Thursday, July 6, 2017

Western States 100 Crew Report

Crewing, especially for a true competitor—someone racing at the front (and hard)—is so rarely discussed. I’m guilty of this, and most of my friends are as well. Your crew consists simply of whichever few friends you could convince to follow you around all day (and night). Crewing is work though; the stress holds weight.
    On a Sunday morning long run a month before Western States, tracing our way up and down the winding backside of Mount Sanitas in Boulder, I expressed my disappointment to Cat in not attending this year—I had so many friends from both Boulder and the east coast running this year, and that if I found someone to crew I’d buy the plane ticket that week. Thankfully, Cat asked right there. A few days later, thanks to long-forgotten frequent flyer miles, I had a plane ticket and rental car set.
    Cat is…an erratic racer, generally. Or better said, she needs to find focus when at aid stations. She runs as fiercely as anyone I know, but having no set people to seek out at each point adds another variable; if you rely on yourself on race day, the likelihood of forgetting something crucial at the right time, like lubricant or an extra bottle of calories, skyrockets.  At Western States, the margin of error is thin whether you are racing at the front or skirting the 30-hour cut-off, ignoring that faint grit of sand in your shoe from mile ten can end your race. Establishing crew who knows your and whom you trust to provide what you need when you need it, strips away so much of these risks. It allows time for thoroughness, for planning.
    Establish a plan beforehand. This is for the racer more than the crew. Weeks beforehand even, start jotting notes whenever a potential issue comes to mind. Know clearly what your nutrition plan will be (even though it will go out the window by mile 60). Be ready for, when two days out from the race, you can’t find any of your self-care products or your Gu went bad. Plan in advance so you have time to fix the hiccups
    Showing up to Tahoe City Friday, Cat had separate packed bags set for crews A and B, walked us through what to have at every aid station and set a plan. My crew handled Robinson Flat, Michigan Bluff, Foresthill, and Green Gate before heading to No Hands Bridge for some final cheering. One person would be her point person; the only one with whom she spoke at aid stations (length to next aid station, how she looked, etc.), one person would unload and reload her pack for the next section of tail another would actively provide her food and drink for consumption while the other two did their jobs. My crew of three handled this well; Rebecca and Alice swapped and fed while I quizzed Cat on any specific requests that may have arisen in the previous section.
    We arrived to Robinson Flat early—very early—to beat the crowds that form & ensure a prime location for ourselves along the road leaving the aid station. We set up a towel along runner’s right ~75’ after the aid station that held separated areas of food and drink for the aid station, food and drink for the next section, and the ice cooler. Luckily, sporadic cell service allowed for the occasional iRunFar update from Duncan Canyon six miles earlier. First Jim came through followed by a slew of men well after him. Once the first twenty men came through, we kept a better eye for the first group of woman who we guessed, based on splits at Duncan Canyon, would give us a 10’ heads up on Cat’s arrival. Andrea Huser came through still maintaining her Walmsley-an lead over the women’s field, and then four more women came through roughly together after her. I wandered to my post ahead the aid station to cheer in runners and provide some anticipation of Cat’s arrival rather than trying to find her in the masses of crews and volunteers swirling the aid station. When I ran in 2014, my crew discovered the hard way that crews are not allowed anywhere near the aid station, even to assist their runner. So, for Cat we planned to not use the aid station. We set up slightly down trail and I waited ahead to give Alice and Rebecca a 60 second heads up and a chance to find any last minute request. Cat surprised us coming through after what felt like only a few minutes from the chase pack of bad ass women. I sprinted, bobbing and weaving through crews spread around the greater aid station area to beat Cat to our crew area by less than 30 seconds.
    In the transition I did everything I could to keep Cat present for even a minute, long enough to make sure nothing slipped through the gaps before she headed into eight miles of hot canyons before the next crew point. She had no complaints though aside from the looming heat that was encompassing us all by that point. We loaded her with a fresh ice bandana and frozen sponges everywhere they could possibly go. Alice walked the next 30’ or so with her to take last minute trash and the bottle she’d been sipping from in the aid station. Just like that, no more than a minute after she arrived, she was gone again. Next up, Michigan Bluff (mile 55).
    Several times in the week leading up to Western States, I had been advised to carry cash for the barbecue at Michigan Bluff. Again we arrived way too early, spending just enough time in Foresthill to peruse twitter for updates. We arrived to Michigan Bluff about an hour ahead of Jim Standard Time, set up the first of three assumed crew locations, and enjoyed some delicious hamburgers in the barren pre-noon shade. Jim came and went, followed by a thirty deep string of lookers-on welding iPhones hoping for their glimpse into something special. Another hour went by and we moved our crew spot further down road tracing ahead along the vector of shade. Ryan Sandes came through followed by a herd of chasing men. Of all the men I remember seeing come through here, Alex Nichols was the only one to look casual, to look like he was still running effortlessly. Then came the women. A loose group of Yiou Wang, Magda Boulet, and Kaci [FIGURE OUT WHERE PEOPLE ARE]
    Cat came in making up serious time on her split estimates from Robinson Flat to here and, frankly, caught us a little off guard. Seeing the mass of people swarming each runner through like a school of fish, I made the gut call to move our crew point another fifty feet down road in hopes people would get bored and not follow that far, giving us some peace to get our work done and give Cat some space to breathe and focus. Just as I set down the towel, all her food and drink bundled in it like a rucksack, I glanced up at Alice sprinting my direction to sound the alarm of Cat’s arrival. Cat came in calm and collected here; this was honestly the most collected I had seen or heard of Cat at a race before. Aid stations, particularly at Western States can be rather over-stimulating. Setting up a bit down road allowed both her and us to focus on the task at hand (getting Cat in and out refreshed in under a minute). This transition went more smoothly than the last, a true Nascar pit stop, and she was gone running up the road.  On to Foresthill (mile 62) to meet up with Crew A.
