by Chad Ricklefs
Biography | Part 1: A New Year, New Goals, New Dreams | Part 2: The Frosty Trail 50 Km, Littleton, Colorado February 10, 2001 | Part 3: Way To Cool 50 Km, March 10, 2001 | Part 4: Montrail/Patagonia American River 50 Mile, April 7, 2001 | Part 5: Miwok 100 Km, Sausalito, California May 5, 2001 | Part 6: Western States 100 Mile, June 23, 2001 |
Date of Birth: June 12, 1967
Place of Birth: Lafayette, IN
Current Address: Boulder, Colorado
Job: Boulder Running Company
Marital Status: Married to Samantha for 7 years
Height: 5'5" Weight: 118
Shoe size: 7
Pets: One cat, Lhotse
Sponsors: Montrail, Craft, PowerBar, Boulder Running Company
Number of years running ultras: Two
Number of ultras finished: 18
Best ultra performances: 2000 Leadville Trail 100 Mile, first attempt at Leadville that ended in victory; 2000 Massanutten Mountain 100 Mile, overcame 1999's DNF to finish in second; 2000 Squaw Peak 50 Mile, set a course record in my first attempt at this grueling race.
Part 1: A New Year, New Goals, New Dreams
Well here it is—the new year has arrived, and along with the new year comes a new set of goals for the 2001 season. Last year, only my second competing in ultrarunning, made my results that much more exciting. The training was starting to pay off. As most of you know, it is not always easy to accept all of the pain and suffering that goes along with the hours of training and racing. But these physical and mental challenges are what make us all return to conquer the next obstacle we set forth. In going over last year to put together my schedule and goals for the upcoming 2001 season, I thought it would be hard to top last year. But I realized that during these first two years, I was just physically building up a base for the future, and mentally each race was making me wiser for the future, although my friends and relatives think I am just getting crazier. With the proper training in the upcoming years I can hopefully achieve even better results.
So the task of coming up with a plan for 2001 lay in front of me. I reviewed last year’s training log and results, and came up with what I hoped would be a successful game plan. My season would be focused around two major events: the Western
At the Beverly Canyon aid station on the
return trip, mile 41.
States 100 in June and the Leadville 100 in August. I mapped out a plan of attack to be at my prime for both of these prestigious events. My race schedule would be as follows: January: The Phoenix National Trail 50 Mile; February: The Frosty Trail 50 Km; March: The Way to Cool 50 Km; April: The American River 50 Mile; May: The Mi Wok 100 Km, and finally the big two in June and August. On paper it seems like an aggressive race schedule, but putting myself in high caliber races is what I feel is necessary for me to reach my full potential, and besides, I would have several opportunities to scope out the competition for Western States while racing in California.
January 6, the day of the Phoenix National Trail 50 mile, was step one in my pursuit of a cougar and another ore cart. This year I was returning to try and run for the win, after coming up short to Ian Torrence last year. Although these early season races are used as training tools for the bigger events later in the season, I always try and race as hard as physically possible based on my current condition. I came into this race with just five weeks of training in the legs after enjoying a much needed four-week break in November following the JFK 50 Mile. No matter what, it was going to be tough this year. My competition included a handful of noted challengers, including Wasatch 100 winner Karl Meltzer, ultrarunning legend Eric Clifton, Bear 100 Mile winner Hal Koerner, and 1999 PNT winner Dennis Poolheco—just to name a few!
My wife Samantha and I enjoyed our trip to the desert, having arrived a few days early to relax in the warm desert sun and thaw out after an unusually cold December in Colorado. Unlike the days leading up to the race, we woke up on race day to cool, overcast skies, and rain showers that made several appearances throughout the day. These conditions were ideal in which to race, unlike last year’s hot temperatures.
Eric led Karl, Hal and myself to the top of the first hill and the first aid station located at Buena Vista. Shortly thereafter, Eric’s light went out and I took the lead for the next tricky 5.5 miles to Beverly Canyon aid station. On Friday I was able to run this section in training, which helped in navigating the rock-strewn trail in the dark.
The PNT 50 course is held on trails in South Mountain Park, the largest regional park in the world. The course is primarily desert trail with many rugged, steep, technical rocky sections. There is more than 5,000 feet of climbing! So as you can see, it helps to know the course, so last year’s experience would hopefully help. After Beverly Canyon, Karl took his turn at the front (Eric joined us as the sun appeared and made flashlights obsolete) and guided us through the mentally challenging Desert Classic section. This section is tough because it snakes through a flat section, seeming to take forever to reach the base of Telegraph Pass. Karl took a slight lead as our group disintegrated close to the climb. Unfortunately, an ill-timed nature call forced me to lose contact. I caught and passed Eric and Hal at the Telegraph Pass aid station, mile 19. This would be the last time I saw Eric and Hal, except for the brief moment we would pass as I made my return trip on the out and back course. At this point, Karl was about three minutes ahead of me, a lead he would maintain until mile 27.
After the turnaround at mile 25, the course takes the runners up the toughest climb in the race. Last year I made the mistake of pushing to hard from mile 19 to 25, and while in the lead was passed by Ian up this climb. This year I was wiser and saved a little for this section, and it paid off as I passed Karl for the lead up the climb. It was a lead I would keep, except for a brief moment after losing a battle with a feisty little cactus! A note for the future: carry a pair of tweezers the next time I race in the desert.
