been closed behind the last few races lurking at the 5-6 mins mark. I passed the buffalo and some horses and put on the soundtrack to True Detective, hoping it would give me a kick.

The wind began picking up even more. There were some areas protected by trees but long stretches were unprotected. My pace slowed noticeably. I looked back every few miles but didn’t see anyone close. I reached the aid station which was about mile 22 feeling ok but knowing my legs did not have much gusto in them. Around mile 23 I looked back and saw the guy in the blue shirt. Crap! ^&$%. There wasn’t much I could do as I simply didn’t have another gear. I held him off for 15-20 minutes but he passed me with about a mile left. We made our way back to the asphalt. I could see him ahead but was not making any progress as the wind slowed us both down considerably. I made one hard push for the last 5 minutes as I saw the finish tent ahead. It wasn’t quite enough as I slipped over 3:40 finishing about 10 seconds later. A good time on a windy day, but still a disappointing fade and yet another silver medal (4th in 2 months).


Photo by Takao Suzuki



An Afternoon on Bainbridge Island

There are numerous day trips from Seattle and Lynne and I recently took in an afternoon on Bainbridge Island for lunch and a short hike through the Bloedel Reserve. Timing is key for these types of adventures and we made sure to go off peak hours on a Friday, leaving on a 11:30 ferry. Getting to the docks in Seattle is a bit tricky as there has been construction here for more than 5 years, but we made it onto the ferry with time to spare.

Once on Bainbridge we walked along the main drag popping into numerous stores. The book store was better than average and I picked up a hard-to-find copy of Sherman Alexie’s (Seattle Native American author) first book. There were a couple of record stores and some nice galleries as well. We poked around considering restaurants when Lynne mentioned a seafood place overlooking the water. After looping around a bit we tracked it down, Doc’s Marina Grill. It had some atmosphere and was an opened bar with nice views. It also had one of the most amazing menu’s I’ve seen – paella, bi-bim-bop, and cioppino – three of may all time favorite dishes. All of these were a bit much for lunch so I settled for some crab mac-n-cheese while Lynne had some salmon. We both had some very healthy salads as well. Great service and we could have stayed much longer but had other plans.


Doc’s Marina Grill


Bloedel Reserve is a collection of twelve distinct gardens situated about 6 miles north of the downtown Bainbridge Island area. It gets quite crowded in the summer and requires reservations as they limit the amount of traffic on the grounds at any time. On a Friday afternoon in February, however, we had the trail to ourselves. It’s nearly a 90 minute walk around the huge estate (owned and created by executives in the timber industry). It was quiet and peaceful as we moved from The Glen to The Bird Marsh and over to The House where the couple lived for many years. The library room was incredible – floor to ceiling bookshelves on three sides of the room with the fourth side all windows with a view of the Puget Sound.


Bloedel Reserve
An assortment of pictures from our day at Bloedel Reserve


We worked our way back to the trail and over to the Japanese Garden and Moss Garden which were both overwhelmingly green. After an easy ride back, we boarded the ferry and joined the throngs of people making their way home for the weekend.

San Diego Wins Again

(January 13, 2018)

Two years ago, I bonked badly at the San Diego 50 Mile event; just ran poorly the second half and vowed to return and get revenge on the course. Last year, the regularly scheduled event was canceled due to excessive rains the weeks before the race, leading to poor conditions. So this year was my chance, and with some strong showings over the past month, I was excited to pack up the bags and head down to a warmer climate for the long, holiday weekend.

The race started at 6:30am which was about as early as it can be begin without requiring people use headlamps. I was there early and chatted with a few folks, including the race director who assured me that “there always are rattlesnakes out there”. Gasp. I also met a young early-twentyish man, Aidan, who confided in me that he had entered the race the day before after being called by a friend, had biked a lot, and had never run the 50 mile distance. He looked in great shape so physically he was ready. Of course, the demons can come out in these longer races. I would hook up with Aidan later in the day.

The start went perfectly. I was moving at a nice pace but not too crazy. The first few miles parallel Hwy 78 and is on dirt trail. I was listening to the soundtrack from The Commitments and pretty much zoning out while also checking out the landscape as we began the first dirt climb. It was reasonably mild – only a few hundred feet – and the descent was much longer, a bit steeper and I took a note that it would be tough on the return trek.

The San Diego 50 is a pure out and back – 25 out, turn around, retrace your steps. No lollipops or side detours. It’s almost all run on open space, wide terrain. The aid stations are magically placed almost exactly 5 miles apart, and of course we would visit most of them twice.

