Thursday, February 28, 2013


It was a week after the Rocky Raccoon race. I was still limping, but I didn't need crutches or a wheelchair anymore. I was icing my leg in the car while my wife was driving. Miley Cyrus was singing "The Climb" on the radio, and I uncontrollably broke down and cried in a torrent of emotion. The words struck a chord in my heart. Every word and every line of that song rang true. I hugged my wife, with tears streaming down my face. It was an intense moment.

 I had been dreaming about being a 100 mile runner since 2009, when I read Born to Run, and even met Caballo Blanco (aka Micah True), at a local running store. I was inspired by Scott Jurek, who found his calling in the ultra world. I was a slow poke in the old high school cross country world. Still, my teammates and coach cheered for me and believed in me. It inspired me to work harder to improve. After my first year of cross country, my coach gave me the "Most Improved Player" trophy. It was one of the proudest moments in my life. I improved as a runner, but was still firmly entrenched in the back of the pack when it came to cross country. When I read Born to Run a light switch turned on in my head. Maybe I was born to run longer, instead of faster. A seed was planted and a dream was born.

When you're faced with big race, its funny how you reflect on everything in your life.  It's almost as if you are facing death itself, and preparing for the end. So many thoughts and emotions course through your mind. My first 100 mile attempt in 2010 injected a dose of reality and fear into my heart. It was my first DNF (did not finish) at any distance, and it haunted me. In 2012, my big goal was to run the Miwok 100K. I had a really good training cycle, with lots of elevation gain and trail miles. I came in confident and prepared. But in the end, my body failed me, and I received another heart breaking DNF. The race dropped me in a running funk. I signed up for Rocky Raccoon in an attempt to break that funk and restore my faith in running.

Then in November, I sprained my ankle after a mere 5 miles into the race at the Quad Dipsea (a 28 mile trail race with a ton of elevation gain). It derailed my 100 mile training, and dropped me back in a funk.  And to make matters worse, me and my wife were experiencing a funk in our marriage too. She took off her wedding ring and put it away. I was heart broken. I stopped running. I focused on our marriage. My wife and kids are my top priority, and I was ready to quit running, if it made them happy. After two months of the "doghouse", I mended the fences in our marriage right before Christmas. We were a happy couple again, and I hope we stay that way. Forever. Marriage is a lot of work! Its about making each other feel loved every day. I think I failed to love and appreciate my wife, in simple, everyday ways. Life can be crazy with kids and work and training, but where there is a will, there is always a way. 

Finishing the Rocky Raccoon race was euphoric. I ran more in the last 34 miles than I did in the first 66 miles. I came back from the dead, and found pure joy in running. It broke me out of a funk and set me on a cloud. And the love and support from my wife has been amazing too. I think its too soon to tell her that I want to run 100 milers faster and better trained though. And thank you, my friends, who believed in me, cheered for me, and supported me through this crazy dream.

Don't be afraid to dream big dreams. Believe in yourself, follow your heart, and don't give up. "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." -- Wayne Gretsky

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Race Report

100 Mile Races are more than just physical tests of the human body. I've heard that you can run 50 miles with your body, but the next 50 must be run with your mind.  Great amounts of pain and suffering are inevitable and if you want to finish, you must forge a "no quit" attitude. I came into this race more under trained than I have ever been for any of my ultra races. I hadn't logged a long run in three months, and the past three months were spent mostly with tennis and a few short runs. The plan was fairly simple: walk early and walk often. Run the downhills, stay positive, and enjoy everything - one moment at a time.

Miles 1-20: In the early miles, I kept my pace around 15 minutes per mile.  My goal was to finish the 20 mile in 5 hours. I only ran the downhill portions and made sure to take it as easy as possible.  I started with my friends Jessica, Kynan, and Laura, but I let them go on after about half a mile in. It was very tempting to run more. "Patience" became my mantra. Patience is magic.  Patience is a virtue. Practice patience. Be patient. I had to keep reminding myself to conserve my energy and save my running for later. The REAL race for me starts at 50, partly because I had never run past 50 in my life. The first 20 was done in a blur. It was my fastest lap, done in around 4:56 (including the few minutes I spent at the aid station and my drop bags).

Miles 20-40: I continued reciting my "patience" mantra here. Patience can be magic. Continue to conserve. I met a new friend during this lap.  She was running the 50 mile race and her pace was comparable to mine so we stuck together. We enjoyed each others' company and the miles melted away quickly. But eventually we had to part ways. I've met so many good people during my races. Patricia Crespi, from Colorado finished her first 50 Miler in 12:56! It was also during this loop that I chatted with a 71 year old runner who had finished 14 other 100-Mile races. I dubbed him the "Master" and tried to hang with him for a while. Even though we were run/walking at a 15 minute pace, he was predicting a 29 hour finish (15 minutes per mile times 100 equals a 25 hour finish).  I was a bit shocked that he would suggest we'd slow down that drastically! Slowing down at night makes sense, but I still had secret hopes of a 28 hour finish.