It all happened as I was moving over for an oncoming runner who was working his way to the turnaround. As I moved over, my left foot brushed a cactus, and I instantly had three quills stuck in my foot. Three or four steps later, the pain was unbearable, and I stopped to try and remove them after taking my shoe off. It was at this time that Karl went by me—how frustrating! These quills were not coming out, these weapons had barbs on them! My shoe went back on, and after about twenty minutes of running the pain went away as my foot went numb. I learned later that my wounds were nothing compared to Hal’s. He took a tumble off course and went rolling through a cactus field!
Shortly after putting my shoe back on, and getting back to business, I passed Karl for the final time. It is at this point when I kicked it in, I began to run scared, scared of being caught. This fear always makes me kick it up a notch into a higher gear! The PNT 50 is great because of the chance to see all of the other runners on this out and back course.
I really enjoy receiving and giving encouragement to the other runners. This also helped me pick it up when I felt like slowing down. From mile 27 to the finish, I tried to keep focused and keep the lead until the finish. Although my time was about 10 minutes slower than last year, I was psyched to come back and improve on last year’s second place and start the season off with a win. I was off to a good start in the pursuit of my "big two."
Special thanks to race director Linda Van Tilborg, and all of the great volunteers and sponsors of the event. Without their support, events like these couldn’t take place. For me, after a quick sponge bath and awards ceremony (my award was a really cool cowboy statue!) it was back in the VW bus for the trip home to Colorado to continue my preparation. My next race will be the Frosty 50 Km in Littleton, Colorado. Until next time, Chad signing off from Boulder Colorado!
Part 2: The Frosty Trail 50 Km, Littleton, Colorado, February 10, 2001
Crossing the snow-covered finish line!
The Frosty Trail 50 Km, or better known this year as the "Snowy Trail 50 Km," lived up to its chilly reputation. The race day conditions put a damper on my pre-race strategy, but in Colorado it is always better to be prepared
for the worst. Although I was unable to achieve my original goals for the race, it turned out to be a great day anyway. The flat, multiple lap race
around Chatfield Reservoir, located in Littleton CO, turned out to be quite a challenge.
Crossing the snow-covered finish line!
Working at, as well as being sponsored by a local Boulder running store, provides me with excellent sources of information on race strategies and pacing. The store is owned and managed by two South African running legends, Mark Plaatjes and Johnny Halberstadt. Mark is best known for his 1993 victory in the World Marathon Championships, and Johnny has numerous records and victories from the marathon distance and up. Mark is preparing for this year's Comrades Marathon, and was planning on running the Frosty as a good tempo workout. This was a great opportunity for me. He offered to set a pace that would allow us to go after Charl Mattheus' course record, and from what I've been told, Mark is like a metronome when it comes to pacing. If I was fit enough, things looked good in going for a course record. As the race approached, I was feeling good while going through my usual pre-race taper. I recovered nicely from January's Phoenix National Trail 50 Mile race. The only major physical problem I had, was the pesky little cactus sore on my foot that still wouldn't go away. Other than that, I was feeling great and my training was going as planned! The only foreseeable problem in going after Charl's record was of course snow! I have gotten in the habit of tuning out the weather forecast because of the 90% probability they will be wrong. Their is already enough to worry about in preparing for an ultra, weather shouldn't be another added stress.
On Thursday it started to snow hard, and by Saturday morning the day of the race, their was six inches of snow on the ground. My running mate for the day Mark chose not to race in order to lessen the risk of possibly injuring himself due to running all of the fresh powder. So at 7:00 a.m. the Frosty competitors
lined up in the "frosty" 15 degree morning air. Besides the 50-km event, their was also a 12.5-km and 25-km race. This would hopefully offer some "trail breakers" ahead of me the first lap. But as we started out, I found myself closer to the front than I thought I would be and now I was one of the "trail breakers". The 50-km race is four 12.5-km laps, so eventually a "single track" would emerge in the snow as the day wore on.
My race went great given the conditions. I had Hal Koerner for company the first lap and a half of the race. Hal was second at last month's PNT 50 Mile, so I knew he was capable of putting together a strong challenge. It was at about 13 km when James Gomez flew by both Hal and I. He was cruising, and if he had kept that pace he would have had a stellar time given the conditions. But as his surge ended at about 28 km, I soon found myself in front again, and I would finish with a time of 4:02. I later learned that this was James' first ultra, what a tough initiation to the ultra distance. Hal ran a great race until an unfortunate injury forced him to retire early.
Even though my original plan of bettering Charl's record time of 3:23 didn't materialize, I was very pleased with my run. My time was about twenty
minutes slower than last year, but that was on a dry course. I am where I want to be in regards to my fitness level for my two peaks in the season, Western States and Leadville. My training has still been focused around building a good base, and I have not begun to do any high intensity workouts, such as intervals. That will begin later before my next race in March, the Way to Cool 50 Km, which will offer me a chance to stretch my legs against some of my Western States competition, as well as race on parts of the Western States course.