I stopped briefly at the first aid station to drink some water and grab a little fruit. I was picking up my pace a bit – roughly in the 8:30 per mile – as the course flattened out. There are some straight aways here which are long and mostly uninteresting. The rock formations along the side are fascinating, and there are pricey homes up atop the canyon overlooking the bowl we were running in. I dashed in and out of the 2nd aid station, still feeling great.

The next section has a few long stretches which work there way up and around bluffs. These are fun to run and the grade was nothing crazy. After a quick porta-potty stop, I adjusted my music to some electronic beats. Aidan and another guy had passed me during the stop but I worked over the next few miles to catch up to them. They would crush the downhills while I was way more cautious. I would then burn a bit more effort on the slight uphills we had to catch back up. At the 3rd aid station I pushed ahead a bit after grabbing some salty chips and more fruit. The day was warming up – it was already in the 70s. I was drinking both water and powerade along the way.

The next section had tighter turns and a few ups and downs – nothing major. It parallels another road and is next to a large lake which we were circumscribing. We hopscotched over a creek or two, did at least one more long “tunnel”-like stretch, and made it into the 20 mile station. I had elected not to use a drop bag as I could put everything I needed in my Nathan for this race. I made sure to take a salt tablet and then pressed ahead.

After about a mile or so onto the next section we started seeing some people coming back at us, which seemed about right. But there seemed like too many bunched together. Someone shouted about the course being shortened due to some muddy sections. Sure enough, we got to the top of a short climb and there was a girl pointing us onto a side road with instructions to go down and turnaround in about 0.5 mile. This was all asphalt, taking us towards some new housing developments. It was reasonably steep going down and right at the half mile there was a guy at the end of the road turning us around to climb back. I checked and we were right at about 23.5, so we were going to be about 3 miles short. I wasn’t too bummed – making great time at just under 4 hours.

As we worked back to the aid station, going down a multiple switchback section, we mentioned the course shortening to most folks, to give them a heads up. I swallowed another salt tablet, grabbed some extra food, and filled up the bottles. Still making great time.

Suddenly, my legs began to weaken. They weren’t cramping, simply no power left in them to push. I tried walking intervals and then running. The more I tried running, the worse my legs felt. Walking calmed everything down but we were still a good 18 miles away from the end. I was perplexed. After about 15-30 minutes of shuffling here and there it became apparent that I was just going to have to mostly walk it in. It was a beautiful day, blue skies above us, lots of families out hiking; some bikers. At times, I could power walk at about 17 min clip. I made it to the next aid station and asked some of the workers there what they would recommend. One overly energetic guy started putting ice down my Nathan. It took me a minute to realize what he had done and then I had to take everything out (iPhone, money clip, etc.) to get all the ice removed. I took another salt tablet and kept up with my walking.

I was surprised that more people were not passing me, and then figured the heat was taking its toll on others. I knew Aidan was behind me somewhere, and hoped he was sticking with the race. It was a long slog to the next aid station. I had now burned up all that great first half pacing. It’s hard for me not to always re-calculate what my end time will be. At the beginning of the day, I was hoping to beat 10 hours and then with the course shortening, knew I could beat 9 hours. We were now almost 8 hours in and I still had 10 miles to go. Bleh. We got to one of the creeks and it felt good to immerse my body into the cold water completely.

Slowly, I kept at it. I tried every now and then to shuffle more but something in the calf muscles just had shut down. The only time this had happened before was after a juice “cleansing” week. I didn’t feel like I was dehydrated but my shirt had absorbed so much salt from my body that there was a starchy feel to the edges. Not good. I finally made it to the last aid station. I tried to sit down but began cramping up immediately so passed on that option. I drank more, talked with the aide station lead, and then took off.

Almost immediately, Aidan showed up. Despite his own struggles during the day, he was a bundle of positive energy. We had a long steep climb ahead of us with a short downhill section which I also dreaded. My power walking worked well on flat surfaces, but the inclines and rocks forced my foot into strange angles and it was slow going. Aidan, bless his heart, stuck with me and encouraged my progress. I began to wonder if I could make it to the top – it’s one of those climbs that is right in front of you and curls around and up so you can see how steep it is. We were at the last 100 yards when disaster struck.

My legs began seizing up in full cramp and I had no power to step back and right myself as I slowly began falling off the side of the trail. I shouted at Aidan to help and he grabbed my arms, but I simply weighed too much for him and toppled off the trail into a tumbleweed, sticker bush. I wasn’t sure whether there were thorns as the pain from my cramps intensified and I screamed – LOUDLY – for the cramps to stop. They would go in 1-2 minute cycles, first one leg then the other. The seizures and screaming lasted for at least 5 minutes. A woman had backtracked to see what was happening. A group caught us and asked if they could help. I kept screaming – because it hurt.