    We arrived to Foresthill after the lead men had come and gone. Crew A had already established a crewing location immediately following the aid station, but soon after our arrival we sussed out a better location down road, more shaded and further removed from the chaos that is the Foresthill aid station. A quick inventory and we realized we had no extra water after what had been used to fill bottles for Cat. I began running back to our truck less than a half mile away, but before I could even make it there, I spotted Cat bounding into town with Ryan Smith (her pacer along Bath Road) in tow, moving fast and looking casual. Cat went through the aid station for whatever she might have wanted as Smith and I sprinted toward the crews to get ready. Foresthill is a pivotal aid station. “The race starts at Foresthill,” after all. She arrived here in second place, YiOu having arrived a couple minutes earlier, so the buzz in the air was palpable. Those same fish who had apparently given up on Jim Walmsley swarmed, so much so my job became standing three feet from Cat and crew belting into the masses “why are there so many people here” and “give her some space” as one stranger of a man, beer on hip, suggested we give her ice for her pack. Thanks man, we got this. A minute or so later, with a pack full of liquid calories (she refused more waffles), she left the aid station in first place, YiOu still with her crew.
Our friend Clare Gallagher came through not long after, close enough that we stayed to help as we could. Given the hindrance of the mass of people surrounding Cat, I jumped in when Clare arrived, Smith and I reaching over each other to remove her socks and wipe off her feet as she ate a baked potato and then double fisted a can of Sprite and a bottled Frappucino (both were empty by the time she stood). Once Clare was off, we broke down our pit stop and headed for the cars. Crew A would head for the near side of the Rucky Chucky River, and we would head for Green Gate nearly two uphill miles past the river.
    The stress of the day wearing on us with the mid-afternoon sun had us make a quick stop for Frappucinos in Auburn before heading through Cool, California to the Green Gate aid station. We were antsy to arrive there as, upon arrival, we had a 1.3-mile walk to the aid station and then the 1.8-mile jog down to the river to watch the race and wait for Cat. Hurry up and wait. A text came through on Alice’s phone en route requesting “pickles and bubbly water”. We thankfully had several cans of La Croix on hand. We read of YiOu’s surge after Foresthill and were not sure if we should expect Cat first or second (or further back) into the river. Following a quick (lazy) set up at the aid station, we ran down the river jittering in Frappucino-fueled excitement. From our vantage on the far banks of the river, we were able to see runners traipse (or stumble) down the road into the aid station on the near side. Having not run since the Bighorn 50 a week prior, I was thankful for the lengthy head start to beat Cat up the hill to our crew towel at Green Gate. As soon as she and then pacer Ryan Lassen came into view (in first place), I ran up the road to the gate in a nervous huff and appreciating the five minutes to breathe I had upon arrival.
    Before long, Cat and entourage (Ryan, Alice, Rebecca) made their way through the aid station. Green Gait sits at mile 81.x, and following the nauseating heat of the day, Cat paused for a moment in the aid station for a bottle of ginger ale. As far as I am aware, she would only take in ginger ale and the bit of La Croix we gave her there until she finished. Given the minimal needs if she would only take only ginger ale, she only stopped long enough to tell us she did not need anything. We walked along as long as acceptable, reaching into every pocket of her pack to remove the stale food housed there—at this point it was unnecessary weight. We sent her off with pacer Ryan Smith, the man to subtly badger any runner into a win. There could have been no better pacer for those final twenty miles.
    Full of nervous energy, we drove straight to No Hands Bridge to wait for Cat to arrive in (hopefully) first place. The wait at No Hands Bridge felt the longest by far. With over seventeen hours on the clock and having woken up two hours earlier than that, the day had taken its toll. We were exhausted like we had run an ultra, but thankfully had no other job here than to cheer her through on her way to victory. After a nap, some calisthenics, several sprints back and forth on the bridge, and some terrible dancing, Cat arrived and did not even break stride through the aid station. Smith told me afterward that he saw Alice but had no clue I was even there as they ran through—focus.
    We hustled to drop the car at the house we’d be staying in that night and run over to Robie Point to meet Cat for the final mile into Auburn. I did not, until upon arrival to Auburn and seen that Cat had gained an extra minute lead on Magda into No Hands Bridge, allow myself to believe she was about to win Western States. Then she arrived to Robie Point still running. Holy shit, she’s going to do this. The emotional crack in her voice and the glazed look of focus said everything. She had worked to get here. Smith sat on her shoulder like a red cartoon devil, whispering confidence in her ear. From the aid station, the road curves right and steepens, the true crest being a quarter mile further. Then she spoke through tears, “I’m going to fucking win Western States,” as if she did not even believe it quite yet.
    Standing in the field for the procession following her finish, all of us who were there for her and friends who happened to be nearby came over to simply gawk and look at each other in quiet discomfort, unsure what to say or do. It was over; she had won. She had done it, and we had gotten to come along for the ride.
    We spent no more than five total minutes with Cat throughout the 19 hours 31 minutes she was running, and I consider that slim amount of time a success. Crewing is about efficiency and anticipation. Anticipate your runner’s arrival, anticipate her needs, and be as efficient as you can getting her on her way. I cannot speak for Cat, but I’m looking forward to 2018.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