Thanks to Coach Weber and all of his very supportive volunteers. I think putting on ultras in Florida during the winter sounds more appealing to me, but I know all of the local runners are grateful he provides us with these early season races. Until March, happy trails and always keep your goals in sight! - Chad
Part 3: Way To Cool 50 Km, March 10, 2001
Team Montrail -- 1st - 4th! (l to r)
Nate McDowell (1st), Chad Ricklefs (2nd), Kevin Sawchuk (4th), Ian Torrence (3rd)
Enjoying long distance driving is definitely a bonus for me. This seventeen hour "road trip" to Sacramento from Boulder, would be the first of two in a one month period. In April Sam and I will do the same lonesome stretch of I-80 through Wyoming, Utah and Nevada again for the American River 50. In a recent conversation with Don Allison, editor of Ultrarunning, I spoke of how I used these long excursions behind the wheel as a training tool. Ultra driving gives you a chance to concentrate and focus for a long period of time, just like running a 100 mile trail race. This is better than a friend of mine who was on the US Ski Team. He used driving one hundred miles an hour as his way of getting used to excessive speeds. As long as I make sure I eat good food, and drink plenty of water, sitting for that long of time doesn't seem to adversely affect my body. We always try and arrive on the Thursday before the race, this allows for a relaxing run, and for plenty of lounging on the Friday before the event.
After seeing a bald eagle, a huge bull elk, plenty of antelope, and several coyote, we made a quick descent from winter on the Donner Pass, to spring in the Sacramento valley, yeeeehaaaa! the uneventful trip, On Friday I went to the start of the race after registering. There I ran into race director Greg Soderlund, who was busy putting up the finish line banner. Seeing the starting area got me pretty anxious for the next day's race. Greg passed on some words of wisdom about the course, and previous race strategies that have been successful. Hopefully I would adhere to his advice of not getting caught going out to fast. Apparently approaching the race with that strategy would come back to haunt you in the final third of the race. Usually I am pretty good about holding back the reins early on, and trying to pick up the pace as the race progresses.
5:00 a.m., and like usual, I don't need the alarm to wake me. By now, having been doing this ultra thing for a couple of years, I should be able to sleep soundly before races. Apparently not, as I still toss and turn throughout most of my pre race sleeps. It doesn't seem to bother me though, as long as the sleep the night before the night before is sound. After a quick bite to eat, and brewing up a cup of Joe, we were out the door of my wife's Aunt's house in Davis. The hour drive to Cool gave me time to enjoy my breakfast and coffee. We arrive early enough for me to take a quick run before the start. I only recently started doing this before 50-km's. It seems to help take care of "nature's call" one final time before the race, rather than during the first twenty minutes of the race. Which in a fast 50-km can take you right out of the thick of things early on.
Standing on the starting line, I quickly said my "hellos" to those I haven't seen in awhile. Before I knew it we were off, and without the normal pre race briefing. Hopefully the course would be well marked! Just like Greg had said, Scott St. John took off from the gun. He was being flanked by Nate McDowell from Oregon, last year's second place finisher. I was running in about eighth place, following both Kevin Sawchuck and Ian Torrence closely. It has become rather routine for Ian and I to run together early on during races. We seem to have the same idea when it comes to pacing the early stages of a race. We were about one minute behind the leaders as we came through the first aid station at ten km. We both looked at our watches, a hilly, muddy 10 km section in just under thirty seven minutes! Did we go out to fast we asked each other, only time would tell. It seemed we didn't have any other option but to run this pace if we wanted to stay in contention, as we were in approximately fifth and sixth positions as we crossed Highway 49 for the first time.
Since Western States is looming on the horizon, it was nice to be able to run part of the WS course during this race. As we were cruising along a section of the race, Ian yelled back to me that we were running on part of the WS course. Shortly after that, I noticed one of the WS trail markers. Seeing those markers got me pumped up a bit, and I put in a little surge which separated me from Ian, putting me in fourth place. I kept this surge going all the way to the Auburn Lake Trails aid station, mile 14.4. Before the aid station was a nice stream crossing. I noticed the race photographer standing on the other side. I made sure I was smiling, or at least not grimacing. It seems that I always have a look of pain in my face in every photo taken of me. Not this time hopefully!
After a quick refill of my bottle, and picking up a little snack for the road, I was off. One aspect of this race which is different than most races, is that there is no crew access anywhere on the course. This would be the first race where I would rely solely on the aid stations for fuel, except for the three Power Gels I carried with me. The stations were placed optimally, and had just what I needed, including the encouragement from the volunteers. Ian caught up to me shortly after the station, and went by me as we started the Hoboken Canyon Trail loop. I new I needed to stay in contact with him. Ian, as you all know, places very consistently near the top of most races he does. To finish strong, I would have to match his current pace.
After dealing with a brief "bad" stretch, I started to feel better and offered to help Ian out by trading pulls with him until we reached the Auburn Lake Trails aid station for the second time. As we made the left turn off of the Waterfall trail to begin the ascent of the steep Ball Bearing climb, we had our first glimpse of the third place runner. Our patience was beginning to pay off. We closed the gap to Scott St. John by the time we reached the Auburn Lake Trails aid station. Scott was carrying two bottles, so he did not have to stop and refuel. He passed Ian and I as we made our pit stop.