As the others were considering options I began to calm myself down and my legs quieted some. I looked behind me and noticed that I was lying about 6-8 feet from a rather steep dropoff (aka cliff). Not good. I maneuvered my body around with my back to the trail and began shuffling backwards towards the trail with my feet perpendicular. This seemed to work and once I was completely back onto the trail my two helpers got me back onto my feet. I tested walking and it all seemed ok. In fact the first 20-30 steps were pain free, even though we were still stepping up onto rocks at strange angles. Now the downhill part which I took even more slowly. The woman had gone ahead, but Aidan was still with me.

About halfway down the hill – still a good 4-5 miles from the finish, the aid station from our last stop caught up with us. He is the Race Director for the San Diego 100 Mile, so obviously experienced. We kept walking and he had me drink more water. I was pretty lucid and could explain my abilities; Aidan helped to confirm. The diagnosis was that I had probably not taken enough water for the salt tablets to do any good and was dehydrated. I convinced him I could continue on – he gave Aidan the Race Director’s cell # – and on we went. I did contemplate a DNF but thought I could keep walking. Given the last section was parallel to the road we were pretty close to salvation at any point if we had to stop. In terms of timing it was about 10 hours into the race and it had a 13 hour time limit so we were good. It was just going to be a lot more walking.

Aidan was up to task, chatting about numerous topics. He had to make a few calls to his understanding wife, estimating our finish time. He really did make a difference in the quality of the last 1.5 hours as the sun set behind us and multiple people passed by finishing their race in a more admirable fashion. But eventually we did find the end line at just past 11 1/2 hours as I praised Aidan’s assistance and thanked the Race Director.

San Diego now has bested me twice. I shall return.

Five of My Favorite Reads in 2017

(Jan 1, 2018)

There are some new finds in here – authors I did not know at all at the beginning of the year – and one from my 25-year list (published in 1992).

Different Hours, by Stephen Dunn

I made a concerted effort to tackle more poetry in 2017. My first few books were mediocre at best. I then discovered Stephen Dunn, who I found very approachable with relevant subjects, tight with a nice cadence. Need to find more.

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje

How beautiful this story is. How haunting. What a brilliant mosaic of northern Africa and the never ending war; stories woven together with lovely and yearning to love characters.

Fresh Complaint, by Jeffrey Eugenides

I have read his short stories on occasion as they appear in the New Yorker, and have not tackled many of his novels, but this collection – apparently long overdue – was exceptional. It’s quite wicked at times and had me shouting with glee and laughter.

The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

An absolutely stellar piece of writing, taking an incredibly dense and complex subject and translating it into laymen’s English. The explanations on what motivated individual scientists helped to give an additional dimension as to the arc of history.

Homesick for Another World, by Otessa Moshfegh

Raw, unpleasant subjects, not for the faint of heart. Bad decision after bad decision laid out unapologetically for our righteous judgment. Not sure if this writer has another pallet, but she’s nailed this chromosphere.

Dual Silver Medal Efforts at Ghost of Birch Bay and Pigtails Cedar River

(December 2, 2017)

As I have mentioned a few times, the Pacific Northwest is replete with race choices and it can be a chore to decide which races to run and which ones to pass on. I recently found a conflict in my race schedule where I was slated to run on a Sunday morning which conflicted with a flight back to Atlanta at noon – I had thought the race was on Saturday. I quickly looked at the Maniac calendar and found another race in WA for this Saturday – up in Blaine near the Canadian border. It was a bit of a drive but the cost of the race was minimal and it likely would be mostly flat, so I switched over.

The only open issue as a drove up early in the morning was the weather. There tends to be a microclimate up near Bellingham and north by the water. Fortunately (or not) the race started at 9:00am to accommodate Seattle-ites. It was 42 degrees and drizzling – a bit chilly but not miserable (yet) at Birch Bay State Park where we would begin and end. There were only about 30 runners lined up including some half marathoners (actually 15.1 miles for this race). Apparently some runners opted for an earlier start and we eventually ran past most of these folks.

I started off with Scott Sebelsky who runs close to my pace and we chatted for the first 2.5 miles until we hit the initial aid station, where he stopped and I continued on. It was a pretty easy 4 miles or so and then we hit a moderate climb for almost  1/2 mile. I plowed through it and made it to the 2nd aid station where I took off my outer windbreaker. I played it safe wearing it just in case the weather turned for the worse – but at least to this point it seemed to just be a moderate drizzle and warming a bit. I headed off following the chap in front of me but one of the aid station workers shouted at me to confirm I was running the half. Once I corrected him he pointed me in the other direction. I had studied the course map beforehand but still got it wrong. There was one other runner ahead of me here as we started a brief out and back – 0.4 downhill with a turn around and climb back up. We would only do this section on the first loop.

