Leadville, CO – 2 Jon Christley – 0

“You’re better than you think you are”. “I commit, I won’t quit”.

Ken Chlouber’s(founder of the Leadville Trail 100) words will sink deep into your psyche and core. These phrases will be played a million times over during this historic event. His words and inspirational talk will silence a packed gymnasium for an hour or more while he looks many straight in the eye, those he calls “Family”. The face of Leadville wants each and every one of his fellow brothers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who step up to toe that start line to finish this race and truly believes all of us can “dig deep” and find that untapped determination and grit to get the job done. Cutoffs are tight for this race and there is a 30 hour cutoff to get us to that famous Finish Line at 6th& Harrison.

For more on the race itself, the organization that supports the race series throughout the year, see their website. Lifetime Fitness has been a major sponsor up until very recently. We shall see how the Centurylink relationship unfolds. I’m hopeful the very core of what this race is about stays true. Each year, the # of participants inch up and the odds of getting in are lower. Witnessing the sheer amount of extra people at this year’s event and aid stations has me a tad concerned it’s gotten too “commercialized” compared to other ultra events out there. I heard numbers of 900+ registered and +/-720 starters for 2018.

Going into a race like this, I always have a “WHY” and a “WHO” I am racing for. I make sure to tell those close to me what these are and mention them again with the crew during our last pre race meetings. Selfishly, I did not review those with my team before this race. Perhaps deep down, I knew (based on weeks leading up to this event) my perfect race day was already handed to me on June 23rd in Squaw/Auburn for my Western States race. I wanted to hold those reasons a little closer to the vest and even still as I write this, feel some odd urge to suppress those reasons. Maybe by the end of reading this some will infer what these were :).

Having another run at the Finish line here to redeem my failed attempt in 2017 would have me evaluating all the usual strategies of what I could do better, how would I prepare, training, dealing with the altitude to mention a few. My 2017 experience was horrible and if you’d like more details you can read more here.. Part of me thought it couldn’t be as bad as 2017, right?!!?

To enter or not, based on X, Y and Z? I usually don’t have much luck “winning” things in life, lotteries or otherwise. December 1, 2017, I had already entered the lotto for Western States but had a decision to make as to putting in again for Leadville. The date for States would be Saturday, June 23rdand Leadville, Saturday, August 18th. Oh, and I would enter a UTMB race in Europe on Dec 15th, which would have been Friday, August 31st. It’s a really hard decision to make at the end of each year as crazy as it sounds. Yes, I’d love to do them all, but I DO really work a full-time job, have a family, run a local trail running group and try to stay healthy and not get injured due to over training.

“A” race? One you would put all focus, training and heart into. Tough call but, I would be successful in two lotteries. Leadville and Western States for 2018. CCC in Europe would have to wait another year. Yes, my A race would be Western States 100. Now, to start planning and execute…

jonyougotin

As I wrote in detail about my year leading up to Western, I would know there was an inherent risk in signing on for two epic races so close together. I rationalized it being “OK” with the build up for Western, having done 2 50 milers and a 100k as the year would progress towards June. But, found myself along the way asking; would doing States so close to Leadville be a good thing?? Heck, there are many that sign up for multiple hundos(100’s) in a row throughout the year, may would now sprinkle in 200 milers(aka, the “new 100 miler category).  54 days would separate my two Hundo’s. Having one week of “recovery” and the usual one to two week “taper” before Leadville really did not leave a lot of room. I had a lot of work to do.

 

LT100TrainingWeeks

Racing in Colorado has been going on for me just about every year since 2013. Each summer, we make a “runcation” out of it adding a few days or more in for touristy things. Most of our time is spent either in Silverton/Durango, Telluride and Leadville. The training each summer would include multiple runs up north in Flagstaff on Humphrey’s and surrounding mountains. With the fire restrictions this year, I panicked a tad thinking how this would affect my training. I’d have to alter my plans and find surrounding terrain for a couple of weekends. Add that and the predictable “monsoon” activity each mid day afternoon and the time window really narrows to get lengthy running in. I made the most out of each trip I made up with training partners and even solo runs here and there.

Heat training is supposed to have a comparable effect on the body as running at altitude from what the inter webs have told me. In the past, this has worked for me. Many miles and long runs were logged in triple digits during May, June and July this year. I did manage to borrow an altitude tent(Hypoxico Everest Summit II) from my good friends, Brian and Meghan for almost two weeks leading up to the race. I slept in that each night starting August 5thup until the day we left for ColoRADo(Tues, Aug 14th). Needless to say, I think it helped but my wife lost many hours of sleep during this “experimental period”. Sorry Tara! Sacrifices are endless for this sport I tell ya!

 

The plan was to leave Phoenix on Tuesday the 14th and arrive in Silverthorne where our VRBO was and have the crew meet up with us. The crew was mostly the same since States, Tara, Susie, Brad, Meghan and Brian. Susie was to pace me from Winfield(50mi mark) in to Outward Bound(77mi) but broke her arm in a race a couple of weeks ago(insert sad face emoji). Brad Person stepped into her spot leaving the remaining 24ish miles for Meghan. The dream team as I would say would be together again for this weekend’s festivities. There is a lot to do at Leadville with the parking situations, setting up crew stations, grabbing the shuttle at Twin Lakes. It’s honestly, hard work! They are awesome and very deserving of many of my gratitude’s and special things like race gear or local trinkets and things. That’s the least I can do for their dedication and commitment!!

For those not familiar with Leadville, CO the area and such, a quick glance below can give you an idea of the Leadville course profile and map of the surrounding towns… Although my preference for a longer ultra is a point to point race, this out and back is mostly manageable due to the large forest service roads and open trails, oh and some never-ending beautiful mountain and lake views, you know, your typical pristine Colorado majesty. Some single track on the Colorado trail and up and down Hope Pass make it interesting for two-way traffic especially when most everyone is using trekking poles up and over Hope(2x mind you)!

LT100 Course Profile

LT100courseMapJonsResults

My Garmin watch data shows my route from downtown Leadville out to Winfield and back.

We spent the two days prior to the race getting the last few things together, hitting the local coffee shops, taking a quick jaunt up to Loveland Pass for some slow walking and allowing Brian and Meghan to bag a couple 13’rs while we were up there. Friday, we went down to Leadville. The drive from Silverthorne to Leadville on a good day is 30min. Not bad at all and the drive is absolutely beautiful going through Independence Pass. Again, that ColoRADo landscape. Ahhhhh…..

LovelandPass

At the Loveland Pass parking area. The mountains behind us are to the south looking towards Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort & Grizzly Peak.

The Leadville race crew has the event and the going’s on down pat. They’ve had some experience doing this over the years. The entire town booms from their events from June all the way through August. Great amounts of people flock to this historic small town for multiple activities. Hat’s off to them for handling all that comes their way!

We really didn’t want to spend the entire day down there but had to wait until 3pm to do the aid station bag drops. Tara and I hit Tennessee Pass for lunch in between check-ins, Ken and Merilee’s Meeting at the Lake County High School Gym and the 3pm bag drop at the Courthouse. All of this was within walking distance from either other. The entire walk through town can be accomplished in about 15min. Needless to say, Tennessee Pass food was on point and Susie recommended this place! Go there! Trust me, it’s good.

LT100-HQ

A quick check in and a stop in the store to check out the goods, and get crew “things”.

The night before, we went through the last-minute race day logistics, reviewed my gear with the team, ate an awesome Bison and Quinoa meal that Brian and Tara made and called it a night around 7pm. That 4am start time meant going to bed EARLY and leaving the VRBO EARLY. My alarm was set for 1:30am. Yep, that’s right!

We rolled into town around 3:10am. Cars were starting to pile in. A steady stream of people flowing through this tiny town from every direction. Parking is very limited close to the start line. It was cold at around 44 degrees. I had a chance to hit the restroom, walk around a bit and we got some good start line pics.

Race day strategy: Run strong, be happy, stay focused. After all, I had a job to finish this year!! Start near the front of the pack. This would help with getting out of town, down the dirt road and over to the single track around Turquoise Lake. 700+ starters can get create congestion quickly. The other plan I had was to stay light in terms of gear whenever possible. Lugging my 178lbs up and down mountains is quite the haul! Why carry extra pounds of water and gear if it’s not needed? Also, try to not introduce too many variables to complicate digestion. Again, a reminder of why 2017 was rough on me. Over hydrating is dangerous for many reasons. I was trying to be conservative in this department. I would stick mostly with the same nutrition as always: Tailwind, Honey Stinger gels and waffles, Fruit Sticks, Apple Sauce, Sweet Potato puree. The only new introduction this time around was Spring Energy Products. I had already trained with them and they were great and worked well with me. The longest stretch between aid stations was our 1st at May Queen and Last for a stretch of about 13mi. Other than that, the usual 5-10mi between each aid station thereafter.

Weather: As with most summer months, there is always a threat of rain, thunderstorms and the like.. Last year, we crested Hope Pass and a storm came out of nowhere with freezing rain, thunder, and some hail. The forecast did call for 50-60% chance of rain on this day as well as temps hovering no higher than mid 60’s. I despise being cold and wet during a race. I think it severely hampers the body’s ability to perform. Sometimes, I get uncontrollable shivers and as I get older, it doesn’t take much for this to happen. I was a little concerned about this to be honest.

Ken Chlouber fired off the shotgun: 4am. Tara, Meghan, Brian saw me off.. Brad and Susie would come later and meet them at Outward Bound, my estimated arrival there was around 9:30-10am.

Start Line to May Queen (12.6 mi, est arrival time 6:15a, actual arrival 6:13a) – The start was as expected. Congested and up-beat! You could hear the various conversations going on with fellow runners as we made our way towards Turquoise Lake, “where ya from”?, “first time to Leadville”?, “first hundred”?… Headlamps were on and our breath could be seen for the entire stretch over to the first aid station. I started with a Handhelds, my Honey Stinger Tank and arm sleeves since the rain was forecast for 9a I knew I had a little breathing room. A quick pee stop about 2mi in was the only stop I made on this stretch. I was feeling good but knew deep down, I would need one more stop off when I got there to take care of some “other” business.. Feeling good at this point. NO issues.

May Queen to Outward Bound (10.9mi, est arrival time 8:30a, actual arrival 8:52a) – This section has single track again leaving the aid station for a couple of miles and then we pop out onto Hagerman Road to Sugar Loaf Pass road. This would be a good time to spread out amongst the runner packs and run/jog/powerhike up. We had some climbing to do(up to 11,100’). Follow this with miles of crushing downhill on Powerline road and then we’d pop out on paved roads to get us over past the Fish Hatchery to Outward Bound aid. The downhill from Powerline would remind me of how running downhill is not my strength. I tend to “brake” on steep descents and this can cause binding up on the quads and contribute to joint pain as well. Since the sun came up, it would now give us a chance to glance around at the impending and dark clouds rolling in. Cold weather already, now an imminent threat of rain. I was not feeling 100% when I got into the aid station but optimistic. I knew I didn’t have a lot of climbing for quite some time. I quick grabbed new bottles, threw down some chicken bone broth and was about to push on. I was reminded from Brian I may want to just wear my Ultimate Direction rain jacket just in case.. That was an epic crew WIN!! Not even one minute after I left, the misty light rain started coming down. Temps still in the low 40’s at this point.

JonComingIntoOutward

Just about to hit Outward Bound aid station at mile 23.5. pc: Meghan Slavin

Maybe I should mention at this point: My “A” goal for this race: FINISH the damn race. FINISH what I couldn’t finish in 2017. It was time for redemption! I couldn’t face another defeat! I have a great track record of finishes and this was my absolute #1 goal. Surely I “could” within 30 hours worse case, correct?

Outward Bound to Half Pipe (5.8mi, est arrival time 9:45a, actual arrival 10:16a) So.. there was a theme starting and it was a 30min time-lapse on the last two aid stations. I wasn’t overly concerned with the time as much as I was my quad pain starting to set in. This stretch allowed me to stop quickly at an alternate crew zone and see the crew and have Meghan work on my quads for a tad and stretch a little. We added “Some Like it Hot” rub from Runner’s High Herbals to both quads. I didn’t spend much time there, ditched the handhelds, grabbed my pack and I was out.. The rain was coming down pretty steady. I feel this was probably my best stretch over to Half Pipe. I was able to run most of it and there were breaks in the rain action for a while.

QuadWork

“owie” in a BIG way! Quads were binding up real bad. It’s great to know a PT. Meghan worked on me for a few minutes. RHH Some like it Hot! was liberally applied here!