It's a metaphor, fool.

I read something once that discussed, evolutionarily, why we run (why we do any activity of heavy exertion or focus, really), basing it on an inherent need to find strife and struggle in our modern, mundane, first world. Basically, life is too easy so we invent problems...just so we can solve the problems we invented.

Running, for most of us, is a constant.  I've you've been running regularly for long enough--be it months or years--eventually the act becomes habit. I've never felt the "runner's high," but I have felt newfound peace after a day spent alone in the woods with only my thoughts to keep my company. I love, I cherish ultrarunning because even now, 39 races later, I can find new meaning in familiar places. Running is a metaphor for life, and the converse is true as well. Any run can apply to this, but some do so better than others.

I signed up for Bighorn 50 in January and told a few friends even that day that I planned to win. I've never won anything before, but after a frustrating finale to running at the hypothermic Bear 100 in 2016 and for the first time since I trained for Western States in 2014, I wanted a real goal that required effort to succeed. I toyed with the idea of aiming for the record, though thankfully conditions on race day did not allow any even feigned attempt at that mark, as I think trying for it would have cost me the win.

Anyway, let's get back to the metaphor. Prior to my very first ultra, and long before we became good friends, the venerable Eric Grossman gave me the most trite yet sage wisdom: it doesn't always get worse. The light at the end of the tunnel, the rainbow after the storm, whatever you will; it doesn't always get worse. I camped at the 50 mile start line Friday night with my friend Chrissy, who was also running the 50 mile, so as to see several friends turn around there in the 100 mile race that started that morning and to avoid an abhorrent 1:45 wake-up call for the bus to the start line. On Friday, tracing our way westward along the course, the weather was stellar: blue skies and a little cool (55-60 degrees at Dry Fork compared to 85+ last year). However, as if summoned, as we turned off the highway toward the Jaws trailhead for the night, the rain began. It rained, and it rained, and then it eased off slightly for 20 minutes with a brief lightening of the cloud hues to the west, teasing us, and then it rained some more. It rained as the lead men came through and stayed nearly 30 minutes in the aid station fighting hypothermia, it rained as the only friend I managed to see before my bedtime, Colleen, came in cold but casual halfway through her first hundred. It rained as we broke down our pop tent. It was not raining when we woke up at 4 am for race morning, but by 4:45, the rain had begun again. By the time we stood at the parking lot edge listening to the race director announce "these are [sigh] the worse trail conditions we've seen in the 25 years of the race," sleet was falling.
My friend Leonard, who had paced a friend up in the night to drive my car back to town after we started, told me that afternoon he woke up at 7:30 am to a fresh 3 inches of snow on the car. It doesn't always get worse. 

The director said the magic words and we started running down the road into unknown levels of mud. A group of three of us settled in together as we transitioned to the initial notoriously boggy singletrack that crests the short climb from Jaws. For that first mile, the bogs felt familiar. "It's this muddy every year" I thought. Then we crested the short climb and began the 16 miles of descent to Footbridge. I glanced up searching for a view and fell. Then I fell again. I reache to change songs on my iPod and fell. I shot a glance to gauge my distance to the second aid station and fell. That time I slide a couple feet face first, somehow unhooking the safety pins of my bib and leaving it in the mud. After taking the time to repin my now illegible number, I fought with all my might to stay upright two more miles just to misstep and go down again. Finally I wandered off trail to fertilize some trees and collect myself. I stays there until I had calmed down; being this frustrated 8 miles into 50 could not bode well. It doesn't always get worse. If anyone feels the need to peruse my Strava data, you can actually see the succinct shift from mile nine to mile ten. From then to Footbridge at mile 18, I spent my energy on control, restriction. Staying comfortable and, more importantly, upright. A day later, my arms and core are just as sore and tender as my legs from the work staying upright. Seeing Julia Combs nearly at the aid station was a breath of fresh air and I think our hug was what we both needed then. Seeing Crewmaster Rush Combs at Footbridge, shouting my name through the toothbrush wedged in his mouth, was a much needed relief. The coke he filled my bottle with was even better.