I watched closely and suddenly realized that there were no other runners coming at us, which meant the 3-4 runners ahead of us were all running the half. Suddenly as I passed this guy on the uphill, it dawned on me that I was leading the race. That’s always worth a nice adrenaline kick and sure enough I put some distance between myself and the others whom I saw coming down (including Scott, who was also running the next day so likely taking it a bit easy). I found my back to the aid station and this time correctly headed out on the main road which started downhill. It is pretty, open road with some nice views of houses situated up above the road or well off the road with huge fields. It flattens out for 5-6 miles and I pushed my pace to 8:10ish for the next hour, hoping to create more distance. Eventually after a few turns you make your way back to Birch Bay and the initial aid station. I dropped off some gels and one of my soaking wet, clod hand warmers and headed back out for the 2nd loop.

I had hit the halfway mark at 1:48 which was identical to my time at Seattle last week. My hope was to hold my pace a little better and perhaps get under 3:40. As I made my way to the only real hill on the 2nd loop and looked behind me at the top and saw no one below – so far so good. I hit the 2nd aid station with some gusto, having taken my 3rd and last gel of the day. The legs seemed fine as we went back downhill for a bit – I was closer to 8:30 and certainly feeling the effects of the 16+ miles but trying hard not to slow substantially which is my norm, even on flat courses. I glanced behind me around mile 20-21 and saw a young guy in a yellow coat. I had figured he would be the only one to catch me with his fresh legs. I used it as a challenge and worked hard the next few miles to stay under 8:30 which I accomplished. If he would pass me due to his speed and negative splits, that would be OK but I would make him earn it.

As we got close to the initial aid station around mile 23.5 where we would backtrack to the start, he went past me pretty easily and I knew he had me beaten. He was nice enough about it as he kicked into another gear. I managed to stay around 8:45 the last two miles which I considered a minor victory. The cabin building at Birch Bay State Park was within view for quite some distance but it was a few minutes trek to finally reach the end, where I clocked in at 3:41:42, about a minute ahead of last week, with a solid 2nd place finish.

(December 16, 2017)

The Cedar River Run, now Race Directed by the amazing Monte Pascual, was originally created by “Pigtails” Van Plan, so still carries her name in honor of the race pioneering work. It’s normally a cold, often icy day, but this year the temperatures would be in the 37-45 range and the trail was clear of any ice. I was hoping to try and break 3:40 after coming close in my last two races and wanted to get out fast.

Which I did. In the first section which is run off the trail on a flat path just south of the main course, we started out promptly at 8:00am. There were some “real” elite runners all doing the 50k who we all knew would jump out like rabbits and boy did they ever, going sub 7 for the first mile. Very impressive to see their form as they came back at us to vver over to Cedar River Trail and oh to have that runner’s body. Still, I was moving well with a sub 8 pace which felt fine for the first few miles. I was pretty sure there were no marathoners ahead of me – all 50k runners – the only sure way to know was studying the bibs and the first number. I was listening to my new “Sub4” playlist which is mostly electronic sounds – definitely got me into a nice groove as I continued to push sub 8 mile after mile. I pulled back some but was feeling light and the course is slightly downhill (< 1%). At about mile 11 I saw the lead 50k runner and after a few more minutes a group of 3 more all running together still hitting about 7 min pace. Wow.

But I was streaking on my own and hit the halfway mark at a remarkable (for me) time of 1:41. I still felt like I had fresh legs. After doing the additional 1/2 mile I hit the turnaround and now could check to see if anyone was sticking close. There was a man with a Superman cape and a young woman about 3-4 minutes back, then a big gap. The first few miles returning normally are a fight against the wind but not on this day. It’s also a bit uninteresting as it is right on Highway 169 and not much to look at on this section. Finally, the course begins to do a slight incline which you can barely notice.

I kept at sub 8 until mile 15 where I slowed for the next few miles to slightly over 8. Still doing great as the Saturday morning traffic whizzed by, to and fro. I finished my 3rd gel around mile 18-19 and got to the aid station at mile 21 still in the lead but not looking back. I was fighting hard not to fade too much, but the energy used to go out so fast was finally taking its toll as I slowed to a 9 min pace at mile 22-23. I decided to finally look behind and sure enough, as if destined, the Superman cape dude was right on my heels and much fresher. He easily went past and I watched as he suddenly disappeared along the curved sections of the wide trail. There are some nice bridges, 3-4 of them, in the past few miles. Rather than completely bonk out, I just enjoyed the morning views knowing that I still would make my larger time goal – this is part of my race maturity gained over the years, staying mentally in the race when the body is shutting down. Having done this race 3-4 times, I knew the ending section well and made a nice dash for the last 200 yards to get in right at 3:36:59 (my watch time, a few seconds shy of official time). This was my 3rd fastest time ever and the first Boston Qualifying time run on a non-downhill Light at the End of the Tunnel course. I truly am getting faster :-). Still, I have work to do on finishing the race strong. Fortunately, there are lots of opportunities in the coming 6-8 weeks to challenge myself here.