JonThoseQuads

Alternate Crew Zone.. Trying to get those quads stretched out! Oh and the rain, the freezing @ss rain.. pc: Meghan Slavin

Half Pipe to Twin Lakes (8.6mi, est arrival time 11:45a, actual arrival 12:25a) This aid station is MEGA! SO many people here! The crowds are awesome, Michael Miller was at the front taking pics, Travis Swaim was just past the arch giving me high fives, high praises and such.. I had a quick stop in the JJon here, grabbed my trekking poles, grabbed my favorite Headsweats Colorado Buffalo Trucker hat, some more broth and some warm weather gear for Hope Pass. My goal for getting to Winfield at the 50mi mark was by 4:00pm to get Brad. I knew from last year, 4hrs would be about right for this section. The lowest point on the course would be at the river crossings at the far end of Twin Lakes (+/- 9200’) and the highest point at Hope Pass is at around +/-12,600’.

SunJustCameOut

Even though we had light drizzly cold rain just prior to this, the clouds broke and sun came out! It was epic and had to stop for a pic! This was just after leaving Half Pipe looking towards Hope Pass (Rinker Peak).

Twin Lakes to Winfield (12.3mi, est arrival time 4:00p, actual arrival 4:38p) Grabbing the poles at Twin Lakes was a must. The front side of Hope Pass is riddled with relentless steep ascents, rocks and tree roots. My running pace from Twin Lakes out to the base of Hope was around 10-12 min/mile and I was feeling pretty good. The sun was out now in full force. I had been wearing my XOSKIN sleeveless since ACZ which was working phenom for the conditions. The crew lined me up with the cold weather gear for the top of Hope as I knew anything could change at a moment’s notice. As the conga lines were forming going up, the leader was coming down.. It was amazing to see Rob Krar crushing down this side of the course. It was around 1:30 when I saw him.. He would charge on to the Finish in an amazing 15:51:57 a new PR for him on this course and just fresh off the Leadville 100 MTB race the weekend prior! Back to my getting up Hope and down in a fastidious manner would boost my confidence for the remaining 50mi. The pace was steady to the top were Hope aid station was. Oh, and the Llamas.. A girl who helped me with my pack snapped a quick pic of us. I asked her if any “spitting” had occurred yet.. She said she wasn’t aware of any. Once you get to the aid station the tree line there stops and the switchbacks start. It’s a slow slog up those to the saddle where the timing mat was.. Arrived there at 2:47p. I was starting to see the two-way traffic of runners coming back from the Winfield 50mi turnaround. The section dropping down from the saddle is very steep and single track.. Navigating this takes some care and it is not runnable.. I have never seen anyone “running” this section. At the bottom of Hope on the Winfield side, the trail takes a turn to the west towards Winfield which does have some runnable sections. I was getting more stoked to see the crew and pick up Brad.. Taking in a little more nutrition at this point knowing I needed the most energy possible to make the climb immediately back up what I just came down.. Tailwind(Naked flavor) was going down OK but not the best and I got in a Spring Energy(Long Haul) gel as well. I was thinking what I may grab from the aid station at Winfield if anything.

Llamas

“Want me to take your picture”? she said. To which I said, “sure, as long you get the Llamas in the background”. 🙂

HopePassSaddle

The saddle at Hope Pass looking south towards Huron Peak and Mt. Belford. Elevation 12,436′

TheCrew

The #dreamteam. L to R. Brian Slavin(I believe he is looking up to Hope Pass), Brad Person, Susie Kramer, Meghan Slavin . Anxiously and patiently awaiting my arrival at Winfield.

Winfield to Twin Lakes (12.3mi, est arrival time 8:00p, actual arrival 9:39p) About the only phrase I can think of for this section would be “Death March”. One in which you are not running, not feeling great at all, experiencing pain in many areas and essentially putting one foot in front of another.. No ability to run, pick up the pace, nothing.. If you’ve seen movies of Everest climbing, you’ve seen those folks taking the tiniest of steps as they ascend to 32k feet. What seems like a snail’s pace, actually is.. I found myself suffering so much, I could barely get up the steep 2300’ ascent and felt VERY low on energy. Something was a miss when I came into Winfield.. I felt OK going up Hope but something “happened” or caught up to me eventually I guess. I felt I was taking shallow breaths and my appetite was not even there. I didn’t even feel the need to drink water which isn’t good either.. Was this an EPIC bonk? I had never experienced this before. The overwhelming feeling of exhaustion from head to toe and deep into the core came over me. I literally began working through my “huddle speech” I would give to my crew and wife at Twin Lakes. There was really no relief knowing Brad and I would crest the saddle and have some serious downhill in front of us.

Brad Person for those not aware paced me at Western States and is a very determined person. He has one direction and one focus.. Move Forward! He was extremely helpful and accommodating in every way. He would fill up my water for me so we could leave the aid station right away. He was in front of me setting a pace that I just couldn’t keep up for the life of me. No energy, fatigue, lack of hope and waning feeling of disappointment was coming over me. Even though we crested the saddle at 7:30p, it had been 3hrs since we left Winfield and we had 2.5hrs to get to Twin Lakes for the cutoff at 10:00p. A swift powerwalk would make it. I feared a trot or any jogging downhill with technical terrain, tree roots, rocks and now darkness setting in was too much of a risk of a fall or twisted ankle or worse.

When things start going south, every little nuance, every thought races through your mind, the guilt, the sacrifices you make to get to this day, the plans you made, the targets you set.. all of it piles right smack on top of your pain. Now, I’ve turned into being proud of being here, enjoying this race to “surviving” what lies ahead without throwing in the towel. After all, I made it to mile 71 last year and was having major lower GI issues. How could I cut this one shorter than last year? Mentally, I was ready to. Brad had no part of it. He was good with keeping me moving and focused on getting me out of Twin Lakes, the next aid station quickly.

Twin Lakes aid station is massive. The size of the crowds, the cheering, the police keeping traffic and parking in order, it’s truly amazing! This was the case on the “outbound” side of the course earlier around noon when I came through. There was a stark contrast now coming in with little time to go, darkness and a cutoff looming. Sometimes, people, crowds, quirky signs all lift you up in the darkest of hours. I was very happy to hear the remnants of those who were left and my crew. My crew who set up glow sticks and were very anxious to get me re started and kick me the heck out of that aid station. In 2017, I would spend almost 45 minutes here re grouping, eating, changing clothes and getting out.. I think I made it out of here within 15 minutes tops. Since we had to cross the river a couple of times feeding into Twin Lakes, we changed my shoes and socks to get me through the next stretch. I had a brief breakdown and told my crew I was “done”. I didn’t want to continue on this cutoff chasing and suffering anymore. They rallied and got me standing, and pushed me out. To this day and forever, I will be grateful for that!! After all, I stood up in that gym with everyone else in that gym the day prior with Ken Chlouber and shouted “I commit, I won’t quit”.

Twin Lakes to Half Pipe (8.6mi, est arrival time 10:30p, actual arrival 12:45a) The hill immediately leaving Twin Lakes is a serious grind up a wide jeep road. I was dreading this. I got Caffeinated Tailwind at Winfield and espresso beans and a little bit of a Rebbl Cold brew at Twin Lakes which I feel really gave me the short-lived boost I needed for this section. Fewer and fewer runners were leaving Twin Lakes due to cutoffs and drops and the darkness was “dark”.. After the climb, the Colorado Trail takes us almost due north for about 4miles towards Mt. Elbert before turning down towards Half Pipe. Brad kept me motivated and we trotted for a lot of this route. My 100% goal (again from a 2017 miss) was to get to Half Pipe before 1:15a. We would arrive at 12:45a.. However, off in the distance as we approached Half Pipe was a sound of Thunder. I thought “oh great, here we go”. Add cold, misty rain (temps were hovering at this point in the low 40’s) on TOP of everything else I was already dealing with. Again, demoralizing and yet another reason for pulling the plug on this sufferfest. Brad and I were discussing strategy for the aid station.. He would get my drop bags and I would go for hot chicken broth, potatoes, some lube of some sort(yep, chafing was happening too) well, anything that looked good.

Half Pipe to Outward Bound with a quick stop at Alternate Crew Zone (5.8mi, est arrival time Midnight, actual arrival 2:45a). Rain. Cold @ss rain. My body was beginning to revolt. I was shivering so, Brad txt ahead to the crew and had dry clothes and a warm truck on the ready. As we tried to get a run, a jog, anything that resembled a pace faster than 15 min/mi pace, it was just.not.happening. I could not run. I was trying my best to take in water along the way, which was never really a huge issue since I was making regular pee breaks and trying to get some Tailwind down. I knew what lay ahead with the every daunting and dreadful powerline climb up out of outward bound past the Fish Hatchery and some running on the road. I was switching from Brad now at this point and we had Meghan step in for pacing. She was ready last year at Half Pipe but didn’t get the opportunity to due to my missing the cutoff.

The next section was virtually flat and unappealing actually.. It’s a half road over to a paved county road 11. We were really trying to jog at this point. After changing into XOSKIN compression shorts, running tights and some new socks at the ACZ, I ditched the Nathan pack since I knew it was only another 3 miles to the aid station. I still couldn’t really run at all.. The pain, the stiffness and the body just wasn’t having it. We turned sharply left off the CR11 and ran through a grassy field where you had to watch your step as gopher holes were everywhere and small rocks.. I really didn’t care for this section at this point nor during the day.. There is so much single track and other areas to run, I am just in awe as to why this section is part of the course. Our target was to get to Outward Bound by 3:00a. It was in sight and barely doable with a few minutes to spare. Meghan txt Tara to have new socks ready since the dry ones I just put on where just not cutting it. They kept slipping down into my wet shoe.

Outward Bound to May Queen (Jon’s final stretch. Mile 77. 10.9 mi, est arrival time 2:00am) I grabbed my pack from the crew. It was getting colder. As we left the crew, the conversation was short, there were hardly any cars left here and most of the aid station was packed up in anticipation of small runner crowds. I have NEVER been in this position. The feeling of being a back of the packer (so far back, the sweepers catch up to you) was not a great feeling for me. We got onto the pavement again for the jaunt past the Fish Hatchery and over to the Powerline climb. Fog was setting in, a trot here and there and we were already here at the base of this massive climb to 11,100’ to Sugarloaf Pass. I was trying to conserve enough energy to make it slowly up this massive hill. The sounds of the final runners coming faint headlamps in the distance and a never-ending death climb up this hill. I know at this point Meghan was keeping a close eye on our times. She’s really great with #’s, mileage, pace and all of that. An excellent pacer that I’ve used time and time again. The only factor here was she was only familiar with a small section of this road from some prior recon we did up her two summers ago.

It was a good thing I had my trekking poles getting up this beast. Many times, stopping and resting and trying to get air into my lungs. Resting on the poles on this vertical incline was nice except at times I was teetering trying not to fall over. Relentless climbing went on for about an hour longer while we got to some sections with a little relief. Still climbing but not as steep.. The pain from a sore Achilles/left calf from much earlier was rearing its ugly head again. We had rubbed more RHH salves on it but I told Meghan I need to stop and have her work on it for a second and a little quad action as well.. Complete binding up of the quads and the posterior tibialis was causing a cramping sensation about every 12 steps I took. A total of 2 hours will have passed to crest the top of the hill at 11,190’. At the top, we came across a make shift aid station with some folks still awake and having a good time.. They cheered us as we passed and the rather unique setup they had really lifted my spirits a tad.. Glow sticks everywhere, blow up alien figures, I had wondered at first if I was hallucinating but things weren’t that bad yet!

Sunrise during ultras can often give runners a second wind. The body wakes up and often a second wind will occur. It’s been a good thing for me in the past. Even thought the faint hue of blues were coming into view from the east, the clock was ticking towards a sunrise hour, this time was different. There was no second wind for me. Nothing.  Running on Empty at this point. The climb we just conquered absolutely sapped what I had left. The May Queen aid station in sight at mile 87.8 gave me some relief and a sense of calm. I was done. With a few miles still to go and time running out, it was eminent. 26+ hours into this event now. Turquoise Lake in the distance below with a glass like top and I should mention the wind was whirling up here. Temps probably hovering in the low 30’s. My race was over. Stop on my watch. 85.13miles, 26:24:14 elapsed time.

The safety patrol sweeper UTV was approaching. Red and Blue cop like lights going. A couple of very nice older gentlemen asking if we’d like a ride. With pride at stake, we said “no thanks, we will have our crew come meet us”. Again, in that moment, logic does not prevail. We were both tired and very very cold. The UTV picked up two other runners close to us. They went on, passed up the hill to turn around and came back. Since we had no reception and no way of knowing when they would come for us, we flagged the UTV down on the way back down. We jumped in and rode back with them to May Queen.. So tired in that seat, I passed out cold for a few seconds and almost fell out the side of the UTV. The guy sitting next to me had to hold onto me so I wouldn’t fall out. Wouldn’t that be a funny story if I made it through the grinds of the race to mile 85 and then fell out of the UTV and had a serious injury?

The hum of the UTV motor and the silence of the morning eased my pain. The chatter of Meghan and the two older gents in the front weren’t even registering with me. I wasn’t even sure I had the words together yet for what I was about to say to the crew and to Tara, my wife who I would be seeing in a few minutes.