At this point it got tricky! After leaving this station, we make begin our return trip back on the Ball Bearing trail. If you don't keep your head up and eyes forward, disaster! Heading toward us were the runners who were still making their way out the trail. I am happy to say Ian and I had no catastrophes, but instead received plenty of encouragement from the runners we passed. Shortly after leaving the station, we caught and passed Scott for the final time. We were now running third and fourth. After crossing the Foot Bridge, it was time to make the climb up to the Goat Hill Aid station, the marathon mark. I kept running up the steep switch backs, and after rounding one of the switch backs, I passed the second place runner. I guess patience is a virtue! After taking over second place, I heard Ian yelling at the top of his lungs for me to keep up the good work. He had dropped off the pace up the climb, but still helped urge me on. Thanks Ian.
Now running in second place, I began to think that there might still be a chance to win. As I passed through the marathon mark, the volunteers informed me that I was five minutes behind Nate. After quickly doing the math, I new that I would have to run each of the remaining five miles one minute faster than Nate in order to catch him. It would be an awesome task, considering I was pretty well tapped out at this point. Nate would have to make a major error in order for me to catch him, so I resorted to trying to maintain second place. As I reached the final aid station after crossing back over Highway 49, I was told that he was now five and half minutes ahead, with only two miles to go! Catching him was out of the question, so I worked my way through the final stretch to cross the line in second place. Nate had finished about seven and a half minutes before me. He was on a mission, and came pretty close to the course record, a nice way to follow up his second place finish the previous year.
I was pleased with my race; second place to Nate is fine by me. Our Montrail team had a great day also, taking first through fourth! Behind Nate and myself, Ian held onto third and Kevin finished strong by crossing the line in fourth place. After the race, we got a great photo of our "butts," covered in thick mud, a testament to the tricky conditions the runners encountered. I am looking forward to returning to northern California next month for the American River 50 Mile, another chance to test the waters against some of my fellow WS competitors. I seem to be still on track fitness wise for June. It is now time to start picking up the intensity level, as well as gradually increasing the long runs.
Thanks to Greg and his great crew for a wonderful race. The finish line festivities included a band as well as pizza from the restaurant next door. Shortly after the awards, Sam and I were back in the car to start our drive back to Colorado. We got to spend a wonderful evening in Winnemucca NV before finishing the "ultra drive" on Sunday. Until April, happy trails and good luck to all!
Part 4: Montrail/Patagonia American River 50 Mile, April 7, 2001
On the road again, I just can't wait to get back on the road again! No I am not talking about getting back on the roads for a 100 Km race, but rather back on beautiful I-80, heading west to sunny California. This was the second time in the past month my wife and I made the seventeen hour trip west for a race. Last month was the Way to Cool 50 Km, and this month I was returning to the American River 50 Mile to try and up my second place finish from last year. We once again did part of the drive after work on Wednesday, and finished up the drive on Thursday, which was pretty uneventful, unlike what we would encounter on our way home!
Last year the race weekend was beautiful, held under clear skies and eighty degree temperatures. Usually the race turns out to be held on the first hot weekend of the year in Sacramento, but this year's race was held one weekend to late. We woke up on Friday morning expecting to see the same beautiful sun we had on our arrival the previous day, but instead it was raining with temperatures in the upper 40s--ugh! Fortunately, it let up just enough for me to venture out on my pre-race run along the American River.
Between this race and last month's race, I began to add more intensity to my training as well as increasing the volume on my weekend runs. The increase in intensity would definitely help in this notoriously fast paced race, but the increase in volume was geared more towards this summer's 100 milers. The only problem I had to deal with after the Way to Cool race was some poison oak rashes on my right leg. Overall I couldn't complain, the poison was easier to deal with than the cactus that was stuck in my foot after January's race!
I woke up my usual two hours before the start to eat my pre race breakfast and savor that nice warm cup of coffee with a PowerBar, yummy. I nervously opened the blinds to see what the weather gods were offering up for us today. Definitely not the usual hot conditions like we had last year, but instead 40 degree temps with light drizzle. These conditions would be great if the entire race was held on the paved bike path, but only half of the race would spare us of the slippery mud and wet conditions. The first 24 miles of the course follows the American River paved Bike Trail to Folsom Lake. It is here at Folsom Lake that the fun begins, and the pounding of the pavement for the past 24 miles is rewarded with beautiful, undulating, single track for the remaining 26 miles to the finish in Auburn.
The four hundred plus competitors waited impatiently on the starting line for the 6:00 a.m. gun to go off, not because they wanted to embark on their adventure, but because the start was next to the row of Port-o-Jons which were emanating a not so beautiful aroma. Race Director Greg Soderlund quickly got the race under way as he too was battling the smell! Like last year, Michael Loney, 2000 AR winner, quickly shot off the front and disappeared into the darkness of Sacramento. A small group of about six runners, including myself, began our pursuit of Michael. This year I was here to not only improve upon my second place finish, but also to try and set a PR for the 50-mile distance, which would hopefully be under six hours.
Everything was going as planned during the first half of the race. I was actually right on target at the halfway mark to break six hours, but things were about to change once I hit the trails ahead. This year we were able to reel in Michael by the time we reached the Nimbus Dam Overlook aid station, mile 19. It was here that the race began to take shape. I made a quick change out of my road racing flats into my trusty Montrail Leona Divides, and exited the aid station as fast as possible. I passed Michael on the decent back to the trail, and had only fellow Colorado ultra runner, Hal Koerner, a short 45 seconds ahead of me.