Seattle Marathon

(Nov 26, 2017)

Seattle, with its famed craziness for long distance running, spawned an event called the “Quadzilla” a few years back. It consists of 4 marathons in 4 straight days starting with the Thursday Thanksgiving holiday and ending on Sunday with the crown jewel, the Seattle Marathon. They get about 20-30 runners to do all 4 races and then another 30-50 additional stragglers to do the first three. Of course the Seattle race has thousands of participants. While I’ve never been tempted to try the quad, I was hoping to do the Thursday and Sunday race this year. Alas, I woke up in the middle of the night Wednesday with some dizzy spells and they had not abated by morning so I held back from that event.

All of which meant I was watching everyone’s exploits on social media and very anxious as I drove downtown for the 8:15am start at the Seattle Center. We took the Marathon Maniac picture and I checked in my bag with jacket. I elected to run with gloves and hand warmers (not so smart) and a short sleeved shirt (good call). With gusty winds and a smattering of precipitation it was hard to tell what the morning would become in this city notorious for ugly weather days in late November.

I elbowed my way close to the 3:45 pacer group and as the gun sounded stayed with them stride by stride for the first 2-3 miles. This is a good strategy and with stronger winds I was thinking it might make sense just to stay with a large group all day. We wound through the city streets down towards SoDo (southern downtown by the stadiums) and then began heading eastwards towards the I-90 highway and Lake Washington. At one of the aid stations I decided to break away from the group and see if I could increase my pace. I knew once we got down to Lake Washington Boulevard it would be a reasonably flat surface for quite awhile. There was a moderate climb up at mile 5 which I tackled aggressively and then we wound downwards, where the course split. To their credit, the race organizers started the half marathoners 30 minutes before the marathoners which meant that for the most part we were not battling through clusters of slower, weekend only runners.

I found a nice groove for quite some time. My Garmin was a bit fast and ahead of the course markings but it showed my times from mile 6 to mile 18 hovering right around 8:00 (from 7:46 to 8:21). Clearly the Jean-Michael Jarre electronic beats were keeping me moving at a nice clip. The run around Seward Park from about mile 10 to mile 13 is especially sweet. Great views, wide trail. The sun actually was peaking out and at times I was starting to get warm. I lost the hand warmers pretty soon and eventually carried the gloves.

Around mile 19 there is an out and back so we could check out progress against other runners. I returned quickly and then headed up the first of numerous hills from mile 20-23 as my pace slipped to about 9 min/mile. They added another out and back which is a series of undulating hills in the arboretum, lasting over a mile total.  I was able to muscle through these and the return trip is not as tough as you think it will be going out. The 3:40 pacers had whipped by me at some point early but when I checked my watch at mile 22 marker it had me at 3:04 which meant they were a few minutes ahead of schedule and I had an outside chance of breaking 3:40. Would today be the day? Would the 3:45 pacers, lingering behind me by a few minutes, power by me as is often the case?

The last few miles of a city course should be inspiring with crowds along the side helping to lift your spirits. Unfortunately, the way the course is set up here, you end up winding your way around, under and aside the I-5 corridor with literally no one out there from about mile 23-25, except for the crossing guards. I was equally uninspired to return to low 8 min pace so crawled in happily and healthily at 3:42:49 which is my 2nd best time at Seattle, but with a newer and arguably harder course. More importantly, I was walking well and felt energized as I made my way across the street to the parking lot, watching as the rains began to pick up and dampen the runners working their way through those last hilly miles.


Autumn Leaves 50K

(October 28, 2017)

I was anxiously awaiting the Autumn Leaves race this year as I knew there would be a chance to PR and run well on this flat course. My IT Band on the left side was acting up quite a bit but some exercises and time off relaxed it some before the Saturday am start. Lynne would be joining me – another reason to get pumped up – as we would continue on to the Oregon coast for an anniversary weekend celebration. We stayed the night up in Tigard which proved to be a smart option (vs. camping) as we were able to check-in and get my race bib along with a rolling pin for my knee and some hand warmers.

It’s a dark 7:00 am start for the 50k runners. The 50 milers had started an hour earlier and some were already finishing their first 10k loop and heading back out as we gathered around the fire. Lynne went back to the hotel to “meditate” 🙂 and so I would not see her until the 3rd or 4th time through. It would be 5 loops x 10k per loop. Aside from my PR goal I was hoping to stay under 1 hour for each loop and run smart. Of course the adrenaline kicks in and I wanted to get a decent start so off I raced holding a small flashlight, which worked great as a beacon for the first few miles. I could tell I was doing low 8-8:30 ish pace and tried to stay close to a pack of strong runners who I knew were going out reasonably fast. We hit the first aid station right away and all breezed on by and headed for the main wooded section.