Leadville – 2. Jon – 0. Agonizing defeat. Disappointment. If I focus on these two things alone, I will never ever come back to Leadville. If I try to learn from both of my experiences, if I look ahead instead of behind me for those reasons to come back, I will prevail! For miles over the weekend, I told myself I was done with Leadville. As I write this, I am already thinking of next year. My team is strong. My wife is there for me every.damn.time. So much was sacrificed in the making of 2018 Leadville Trail 100. I had a great year with Western States and 3 other tough ultras behind me during the first part of this year. I had a community supporting me along my journey in every way possible, videos, messages, calls and posts from friends. It was amazing!

PostBeerPizza

Post race beer and Pizza. I went without alcohol for 8 months! It was time…

The rest of 2018 will be spent recovering and having some down time and thinking about 2019. I need it. We’ll volunteer at races, focus on my group(AZ TraiLeggers), do more with family and all of those things that help create balance in life.

To my team who stuck with me throughout the entire year, my TraiLeggers, my awesome coach Cheryl Miller and my wife who dedicates SO much to chasing my dreams, I couldn’t have done it without you guys!

Thank you all for your support!

 

 

 

WS_Logo

This would be the first time ever in my running career, I’ve had so much on the line, so much invested, such a large audience of supporters and feel such a great sense of calm that day, June 23rd and into the next day, June 24th 2018.

When did this journey begin for me? I guess the early days(circa 2012/2013) when I was still green to the sport and learning, listening to TRN(Trail Runner Nation) podcasts and asking peers about what was the single race out there that they wished they could do. Invariably, “Western States” kept coming up. Sure, there were other, “harder” races out there Hardrock 100, The Bear 100, Wasatch 100, Ouray 100 and even the UTMB circuit in France, Italy and Swiss Alps, which I still yearn to do soon.

For those that don’t have the history with Western States, here is a reader’s digest version. 

“The Western States® 100-Mile Endurance Run is the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race. Starting in Squaw Valley, California near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and ending 100.2 miles later in Auburn, California, Western States, in the decades since its inception in 1974, has come to represent one of the ultimate endurance tests in the world.

Following the historic Western States Trail, runners climb more than 18,000 feet and descend nearly 23,000 feet before they reach the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn. In the miles between Squaw Valley and Auburn, runners experience the majestic high country beauty of Emigrant Pass and the Granite Chief Wilderness, the crucible of the canyons of the California gold country, a memorable crossing of the ice-cold waters of the main stem of the Middle Fork of the American River, and, during the latter stages, the historic reddish-brown-colored trails that led gold-seeking prospectors and homesteading pilgrims alike to the welcoming arms of Auburn.” Source: wser.org

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2018 would be the 45th year for the WS100.

To gain entry to this race, runners have to 1st qualify by running a race designated as a WS100 qualifier which includes a coveted list of 100 milers with a smattering of 100K’s and even a tough 50 miler or two out there. Once you’ve run a qualifying race, one must enter a lottery which is held every year in December for the following year. Chances of getting drawn increase the more Tickets you have(accrued each unsuccessful year of entering). Historically, numbers for entry have been on the rise with almost 5000 entrants in 2017 for the 2018 race. Out of this, they will often award +/- 380 runners an entry to the prestigious and historic race. Going into this draw, I had applied for the 3rd year and had a total of 4 Tickets. Last year, they introduced a waitlist which is great for those that are considered “next in line” for those who drop last minute, get injured, cannot attend, etc.. Vendors gain entries as part of their financial contribution and sponsorship levels with wser as well. These are given away to various athletes leading up to the race.

Western States 100 is considered the BIG DANCE if you talk “ultra” with those in our sport. Most if not all know right away which race you are talking about. This race draws entrants from across the globe. The statistics and data collected for this race is quite awesome and interesting. A data geek like me gets into that stuff!

December 2nd, 2017. A day I will remember where I was, when I got drawn and all the feels I had that famous day. I was at another race not racing but spectating, and supporting friends. My name was announced by Aravaipa Running over their loud speaker and my phone started blowing up. I was drawn for Western States!!! Anxious and excited, I still had numerous friends still in the draw so I was hoping very much that one of them would get drawn. Each year, there has historically been a select group of Arizonans who get picked. After the dust settled, I would learn of the others who got drawn and cheered them on, congratulated them in some form or fashion and went for a run with my training partner who’s husband was racing that day. We ran out to see him on the course.

Great, now what? Do I put in for any more Lotteries? What does getting drawn “really” mean?!? How would I plan my 2018 racing season? All these talks I’ve heard from others about 80-100 mile weeks to train for something as grueling as this race? What team would I assemble for this? Who would I train with? For about a week or two, I pondered all kinds of scenarios. I had two more lottery options in front of me. CCC 101K in Europe and another crack at the Leadville 100M in August. I went ahead and applied for both.. Odds are kind of stacked against us in this day and age with the gaining popularity of this sport. Getting drawn for all 3 would be nearly impossible right?!? OK, luck was on my side I guess. I would have another successful lotto win with Leadville 100 which means a WHOLE bunch to me. You can read why here.

2018 was shaping up to be an EPIC year!! The big question now was, which races would lead me to Western States? Would I use races as part of my training? I have before so, yep, let’s start signing up for them!!! 3 races would lead me to WS. Black Canyon 100k in February, Mesquite Canyon 50m in March and the famous and rugged Zane Grey 50m at the end of April. Oh and of course throw a 3 day back to back Western States Training Camp in there as well the weekend of Memorial day. This would prove to be a MAJOR advantage for race day! I am SO happy I attended that camp. 45 years down the road, the veteran staff, volunteers and support staff REALLY know how to put these camps on. I truly felt whatever the cost, whatever the obstacles I was going to go to this camp! In fact, my entire crew went to this camp! I highly suggest it if you are considering this race. It is open to those who are not running the race as well.

January came. Fear. Feelings. Depression. Surgery. Big things… Now that I’ve signed up for a race in about 6 weeks(Black Canyon 100k), what would January entail? Well, 1st, I had a scheduled surgery for Basil Cell Carcinoma on my nose. I would be out essentially for two weeks and even after this, a slow transition back. Wow, what the heck? Is this a big enough deal to postpone Black Canyon? OK, well, if that wasn’t enough, I had developed Hallux Rigidus (a disorder of the joint located at the base of the big toe). It causes pain and stiffness in the joint, and with time, it gets increasingly harder to bend the toe. X-rays below give you an idea of what the heck was going on there. During my training runs for Black Canyon I was starting to have great pain. I had been dealing with it on and off for the last couple years. Before Leadville last year, I had a cortisone injection in between the joint which gave me temporary relief.

So, Jan 4th, I get the X-rays and meet with the foot guy. January 9th, I go in to have a large disk shape similar to that of a small flying saucer cut right the heck off the tip of my nose!! Oh man that was fun! Here we go.. Surgery AND the Toe thing. When I met with a foot doc, we determined a modified orthotic would offer some relief and keep my toe from bending and grinding causing more bone spurs. Both docs I met with went the conservative route which I like but when I asked one the big ? about surgery to fix the joint, here’s the gist of what was said.. Me: “Knowing you had the dream race of a lifetime in June coming up would you do surgery before”? Doc: “No, I wouldn’t suggest it.. the surgery is pretty major and the recovery is at least 6 weeks “non weight” bearing and no activity”. SO.. there was my answer. Deal with it! Suck it up and move on for now. One more cortisone shot to get me through Black Canyon and Mesquite Canyon and potentially go back for another before Zane Grey and WS.

Black Canyon 100K. This would have been the 3rd year I’ve raced this race. I lOVE this race.. It has a lot of meaning for me and I may continue to keep this one on my list. It’s a Western State Qualifier. This was not the reason I put it on the list. I primarily chose this for two reasons.. A. To give the big toe thing a true “test”.. Enduring the race for 14+hrs on it would give me a reality check for what to expect for WS. 2. The course profile if one was to look at it models a “mini” Western States look and feel with the Canyons and net downhill. Net downhill simply means over the course of the race, you would have covered more descent in elevation and finish well below where you started the race. There would be a total of 7200’+ of descent and 5200’+ of gain(ascent). The stats for WS are above. Not quite the same but, a little “taste” of what I may come to expect in June.

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2018 Black Canyon 100k PC: Howie Stern

Back in December, I assembled my team for Western States. Some thoughts ran through my head leading up to the big lotto draw on December 2nd but, I had my loyal team(Tara, Brian, Meghan) already mentally “on the hook” so to speak. I would come to add 4 new members to said crew. David Bliss:(a revered and accomplished ultra runner who raced, crewed, volunteered and knows folks at Western States). Alicia Judy: a good friend here in the ultra running community and weekend adventurer, she would prove to bring her mad Nursing skills to the team. Brad Person, the best way I could come to describe Brad is a man with a HUGE sense of determination and optimistic outlook on life. Oh, and also an accomplished ultra runner who by ultra standards is still a newbie but a BEAST on the trails. His 1st Hundo was Javelina Jundred after only doing one other ultra(Crown King) and finished his race in an amazing 20:15 AND the top 20! Simply amazeballs! Susie Kramer: Most veterans here in AZ know Susie. She is quite the athlete and on the Aravaipa racing team. She’s got multiple hundo’s behind her including last year’s Mogollon Monster AND the Bigfoot 200 just one month before! Epic accomplishments and resume for her! 

A drop and DNF that almost happened…. Speaking of crew, David and Alicia met me at the Black Canyon aid station 37miles in. Needless to say, I was already ready to throw in the towel due to the toe pain. I had not started the race with my orthotics. I didn’t want to rely on them for the entire race and I had only just gotten them. SO, not a lot of testing on them yet. Spending a lot of time in Aid Stations is detrimental for many reasons. It can cause the body to seize up and “think” it’s done, you can get cramps, cold/hot depending on weather variables and too comfortable not allowing your mind to mentally press on. You can say, I had all of these feels. It was just crappy. David and Alicia helped do EXACTLY what I needed them to do. Build me back up. I remember David saying, “you need to get through this since you will face this at States..”. Alicia helped get my toes wrapped, put my orthotics in, changed my shirt, got me some caffeine and I took two excedrin. Got my tunes going and they shoved me out and down the trail. This next section would prove the best section of the race for me. The Canyons are brutal, the river crossing and the relentless ups and down for the next 13mi would normally give me hell. I felt SO much better! Passing 38 people in this section and considerably moving faster gave me a HUGE boost of confidence! THIS is what ultra running is about! The highs, the lows, persevering through the pain, experiencing highs and lows and having a crew at your back to help you accomplish your goals! David was on the hook to pace me through the rest of the race of about 12ish more miles which I was really looking forward to! Special Thanks to my team, oh and of course, my wife ALWAYS there to crew(even though she volunteered for hours at this same race earlier in the day). Thank You Dear! 🙂 Black Canyon 100K was another finish for me and couldn’t have been happier they were all there for me.

Getting through January and February given I had those obstacles and a few more to deal with, I pressed on. I thought about augmenting my training with some formal athlete training programs from places like Exos and hiring a coach. Up to this point, I had not used a coach for any of my training and kind of did my own thing based on what’s worked. Luckily(knocking on wood) I have been able to get away with no injuries, have stayed healthy, have no real issues with nutrition and have a good track record behind me for finishing races. Was I OK with this? Yes. But, I was only OK with it. I wanted more. I was willing to seek the advice of pro’s, friends, coaches and others as this was a very very unique and rare opportunity.

Coaching: My 1st coach was a long distance coach which got me off on the right foot. It gave me more structure, some conversation and he was someone I have much respect for. He has a reputable past and actually does coaching for a living. I would find out, approaching Exos and stalking other formal training centers would not prove right for me. For one, they are VERY costly and two, they really do not specialize on “Ultra” runners. Runners, maybe, athletes, yes, organized sports, yes but not us rare breeders. We are in a crazy sport. Our bodies endure extremes and are not a one size fits all. I did introduce an agility and running performance analysis test using a Dorsa IV system on two different occasions at the advice of my good friend and PT., Dr. Trent Nessler. As a result of this, I knew exactly where I stood with weaknesses and worked on strengthening them for the next couple months. I also paid a long time childhood friend(Damon Shelton), gym owner and well known Personal Trainer in north Scottsdale(Method Athlete) for some work for a couple of months. I was super glad to have the multiple options going to help address my weaknesses and that dang toe! 

Then, March came. I was already at high mileage weeks(see my chart below for reference), enduring some rugged terrain here locally in AZ and now comfortable my toe was under some pretty good pain management. Things were working. I was confident going into the Mesquite Canyon 50mi mid March. I did this race last year and did well for an old guy! Again, the goal here was to augment my training and “test” the toe again. It would prove a huge success and the orthotics came to my rescue again. That race is a pretty brutal and technical course in the White Tank Mountain Regional Park west of Phoenix. Around 7500’ of gain/loss over the 50 miles.