The climb from footbridge to the Bear Camp aid station is notorious at 2,300 feet of gain in about four miles. Last year, at the torrential Rut 50k, I discovered after a certain threshold of muddiness, running provides more purchase than hiking. In a hiking gait, you find yourself precariously tiptoeing upward, placing far too little weight on each footfall. Running by definition places all your weight onto every footfall. Though much more energy intensive, the trade-off is there to run instead of hike if you do not mind the risk of burning out the engine. And, if the fitness is there, the engine only requires enough gasoline to keep burning. I bumped up my food consumption on the climb and afterward to keep the fire going, filling my bottle with coke at every aid station and eating whatever looked best off the table (mostly cheez-its and bacon), being sure to take in a cup or two of caloried fluid before leaving any aid station. I passed who I found of after the race to be Ryan Burch (in the early morning miles, I was paying too much attention failing to stay upright to have any idea who was around me) before both Bear Camp and Cow Camp aid stations only to see him ahead of me not long after leaving, having passed me as I stood around stuffing my face.

The start times for the four Bighorn races (100M, 52M, 32M, 18M) are set up so that runners finish in the park in Dayton, Wyoming throughout the day Saturday. This means that, starting at the furthest away point, we spent the day catching up to the tail end of the other three races. It also meant that I did not know for certain that I was leading (or that I had won) until I checked the results thirty minutes after finishing. I passed people of various distances with obscured bib numbers, many of whom were running very well, and I did not know if they were in my race or not. At Dry Fork, with 18 miles remaining, enough people told me I was the first 50 miler there that I had confidence in the idea, but then several people running around my pace up the road from the aid station that I was again uncertain and knew not to ease up. Plus, somehow, thankfully, the mud significantly eased after Dry Fork, allowing for some actual running. I had told myself leading up to the race, and reminded myself on the slight descent into Upper Sheep Gulch, that if I was leading or even within striking distance when I began the ridiculous 3,500 foot descent to the finish line, I could actually win the damn thing. I trust my ability to beat my quads into submission late in a race; that is one skill I have at very least. I ran down the road to town (a magical road that seems to trend uphill even though it traces a river downstream) as best I could into a solid headwind, and crossed the finish line relieved. I had atually done the thing. I set a goal, made a plan, and even with the universe throwing a wrench into everything, I got it done. Scrolling through results, this is my slowest 50 mile time since 2012 when Mountain Masochist had two feet of wet snow on course, and yet it's the first time I've won.

Somewhere in the narrative I might have lost the metaphor. Sometimes life knocks you down. Sometimes you fall in the mud. Sometimes you fall again and cut yourself, and then fall again to get mud in the wound, but you are not sure if you fell in mud or cow shit, and you feel bad enough that you don't really care which. But if you put your head down and trudge forward, focusing on the little things and taking care of yourself, doing your best to simply stay upright, it won't always get worse. Doing your best ever is irrelevant if your best on the day is what you need. The clouds clear, the sun comes out, and you just keep running.

HUGE thanks to Salomon for providing me with shoes (Sense 6 Softground) that did their best to help in the worst mud I've ever run through and with shorts that held all my goodies through the day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Let's Talk About Drugs

Whenever the discussion of doping comes up, it is overwrought with passion. Runners as a demographic, and particularly ultrarunners, are generally well-educated and socially liberal people in favor of such social adjustments as prison reform. In two conversations about a week apart, a friend of mine supported pardoning non-violent drug offenders and then argued in favor of lifetime bans from sport at a doper’s first offense. What?

Of course, doping is a more personal topic within this community, likely making it easier to discuss standard drug law and ethics in the hypothetical, keeping passion and any personal affectation out of the discussion. Perhaps the majority of the issues regarding any real conversation about doping come from ambiguities and arbitrarity found in all aspects of doping, from substance control and banning lists to enforcement and follow-up on the parts of both athlete and federation.

I went on a run this winter with two good friends, both scientifically minded and generally logical people, one of a front-of-mid-pack guy and the other a sponsored athlete. This was not long after a previously-busted athlete entered The North Face 50 Mile Championships in San Francisco in December 2015 and The North Face made a vague, placid statement opposing drugs in sport. As occasionally happens on long runs, the conversation turned to drugs in sport. My sponsored friend emphatically proclaimed (and, to be clear, rightfully so) that dopers are taking money from the pockets of clean athletes and should be banned—a fair, though simplistic point.

But then, who is a doper, and how should they be both caught and punished? Let’s  define a doper as someone who uses a substance banned by the governing body of their sport, just as a criminal is someone who commits a  crime--this removed ethics and hypotheticals from the equation to focus on reality. Generally this governing body is regarded as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as well as, through some overlap of governing abilities, the IAAF (International Association of  Athletics Federations).  But, to further bureaucratic confusion, all of the IAAF’s subsidiaries such as the USATF, which then has its own brother anti-doping agency, the USADA, which is best known for its aggressive handling of the Lance Armstrong scandal.