While there are a few turns and some minor undulations, the course is indeed remarkably fast and we saw lots of families out enjoying the day. There is a minor climb out to the turnaround for the out and back section which comes about at 5k mark. After we return to the aid station we head back to the start through an actual trail which is about a mile or so in length. I came in the first loop slightly under 54 minutes and feeling great. I dropped my gloves, water bottle, and flashlight and sprinted back out.

The 2nd loop I could tell I was picking up the pace even more and doing some 8:10-8:15 miles which really felt great. It was warming up and I felt light but still strong. The knees were fine. I clocked into the station at an amazing 1:46 (0:52 min loop) and wasted no time to move back out. I was staying in place but had crept up on a man about my age named Dameon whom I remembered from the last 2 years. We had a nice battle in 2015 race where he overtook me in the last half mile. As I pulled back to a more reasonable 8:30ish pace Dameon pressed it even more and suddenly I lost contact with his bright yellow shirt. Selah, but I knew better than to blow out the race before halfway point.

Still feeling good and convinced the aid station to put out some fruit (!) instead of just salty snacks for the 50 milers. Autumn Leaves also has the additional entertainment of encouraging costumes which a half dozen people exhibited. Mostly people were out enjoying the sun and time on the trail. I clocked in for the 3rd loop at just under 2:41 – still doing well and needing to hold under 2 hours for the last two laps. A good challenge. Would I be up for it?

I switched over to some Jean Michael Jarre electronic music which was way ahead of its time when I started listening to it in the 1980s. His recent album releases are quite good and perfect for a running cadence. It certainly kept me pushing ahead. I was holding strong – couldn’t tell exactly what place I was in, somewhere between 6th and 10th. Robert Bondurant and Scott Sebelsky were both crushing the 50 miler and I was mostly staying aligned with them, although Robert was certainly pushing his pace. I was grabbing water at the aid station and as I came into the end of my 4th loop I saw Lynne there cheering me on in her UNC sweatshirt. I was at 3:38 and feeling inspired to finish off the 50k.

I headed off a bit slower than normal as the knees were creaking. Lots of dogs and kids, some Frisbee golf players off to the side. Daemon had many minutes on me and he was the closest runner for me to try and catch – not going to happen. Behind me there were two runners and as I got to the turn around point I calculated they were roughly 4-5 minutes behind me. I sprinted a bit on the asphalt back to the aid station to try and add a few more minutes, which worked. I crossed the line in 4:39:30 – a Personal Record by almost 3 minutes in my 70th ultra. I congratulated Daemon on his strong race and took some pictures with him. My effort was worthy of a 3rd place Master Men finish (same as 2015) and I happily rested and began the extended celebration weekend in the beauty of the coast and my spouse.


Autumn Leaves 2017
Celebrating my 8th place finish and 3rd place Master Men



Pt. Defiance 50k

(October 14, 2017)

It’s amazing how many quality trails there are in the Pacific Northwest. After over a decade of exploring, I am still stumbling onto new gems. This past weekend proved a great example as I headed to Tacoma and Pt. Defiance Park for a 50k challenge. I had run Pt. Defiance as part of the Tacoma Marathon many times but it mostly just hits the roads going through the park. This race would dive right into the heart of the darkness with a 10+ mile loop which we would do 3 times – other runners would tackle the course once or twice meaning the start would be a bit crowded but the race would thin out noticeably as the morning sun climbed higher.

The views were amazing from Owens Beach as about 100 runners lined up. It was chilly but promised to get warmer. I had a few maladies I was watching closely – most prominent was a sore left IT Band. The first few miles seemed promising – mostly flat with the exception of a few dozen steps at the end of the beach. The trail was wide and the ground soft.  It was indeed crowded as we worked our way around and about the paths, following pink ribbons and crossing over some park roads with the assistance of a volunteer holding back any traffic. Right at the halfway point an aid station appeared down at Ft. Nisqually and I took a quick look at the offerings but passed on by to get some separation from the crowd.

This section did some interesting serpentine – not quite switchback and not quite uphill as we worked our way to the back side of a mound where Achilles Hill did greet us. It was only 50 yards or so and I powered on up past some people and to the top. Eventually it takes you back to the road for this section and back towards the beginnings. After a brief “nature” stop, I motored my way out of the woods and onto the road where we would track for a half mile before plunging into the last section called Nellies Gulch which required ropes given the steepness and poor footing. It was reasonably short lived and then spit us onto the Beach trail and boardwalk for a 100 yard sprint to the start. One loop completed in 1:48, under my 2 hour target. I put my gloves away, grabbed some pretzels and bananas and jumped back out to begin my 2nd loop.