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2018 Mesquite Canyon 50m PC: Jamil Coury

April. This was an interesting month to say the least. I should mention I had stopped cold turkey with alcohol starting Jan 1. Zero drops since Dec 31st. I had done this a couple times in the past for a few months leading into Leadville and San Diego 100 last year. It was something I already planned on. I never found myself craving it. Zane Grey 50mi was at the end of the month and I needed to get some more climbing in whenever possible, stick to technical trails and keep pressing on. Zane has a history of eating up and chewing up runners due to the altitude, rugged nature of the trails(Mogollon Rim, Payson AZ) and the unpredictable climate/weather. It’s been virtually “snow free” this year in that area and the course would be modified for an out and back due to some forest fires recently. A lot of my friends who I train with often were doing this race and many were crewing, volunteering so I was really looking forward to it.

Death. Dealing with death when your plate is already completely full can be overwhelming. Putting life on “hold” to address it/deal with it/experience it/process it. Without going into gory detail here in my blog, my Mom passed away on Easter. For about 3 weeks, my life was turned upside down. Watching her dwindling down to her final days (6 days in hospice, no IV’s, no nutrition, nothing except morphine and other meds) was not pleasant. I found myself weeks and months later using that for a little inspiration and correlate it to my dark times on the trail when the tough got going and would use this during WS as a huge motivator! If there was a silver lining to this experience.. it allowed me to gain perspective, slow my life down for a few weeks, spend quality time with family and use her death as a devotion to the “WHO” I was doing the WS for. More on that in a bit.

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Zane Grey, another successful race! This would be the final race for me leading into WS. Tons of climbing, technical, heat and all of that. Most of the conditions I would see in June. The race unfolded, had a great time, the toe held up, my friends did great and Tara and I had a nice little weekend getaway up north in the cool pines. I was super happy I did this race! I’ve also been eyeing this one for many years now.

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2018 Zane Grey 50m PC: Megan Galope

My new coach: April had me off the rails with formal training although I still got miles in, I couldn’t afford to keep my long distance coaching relationship on and in “limbo”. I was ready to start May with a new approach and long time veteran Coach and athlete Cheryl Miller of Miller Endurance Coaching. She’s great! It was through Brad Person(mentioned earlier) I got introduced to her in combination with having some of her athletes joining on my AZ TraiLegger Sunday group runs. She’s done the Tevis Cup race(100mi Horse Race on the famed Western States course) 5 times, trained athletes and has experience on that course. She also has experience doing Leadville and many other races including multiple Ironman events. She’s a beast and great mentor/coach!! Her style and workouts for me would payoff BIG time during this race!

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Western States Training Camp: Absolutely mandatory in my opinion if you are fortunate to get into this epic race! They’ve been running this for years around Memorial Day weekend and it’s a great way to do the course recon, learn the crew points and get some back to back long runs in some of the most beautiful and rugged mountains I’ve run in to date. The cost is minimal in comparison to what you gain($148 for all 3 days or $50/day). You DO NOT have to be running the race to do this camp. If you are an aspiring and up and comer to the Ultra scene and want to experience these historic trails, this is a great experience. They really have all of the logistics down after all these years.. At times, I felt like I was in a race with the checkins, wristbands, school bus shuttles to start points, fully stocked aid stations and overall atmosphere. Another benefit to this is you get to experience Auburn and surrounding area. This is a really really spectacular city. The entire surrounding area has knowledge of this race and no matter where you are in town, a clerk, a waiter, a bartender will talk to you about it. It’s simply amazing. Tough back to backs (31mi the 1st day, 18mi the 2nd and 22mi on the 3rd). Now, you have more you can plan for and educate your crew/pacers should you decide to par take. Most of my team went to this epic training camp and we spent more time discussing the race. It was awesome and I would do it again!

Meetings and Planning with the JonSquawd: Putting a team and crew together for something of this magnitude takes some thought. Most of us in this sport would have already had the experience of a crew of some sort, perhaps a pacer here and there. For this race, I’ve heard two approaches. 1st year: Put the team together(have multiple members) and for the 2nd and subsequent years:(Yes, there are runners who keep applying and participating in this race over the years), you would have already experienced the course, the logistics and are fine with one crew mate, a single pacer or two. Should you decide to put your dream team together, please please decide on their respective roles going in. Meet as a group. Talk out loud about the race, determine who’s strengths can help get your bad self from Squaw to Auburn. My team and I had at least 2-3 meetings, the training runs and then a final get together before we departed for the race. I MAY have had a spreadsheet or three for this race! I really enjoy the strategic planning aspect the most. If you are open to feedback, ask for it throughout the process! Remember, these people are those you trust, maybe related maybe a spouse, another set of eyes and perspective. You will find some things are well though of and others are perhaps forgotten since you’re caught up in the enormity of everything. It will pay off! Trust me! Preparation is a large large part of this journey and execution is the other. Not only are YOU executing on the physical and mental portion of the race itself, your team has to execute their respective responsibilities. I had ZERO complaints with my planning, training, my team and well, all of it on race day! You want to ensure ZERO regrets at that start line!! ZERO!

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One of the few pre meetings we had! The A & B Teams! #jonsquawd

Race Week: We chose to fly in mid week. The festivities and things start on Thursday with a full line up. We flew into Sacramento as we did for the Training Camp and drove up through South Lake Tahoe doing the touristy thing since we had the time. There is such beauty from the moment you leave the immediate Sacramento area on up. We planned a chill day on Wednesday while the rest of the crew was coming in on Thursday. Our VRBO Cabin we landed was a 4-5 min drive from the start in a well established neighborhood and was perfect! I was so glad to have found this! I didn’t want the added stress of driving from Truckee or Tahoe City each day and race morning. The town starts buzzing on Thursday! The day gets kicked off with a visit to the Western States store.. They have some really cool things in there.. I would pick up a thing or two for my team as Thank You gifts there. You start to see and hear friends coming into town and you have a choice of climbing up the big hill (our start line route) to Watson’s Monument for a dedication ceremony. I consulted with the coach and she OK’d it as long as I didn’t run/hike down. Her comment “you’ll get plenty of downhill, save those legs”. It was beautiful! Weather was perfect and our ride down the Skylift would provide stupendous views of the mountains, Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area. Squaw Village hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics so, it was really cool to see all of the leftover structures, signage and the torch at the entrance! The rest of the day, we attended some sessions like crew orientation, and others which we elected to not go so we could get to the store and unpack some more.

Thursday’s Hike up Escarpment to Watson’s Monument

Emotions: The months(6-7) have passed now. All of the work has been put in. Nothing and I mean nothing was out of order for me. We had no snags, everyone was happy and getting along and the messages from everyone started pouring in. Words of encouragement, people I hadn’t really talked to much reaching out, social media heating up and a call or two along the way. The nighttime entertainment once we settled in would prove to be one of the most tearful and emotion unraveling for me of this entire journey(OK, one other episode when I crossed the finish line in Auburn). Brian and Meghan had compiled small video clips of various montages and words from all my friends and loyal AZ TraiLeggers over the last couple weeks. It was melded together in a  20min video with songs, special guest appearances and it simply was AMAZING!!! I was overcome with emotion. Looking back now, I think for me personally this was the kettle finally “whistling” with pressure.. Relief came over me. Letting the last months of training pressure, my mom’s passing, the emotions along the way, friends discussions all of it just built up with no real outlet. I was glad this happened when it did! Had I brought that to the race, I am sure the physical drain, the “pain cave”, that dark time would have just possibly stopped me in my tracks or perhaps slowed me down to a crawl. Us ultra runners do go through a period of dark times often during these 24-30 hours of “fun”. I would re play that video ten times over during race day. I would use it to lift me and help fuel my fire. The fire that from Mile 24 would stoked and burning bright all.the.damn.way.to.the.finish at Auburn.

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That video I talked about 🙂 #followyourpassion PC: Cindy Deason

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The JonSquawd watching said video! It was EPIC! PC: Cindy Deason

My team(aka JonSquawd): Locked and loaded: Tara Christley – My rock, wife and loyal Crew Captain. Cindy Deason – A great friend was added late to the team for her ability to capture the moments and provide the social media updates for the next couple of days and provide medical aid. David Bliss – A veteran to this event as mentioned above. He was responsible for helping with the logistics and his promptness paid dividends making sure everyone got to where they needed in time. Brad Person – Pacing and Crewing. He’s the beast I spoke of earlier. He would pace me from Green Gate to Pointed Rocks(about 13ish mi). Susie Kramer – Another great friend and beast would be crewing and pacing from Forest Hill down to Green Gate(about 16 mi). Brian Slavin – Great friend, crew support, gear monger and nutritionist who helps get my grub on, Tailwind mixed and all of that. Meghan Slavin – The husband/wife duo of Brian and Meghan have pretty much been there crewing, pacing and supporting all my epic races to date and Meghan is my training partner of 4yrs and would be pacing me from Pointed Rocks into the Finish(about 6mi) here at WS. I am forever grateful to all of them! They were awesome!

Friday, 1 day Before: This is where all hands are on deck. A mandatory check in for runners is required. Drop bags are dropped off and the race meeting at 2:00 was also mandatory. Starting each day at Coffebar was SO epic! This coffee shop seemed to be runner central. We would see the likes of the Altra crews, And Shartel, Scotty Mills and crew, many others throughout the two days there. They had great service and great coffee!! The days events were intermingled with checking out more of Squaw for those that came in Thursday night. Everywhere we drove through the immediate area was littered with elite runners and crews, pacers and tourists running around shaking the legs out. It was epic to see the elite lineup at the 2:00 meeting. Jam Jam (Jamil Coury) was there doing some filming and waiting for his pacing duties with Zach Bitter on race day. It was cool to cruise the expo.. These vendors put up big money to sign on with wser.org to be part of this race. The entire village was buzzing with professional photographers, crews, volunteers and the like. Once we got through the mandatory meetings, we went back to the Cabin for an easy afternoon, I kicked my feet up and started putting a music list together. Brian and Meghan had plans to make dinner and allow me to pack the rest of my stuff. One of the things I like to do is a mock “dry run” the night before with my pack and gear with the crew. I felt due to the fact we had two vehicles(Crew A and Crew B) and 8 of us, it would be best to get everyone on the same page. With the gear laid out and the books, maps and plans finalized we walked through the day. This is again a point where final checks and input can be made. Racers can’t possibly think of everything logically with an event of this magnitude. We ate, chilled out a bit, I got into the compression boots one last time and we set a wake up time: 2:30a. Yep, that’s right. Race go time was set for 5:00a!!

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Pre Race Meeting @ Coffeebar PC: Cindy Deason

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This was a popular place! Great food and coffee drinks! Super great service.

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A famous plaque in the Village

RACE day: Alarms go off. Everyone is getting ready and getting their coffee on.. Of course, I did my routine of Bulletproof coffee and a Honey Stinger Waffle with Almond Butter and one yes, ONE banana. The gear was laid out and I jumped in the shower. LUBED completely up with Runner’s High Herbals says and stuff. They’re stuff is amazing! I can honestly say I have used this stuff daily for almost the entire 6 months of training.. A somber quiet but excited buzz was happening in the cabin now. It was almost GO time! For Crew B, it would be a hectic morning right from the start. They would have a 3hr drive leaving Squaw and down through Auburn and up a narrow windy road to Duncan Canyon. Team A would be on the Foresthill side heading up to Robinson Flat. The thing about this race is although there are 21, yep 21 aid stations, I wouldn’t see the crew until mile 24.4 at Duncan. My expected arrival time there was 10:00am.

369 Runners would start this race. The field was stacked. Picking a position on that start line and a strategy for the big climb up escarpment would prove important as the day played out. Usually, in large crowds, I like to start mid pack, sometimes even farther back. I train with a very gradual warm up for many reasons. Getting into fight or flight mode(anaerobic) early causes a lot of calorie burn, stress and does not prove anything to me personally. I would much rather play the conservative route and start gradually and aerobically and have the ability to come on strong as the race progresses. Well, this climb had all of us in anaerobic mode. We climb almost 2600’ from the start up to the peak at Watson’s Monument before we descend on single track to the west.

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The large clock under the famous Western States sign was counting down to single digits now. I ended up very near the front.. In fact, so close, I was standing right next to Courtney Dauwalter, the one who would race to the 1st female. The elites were one row ahead of me, Sally McRae was giving her friends her last words of encouragement, it was quite energetic being that close!! The last pics were being taken, the sun was barely making it’s way up and the day lay ahead. CALM set in over me. I was not nervous. Why was this? Usually I have a certain amount of nervous energy. I had a million thoughts running through my mind. Like I said earlier, ZERO issues, NO regrets and I had my Team in place. They literally catered to me for the last 2 days making sure I had what I needed, ate what I wanted, and so much more. I couldn’t had had more confidence going in. Bang, 5:00 was here and we charged up the hill!! I made sure to do what John Medinger asked us to do when we got to the top. Look over and soak in the views towards Lake Tahoe to an amazing sunrise. It was epic! Clear skies for as far as I could see. I made it up in one hour and saw Melissa Ruse and Jamil Coury at the top. The amount of photographers was unreal. 100 ish to my guesstimate, drones flying around.. It was like nothing I had ever experienced!!