Okay then, fine, what is WADA in charge of? Basically, any IAAF-sanctioned event, and this works effectively (relatively) at the international high-stakes level of track and field, marathons, and the like: The Diamond League in Europe, the Olympics (which is technically run by the International Olympic Committee, an entity that can veto an IAAF ban if they choose), the World Marathon Majors, the various ultra-distance world championships (which are separately governed by the IAU [International Association of Ultrarunners]), Comrades Marathon, and so forth. These all are subjected to criteria to maintain IAAF-sanctioned status, and with that stamp comes the support of those entities with regards to drug testing.

Watch the winner come through the finish line of any major marathon in the world, and you will see them swiftly handed a bottle of water and then followed around the finish area by an entourage that contains as least one anti-doping official there to keep an eye on the athlete until the athlete pees in a cup for them, as they watch. Then the athlete has to—as was well documented by Ellie Greenwood on her blog following her 2014 IAU World 100k victory—provide their whereabouts every day for at least the following year so that their assigned anti-doping official can surprise them—within an athlete-chosen hour window each day—at work, home, on a date, or at their mother’s funeral with a follow-up test for which the official stays by the athlete’s side until the athlete provides another urine sample.

Well, that is a doozy. However, it does bring us to the inherent issues of anti-doping control trail and ultrarunning, two sports which are, even with all their recent growth, fringe. Even if many of us glue ourselves to Twitter the last weekend every June, to be blunt the IAAF simply does not care about the Western States Endurance Run. UTMB recently had its first experience with true, confirmed doping by one of the race’s competitors and, because of the apparent delay in issuing a statement, I have a feeling the UTMB race organization was somewhat taken aback by the  doping, unsure of what their next step should be. The athlete in question, Gonzalo Castilo, placed 5th at UTMB in 2015 and received a 2 year IAAF ban the following Spring due to a positive test result from his finish line blood test at the 2015 UTMB--a ban that will end on March 17, 2017 (which is not actually 2 years from his infraction). Following the incident, the UTMB race organization released a statement revoking Gonzalo’s race finish.

Aside from those few high profile events that take anti-doping measures seriously and have the resources to back it up, such as UTMB, doping is such a small blip on the radar for the entities that govern competitive running with enough power to actually make a difference that no difference is made. The majority of hundred mile races, regardless of public notoriety, simply do not have the resources to implement any form of doping control, let alone a process that would actually be effective.  When I, considering starting a race, looked at the financials of a grassroots but consistently sold-out ultramarathon in the same area as mine to assess viability for myself, I noticed the director netted (and subsequently donated) barely more than $2000 from 200 entry fees; this shows we are a sport of passion and one where the money to implement doping control is nonexistent. The only company, or at least the first company to come to mind, that could financially implement drug control in the United States is The North Face to their series of races, but then athletes with something to hide could simply pass over these races in favor of a payday elsewhere. We are a sport where notoriety does not go hand in hand with financial incentive; I am sure plenty of athletes would choose Hardrock’s vistas over possibly winning Run Rabbit Run’s $12,000 first place paycheck.

A secondary issue of doping control comes with definition and ambiguity; even if all ultra-distance athletes out there believes themselves to be clean, they could still end up with a ban. The WADA ban list has 147+ substances on it that are prohibited at all times, and another list of comparable substances banned in competition only. This is a list all athletes entering appropriately-sanctioned races are expected to know and adhere to. The big offenders are easy to pick out (erythropoietin, testosterone, human growth hormone, etc.). However, if you delve below the surface, there is a lot more confusion in substance profiling (DHEA and beta alanine for example). The simple question: why are certain substances banned and other ones not? From my simple second list above, DHEA will be discussed later. Beta Alanine is itself an amino acid that the human body can derive from animal proteins. When supplemented, it has been clearly shown to boost athletic performance—specifically VO2 Max [1]. If you’d like, you can order beta alanine in large quantities from your online retailer of choice.

In an hour of reading on the WADA website, I could not find a clear definition of why substances in general are placed on the prohibition list—and to be clear I mean specific statements, not a list of vision statements; the ‘Q&A’ page gives a thorough breakdown of certain substances, but honestly I have no idea why these substances were chosen over others. So, let’s make our own clear reason, one that hopefully we can all agree on: the basis for prohibition is (or should be) simple: a substance provides an unfair competitive advantage and/or unnecessary health risk to the athlete; I include the second portion due to the risks inherent in use of certain PEDs outside of their intended use. For example, outside of sport (in its intended medical uses) erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone produced by the kidneys to promote red blood cell production, supplementation is common for severe anemia and various diseases that cause issues with blood filtration such as Crohn’s disease. Supplementation, however, is meant to bring depleted levels back within normal limits, not to increase them above normal. Supplementing EPO within the realm of performance enhancement—to boost red blood cell levels above normal for enhanced performance has significant associated health risks such as myocardial infarction, stroke, and venous thromboembolism [2]. Basically, the human body does not like having too much EPO. Athletes, at least at the elite level, likely attempt to eschew these risks by using the boost of red blood cells to increase training load to a level that would otherwise lower their count to an unhealthy low, effectively forcing their own anemic and subsequent normalized state, similar to the dip and spike found in medical patients utilizing EPO.