The pack had indeed thinned as we made our way down the beach and up the steps. It really was ideal running conditions as the sun began to peak out to warm the day. The soft trail made it easy to keep a decent pace and I worked my way around the turns and quickly got to the aid station where I stopped this time for more bananas. There was a couple right behind me as I left and my hope was to push away from them a bit as we approached the serpentine section and Achilles Heel. Mission accomplished. It was nice not to have to deal with out and back sections running against each other. The loop was becoming a bit more familiar and I kicked it in along the road and bounced down the Gulley, finishing my 2nd loop a tad faster than the first, in 1:47.

Given the longer distances I had been running I was mentally strong to put together another 10 mile effort, especially on such a nice day. My knee was not bothering me much at all. I dialed it down slightly and enjoyed the loop, at times running solo with no one in sight, aside from the occasionally hiker or family out walking with a dog. The last loop



Mountain Lakes 100

(September 23, 2017)

Mountain Lakes 100 Finish

After a summer of solid efforts it was time to test my endurance with a true ultra test: 100 miles of trail running. With the debacle of Cascade Crest behind me, I had found a course closer to my ability south of Mt. Hood where I ran well in a 50k earlier in the year. The horrific Eagle Creek fire at the Columbia Gorge along with other wildfires in Oregon had put the race in question in the weeks leading up, but we had word that the course would be slightly re-routed at the beginning to avoid some road closures. I changed my lodging from on closer to the start at Olallie Lake to the same Mountain Resort I used for the Hood 50k.

That meant a longish drive in the morning. I thought I had left well enough time but after an hour found myself along with a few other cars on some back roads, debating whether to follow our GPS or some signs put out for the race. We opted for the latter which seemed the right decision at first but the road into the Olallie Lake resort is about 7-8 miles of dirt road and potholes. This added a bit of unwanted anxiety to the morning and all of the decent parking was taken but I grabbed a slot along the side of the road and checked in.

Any tension or nervousness was removed by the professionalism of GoBeyond Racing. It helps to give away a pair of nice shoes and socks to all runners 🙂 I put my drop bags – carefully planned out – in their respective piles, got fluids situated, and made my way back for the race talk. She started by informing us of the extra surprise of snow on the southern part of the course. This was a 25 mile section with the longest climb. Oh joy. My limited experience in running on snow was at Tahoe earlier in the year and I knew it meant “slower”. It was too late to grab some socks to put in my first drop bag (the starting point) so I just adjusted my attitude and headed off as the race began.

The first few miles were on a dirt road which had puddles but nothing too harsh. It was slightly uphill and we walked some as the pockets of runners worked out their nervous energy. I grabbed some chips and salty stuff at the first aid station and we headed off on the trails and SNOW. It was packed down in some places and not so much in others. It was somewhat of an equalizer as it more or less prevented people from flying by you – we all got into formation and plodded through for miles. I was behind the same woman from mile 3 to mile 8 or so, unprecedented. To make things even more interesting there was an out and back section built in here and so suddenly people were coming back at us along single track trail with 6-9 inches of snow piled on each side. Feet got wet. I slipped once and tossed my water bottle a few feet to the side, losing a few places in line. We climbed over numerous trees (bloody knee, the race is real!), pulled limbs out of the way.

Mountain Lakes 100 Snow

I caught up with Steve Walters, an amazing runner from Beaverton Oregon who comes up to Seattle area nearly every weekend to race. While we chatted a bit the snow disappeared and we had to deal with normal rocks and some roots, but overall much easier. We finally got down the decline to a road which led to another aid station. It was still a bit chilly out but my body had acclimated and my hand warmers were doing the trick. We were 15 miles in and all was well as we began the return to Olallie. As is often the case, the aid station served to spread people out quite a bit and as I was working my way back up and into the snow, it was amazing to find myself almost alone. The force of 150+ runners had turned much of the trail into slush and now it became a trick to avoid getting your feet completely sopped, a challenge which I was not terribly successful at. It was pretty at times but also frustrating to deal with all the undulations. The sections going down were particularly harrowing as you lost traction and just slid.

The good news is that it did end and I was back at the first aid station and better footing. The mornings outing had took me 6 hours and 40 minutes, slower than my target time of hours, but I was in very good spirits, felt nourished and warm as I grabbed my drop bag and followed my prescribed steps before leaving. As it turns out, numerous people dropped after this first 25 mile loop and some actually got injured slip sliding through the snow.