Bottles or Pack? Nutrition? Drop Bags? 21 Aid stations lined this course. Crew can access 11 of them. I wandered back and forth between bottles and pack for almost two days. Not stressing over this, I bounced it off David and Meghan a few times and decided I would do bottles for the 1st 30 miles! I had already been used to training with dual bottles and even raced with them before. I had decided a SpiBelt would carry a Tailwind Pack and a gel. I was also pre loaded with Tailwind from the start. After all these years, I am still loyal to this company and their products! I have always had success using it and the last thing I wanted to was introduce unknowns during an epic race such as WS. My plan was to stick to 200-300 calories per hour to the best of my ability. Our high point in the race would be around 8500’ for about 30 seconds and then descending down through an average of about 4000-5000’ for the 1st 50mi of this race. Fueling in this range is something I’ve experienced with no issues before. The heat would be ON big time so we stuck to 1 TW stick pack per 20oz throughout the day. My strategy has always been get through the 1st hour on water only(my morning routine covered earlier was BP Coffee and the HS Waffle and Almond Butter). Plenty of calories to get me through that 1st hour and beyond actually. We had a huge climb ahead of us up escarpment so I took full advantage of lighter weight and less variables to deal with. I was concentrating on getting to Duncan Canyon with the least amount of stop time and issues with gear. I decided on only two drop bags which would absolutely be perfect for me! I had one at Red Star Ridge(15.8mi) and Devil’s Thumb(47.8mi).

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One of two drop bags. Kept them light and only the things I thought I would for sure need out there!

The dark hours SO early?!? This wasn’t a pain cave at all (for me, I usually enter the cave between either miles 25-40 or sometimes 60-75). How could it be happening already? I was only about 10mi in. Uh oh.. As soon as we crested near Watson’s Monument and started our descent down the beautiful single track to Lyon Ridge I had a sense of an “awkward coordination” issue come over me. At first it was OK, just a trip here and there and nothing major.. I did not panic but instead focused on keeping pace. I knew starting near the front would have quite the crowds behind me and the last thing I wanted was to lose time in a conga line. I pressed on. It wasn’t hunger at all. I was fine in that department. Maybe I needed more caffeine? Substantial climbing and not a lot of “runnable” sections here may have caught me off guard. Remember, this 30mi section was not covered during our camp. David Bliss gave me some tutelage in this area as “it’s no joke”.. I would have climbed about 4400’ before coming into Duncan Canyon at mile 24. One real quick observation was the fact we had zero snow on this route. I cannot imagine the thoughts of dredging through melting snow and mud for the 1st 25miles like they did last year. Many drops and cutoffs were missed due to this and now I can fully see why. Some steep and exposed climbs met us after Lyon Ridge.. The beauty up there reminded me of Colorado. Running along ridge lines, Sierra Nevada mountain range in every direction, Noble Fir forests and French Meadows Reservoir in the distance down towards Duncan Canyon. Two very quick stops at the first two aid stations to grab more Tailwind and refill the bottles real quick and I was out! On my way down to Duncan. Knowing my crew would be there was SO huge. I was ready for them. My quads started cramping pretty bad. Again, did not panic, rather slowed things down and took in more fluids. I wanted to make sure I was close to drained of fluids when I rolled into Duncan.

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One of the many ridgelines we ran and power hiked along on our way to Red Star Ridge and Duncan Canyon. The views were unreal up here! PC: Facchino Photography

Western States is just one of those races. As you come into aid stations there are 2way radio volunteers calling ahead for them to announce you coming into the aid station and to have them pull your drop bags should you have them. They also police the crews entering the aid stations to help reduce chaos and to have a sense of order. They are not allowed into the main aid station(s) but only designated areas either in front of or behind the station itself. Priority is given to the runners. Especially in this heat, the amount of attention you get is unrivaled. I did see an example of this at Leadville last summer as well.. It’s quite the experience!! Never have I seen so many rules about not only runner and pacers but crew as well.. Each vehicle had printed copies of the rules and the actions of either, pacer and or crew can actually get the runner disqualified. This is where pre meetings and experienced crew really shine! They simply know what to do, when to do it and HOW to do it properly.

ICE, ICE and more ICE. Pounds, buckets, truckloads, like thousands and thousand of pounds of ice for the day. This day was to expect the 9th highest recorded temps in the history of the race. Some of us have jumped into a cold lake, pool, maybe ice baths, and exposed to the cold elements. I cannot describe the RUSH one feels when they have ICE water sponges squeezed over their entire body! It is quite the experience! If anyone was half awake or in the tank before, they would sure wake up as a result of this numbing, chilling and life changing experience! Having arm sleeves on allowed them to stick ice into the top portions on the inside of the arm. Boy, this was like injecting an IV full of crunchy glass into your veins. Whoa!!! C.O.L.D! A soak of my Headsweats hats along the way was key was well throughout the day! A sweet girl volunteer came up just then too and offered me a cold and almost frozen Blueberry Otter Pop! She cut the top off and I handed it to Meghan while I got my bottles in my hands. Poof! Otter Pop down! It slipped through her hands and onto the dirt and of course the tip that I was to put my mouth on had dirt on it! In true spirited crew fashion she grabbed it quickly and bit off the top and wipe it off and handed it back to me! What a friend! We would joke about the dirt pop later knowing she swallowed said dirt! What a friend! When I left Duncan Canyon aid, I may have actually looked forward to the heat of the upcoming climb into Robinson Flat where Crew A was awaiting my arrival. This would be the 1st of the 4 brutal Canyons we would need to climb during the race.

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Coming in “hot” quite literally to Robinson Flat! The ice still bulging in my arm sleeves and around my neck 😮

The long stretch to Robinson Flat, OK it was only 5.9 miles BUT it was approaching 11 o’clock and the heat was coming on. The cramping. Oh the cramping. The quads were not cooperating. This would be the 1st “pause” I would have on the trail. As I gazed across to the west, I would see runner/ants crawling up the trail towards Robinson Flat. This would be the first real time I thought of my Mom. I told myself before this race when the going gets tough, think of what she went through. The long days, 6 of them with no nutrition and no fluids in her home in her final days. This would allow me to calm down, re group and think about what was happening. It couldn’t possibly be that bad and whatever IT was, it would either A. get worse or B. eventually subside. Eventually, it did. Not completely but almost once I got into the final stretch around mile 30. With no other major issues at this time, I was honestly looking forward to the downhill that would await me when I leave Robinson Flat.

DOWNHILL. I’ve never been great at downhill running. It takes an extreme amount of fearless and reckless abandonment, ok and a lot of skill to just “bomb” the downhills. There are people that are really really good at this. WS would have around 23,000 feet of it and it was going to start at Robinson Flat for a continuous amount of miles, about 15 straight miles of it until the next big Canyon(Devil’s Thumb). Since my legs were cramping pretty bad for the last 20 miles or so, I actually welcomed this change. It would allow the muscles to work much differently and after I would fuel up and get through the aid station it would prove this is just what I needed.

What are the things that LIFT ultra runners spirits when they are down? I could probably go on for a while here but I can try and explain real quick some of the ones I felt coming into Robinson Flat. For the “Crew A” people and those who elected not to go to the far east side of Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners, this would be the 1st time they’ve seen their runners. It was a big big welcoming committee and a significant aid station for every runner on that course. Coming in around mile 29, the cheers in the distance gives runners motivation. Remember, we just came up the flaming hot and exposed Duncan Canyon. As you approach Robinson Flat, both sides of the road are lined with tons of people cheering, signs of encouragement everywhere, people cheering your name. David would great me at RF and point out the crew spot just past the main aid. Water and ice buckets were on the ready. J-Jons lined the station as well. It would be the 1st time I would see Tara too!! She was helping manage this side of the course. That was great! Brian was ready with the re filled bottles and everyone was trying to accommodate my needs. It was awesome.. Just when you think you remember what you were supposed to get at an aid station, the mind is often in a fog. It was great to be offered a pickle, ginger beer and some other things that were perfect at that moment. Tara would tell me I was doing great along with David and Brian. Everyone back at home is cheering you on, she would say! David would remind me I could take advantage of the downhill coming up which he had been talking about for a week now. Getting sprayed down with sunscreen was quite cold with all the ice and water being poured over me but this was all a great thing to help the body “wake” up. One last and mood lifting boost was Tara walked with me for a bit past the aid station with some white 3×5 cards. She took the time to solicit quotes from my close friends. She would read these as we walked away.. Some were quite funny actually.. A couple examples: “There will be a day when you will not be able to do this. TODAY is not that day”, Encouragement is for p*ssies. YOU picked this fight. Harden the f*ck up”!! and “If Brittany Spears can get through 2007, you can get through today”! I would have reflected on these for the next many miles, laughing and smiling. I LOVED that she did that for me!!

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TIMING. I had forecasted an arrival time into RF around 11:30a. I would leave and start heading out at 12:21 (8min Aid Station Time). I had forecasted a 24hr goal to help keep me focused and on track. For reference I was 45min behind that time at this point. While I may have verbalized this a couple times throughout the race each time I was “behind” I didn’t let it get me down. I knew I would be getting the A Team pacers starting at Mile 62, the temps would cool off and I just need to keep a CALM and cool head. Literally!! This would pay dividends the entire race! There was no benefit to trying to stress about the math and such. I am already pretty bad with #’s so this would be a futile exercise to keep up with. After all, I was participating in an EPIC race with such coveted spots and such awesome support I would rather use that to fuel my fire.

I realized coming into the next aid station, I made a minor mistake.. One I quickly corrected. I didn’t pack a Tailwind stick with me when I left Robinson Flat. For some reason, I didn’t have it with me. I had just gone through my whole pre mix and quickly grabbed what they had at Miller’s Defeat. This would be a smaller aid station and fairly remote so not a huge crowd there.

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Still my “go to” fuel after all these years!

Running SOLO. When I first thought about the enormity of this 62mi section until getting a pacer, I anticipated a friendly conversation here or there with fellow competitors but was completley OK with isolation so I could literally “connect” with this race and the experience. Often in Ultras, we run into those we follow on social media, we meet along the way, or just get introduced to someone new. This community rules!! It is one that has all of us conversing about our backgrounds, where we are from, what got us here, how many “hundos” we may have run, and the like. They are very un assuming conversations, very open and we share a sense of cooperation to ensure everyone is doing OK. Seeing downed runners stops us in our tracks to find out what is wrong, do they need medical, etc.. It is pretty amazing. Most of my miles in this race, like 90% of the 1st 62m would be solo. I was fine with this. I had one earbud in thanks to Cindy for grabbing my iPhone and the earbud so I could jam out. I did end up running into a running friend, Constance Wannamaker at this aid station. She is a beast and has a long history with ultra running. Another familiar face, an Arizonan now living in TX and someone I spent a great amount of time running with her during the Zane Grey 50m in May. We caught up quickly as she is doing the Grand Slam(running 4 hundos in one year) and I wanted to see how the 1st went for her(Old Dominion 100 just a few weeks prior to WS). Off we went and would separate again very soon after that. I would later chat with her at the finishing line ceremonies.

Coming into the next aid station(Dusty Corners) would be fastidious.. I knew my pack would be ready and since I had a gnarly section of downhill and a huge climb coming up Devil’s Thumb, it was now that I needed the pack and give the arms a rest. My awesome crew had everything ready. I think it was here that I was was looking for cold ginger ale. Just sounded great! Sometimes, certain aid station goods stand out. This would definitely be a fav of mine through the rest of the race! Up to this point I was really trying to average 200 cal/hr minimum. I knew one more aid station was ahead(Last Chance) and what lie ahead though and didn’t want to push the solids! I didn’t spend much time at all at Last Chance as it was a smaller station. Nevertheless, still awesome! Even one of the station volunteers asked me as I left if I knew what was ahead?!? I said “yep, sure do”! 

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So, I learned last year to run with a small, felt baggie filled with ice on my noggin’. It offer immediate cooling and slow drips over miles! Here they are, Crew B, Susie and Brad going Nascar on me! 🙂 PC: Cindy Deason

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The “walkout”. Here is Meghan walking me out, giving me words of encouragement, saying “remember when you were running Western States”??? Crews have zones they can stay within but not allowed in the aid stations themselves. Last Chance and Devil’s Thumb await!