For the next 12.5 miles, Hal maintained his 45-second lead as we headed towards the single track trails that would begin after the Granite Bay aid station located at mile 31.5. Having done the race last year, I knew what lie ahead after this point, so I wasn't in a big hurry to try and close the gap. I caught Hal right before the aid station, and after a quick refueling from my crew, which included my wife and also two new welcomed additions, Eric Clifton and his wife Noni, we headed off down the mud strewn trail. Eric started the race, but had to retire because of a nagging back injury. It was great to have them help out at the aid stations, Eric took over the role of photographer, relieving my wife of one her multiple tasks.
Just after leaving the aid station, I put in a surge for the next three-mile stretch that took us to the Buzzard's Cove aid station. Hal began to drop off the pace, and upon reaching the Rattlesnake Bar aid station 5 miles later I had stretched my lead to about 15 minutes. The sloppy conditions of the course were starting to take a toll on me though. I had fallen off my sub six hour pace, and with about 5 miles to go the weather rapidly deteriorated. Between the Manhattan Bar and Last Gap aid stations, it began to get very dark. As it was still only around 11:30 in the morning, the darkness could only mean a storm was brewing overhead. The little elevation gain between Sacramento and Auburn was enough to make the precipitation that was now falling, return to earth in the form of sleet. Where oh where were the 80 degree temperatures of year's past?
My body quickly began to tighten up in an effort to maintain my remaining body heat. My hands and lower arms were now the color of ripe tomatoes, and were useless in trying to eat or drink anything. Thankfully, I had a thermal undershirt underneath my singlet, so I was able to keep my core warm. But up ahead was the feared stretch of the course, the three-mile climb up the Last Gasp hill to the finish. As I began the climb, the sleet mixed with rain really began to fall hard. This could possibly be the longest and toughest three miles of any race I have done. My stride was getting shorter and shorter with each step as my body continued to tighten up. I could see the finish area at the top of the hill, as well as hear the cheers of encouragement from my crew, but it felt like I wasn't getting any closer to them. I finally reached the parking area that was the home to the finish line. After crossing the line in 6 hours and 16 minutes, Greg quickly handed me my finisher's award before whisking me off to the warmth of the community building. Fortunately, this years finisher's award was a fluffy, fuzzy, nice and warm fleece pullover, how appropriate.
Once in the building, and out of the elements, I was served some of the best vegetable soup I have ever tasted. After two hearty servings of soup, I began to thaw out. Hal crossed the line about 19 minutes after me, and he to was soon enjoying some soup and a nice warm, dry place to relax. We briefly relived some of the race while we waited for the awards to be handed out. After receiving my award, I went to the finish line and cheered on the runners who were putting the finishing touches on their 2001 AR 50 journey. It was still raining and sleeting out, so most of these runners had been battling the cold and precip for about two hours. Way to go!
Soon after the awards we got into the car to begin our journey home to Colorado. Ahead of us lie another Last Gap, Donner Pass. Shortly after leaving Auburn, and heading east up I 80 towards Reno, the rain quickly changed to snow, and the two mile long line of "big rig" trucks didn't look good for us. We came upon a sign that, fortunately for us, said "no trucks" only beyond this point. About 15 miles later the traffic came to a halt, and we sat for about 30 minutes! During that thirty minutes, the snow began to cover the road, and we only hoped we wouldn't be reliving the fate of the "Donner Party". We were soon on our way though, and after a slow drive down the other side of the pass into Reno, we made it to our favorite Super 8 in Winnemucca Nevada.
I was happy to return to the American River 50 this year and improve on last year's second place finish, even though I was unable to set a new 50-mile PR. My season is still going great, and the anticipation for Western States is building. Next month I will be competing in California again, at the Miwok 100 Km trail race. I am really looking forward to this final test before WS, not only because I get to fly to this race, but because I have heard such great things about the race, and I hopefully will have the chance to test myself against 1999 and 2000 Western States winner Scott Jurek, yikes! But before May's race, it is back to the trails of Boulder, and it is now time to start throwing in some of the bigger climbs found in the peaks surrounding Boulder.
Hopefully, the rest of you have been enjoying some Spring weather as well as some great training and racing. I am sure Spring will eventually arrive here in Boulder, although as I write this the Denver metro area is being hit with another winter storm. Until May, happy trails to all!
Part 5: Miwok 100 Km, Sausalito, California May 5, 2001
As I write this report for the 2001 Miwok 100 Km trail race, I can’t help but think about how beautiful the course was, although my training run today through the Colorado National Monument located in Grand Junction was quite scenic also. Having both the challenging climbs of Golden Gate National Park, as well as the Pacific Ocean to your side was certainly a treat. All of the runners could not have asked for a more perfect day, 70 degrees and sunny, with frequent and welcoming cool breezes coming off the ocean when needed. When my wife Sam and I left Boulder on Thursday to travel to San Francisco, luckily we were able to fly this month and thus did not have to make the long drive across I-80 for the third time in as many months. That was good, because it was 30 degrees and snowing. This has to be one of the longest winters yet in Colorado—I still have yet to train in shorts!
This race was my final competition before the “big one” in June—Western States. After last month’s race, the American River 50, I had several good weeks of training in Boulder. I started to add some bigger hills to my longer runs as well as increased the duration of my intensity workouts. As for any injuries after the AR 50, I came out of that one unscathed for the most part. Just the typical aches and pains that go with racing a 50-mile, and like after Way to Cool, just a touch of poison oak on my legs. This race was going to be a key one for me in my final Western States preparation. Last year’s top two finishers at Western, Scott Jurek and Tom Nielson, would be competing at Miwok this year. This would offer me the opportunity to gauge my fitness level against these two seasoned runners, as well as a handful of other top California and Western trail runners.