The next five legs lasting about 30 miles would take us to Clackamas Ranger Station, where we would then do a 15 mile “lollipop” ring around Timothy Lake (at night) before returning back the same way we came. The trip out was more downhill, saving some longer climbs for those last miles. This was Oregon Pacific Coast Trail at its best. The paths seem wider and much more open than in Washington. I made quite good time on the first few sections, mostly running by myself listening to tunes. There were a few faces becoming more familiar as we leap frogged – I tend to be slower on downhill sections and make up time on easier climbs. I was still running some uphill as these were gentle climbs with nothing terribly steep. The aid stations were pretty consistent with the fare – oranges, bananas, watermelon, chips, cookies. I began putting ginger ale in one of my bottles as the carbonation is an amazing taste with a dry mouth.

My Garmin eventually died around 10 hours but I knew I was making decent time as I pulled out my mini headlamp and flashlight with 11 miles to go to Clackamas. And then we hit a leg that just wouldn’t end. It started with an easy strut down but then began climbing and climbing. I was grumbling a bit, talking to myself and trying to “Just Keep Going”, the mantra of the ultra runner. I had some broth at the next aid station which warmed me some as we escaped for the last leg into Clackamas where I arrived at roughly 10:15. I was cheerful now as I changed shirts, restocked gels and munched on a grilled cheese sandwich and more chicken broth. I headed out towards Timothy Lake, having run this section at the start of the Hood 50k.

As I tried to situate the headlamp where it wouldn’t bounce as much I banged into my eye and sure enough, for the second time in as many races, lost a contact! Argh, my replacement lenses had come in on Friday just hours AFTER I left for Oregon. I was now with blurred vision for the remaining 45 miles. Somehow I figured out how to avoid the obstacles on the trail. I have run enough to know it doesn’t help to be pitiful. I was going to need to make it work. And sure enough I began passing a few runners as I just kept running along the reasonably flat, soft trail that surrounds the huge lake (that we could not see in the dark).

Around 1:00 am, I was deep in thought or perhaps enjoying some tunes when I saw a man on the side of the trail without a headlamp. As I slowly approached I was about to ask him about his lamp when I saw he had a Mardi Gras mask and full costume on, along with a very sinister face. He lunged at me and I shouted something back at him – I don’t remember what. It was entirely creepy. As I raced on, I looked back and he was spooking others. A woman joined me, very thankful that I was out there with her. Good grief.

A European man joined me as we made it over to the dam which was nicely lit up with red, white and blue lighting along the guardrails. Quite pretty. The last leg back to Clackamas took a little longer than I would have liked but I still made it back into that station at 2:10am, so the loop took me under 4 hours which was my target. Unfortunately, I had quite a bit of work to do here. I grabbed my poles for the climb back. I needed new hand warmers. The batteries on my headlamp were wearing out and we had 4 more hours in the dark, so I needed to change them. I couldn’t get them out. Aid station workers do the most incredible things! I was taking my salt tablets regularly every few hours but missed one here. After 10 minutes I was getting quite cold and stumbled out at 2:20am.

I was preparing for a long dreary hard uphill on the first of the five legs back but it started calmly. And kept flat and runnable so I plodded along. The poles were helping quite a bit. Amazingly, my Zune was still a) fully charged and b) allowing me to use all the menu items and select artists. Normally the screen gets wet and locks into a shuffle mode. I bounced between The Decemberists, Billy Joel, Herb Alpert, Joan Baez, Rolling Stones – i.e. all over the place. I made it through the second leg before the sun came up. My vision was pretty spotty now. I walked a long part of the section to (from?) Pinhead Butte but by now I knew that I had enough energy to make it to the end. That is an amazing feeling. The woods opened up at the top of the Butte and the morning blue sky erupted. And I smiled.

The aid station was a mile or so before I expect it (my newly purchased 2nd Garmin was working quite well). But I knew that the next leg was likely going to be a bit longer than advertised. Steve Walters caught me at the aid station and quickly scampered out. It was now slow going and I was trying to get some running in. I was chafing some and also worried about a blister forming on my left foot. But mostly I was just tiring, although still in good spirits. Eventually, the leg ended and I was on the last 3.6 mile section. It was up and down quite a bit but not too many rocks and a few people scattered about looking to help friends finish. I burst off the trail and onto the road to cheers as I crossed the finish line in a respectable time of 27 hours, 35 minutes. Most importantly, I got my buckle (and glass) from the race director (Renee) as Olallie Lake shined in the background.


Overall, despite some physical mishaps and nature acting up, the race went as I had planned. The course is tough but not ridiculous. The carefully situated aid stations and cheery volunteers made up for some course repetition (and the creepy midnight stalker who needs to get a life).