Devil’s Thumb is a pretty extreme vertical canyon that no one wants to mess around with especially in this heat! Speaking of heat, the time was just after 2pm. The hottest part of the day was smack right in front of me! I got some great advice from a veteran ultra runner friend Michael Miller who the day before made sure I soaked in the river at the bottom of Devil’s Thumb. The famed hanging bridge was there. Off to each side were nice beach like sandy areas. After I had a series of switchbacks and aggressive downhill I would arrive there around 4:00. I took my pack off real quick and soaked my entire body in that river. If I had to guess, the water temp felt like it was around mid 40’s maybe a tad higher. The reality of it is the half way point was just ahead at the top of DT and only one more canyon lie ahead (El Dorado). If anyone has watched any of the Western States flicks, they would learn this is an extreme and pivotal climb in the race. Many people either drop here and or just plain don’t make the cutoff here due to extreme heat and the brutal climb up. The evidence was there. Puke on the trail a few times from runners before me. I had a handful of folks pass me by while I was doing the river soak but I felt like I had created quite some space between myself and other runners at this point and just pressed on. I really do enjoy the climbs! I try and just push on. Knowing I did this in training camp, I still had ice from Dusty in my bandana and cold clothes from the river and was just ready to take it on! Calm. I was estimating a 4:45 arrival at this point. With about an hour space now off the 24hr pace, I tried to stay calm and the help from Devil’s Thumb aid was unreal. This was a pretty large aid station with a lot of runners spending time here cooling down.

Devotion to the runner. I had seen the younger generation volunteer plenty at other races. This race was different. I experienced this at each station but this one would stand out. Again, the advanced calling of my number ahead meant the volunteers would have pulled my drop bag for me. Not only pulled it but had the contents neatly displayed out flat for me on the table. It was easy for me to get done what I needed. There has to be coordinated training that is clearly evident here. The drop bag crew did a specific thing and that was it. The young girl that greeted me took my pack and she stayed with me as I perused the aid station offerings. Popsicles, fruit jumped out at me so I grabbed watermelon and salted it up and there she was again. After filling my bottle with Tailwind, she took my pack, helped me put it back and walked me to the exit of that station. I thought, this girl is SO nice! That is their thing. They stay with the runner. It was awesome! Off I went!! I really felt good so I ran most of the way over to the next aid station at El Dorado Creek. Passing a handful of runners here I got a recent surge knowing I would see the entire crew soon! Like real soon!!

From pines and green forests to high desert terrain. Dry AF. This area was really drying out. I felt like, damn, a forest fire in here would NOT be good! The terrain was changing a bit. We had run quite a way in the pines but the trees, the foliage just everything started looking a tad different as we approached El Dorado Canyon and the creek. The aid station would be a small one at the bottom. BUT, a good one.. OMG. I was really looking for water but as soon as my eyes set in on those fruit bowls I was SO happy! Huge fresh blackberries, mangos and PEACHES! Yes, the gal had just cut up an entire peach and was working on her second one. I gladly took probably more than I should have. It was awesome!! An older gentleman with a bandage on his finger was struggling to get my bladder put back together and I offered but he had no part of it. He said “no, I got it”. I didn’t interrupt. He was an extremely nice guy. I loaded my pack on after only a few minutes and started up the climb. The last of the large climbs into Michigan Bluff. Speaking of plant life, there would be a section in here that had the largest manzanita bushes lining the trail that I have ever seen. We have a lot of manzanita up in northern Arizona but nothing “Paul Bunyan” style like these. Mind you, I had wet feet and a really wet outfit from the rivers and sweat. I would feel good knowing I was going to change my shirt and pull these arm sleeves off finally! The last thing I wanted was to get cold at an aid station stop.

Michigan Bluff: An amazing aid station and community! I would feel tired coming up the last hill into this station but overall still felt great.. I started to hear the cow bells and see David just ahead waiting to grab me and direct me to the crew! My arrival time there would be right at 7:00. There was still plenty of sunlight out. I was to get my headlamp there and David was to hook up my watch battery. During ultras, most GPS watches start to dwindle and run down to almost no power at the 50m mark(I was at 55.7 and less than 20% juice remaining). This aid station stop was awesome!!! I was getting tended to by everyone! Brad and Susie were not at this aid station but I was so happy to see everyone!

Back/Shoulder Cramping: I had developed some pretty severe cramping between my right rear scapula and my spine. Ever since last year when I had the C6-C7 disk flareup, that area has never felt the same. That episode effected my right upper arm, shoulder and down into my arm. The remnants of that nerve pain was felt this time. I had Meghan work on it while everyone was filling me full of my fav’s.. Rebbl Maca Cold brew, Ginger Beer, a pickle, and I think I had some other quick snacks too. Just getting a new shirt, taking off my wet shirt and sleeves really felt so good! I would grab a couple buffs to throw on my head for the headlamp and be ready to go!

Leaving Michigan Bluff was incredible.. Just glancing down the street which was lined with what looked like thousands of spectators, crews, locals and volunteers was amazing! People cheering for me, yelling my name “go Jon, you got this” and even having a filmmaker running along side of me and Meghan was really quite exciting! The crew had their gear just behind me and they had to walk the same direction as me to get to their bus ride so that part was cool! I popped into the J-Jon real quick, said my goodbyes and took off all in a matter of about 12min.

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OTHER THINGS my amazing Wife does for me: During my packing Friday night, I realized I didn’t have my UCANN packets. Normally, around mile 30-40, I get a UD bottle(hard one that I carry) full of UCANN, and my other concoction of goods (BCAA’s, Creatine and Arginine, see below) with Tart Cherry Juice. Well, Tara researched where could she get the UCANN packets and found Sprouts south of Auburn in Roseville and went completely out of their way to get me a couple packets for my race. Ahhh my heart was full. I love her! 🙂 Oh and she was still telling me people were sending their love and cheering me on from afar! One of the other very special things she did was ordered by a special bracelet I would wear the entire race! It has a Dig Deep phrase engraved into it and she wrote a nice note to go with it.. See below 🙂

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Components/Supplements mentioned above. I mix these with UCANN. The Tonic Alchemy is a daily and it’s awesome!

Dusk: As I was heading out of Michigan Bluff, I overheard one of the volunteers telling my crew I was looking good and that I could make it into Forresthill before dark! I was SO stoked about this!! I would also get caffeine! I had Green Tea caffeinated Tailwind waiting for me, espresso beans and all kinds of Caffeine! *YAY* This strategy has worked real well for me during hundos. Besides this, I would get Susie as a Pacer!!! Yeah!

The next section was a forest service road for a while up and what seemed like forever but only for about a mile and a half. On the way, I got to see the grave site of the famed Tonto, Scott Jurek’s dog he buried there after his win at Western States in 2003. Tonto passed away during Scott’s race. That was pretty special to see that cross in a field of grass along side that road. I chugged along. Doing a lot of power hiking and jogging when I could, I really wanted to be strong for Susie when I got to Foresthill. I’ve heard on many occasions from others “you want to be able to run when you get to Foresthill”. Since the Canyons and the heat of the day would be behind me, and given the terrain and profile, running would feel pretty good after smashing the downhill and climbing all day!

Bath Road: Knowing I would arrive at Bath road with some light out made me super happy! This road is a paved, somewhat steep road(ok, probably not that steep but, it sure felt like it) that leads up for about 1mi(connecting to Foresthill Rd) for another .7 mi and into the HUGE aid station at Foresthill Elementary School. The crew and anyone can meet you and run you into the aid station. This popular aid station/town is seen during most if not all the running movies about Western States. It’s a fan mecca and amazing scene to experience! David was letting me know where we stationed as it related to where we parked for the camp so I got my head wrapped around where I was going.

SURPRISE!!! Once I got to our spot, I was a little overcome with joy. A video would show me for a second not even realizing WHO was standing directly in front of me as I came into that area. Four VERY special people to me were standing there with signs bright as day and cheering me in!! My heart probably skipped a beat. This was unreal to me. I was overcome with joy and happiness. Courtney, Misty, Lin and Susie from Phoenix and my trail running group drove all the way to see me and my race. COULD THIS DAY have gotten any better?!?!? In this moment, you realize what you may mean to others. What they did was so special. I had just the day before been chatting with Courtney and she didn’t mention anything to me at all.. What a SURPRISE!! They had been planning this for a while apparently. For those, that are not aware, the drive from Phoenix: Depending on exactly which route, a mere 825ish Miles ONE WAY!!! They made a mini vacay out of it. I am SO grateful for them! They would also go to the Finish line and cheer me in! Simply.Amazing.

Foresthill: Making it here just before dark was really great! I also had plenty of legs left in me! When we did the training run day 2, our starting point was here. We would run a bit down the streets over by Mosquito Ridge and drop immediately down a series of downhill switchbacks. Remembering what that felt like during training when my legs were already thrashed from day 1 and 31 miles I thought this would actually go better because I was in the moment and not as sore as I was back in May when we did this section. My time here with the crew was only 11min but Brad kept me on track. The excitement of having the girls show up, me wanting to “socialize” with my friends had Brad a little nervous. I could tell. That was fine. That was their job to get me in and out of these aid stations! For some quick math: 21 aid stations lined this course. If one was to spend say 5min at each(about 1hr, 45min), just go ahead and tack that time onto your moving time and it makes achieving a time like 24 or 25hrs that much more critical! I rolled in unofficially around 8:47 and officially out at 8:57. We did a sock change, pack was refreshed and ready to roll, threw down some caffeine and I got some chicken broth and avocado rice balls/rolls from the aid stations. Did I just say Avocado Rice Balls?!? OK, these gems were awesome! At San Diego last year, about 60-70mi in, the aid station had fresh rice balls. They are heaven! The texture is just right, you can roll them in salt and like I did, I threw them in with chicken broth.

Susie Kramer: Where can I start with this girl?!? What a beast!! I had been thinking about this moment for the better part of the afternoon. Knowing I felt strong at FH and was still within reach of a 25hr finish, I knew she would keep me moving at a good clip. After all, she ran a 200 miler last year up in Washington. This 17mi section would be a cake walk for her! She had her pack ready and we bolted down the road. She would stay in front of me the entire stretch which is what I preferred. As we were leaving, I would see friends, Mark Cosmas from iRun Phoenix, James Bonnett(famous to WS) and a couple others. I though wait, James may be waiting for his dad Paul still. I had thought I saw him but couldn’t remember where. I was so impressed to see Paul(56) killing it at Zane Grey 50 last month coming in at 21st place and James 2nd. Simply amazing athletes!

Single Track: I love single track! The next 15 miles down to the river would be entirely on single track save for a couple miles of dirt roads(steep leaving the Ford’s Bar area) and then again for a bit right at the Rucky Chucky side of the river. Western States single track gets a lot of use and has over the many years of existence. From miners and journey men, women, horses and everything in between. There were plenty of ruts to contend with, sharp turns to navigate, and very dusty! This section hadn’t seen rain probably since the weekend of memorial day when we went to camp. With so many runners on this trail, the dust give the “poofing” factor a boost. As soon as we jumped onto it, there was already a mist of dust in the air from the runners just ahead of us. Turing on a headlamp magnifies this effect. It takes a strong mental game to cut through this and focus on not rolling an ankle or falling. We would have to deal with those conditions all the way down to the river crossing.

Full Moon: The section down to the river was very dark and descends away from civilization so much that all sounds and things you may or may not see along this stretch may involves wild animals and random things. This night, we would run for almost 4-5 miles along a side of the canyon with the Middle Fork of the American River just below us. I kept looking down and seeing a light. It was the full moon reflection following us around every turn. One of the things they did for us runners and soon to be river crossers was tightened up the dam above to decrease the flows as the race went on. The elites would see flows somewhere around 1100 cfs and by nighttime, they were reduced to around 200-300 cfs. The sounds from the river were muted just a tad going through the sections between Peachstone and Ford’s Bar. During the training runs, you could hear the sounds from the rapids below and when one looks down into the river, I cannot being to describe how crystal clear that water was. You could make out all the rocks on bottom even from our vantage point.

As we made our way meandering down and cruising at about an 11-12 min per mile pace and less at times, Susie was doing a great job of making sure I kept moving. While I was staying on top of getting my Green Tea Tailwind on, taking in Ginger Ale here and there, grabbing a small snack (mostly chicken broth), she always asked me “you drinkin”? She was very accommodating. Because of her competitive nature, the sight of the next runners lights were a goal for her. “Let’s get them”, “runners ahead” she’d say. Turns out a couple of those were very famous and highly regarded in our sport. I have such respect for them! Scotty Mills(this would be his 19th Finish at WS) with Ang Shartel his training partner and another famous runner most of us heard of, Dean Karnazes. “Legends” as Susie put it. We said our “hello’s” and “mind if we sneak by’s”. 