Interestingly, in my reading across the WADA website, the second question on the ‘Q&A’ page caught my eye, which is regarding plasmapheriesis (plasma transference—both donation and reception—in which they state that “for the donor, plasmapheresis is prohibited under M1.1 because the donor’s own red blood cells (and other blood components) are being reintroduced into the circulatory system after the plasma has been separated.” A friend of mine, who is a reasonably competitive athlete, donates plasma as often as he is allowed--plasma is often in shortage and many people do not want to donate plasma, as the process is more involved than simple blood donation and takes quite a bit more time. I know he is not doing this for any competitive advantage, and I am confident he is not even aware that he is now banned from any WADA-supervised competition—oh no!

Though I do not believe my friend would qualify for the following, this is a good segue to the only way around the prohibition list: therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs). These were made famous in particular by Galen Rupp and other Nike athletes’ usage of prescribed thyroid medication over the last several years--thyroid medication is sometimes argued as preventing endocrine fatigue common in endurance running. However, let’s look at the other side of the coin. In 2014, the United States Anti-Doping Administration (USADA) disqualified Kristi Anderson, a 51-year-old woman who won her age group but then failed her post-race drug test. The disqualifying substance? DHEA, a natural over-the-counter supplement any of us could drive to a pharmacy and purchase in large quantities right now. Kristi was recommended DHEA by a medical doctor following a visit and bloodwork that showed “low DHEA, practically nonexistent testosterone and low estrogen,” all of which is in line with her complaints of adrenal fatigue and menopausal symptoms. Technically, Anderson should have been aware of this substance being banned and should have either not taken it or applied for a TUE with the USADA, which seems strange because by her own admittance, Kristi is not even a member of the USATF [3]. Why should she care about all of these acronyms anyway? Kristi, and anyone else with a USADA ban, can run most any race—trail or road, ultra-distance or shorter—they please (at that race’s discretion of course) as the USATF’s reach is short and most races do not fall under its banner.

Up until 2004, caffeine was considered a banned substance by the WADA. A common series of arguments I’ve heard for defining performance-enhancing drugs is they are designed and created in a lab, they are not commonly taken (meaning daily-type supplementation) substances, and they are not natural. The first and third go hand in hand, and without (I hope) opening Pandora’s box I reject both of them with the changes regarding marijuana: a substance once fully banned by the WADA, marijuana is now only banned in-competition. The second one--that substances are not commonly taken--I can empathize with but have to reject, and caffeine is a great scapegoat for this thought experiment. Caffeine is a previously banned substance. This is a stimulant that is such an afterthought to modern society that there is not even an age-restriction on its purchase or use. A five year old can walk down to the corner store and get hopped up on 40oz coffee before kindergarten, and yet at until 2004 international sport deemed caffeine to provide an unfair advantage or be unsafe for sport.

For a minute, I ask you to forget all your prejudices against EPO. Just bear with me, this will be over soon. Imagine that we lived in a society that highly valued running long distances. EPO usage was so common that the majority of Americans make sticking that needle in their ass a part of their morning routine—right before they pour themselves some coffee. Everyone runs a 2:10 marathon, but they have to check in with their doctor ensure they are not close to stroking out from their morning EPO shot. Once a year, some teenager makes national news for taking a little too much and ending up in the hospital, but other than that, there is little repercussion to this rampant, doctor-aware usage of EPO.

That doesn’t sound too terrible or scary, right?

The point all of this is supposed to make is: where is the line? What should and should not be banned from sport? And my answer is: regardless of everything I just laid out, I have no fucking idea. But I do know that the current list and the current system are in need of serious reform.




Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bighorn 100 Race Report--These Will Never Get Shorter, Sorry.

Grindstone 2012—the last time a hundred mile race that I attempted went well. I suffered to a finish at Cruel Jewel in 2013 aided only by the generous cut-off there, and at Western States last year I hobbled along for 70 miles to what—while still a decent time—was not what I had either hoped or was trained up for.  So, while Bighorn this year was not without hiccups—it is a hundred miles after all—it is what I’d call a very well executed run and, individually, my best executed in a long time. After feeling stagnant and a bit without direction for the past year with my running I feel like I’m back finally.

Something felt right about this weekend—start to finish; an intangible feeling of just being at ease and comfortable.  A leisurely drive up to Sheridan, Wyoming on Thursday led into a lazy evening with friends—over thirty of us were sharing two houses for the weekend—and I woke up Friday morning later than I would have on any other Friday after a solid nine hours of sleep. 

The only real issue for the entire weekend reared its head early into running on Thursday.  The hundred at Bighorn starts at 11 a.m., opening with a long climb up a canyon into the oppressive mid-June heat.  This year was hot, the opposite of all weather beta I’d been warned of for Bighorn (mainly to be prepared for true cold at night)—someone told me Saturday that the temperature broke 100 in the canyons and, confusingly for the Rockies, there was humidity along with the heat. Trotting up the first climb that rose nearly 3400 feet at what, in the dense heat, was a frustratingly runnable climb that I was not running, I actually had trouble breathing, feeling similar to asthma though I have never suffered from asthma. I assumed, foolishly, that the heat would mellow as we made the ridgeline well above 7000 feet. It did not.  The heat followed us through the day onto the north side of the broad Bighorn mountain range.