The race started at 5:40 a.m., first light, on Rodeo Beach which is located about five miles west of the quaint little “Mediterranean” town of Sausalito. All 200 plus starters made the quarter-mile jaunt across the beach as they headed towards the first of many climbs, more than 10,000 feet of climbing in total for the 62-mile distance. All of the climbing and descending would be excellent training for June. Thank goodness the whole race wasn’t run on the sandy beach. What a struggle! I don’t know how they do it in those desert races.
Quickly after beginning the first ascent, a small group formed at the front, consisting of myself, Scott Jurek, Tom Nielson, Ann Trason, Simon Mtuy, Stefan Peterson and Kevin Sawchuck. We ran together into the first aid station, Bunker Road, mile 5.5. After leaving this point we began climbing again, and soon it was just three of us at the front—Scott, Tom and myself, all the way to the second aid station, Tennessee Valley, located at mile 11.2. I noticed that Scott didn’t spend a lot of time at the aid stations, as he was consistently the first one to leave the stations. There was no time to hang out and chat or pose for any pictures for Sam.
Tom dropped off the pace after leaving Tennessee Valley, and soon it was just Scott and myself enjoying the beautiful views at the front of the race. Off in the distance we could see Muir Beach, the location of aid station number three. About half way through this 4.1-mile leg, I separated myself slightly from Scott. Upon entering the Muir Beach aid station, I was probably 20 seconds ahead of him. I quickly ran through this station because I knew I was going to meet Sam on the other side of the parking lot to exchange bottles and pick up some food. Shortly after exiting the road and starting up the trail to Pan Toll, I caught up with Errol Jones who was marking the course up ahead of us. It was a pleasure running with him briefly, and it was nice of him to make sure that trail bandits had not taken down any of the ribbons. As we started the long climb up to Pan Toll, Errol took off ahead of me as I wanted to conserve a little bit up this major climb early on in the race. As I neared the Pan Toll aid station, mile 21, Scott had rejoined me. I could see it wasn’t going to be easy to fully separate myself from him.
After a quick pit stop that included a brief stop at the well-stocked aid table to graze, we were off again on our way to Bolinas Ridge. This section of the trail is a beautiful meandering single track that traversed the hillside along the coast. Once again, about half way through this stretch, I opened up a slight lead. At Bolinas Ridge, mile 27.7, my advantage over Scott was about one minute. During the final out leg to Olema, I was able to stretch that lead to nearly three minutes at the turnaround, mile 35.4. When leaving Olema, I made sure to look at my watch so I could nervously see the difference between my pursuers and myself. The first runner I came upon was Scott, who was about three minutes back. He was being followed closely by Ann who was well on her way to a record setting run. After her the gap opened up to the next runners. I knew it was going to be a tough challenge to hold off Scott and Ann during the final 26.6 miles. I kept telling myself how important a good run here would be going into WS.
Just like I thought, it wasn’t going to be easy! As I left Bolinas Ridge on the return trip, mile 43.2, Sam informed me that I was only one minute ahead of a hard charging Scott. He had made up two minutes during that 7.8-mile stretch. He could easily close the final one-minute gap if I relaxed to much! As we exited the woods and entered the open fields that would take us back to Pan Toll, I was able to look back and see Scott closing in on me. I knew I had to switch gears to try and maintain my slim advantage. I did just that, and after completing the return trip to Pan Toll I had stretched my lead again slightly.
From Pan Toll on in to the finish the course consists of some really challenging descents and ascents. If you didn’t leave enough gas in your legs for this stretch, I have been told it can be very painful. Fortunately I did leave something, as I was able to increase my lead to nearly ten minutes as I crossed the finish line. Luckily it wasn’t on the beach, I don’t know if I could have made it across the sand after just completing the very challenging 62 -mile course known as “What Miwok.” I certainly did “wok” some sections, a necessity in ensuring a strong finish here.
I would like to thank race director John Medinger and his crew for putting on a superbly organized race. It was nice to receive your race number ahead of time, so the headache of registering the day before or the day of the race was alleviated. All of the aid stations were stocked well and were manned by generous supporters. The Miwok 100 Km beer given to the competitors was a great collector’s item! After enjoying a tasty veggie burger after the race, we headed back to San Rafael to relax after the long day. It was a nice change, normally we would have hopped into the car shortly after the race to begin our seventeen-hour drive home. Instead, as we flew home on Sunday, it was a treat to see Lake Tahoe and the sight of the Western States trail from high above. The hard part for me during the next seven weeks will be trying to harness the anticipation for that race!
Part 6: Western States 100 Mile, June 23, 2001
It has been tough for me to sit down at the computer to start my Western states report. As the results will show, I did not finish the race; I am shown as a dropped out. Unfortunately, I had issues with my feet that forced an early retirement at mile 62, the Foresthill School aid station. I never thought in my wildest dreams that something like this would happen to me, I guess all ultrarunners, no matter what level of fitness they posses, are at the risk of an injury stopping them short of reaching any goals they may have set. All of us have witnessed Olympic caliber athletes, such Mary Decker-Slaney, fall short of completing a goal they have set, when they feel it is close to being in their grasp. A Western states victory was definitely a goal I had set at the beginning of the year, and with my training going as planned, plus my races leading up to Western going great as well, I thought I had a pretty good shot at achieving that goal.