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Susie and I ran into Scotty Mills at the Training Camp. He’s such a cool guy! #muchrespect

River Crossing: After hitting the aid stations very briefly and running a lot of downhill, I knew and feared the cold water. Not the act of crossing but rather the though of having cold clothes, shoes, and hearing the stories of either making the change directly across the river or waiting until the big climb another mile and half up to Green Gate. I hate getting cold! Sometimes, I get uncontrollable shivers and that was the last thing I wanted since we had just made really good time coming in. The scene at Rucky Chucky(78mi) and the river (they are one in the same) was quite unreal! Lights, camera, action was how I felt down there. Crews were shuttled down to meet their runners at the “near side”, the Rucky Chucky side and only drop bags were allowed across the river. I contemplated for a while during the week whether I would have either or both here. Eventually, I decided since I would be with Susie, the last thing she wanted to do was “doddle” around down here. That was completely fine with me! People don’t realize the amount of time it takes to get through two stops like that so close to each other. I had run all day with wet clothes, pack, socks etc.. The volunteers (very safety conscious BTW) where great at the River! They put required PFD’s(personal floatation devices) on and guided us across the river. People were in waders, floating in boats and staff were spread across the river at what seemed like about every 5-7 feet. Glow sticks were also put around our necks and in the water showing us where the large rocks were. I started across with Susie behind me. We had no lines and such to deal with so, that was good. Once we got across, a sandy beach and a climb up grabbing a rope would get us to the “far side” drop bag area. That part blew me away with how much they had for runners. Drop bags, cots, towels to dry off, lights, chairs, and medical personnel. It was pretty amazing. Susie kept us going and up the hill we went!! This was a slow slog up the hill. As I mentioned, 1.5 miles UP HILL, like a steep hill. It was relentless and dark. I would soon be getting Brad as a new and hopefully energized Pacer at around 2:45am. Susie had just done an amazing job for me! 🙂

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Susie and I at the River Crossing dawning our fashionable PFD’s. COLD water! PC: Facchino Photography

Wait, I forgot my Orthotics!!! Later, over celebratory beers and pizza, this would be a phrase Brad would bring up as one of the things you “may not hear during Ultra”. We all lol’d on that one!!! Since these little things(that cost a LOT of $$) pretty much became a permanent fixture in my trail shoes since January(to help with that dang toe thing), I ran all my miles with them! Up to this point in the race, I had not ONE single issue with said toe. At green gate, I sat down while the crew went Nascar on me! Seriously, I’m not even sure what took place there! New socks(do NOT try and put Drymax socks on when your feet are wet), new shirt, refreshed pack and shoes. Brad was ready! We took off and one of the things one does at aid stations is “check’s in”. The big ultras have runners call out there #’s when entering and leaving the aid. We left the aid station around 3:00am(the 1st time) and started running. About 100 yds in, something wasn’t right! When the team put my new shoes on me, they didn’t transfer the all important and critical orthotics into the new pair. I yelled up to Brad, Oh F*ck! The thing about Brad, he is very determined and set. Just when I contemplated for one half of second, he had us charging back to the aid station. Some races do not allow re entry back into the aid stations once you leave. We would approach these nice two older volunteers and Brad asked “could we go back real quick since we forgot something”? They said sure!! We’ll just need your time again when you leave. So, back we went which in total was only about .25 miles and a total of about 10 extra min on both sides, so I wasn’t even concerned. I was more concerned about running with zero insoles at all for the next 15 miles. I was SO glad Brad pulled me back in. Off we went(the 2nd time).

Into the wee hours….

Getting through the next section would be slower. I knew it would be. The trail in this section has some overgrowth and large ruts with some rocky sections. Not a ton of climbing actually. I remembered it quite vividly from the training runs. One has to be careful with the ruts. Large ones. From years of use and horses some of the ground lining the trails were a foot or more deep. Turning an ankle would not be good going into the final stretch! I was feeling OK overall but at this point, it’s the darkest, sometimes the coldest and things just seem to move much slower. The body really really wants to go to sleep AND the famed 24hr timeframe is knocking on your door. Brad did a great job of keeping conversation going an he ran in front just like Susie did. Always checking to see how things were going and keeping track of my time. I heard him on numerous occasions tell me our running pace was under the “24hr” pace. The next two aid stations (Auburn Lake Trails and Quarry Road) would be smaller and low key from a crowd perspective. These were the wee hours of the morning and the bright white moon was even going into the burning orange color phase which was really stunning to see at this point. Reality set in during this section. For time sake, IF I were to hit the famed 24hr time, I would have to actually finish the race at 5:00am. We rolled into the Quarry Road aid at 4:30a. I did NOT let this get me down. After all, my day went without a hitch, I was happy and CALM.

Snakes and critters: So, I had forgot to mention earlier when I was with Susie, I glanced over at one point and saw the small bobcat kitten in the grass just after we left Ford’s Bar before Rucky Chucky. I knew momma was probably lurking nearby! Mountain lions, bears, snakes, you name it country! The road leaving Quarry aid was on a gradual up slope and we powerhiked most of it. Old, downed leaves lines each side of the trail. Outside of an occasional scorpion on the trail, millipedes, and that bobcat kitty, I had not encountered any snakes! Until now! A slither out of nowhere was happening immediately to my left and in the leaves. That woke me up! I was still walking a good pace but no more than 15-20 yards ahead it happened again. I didn’t hear any rattles but the snakes skin was light in color and not a huge one. On we went up the hill towards Highway 49.

The end is near: Highway 49 is a famous road crossing at mile 93ish and connect you to Cool, California. How “cool” is a town called “Cool”?!?!? Brad would txt ahead to let Meghan know we were a couple miles out. Those miles were almost all uphill. Not a daunting climb, but rather gradual enough to not allow me to run much. Energy levels were OK but I realized I needed and wanted to run almost that entire last 6 miles into Auburn! Knowing the journey I took getting here from one day ago at Sunrise almost 100 miles northeast in Squaw, had me thinking all kinds of things. Almost so much that the next mile or so were the most quiet for me. Sometimes, a million thoughts go through your head in these events that you lose track of exactly where you are, how many miles you covered and all of that. This race for me would be over somewhere in the 25hr range. EPIC! 25hrs was my un advertised B goal. My A goal much to my surprise would be something I could push to but probably not attain without “blowing up”, getting injured or just not really “enjoying” the race as much as I had. For comparision, my other 3 hundos except for one would be far north of the 25hr timeframe with not as much climbing and descent! I was happy with where I was at, real happy.

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Brad Person and I coming in hot to Pointed Rocks at mile 94 PC: Susie Kramer

Sunrise: Faint glistening of stars were still visible now, skies were changing from pitch black to that dull black and headlamps were of no use anymore. As I would approach Pointed Rocks(94.3mi) aid to pick up Meghan at 5:37am, my focus was to get rid of my pack, do a quick shirt change, grab a bottle and get out as fast as possible! Glancing over to the aid station volunteers and their spread had me like “bacon”??? “sausage”?? and well, wholly sh!t, I can’t grab any of this and still run fast and get out of here! I felt bad for them but a job had to get done! A quick swig of Rebbl Cold Brew and we took off! Sun’s out, Jon’s out! “147 out”.

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Bone Broth and a quick chug, shirt change and Meghan and I were out!

Pacers: Choosing your pacers just isn’t something you do “willy nillie”. Pacers help you achieve your goal and your dreams. They are with you during good and bad. Ultras cause us to morph into bastards and different people at times. The pain, the weather, the feelings and mood swings. The fact they may have to do things they never have done before. It’s a big job. A lot of responsibility goes into it and I prefer to have one when I can. Anyone that knows my history, knows I run with Meghan Slavin during training and quite a few other races. We’ve run many miles together over the last 4 years. She’s paced me up to 50+ stints at a time and at all my hundos so far. Leadville was an exception as I was just about to get her but missed the cutoff at mile 71. This was a critical section of the race. I was excited to get her and have her bring me in!

The temps had cooled down quite a bit, but I’m thinking it was still in the mid to high 70’s and I had a black 3/4 sleeve Christopher Bean Coffee racing jersey on. Temps at the finish still wouldn’t be that bad and in fact, my black and white Runners High Herbals cool trucker hat was on the noggin’. The feeling of running light was awesome. Sometimes, completely filled packs can not only weigh you down(some at around 5-6lbs) but can cause some unwlecomed chafing and lower back pain. I was glad to get through all of that now. The end and the culmination of the years, the 3 years waiting to get  in, all the training, the journey, the beauty, the pain, the people’s chanting, support, just everything would be coming to an end within an hour or so.

Iconic Landmarks: Experiencing Western States provides quite the range of history for the lay person who may only know about those seeking Gold and having to cross major mountains getting there. I won’t mention all the things here but the few that you see and experience going into the final stretch are pretty awesome! The single track and some dirt roads and paths take you along the meadows heading in and down towards the North Fork of the American River, the famous No Hands Bridge and from our vantage point, looking up to see the massive bridge up and to the northwest that leads vehicles over to Foresthill. In most of the films you’ve probably seen about WS, you may have seen the lights draped across No Hands Bridge, the famous streets of Auburn, the last “white bridge” as a you round the corner towards Placer High School. All of these are available to us in this section. One is left thinking of all the famous and wold renowned athletes that have walked, powerhiked, limped, jogged and ran through these epic few miles leading to the finish. It helped ease the pain, the long many hours I would have traveled up to this point and reminded me of the WHY I did this race. More on the WHO and WHY in a bit.

As we approached No Hands Bridge, I would see the aid station(most of the lights had been taken down at this point) and a small group of volunteers and spectators. Meghan and I would be running most of this entire section except for the “hill” ahead of us. We paused for a quick pic here at No Hands, got a tad more water and ran over the rest of the bridge. The river raging below. The rapids in this section were pretty wild! The sounds coming from it this early with the quiet morning just touches your soul. The sun was now hitting almost everything in every direction. We wouldn’t see many runners in this next section. I can honestly say I had not been passed by anyone in a really long time. We did start to see what I think where some of the locals coming in the opposite direction, those walking dogs and perhaps some other spectators. Not one of them that went by didn’t say something like “congratulations”, “nice job 147”, “way to  go runner”, it was awesome! Again, this event alone is probably the single most important and historic event for all of Auburn and surrounding communities. Who’s that? A runner was coming up fast on my heels. Wasn’t sure if it was a runner girl or guy, pacer girl/guy, it was a guy and a girl coming up. Come to find out, it was a runner dude pushing and grinding out his finish. It was awesome! Meghan and I watched them pass and to an extent, it gave me a short boost of energy.

Time wise, I was getting into the acceptance phase. My 25ish hour finish would most likely not happen at this pace and knowing what we had in front of us. The river and this area is at around 1000′ in elevation. Mind you, we started in Squaw at 6200′ and would finish on the track at about 1600′. The climb coming up to Robie Point(98.9mi) is on any normal day, a pretty good climb(+/-600′). How practical at this point in the race would it be for me to gut it out and “rush” in under 26hrs?? Not practical. In typical Meghan fashion she did turn to me and gave me a little speech which I needed. She reminded me not to have any negative emotions about time and that I had been asking more than I should about my time throughout the day. She reminded me about my feelings and early even gave me a “hey, remember when you were running Western States”? reminder. It was an epic reminder to tell me to think about what I was getting reading to accomplish. It was awesome. Funny though, 30 seconds later I said “f*ck we’re not going to make it”. That elusive 25hr time goal. I really did listen to her. Honest!

An option for us runners was to have any of our crew meet us at Robie Point aid station. It’s another thing you can sometimes see in the films about WS is groups running that last mile or so. I was looking forward to everyone being there! We really didn’t spend any time at the Robie Point aid. We said our hello’s and thank you’s and pressed on. We changed from a dirt road to asphalt at this time. On this asphalt going all the way into the finish are the painted shapes of two runner feet about every 50 yards or so with the WS 100 painted on them. Such a cool thing to see that far into the race.

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“Welcome to Auburn”: A tad farther up the hill past the aid station, a man was standing in front of us looking at us as we approached. He pointed to the ground and said “This is the top of the Hill”.. as we approached he smiled and said “Welcome to Auburn”. Let’s just say, a few emotions went flying through my head! Brad and Brian met us here. Brian was doing a Facebook Live video for us running alongside of me. There is also a famous sign designating Robie Point and stating; “Welcome Western States Runners Mile 99 Robie Point City of Auburn CONGRATULATIONS. When one looks at this, it causes a flood of emotions whether you are a spectator, runner, pacer, whoever, it’s a sign that says a lot!

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The rest of my crew was here! Other crews were there as well greeting runners and anxiously awaiting theirs. Everyone met me just in front of this sign and we all ran in together.. OK, not gonna lie, there was some walking in this section. I was starting to concentrate more on the final track miles and my time. I don’t know why but, there was a “you’ve got to run like you stole it” feeling I had wanted to experience when stepping onto that track!

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The “Crew” bringing me in… very very close to the finish here! PC: Cindy Deason

Here comes Jon Christley from Phoenix, Arizona: One of the things Craig Thornley, WS Race Director does is send us updates periodically leading up to the race. One of them included a link to a website whereby runners complete a quick series of questions that are asked so the announcers(John Medinger, WSER President) can ensure they read the important things about you when you enter that track and run the last leg of this iconic race. They want to give a shout out to your crew, your family, your reasons why you ran this race and a couple other background goodies and nuggets. 