I ran for a couple hours through this section with my bro Ryan Lassen, and we joked about seeing someone sitting on the edge of the trail, cooked and nauseas, at only mile 15. In true karmic timing, for almost two hours starting at mile 18, I puked. I puked up basically anything and everything; even swigs of water came up within minutes.  Thankfully, even though I was concerned, my only ‘DNF’ thoughts came in the form of “well if I pee blood I’m calling it.” The seething fears of inability never crept in. Thankfully after crawling barely six flat miles in that whole time I managed to force down a Zantac, and in about thirty more minutes I felt famished.  I cruised down the steep, technical descent to the Footbridge aid station at mile 30 running on fumes but confused as to why all the people I saw on the descent were walking down it. At footbridge, well over my split projections, my good friend Rush, there hanging out until his runner made it back from the turnaround, quickly put me back together with a pile of potatoes and watermelon—I was likely much easier to handle than our friend Tim who, running his first hundred miler here, immediately upon entering the aid station passed out and puked on himself like a scene from Pulp Fiction.

Three RMR—Tim, John Knotts, and Neeraj—left that aid as I was wrapping up my dinner of sorts and still had a few minutes of prep before I would follow. This was actually a nice progression for me as I enjoy chasing people—it is great motivation—and I was coming around from my heat-induced nausea, ready to do some real running into the long eighteen mile climb up to the turnaround at Jaws.  I worked up that climb methodically, not pushing but maintaining a solid cadence and effort, stuffing my face as I went. I managed to catch back up to several RMR at the aid station prior Jaws whom I had not expected to see until much later in the race—this provided a nice boost for the frustratingly slow last few flatter miles into the turnaround at mile 48.

At the turnaround, Keely and Elena got to work cementing themselves into possibly the best crew I’ve had. Elena made several trips to the food table, fulfilling my various whimsical requests while Keely got to work cleaning my feet and replacing my shoes and socks, refusing to actually let me do it myself so I could focus on eating and getting out the door. Planning for actually appropriate Bighorn weather, I donned a long-sleeve shirt and glove, packed my fantastic Nike Terra Kiger jacket into my pack, and headed out into the night with Keely in-tow.  I lost the gloves in the first mile and slid my sleeves up not long after, wishing I was running sans-pack so I could go shirtless as the temperature felt warmer in the long, dark downhill than it did in the previous dusk-lit climb.

Keely and I—though looking back I am disappointed in the actual splits for the initial lengthy downhill—made nice work of our time together all the way to Dry Fork (Mile 83).  Most of the time I left headphones off and just enjoyed the conversation with one of my best friends, cruising along and picking off people and ticking off miles as we went. I ate well at the Footbridge aid station in preparation for the initial steep, then gradual uphill trend of the next 16 miles.  This aid station seemed littered with dejected athletes seeking out whatever magic might keep them moving forward. Bad Juju. We ate and bolted up the steep climb toward the next aid station—2000 feet in 3.5 miles; which, while standard on a usual daily run, is truly a cold bitch at mile 66.  This is where the headphones came back. My ipod was on point for the majority of its choices through Bighorn and gave me a solid mix of Dead Kennedys, Blink-182, and Kap Slap to power up the climb without any thought to how hard I was likely working. I knew the entire race leading up to this point that, no matter how I felt at this point, this climb would be hard. So, since I felt good, I decided to overwork and get it done with as quickly as possible. 

Out of the aid station following that climb, We trotted along again, elated at how smoothly that had gone and reveling in the early morning dawn rising up from the long canyon as we traced our way toward Dry Fork.  Only two hiccups arose through the entire section with Keely—one after another.  At the next to last true aid station before Dry Fork, I accepted some soup that ended up being entirely too saturated and came right back up not even five minutes after leaving the aid station.  Then, we somehow blew right past the (fantastic) spring that counted as the next aid station. No big matter, just a little added incentive to move faster (or, as is the case in a 100 miler, less slow).

Dry Fork was the last true stop of the race for me.  Changing into some fresh Nike Lunaracers I was truly smelling the barn. [Editors note: ‘barn’ initially read ‘bar’ as a typo. Take your pick.] I left everything behind here aside from a single Simple Hydration bottle filled with rocket fuel (slightly diluted Mountain Dew—my fuel for the remainder of the race). Elena and I charged out at a steady clip, keenly aware of the meager 3:03 remaining for 18 miles to slip under 24 hours.  I have to say: road flats feel fan-fucking-tastic during the tail end of a 100, particularly on forgiving dirt roads. The final descent of this went slower than I had hoped, feeling much, much, much steeper on the return descent than as the opening climb a day prior. I had no quad issues, but I just felt very uncomfortable at my fatigue level attempting to lean into the descent…at all.