It was Sunday June 17, the van was packed and ready to go. Sam and I were both looking forward to traveling to Lake Tahoe to enjoy a little R&R before the race. We had a nice leisurely two-day drive, spending one night camping at the Utah/Wyoming border. It was a good thing we didn’t try and do the drive one day earlier. As we were about 150 miles outside of Reno, we got our first glance of the huge billowing cloud of smoke over Reno. While stopping for fuel, we saw in a local paper what the culprit of the smoke was. On Sunday a forest fire had started just west of Truckee, where we were staying, and had jumped across I-80, forcing the highway to be closed. As we neared the fire, we both were wondering if the race would even be able to be held. Driving through the smoldering forest as we made the climb from Reno to Truckee, put us right in the thick of the fire. Helicopters hovered above as they filled their slurry buckets in the Truckee River, which is located right next to the highway. A sense of relief came over us as we neared Truckee and our exit. Fortunately, the fire was to the east of town, and it appeared that it was being pushed east with a strong northwesterly wind. The race would be on as scheduled.
We had several days to enjoy the Tahoe area before the race activities began on Thursday. I would be doing only one run before Friday, so searching for runs was not of great importance to me. On Tuesday however, we did find a road that took us to the Pacific Crest Trail outside of Tahoe City. I had a leisurely hour jaunt on the trails to stretch my legs, while Sam was able to hike part of the trail also. The rest of the week was spent trying to find trails for Sam to mountain bike on, while I tried to relax in the shade and get an early start on my upcoming graduate program readings.
On Thursday we attended our first official function of the race, the crew briefing. Western States is not the most crew friendly 100-miler, so attending this meeting was extremely beneficial for me an my crew chief, my wife. This was the first opportunity to see some of my fellow competitors, and get caught up with friends I haven’t seen for awhile. I also ran into my pacer Don Allison at this meeting. He was very helpful in determining which aid stations were important ones, and to make sure I had someone at those particular ones. Besides my wife Sam and Don, I would also have my parents helping me out as part of my crew. This would be their first 100-mile race. The only prior race they had seen me in was the JFK 50 Mile. That race is only six and a half hours long, so I made sure they knew what they were getting into. Not only having to wake up at 3:00 a.m., but they would be up and traveling around the twisty Sierra roads into the evening hours.
Friday was when I got a chance to see most of the competition I would be facing. As the winner of last year’s Leadville 100, I had the honor of being introduced along with other 100-mile trail winners and last year’s top five Western States finishers. Standing with the likes of Tim Tweitmeyer, Tom Nielson, Tom Johnson, and others, confirmed any thoughts I had of how
competitive this year’s race was going to be. I had set a lofty goal of winning this race, but felt confident and ready to tackle the challenge. After more brief hellos, it was time to retire to the hotel room for one final chance to rest before the alarm went off at 3:00 a.m.
A brief synopsis of my race goes like this. Gun goes off in my ear at 5:00 a.m., immediately start chasing down last year’s winner up the climb to Emigrant Pass. At the top of the pass I looked back and saw that four of us already had a significant gap on the rest of the field. We flew through the first 16.5 miles. Before the race I had put together my projected splits that I would carry with me. This sheet also listed Mike Morton’s splits at the major checkpoints during his record run of 15:40. At the 16.5-mile mark, Red Star Ridge, we were six minutes faster than Mike’s time to this station. Man we were bookin’, with Clifton leading the way. After Red Star Ridge, Scott St. John joined us, and eventually went into the lead on the way to Robinson Flat. I was running comfortably a few paces behind. At Robinson Flat I spent a few moments longer in the aid station making sure I drank all of my protein drink and filling up my waist belt with all of the necessary fuel I would need. The next chance I would have to see my crew would be at Michigan Bluff, 25.5 miles later.
The first thing I remember saying to myself shortly after leaving Robinson and starting the descent to Deep Canyon, was how much downhill there was in this race. My toenails on both feet were really starting to become painful during this stretch. A brief uphill leg to Dusty Corners helped alleviate some of the pain, but it would only be temporary relief. As I began the steep, twisting decent to the bottom of Devil’s Thumb I knew I was in trouble. My hobbled run was eventually reduced to a gingerly walk to the bottom of the hill! After beginning the climb up to Devil’s Thumb, I became really frustrated because now my toes were hurting on the uphills also. I didn’t know what to do. I felt great otherwise, I had minimal fatigue in my legs, and I was still eating and drinking as planned. The only problem was I couldn’t run without feeling excruciating pain in my toenails.
Upon reaching Devil’s Thumb I knew my race was over. My competition was up the trail and I could do nothing to reel them in. The next 15 miles was sheer torture. Not only torturous pain, but mentally challenging as well. I had put so much into this race and now it was falling apart. I had several wonderful podiatrists try and remedy the situation at Michigan Bluff. I had expressed a desire to drop at this point because of the pain. They modified my shoes and cared to my feet before sending me off on the next ten-kilometer stretch to Foresthill School. I will never forget the advice I received from Ann Trason as she passed me while I hobbled into Michigan Bluff. “Have them rip your toenails off and give you Novocain” she shouted out to me. I chose the shoe modification route instead.