It was around the 36 mile mark that I developed a bloody nose. A ran with it for a short while, hoping that it would stop on its own, but it just kept bleeding. The older gentleman gave me some tissue and I was able to plug my nose and stop the bleeding. It probably looked bad, with blood all over the place, but it felt fine. I finished the 2nd 20 mile loop in 5:14. I spent 10 minutes at the aid station here, to change my socks and to refuel. It was at this time that I asked Brian if he had any pacing duties and if he could pace me for the 4th lap.  I told him I should be back in about 5 and a half hours - at least that was the plan!

Miles  40-60: I started this Loop with Justin (one of Gary's friends from work) who was on a quest for his first 50 Mile finish. I walked and ran with Justin for a couple miles and learned about how he lost a ridiculous amount of weight and turned his life around through running. He had an inspiring story! He had already logged over 33 miles at this point and he was clearly a bit tired. I did what I could to cheer him up and gave him some tips finish strong. And he did great! He finished his first 50 mile race later in the night. 

When you're going to be running/walking for a long, long time, it helps to talk to people and make new friends. Motivate each other, inspire one another, and it all makes the experience more positive and worthwhile.  I crossed the 50 Mile mark at 13:04.  The real race had begun. I was in uncharted waters from this point on.  I had never run/walk past 50 miles - ever. I had completed 5 50-mile races, but all those races left me beaten and battered.  Here, after completing 50 miles, I had 50 miles to go, and most of it would have to be done in the dark.

This is where I met Joel Ignacio, from Austin, who quickly became a very good friend. We got along right from the start. We ran together and talked about our lives. His Dad has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. He told his Dad very definitively that he was going to finish this race and get that belt buckle. Joel was clearly a man on a mission. When we got back to the start/finish line area, I offered Joel one of my Starbucks Expresso cans, and I asked him if he wanted to stick with me and Brian for the next loop. Brian could help pace us both through what I suspected would be the toughest loop of the race (and it was).

Miles 60-80: It didn't take long for me to completely unravel during this loop. By the 4th mile, I was struggling to keep up with Brian and Joel. My left leg had begun to hurt. The shin was hurting (probably because I kicked a million roots with that foot!) and then my left knee started to join the pain party! To make matters worse, a 22 minute/mile pace felt difficult! The positivity that had been my strength all day quickly evaporated. I was scared. I told Brian and Joel to go on without me. I was holding them back, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted Brian to jump off my sinking ship and pace Joel for the rest of the 20 mile loop. Neither of them left my side.

I hobbled the next 2 miles into the next aid station, ready to quit. I saw no chance for me. I was dead as far as the race was concerned. And fittingly, the aid station at mile 66 was named Dam Nation. My bib number was 66. It felt as though I was predestined to "die" here! I was sure of it! I sat down, took two advil and rested. A trail angel offered some Tiger Balm, which I gladly tried, massaging it into my ailing left shin. The next 6 mile trail section scared me. If I ended up walking at 22-25 minute pace, it could take 2.5 hours to get through to the next aid station! I tried telling Brian to head back on his own and that I didn't want to subject him to this slow slog through the woods. Brian stuck with me. I was at least able to convince Joel to move on without me. I sat for a while, not knowing what to do. I ate some more soup and warmed up next to a heater. When I realized that Brian wasn't going anywhere without me, I decided to give the race another shot.

It was amazing what happened next. Since walking hurt so much, I decided to stretch out my legs and try some faster running. AND IT FELT AWESOME! It didn't hurt! It was as if someone gave me fresh new legs to play with! So I went for broke and let my body go. Roots and rocks be damned. I had nothing left to lose. It was no longer a time to be patient and conservative. It was time to spread my wings and fly. I had risen from the dead, and found some shiny new wheels. I blasted through the next 6 miles with reckless abandon. I would stop for short stretches to catch my breath, but then I would continue. I imagined it was a simple 6 mile run through the woods.  And in a 6 mile run, you run - you don't walk. Brian was enjoying it too, which filled my heart with joy. I don't know how fast we were going, but the pace felt like 8-9 minute minutes/mile at times. It doesn't even matter how fast I was really going. It felt like I was FLYING!

We got to the next aid station and I was still in shock and awe that I was able to come back from the dead. I was hypothesizing that my fast twitch muscles had been dormant all day and finally got a chance to be put in play.  But could it last? I sat down to figure things out. It was risky to sit down while I was on a roll, but I needed a moment to calm down and figure out what to do next. I didn't think this break-neck pace could continue, but I was planning to ride it out as far as it would take me. So after a short break and a cup of soup, we moved on and continued running like a pack of wolves was chasing us. At 76 miles, we caught up to Joel again. We were somewhat surprised that it took so long to catch up to him! He told us he was running scared, like he was in danger of missing the cutoff.  Joel ran with us the rest of the way, even though he had trouble keeping up at times. We came into mile 80 at around 22:25 (4:25AM). My Garmin had died after about 16 hours. Brian's Garmin was fresh though, and it showed that we finished this lap in 6 hours flat.