Elena and I hit the road with 35 minutes left to run the five final road miles and finish under 24 hours and I decided I wanted it—a laughable thought in hindsight; we surged down the road as hard as I could muster (which, looking back, was only about 7:30/mile).  Fairly quickly, Elena decided she didn’t feel like running that pace (I’m not counting this as having dropped her) and I was running alone. I passed Silke and her entourage en-route to a killer first female finish with about 3.5 miles to go, and met Keely coming to meet me from the finish with about 2.5 miles to go. Meeting her forced me to accept that sub-24 hours was unreasonable and I settled into a lazy walk toward the finish line, only jogging from time to time as the last person I had passed on the road came close to catching back up to me.  We trotted across the finish line with 24:11 on the clock—only 18 minutes from my 100-mile PR and performed on a much harder course.

Looking back, I am so pleased with finally being able to execute a race well, regardless of where the times fell in comparison to my initial time goals. I am publishing this report so late as I wanted time to muse on the race and let my true feelings regarding my run simmer over the subsequent weeks. This race gave my some excitement to finally get back to work and find my racing legs again.  There are a couple races in the fall that have piqued my interest.

Simple Hydration Bottles
Ultimate Direction Jurek Pack
RMR Pearl Izumi Singlet (hey Patagucci, make some green singlets please)
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts (tried and true, never going back)
Random socks
2 different pairs of La Sportiva Bushidos (due to mud) and Nike Lunaracers
Gas Station American Flag Cap

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Quick Red Hot 55k Run-down

A top-10 list of some takeaways from Saturday.
  1. Slickrock is frustrating.
  2. 7:20 pace is the warm-up.
  3. Slickrock is basically an oven.
  4. Japanese runners love KT tape on their knees.
  5. Ibuprofen is an essential nutrient.
  6. Every ultra should have Mountain Dew.
  7. Steep climbs are difficult after 20+ flat, fast miles.
  8. Sand gets everywhere.
  9. 75 degrees feels oppressive in February; no matter what.
  10. I want a shirt that says 'red meat athlete #runonbeef'
Saturday was fun, though I was distinctly unprepared for what the slickrock gave me.  Not much happened really; once I got to the slickrock at mile 20-21, my body just wouldn't really do what I wanted it to do. Likely this was a combination of low calories and my hips being locked into their stride from those first 20-21 cruiser miles.  Running on the slickrock felt akin to performing plyometrics. For twelve miles. 

I'm much more stoked about what the RMR ladies pulled off and what my Hokie friends did back in Virginia at Holiday Lake. They had four guys under four hours. Unreal.  The weekend as a whole makes me want to get my ass in gear. I see lots of circles on an oval in my future. 17 weeks until Bighorn. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

That Good Good: Healthy Fats Pasta Sauce

I haven't posted anything food-related in quite some time. This was just too delicious (and simple) to not share though.  I had a weird, rather specific craving for pasta and avocado and spicy food for lunch so out this idea came. Cream-based sauces with a bit of spice are about my favorite on pasta, so here you go! I made this with what I had laying around, it would easily be tweaked, so please share any suggestions! (That means you Kristen)


  • One ripe hass avocado
  • ~1/2 can of coconut milk (mine was the bottom half, so mostly solid & meatier)
  • ~1/4 stick of butter (adjust to preferred creaminess)
  • Healthy dose of curry powder (I went with Ghost Curry from Savory in Boulder)
Add half your butter to a sauce pan and melt over low-medium heat. Square the avocado and add to the sauce pan. Mash vigorously (I need a better word there). Add the coconut milk and curry powder and blend well, leaving small chunks of the avocado for texture. Simmer for 7-8 minutes.  Add and mix the last half of the butter right before serving to enhance the creaminess without risking it browning. 

I'm currently eating this with a delicious organic rotini from Costco, and it tastes similar to mac n cheese, but I actually like it more.

Quick and dirty blog post, cheers.

With Uptown Funk blowing up, I thought I'd post a classic.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hellgate 2014: Drive

I decided a year ago, nearly to the day, that regardless of circumstance I would run Hellgate in 2014.  It is a very special race--this gets said quite a bit in the weeks surround the event but that may just be the best way to describe Hellgate simply.  I skipped last year in order to crew Rudy and end my year a little earlier than normal after my focus on the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile in November.  Watching the race unfold that night and day, driving along the parkway with good friends, I decided I would come back this year, and possibly every year from then on. Hellgate simply has some special atmosphere about it that is nothing short of intoxicating.

The course is the brainchild of Dr. David Horton, and in trying to describe it to some friends (of varying levels of attachment to the sport and even just mountains) I came to the following few conclusions:
  • Years after he could not create the exact Mountain Masochist course he wished (The gnarly Appalachian Trail section from the James River to the Tye River, he discovered the subtly brutal Glenwood Horse Trail
  • The entire event is designed to be as difficult as possible. It starts at midnight. The climbs are road; the descents are tight, rocky trail barely visible through the thick of leaves strewn across it. You hit the highest, coldest, windiest section of the course (Camping Gap through Headforemost Mountain) at 2-5 a.m., the coldest part of the night.
  • The course becomes extremely runnable after Bearwallow Gap, but is so mentally jarring (see "Forever Section") that it takes whatever will you can muster after so many hours of forward travel to do so.
That describes the thing pretty thoroughly.