The damage had been done, all of the work the medical staff did, could not help relieve the pain. I walked the next stretch, and this time after talking with Don Allison about my options, I made the decision to drop, this time for good. Part of the reason I did the last stretch, was because of the coaxing of the medical personnel. Their goal is to have everyone finish the race, safely of course, but for me that was not the goal. For me the goal was to win, so I was very reluctant to go any further, I knew I could not achieve the goal I had set. I respect every word of encouragement they offered me, but I did not want jeopardize any of my future races by possibly causing other injuries while compensating for my toe problems.
After sneaking my way to the Foresthill checkpoint, avoiding the medical personnel this time for fear of being talked into going further after more foot work, I officially became a “dropped voluntarily.” It was done. In some ways the pressure was gone. I actually felt relieved. During those three hours of walking, I must have changed my mind a hundred times about ever doing another ultra race. I felt bad about dropping for other reasons as well. Both my parents and my pacer had traveled from the East coast to help and watch the race. My wife and I had also made huge personal and financial sacrifices in preparation for this race.
All of these pressures hit hard during the two days of driving back to Boulder. I must have gone through the race a thousand times, each time trying to figure out why I had the problems I did. I was sure my ultra career was done by the end of the trip home, but during the past couple of days something wonderful has happened. I have received numerous e-mails wishing me well, and providing me with comfort while I agonized over last weekend. Everyone’s support has been appreciated, and has helped me gather myself mentally. Tomorrow I will do my first run since the race, my first run in my pursuit of defending my Leadville title. For me there will be another ultra, thanks to everyone’s tremendous support and encouragement.
Part 7: The Leadville Trail 100 Mile, Leadville, Colorado, August 18 and 19, 2001
This year's Leadville Trail 100 offered me my first chance at defending a title in a major event. Unlike last year, I would not be able to run unnoticed—the number 1 bib gave me a way, I think. I had set some pretty lofty goals last year, but I wasn't carrying the burden of being the defending champion over the 100-mile event.
As usual, my pre race week was filled with the mind games that plague me before any big event. Am I getting sick, why does my knee hurt, was my last massage too close the race? All of these "symptoms and worries" of course disappeared immediately after the gun went off at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. It is amazing how the body can react to changes in training loads. My body knows exactly when I have cut back my training, and it jumps on the opportunity to cut back on working so hard to keep my body healthy and injury free. But as soon as I ask it to perform on race day, it seems to pick up just where it left off.
Going into the race this year, I knew exactly what it took to have a successful run at Leadville. My training had gone according to plan, and it was up to me to put together a solid performance on race day. Unlike last year, I would have a pacer with me from 60 miles to the end. I still made the return trip over Hope Pass solo, but was definitely looking forward to having some company for the "home stretch". I had the unbelievable opportunity to run with a legend, Mark Plaatjes, the 1993 World Marathon Champion. Just being in the presence of someone with his experience was enough to make the pain of the previous 60 miles seem distant. He was great company and didn't seem to mind the "plodding" pace of a 100-mile trail race. I am in awe at the thought of how fast he and others have run the marathon distance, just as he said he was in awe of the perseverance it takes to run 100 miles. A mutual respect exists between us.
As far as the race itself, it went according to plan—for almost the entire race. I was never more than two minutes off my projected splits, even though I was not feeling quite at 100 percent. Unfortunately, mile 95 would signal the end of the day for me. After running in the lead for almost eleven hours, I would call it a day as I eventually relinquished the lead. It wasn't that my body gave out, although I could definitely tell I had just run 95 miles. Rather it was a mental let down that forced me to retire. As I have stated before, I like to set goals that are usually quite high, and for me to come up short caused my day to end prematurely. After leading for so long, to be put in a position of chasing was enough to break me. Believe me, I gave chase for as long as my body could, but I didn't quite have it in me on that day.
I have heard what I did was the center of several debates amongst the local "ultra" scene in Boulder. One side supported my decision to drop at mile 95, and the other was against even thinking of pulling up after going that far, and for so long. Just as I said in my Western States 100 report, a finish for me is not always the goal. Runners choose to compete for different reasons, all of which should be respected, even if they are seemingly debatable. I respect any one that even attempts the challenges that ultras offer.
After struggling with a sever case of "flu like symptoms" for 36 hours after the race, I eventually recovered. Surely the weekend was a disappointment for me, but I was quick to remind myself how great the past 10 months have been. Even though I fell short of having "successful" races at Western States and Leadville, the "road” to these races has been memorable. The races and training leading up to the "big two" gave me the chance to meet some wonderful people and travel to many beautiful places. The support from everyone following my progress has been great, and definitely offered inspiration to continue when the road was rough. If I had the chance to do it again, no doubt I would be the first in line.
Although my race plans for next year are not set yet, reading the latest UltraRunning has sparked a flame to return to the Western States playing field soon. My remaining schedule for this year includes the Colorado Outward Bound Relay in September (with Mark Plaatjes, Ian Torrence, Adam Chase, and local Boulder trail runner Dave Mackey), followed by the JFK 50 Mile in November, but most importantly hitting the books, as I started graduate school the day after Leadville.
A special thanks to Don Allison and UltraRunning for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts on running, and to everyone who offered support and encouragement throughout the year.