I got to see two sunrises in the course of one race. The sights and sounds we experienced were breathtaking. Normally, I would have a camera to document the myriad of sights, but I chose not to bring one along to focus on the race. These pictures were borrowed from other people at the race. Most are courtesy of Matt Hagen, who took some fantastic pictures!

Miles 80-100. Psychologically, I was a changed person. I was stronger. And I was confident that I could beat the pain. All I needed to do was take one aid station at a time, and just run as much as I could. So I ran. And I ran. And I ran some more. Walking didn't hurt as much anymore, but it was still very slow compared to the run.  I really enjoyed the last 20 miles. I didn't feel rushed. And when the sun came up, it gave me even more strength and positivity. With a couple miles to go, Joel caught up to me. He had turned his ankle somewhere in the last loop and was using a big stick as a cane, but was still moving very well. I walked with him, and told him that we should finish together. As long as the race was, I was kind of sad to see it end. Joel insisted that I run it in strong. With a quarter of a mile to go, I was greeted by my good friends Brian and Jennifer. I felt so happy and blessed. These friends, old and new, were cheering me in. So I was inspired to run it in with everything I had left. Again, I went for broke. I started to speed up and I kept speeding up until I was sprinting at full speed, as though I was running the mile relay in high school. The finish was so sweet. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, and I had come back from the dead to finish strong. I was so happy. I was a 100-mile finisher. It was euphoric, and having friends there to cheer me in made it so much sweeter. My dreams of finishing a 100 Mile race came true.

Here is link to the video of my finish, thanks to Linnea!

I finished in 198th place out of 229 finishers (there were 340 starters), with an official time of 29:01:50 - an automatic PR!

Other Notes:
I ran in my La Sportiva Crosslites for the entire race. I took 10 servings of Vespa, one every 3 hours.
I also drank 6 bottles of chocolate Pediasure, one every 20 miles. During the day I ate cheese tortillas and drank coke at the aid stations. At night I mainly took chicken noodle soup. I also drank 3 cans of Starbucks Expresso to stay awake at night.

I was really proud of Jessica, who finished her first 100 miler! I was also super proud of Jennifer who finished her first 50-mile race and found out later that she had bronchitis! I wish she could have done her first 50 mile race where she wasn't a bit overshadowed by 100 mile racers! 50 miles is a big deal! And Linnea, who came into this 50-mile race under trained did fantastic for her 2nd 50-mile finish! I also have to thank Brian for saving my race and coming in to pace me for 20 miles on short notice. He was nothing short of amazing. I also want to thank Gary and Mo for being there to cheer us all on.  I met Gary on the Runner's World Loop, and this was the first time I had ever met him in person. I am honored to have him and Mo (his lovely, and superbly talented wife) as friends. And I am super proud of Laura and Kynan, one of the nicest ultra running couples you will ever meet. They finished 80 miles though all kinds of pain.

Thank you all for your support and kindness.  I know its too early to be talking about Rocky Raccoon 2014, but I've been thinking... Would you consider joining us for a little run in Texas next year?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pre-Rocky Raccoon Race Report

I am struggling to write my Rocky Raccoon Race report. So much happened! I met so many amazing people!

My flight got into Houston at 7:15PM, and I went to the wrong hotel, thinking that Brian was staying at the same hotel as Laura and Kynan! I felt so bad calling Kynan and waking him up at 10:00PM! He was sleeping! I am such a terrible friend! Sighs... Luckily, Brian was at the hotel right next to the Holiday Inn, at the Day’s Inn.  I finally got to meet “Sass” for the first time!  And there was a sofa bed, so I didn’t even have to sleep on the floor! After chatting for about 45 minutes, we decided to get some sleep. After all, we’d have to get up at 4am! 

In the weeks leading up to this race, I seriously considered dropping down to the 50-miler. I was under trained. My last long run was the Morgan Hill Marathon on October 30th. I was scared as hell of that 100 mile distance. I had never run past 50. Ever. And the past year had been a crummy year of running for me. I haven’t even been on the Loop much lately.  So what chance did I have of finishing 100 miles? Everything would have to be perfect, and even then, I would probably need a miracle (and a stretcher) to deliver me to that finish line.

Linnea posted to Facebook that she was under trained and didn’t know what to do either. I responded with: 

I'm struggling with the decision to drop to the 50 myself... I haven't been running much since my sprained ankle at the quad dipsea. These decisions are tough. But you have to listen to your own heart. Forget about what anyone else might think and do what makes you happiest. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

And it was in that moment that I knew what I had to do. My heart wanted to be shooting for that 100 Mile finish. I’ve been dreaming of finishing 100 mile races since I picked up that Born to Run book over three years ago.  

So there I was, on the stage of my dreams. And it was AWESOME! Mostly. It was everything I hoped it would be and more.

And now, I don’t know how to put it all into a race report. Garbanzo’s video interviews and race report was great! But it still left some things unsaid.  So if you haven’t read Garbanzo’s report, that’s a great place to start!

I don’t know when I’ll be done with my race report. I have a draft done, but it still needs a lot of work! Stay tuned! 

Here I am after the finish, looking deliriously happy, with goofy grin...