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Finishing it up! 26:04:33 official. PC: Facchino Photography

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My Wife! “I’m done. I made it”! PC: Cindy Deason

The WHO am I running for: My Mom

The WHY. Because I’ve worked my ass off to get here. I want to push myself like I have never pushed before. Proving to myself age is just a # and anything can happen that you set your mind and heart to!!

These two objectives were written down days before the race. They were front and center of my plan and printed in both crew manuals for everyone in my group to digest and understand. John M. announced the story of my mom’s passing on easter which I heard while running on that track in that final minute or two. Although I heard him mention the other important things I filled in, I was thinking mostly about how she may have impacted my race that day. As I focused on that finish line and the arch, words cannot express the feelings I had. There was a moderate sized crowd there, some on the bleachers, in the grass, in the food lines, and scattered about. My favorite foursome of girls there as well to see me finish(the same ones that surprised me at Foresthill).

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Awww these girls.. 🙂

26:04:33: My finish time. Am I proud of this? Hell yes! Did I feel strong at the finish and happy? Hell yes! Was I able to execute on my plan and truly “experience” this race? Hell yes! Did I ever feel sad or allow that race to consume me? NO. Was I in the presence of the most important people helping me in every way possible to reach that finish line. Hell YES! How about the hundreds of friends, my family, my sponsors? Did I appreciate and “feel” their support every step of that race? Hell F*cking Yeah I did!! Did I ever take the race for granted? (ie. Was I “owed” a perfect day)? F*ck No! Did I ever think of throwing in the towel when the tough times came? Hell NO!

Celebration: How is this over? I know I’ve been running and variations thereof for 26hrs. My whole crew was there at the finish as well as the girls who came from Phoenix. I wanted so bad to have a beer with them! Since it was early morning when I came across that finish line(a tad after 7am), I knew everyone would be tired. When I crossed that finish line, I was given a small medal hung proudly around my neck and the photographers had a front row seat. Someone handed me an orange bottle filled with cold water and I progressed through the transition area. Melissa Ruse was there as well as Jamil Coury… A very tired Jamil. I think we have a pic of him face down sleeping in the grass in the infield. We caught him for a few minutes just before that to chat a bit. My wife, Tara came over before I was out of the transition area. Just before that, I looked to the sky as if my mom was there somehow, somewhere, and I said “I did it Ma”. Then I lost it. Finally, cried happy tears when I hugged Tara for what seemed like 5 minutes. Telling her how much I loved her and thanking her for EVERYTHING. See sacrifices below. I walked through the medical tent and over to each of my crew giving each one a hug and exchanging as many words as I could muster up. Wandering aimlessly for a few minutes and looking for others I recognized and wanted to say Hi to was something I did for a few minutes. I just wasn’t ready to sit down. Breakfast was being served so we walked over towards that area. We bumped into Adam and Andrea Danks of Runner’s High Herbals. They are SUCH a nice couple!! I am so happy to be associated with such a great company and use their products heavily! I feel like I’ve bumped into them at all of my races leading up to this day so, it was not a shocker to see them but a special treat to have them awake at this moment. We made our way over to grab some grub before heading over to the car. Tons of eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes/hash browns were there.. I tried to eat.. It’s real hard to get solids down immediately following these races. Bacon.. Yeah, that went down just fine.. the rest of it, not so much. The hotel we picked was a short drive away in Roseville. The plan.. SHOWER, Snooze and come back for the awards presentation at 12:30pm. Then, go get Pizza and Beer in downtown Auburn at Old Town Pizza!

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PC: Susie Kramer

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Summary: This was single handily the most epic experience! Total class act. I would highly recommend anyone yearning to do this race, continue to put in for the lottery! Those wishing to experience it without running it, there are plenty of options! Find a pacing role, a crewing role, come out to the Training Camps, hop on the volunteer waiting list and the like. Hold dear to you the things, the tools and the people that you want on your team to help you reach your goal. This race changes you. It opens up opportunities you didn’t think were possible. It stimulates conversations you would not normally have. Your name may get published. People you don’t even know will walk up to you and say “wish you the best at States this year”. Your team will make race week about YOU! They will accommodate your every need if they even seem trivial or way out in right field. Your friends who train with you WILL alter their own personal training to train with you. They will lift you up and help you focus. Those sacrifices you make to make this dream happen will need to be made. COMMIT to the dream and you will reap great rewards personally and perhaps professionally too! To ALL the runners, the volunteers, the support personnel, organizers, film makers, photographers, town peeps, friends and just plain everyone a HUGE heartfelt Thank You from the very deepest part of me. This was a race of epic teamwork and not individual. I have been asked a few times and will no doubt be asked, “Would you ever do this race again”? My personal answer is NO. This was a once in a life time experience for me and a dream come true. It was an opportunity earned and awarded. “But you have your qualifier again”? Doesn’t matter. Why would I rob a close friend of mine or the ultra community of a chance to realize the very dream I just realized? How would I feel knowing that people put in for this for years and I get drawn again? Nope, that’s not how I work. I will be just as happy giving back to this race in the form of supporting my close friends and anyone that should have their day at the BIG DANCE.

Closing Items: I am often asked after I do these hundos, very similar questions by friends and others so, I thought I would share for those aspiring to tackle a 100 someday.

Nutrition: During the race, I stayed true to what I knew worked. I didn’t throw any curve balls in there except an avocado rice ball or two seemed to look really appealing to me. Except for my Bulletproof style coffee I had in the morning before the race(and every morning for that matter, thanks to Christopher Bean Coffee), I had zero caffeine until Foresthill(headlamp time). From that point, I stayed with caffeine through the finish. I used Tailwind Naked flavor mixed as prescribed at 200cal/20-24oz per hour. There may have been an hour here or there where I supplemented with gels and waffles. Honey Stinger gels and waffles were always in my pack and this time around, I introduced a few Spring Energy gels and Muir. I say introduced because that was the only modification I made to my plan but had already raced and trained with them prior to WS. There were fruits at the aid station which I took in when I felt I needed it(Watermelon, Blackberries, Peaches and Pineapple) and an occasional pickle here and there. It was extremely hard to get down solids(I tried a piece of Pay Day and a Date and it worked “ok”). Calorie intake was around 200-300/hour. Occasionally, I would pop one Excedrin and a salt pill with caffeine here and there. Again, my sodium source was Tailwind. Fortunately, I never dealt with the feeling of nauseous and only one time did I actually feel “hungry”. Ginger Ale when it was cold was awesome into the later afternoon and nighttime and so was my other go to, Chicken Broth. The only other race day nutrition I had was the UCANN bottle concoction I mentioned above. My feedback: Stay with what works for you! Each person’s nutrition needs vary and a huge race like this is not the day you introduce new or unknowns.

Sleep: I try and average at least 7 hours a night of sleep at a minimum. Since January, I really only averaged about 5-6 restless hours/night. One would think with such high mileage weeks(some athletes are much higher than me) your body would be exhausted and yearn for sleep. That is not always the case. Often, I would have calf twitching for days on end which I eventually got under control but the body gets used to being “on” more than off. Rarely, I would pop a melatonin pill when I really felt I was lacking good sleep. Yoga was something I introduced on a fairly regular basis which helped me calm down. I also experimented with CBD oils(non THC versions) once in the am and again at night. That seemed to work as well.

Training: I’ve included my training chart leading up to this race. At the beginning of the year, maybe just a tad before, I had to determine what I would do differently, how I would fit it all in and would I use races to help prepare me for the race. The 3day training camp was a for sure! I had heard on numerous occasions I should “get a coach”. So I did. Super glad for that. The coach I landed on would have the experience and resume to lead me to that finish line! Looking back, I do wish I had her as of Jan 1 but it didn’t work that way and I’m ok with that. Weekly volume hovered between 30-80mi/wk with some grueling races thrown in there(100K, and 2 50milers). Cross training was key. Personal Training was key. Exercises I did at home and at work during lunch hours locked in a conf room. These all kept me injury free, helped with getting kinks worked out and stabilized those “other” muscle groups we runners often take for granted.

Expenses: If you plan to go down this road, expect to invest big $$. And when I say big, I probably didn’t include everything. When I got home I took the receipts, the bank statements, the registration emails, all of it and added it up. I stopped when I reached $5,657.93. Yep! That’s right. A family of four could have gone on a pretty nice vacation for that amount. Bills could have been paid off, the list goes on. My only comment here is the amount you invest from your heart and your bank account will directly impact your ability to stay CALM on race day. We are never ever guaranteed a great day, a finish or success by the amount of $$ we put into anything. If you minimize the stress by investing in yourself, taking smaller chunks of buying your gear along the way, booking flights early, securing VRBO’s for eight people, do this AS YOU GO ALONG. Do not wait until the final 30 days to scramble, make last minute decisions, etc.. Correlate this to anything else in life that you may be dreaming of accomplishing. The more you can see yourself approaching that finish line, completing that project, getting that promotion, paying off debt, buying that new house, the more you can rest assured knowing you’ve put in all the work and carefully planned your big day whatever that may be!! The rest is EXECUTION.

Sacrifices: This type of commitment will no doubt test your every ability to make sound decisions and put things “on hold” along the way. No one knows this more than my wife and family, close friends and friends of friends. Even at work, your colleagues, managers and others will be effected by your decisions and musings of this big 100 miler. You may lose friends in the process. Your family often will not understand. Your physicians and medical resources will not quite understand the scope of what you are attempting to do.. Believe me, the phrases “are you insane”?, “I don’t drive that far in one day”, “you run on the road right”?, “you sleep during these correct”? will all come to the surface. When you really stop and think about the every day things you need to do just to get through life and now introduce the “Western States Training” variable into it, you may get overwhelmed. Gain agreement to this commitment from your spouse. Make sure she/he knows exactly what is involved. Ensure they support your dream to the core. When there is mis understanding, ambiguity and uncertainty, these can lead you into a vicious “justification” conversation. You will put family on hold. Those functions, those happy hours, those warm beds in the winter will have one side empty, the kids won’t quite understand why you’re gone so much and on and on. Appreciate those who take this journey with you! Know who your friends are when they question your plan. Determine why they are questioning things. Try not to jump to conclusions.. Your TRUE friends will do this because they share similar values and dreams. They will be there through thick and thin. They too will make sacrifices and to them, I owe that in return when they get drawn for this epic race they call the Big Dance!!

Thank You for reading 🙂

2017

Here we are at the end of 2017. If you are like me at all, you wonder how did we get here so fast?!? Seems the older I get, the quicker time seems to pass. I’ve always heard this is true from my elders.
At the ripe age of 47, I have been places, done things, met more people than I ever imagined possible. Even though I have a fairly small family, my roots run deep here in Arizona. Being an AZ native really really creates a small space here. Oh, and maybe being an identical twin helps too! The exposure I’ve had over the years here in this great state has been nothing short of amazing. I continue to explore unfamiliar territory and meet new people. Each year presents amazing opportunities.
My commitment to the trail running scene has single handedly been the most personally satisfying of all career paths I’ve chosen. For those that do not know, I have a second career/life being a “techy” guy during the typical 9-5 Monday through Fridayness that most of us all conform to in one way or another. Often, OK.. well, daily, I wonder if I can get to a point where I can make the trail running life(or something in the same realm) an inverse of the aforementioned configuration. Trying to do the math on that one! For now, I’ll keep my day job. It lets me do the things I love to do! Run, Train, Race, Travel, Lead/Manage AZTL(AZ TraiLeggers), Heard Runners at group runs, Take a few good pics here and there, Plan, Socialize, Pay Bills, etc..
2017 Most Memorable
The last 9 miles of the San Diego 100. Beyond already having special moments, great experiences ever since the moment we rolled into the Lake Cuyamaca area, I didn’t know the last miles would go as they did. Suffering through horrendous 50-60mph cold winds all night long, blustery weather, relentless climbing and some technical sections, this last section proved me wrong. Once my pacer and I left the last aid station, I knew my A goal was out of reach time wise. That didn’t stop me. I ran almost this entire section(+/-9ish min/mi) passing what felt like a dozen runners or more. I got my second wind(an amazing phenomenon that happens in my 100 milers).. I felt strong, the sun was up and the finish was so close. It was amazing to feel this good this far into the race(91ish mi in). Scott Mills was there with Angela Shartel handing out the medal, shiny copper buckle and the famed SD100 sweatshirt. All the volunteers were still going at it providing food and aid for us!

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2017 Toughest Moment
17 hours, 70 miles into the Leadville 100 knowing I wasn’t going to make it.. the day just didn’t pan out for me in a lot of ways. A race I yearned to complete long before I started racing ultras. One I spent all year training for. I have such respect for Leadville! I had a very tough spot when I left Hope Pass the second time and then again when I got into Twin Lakes at mile 69. I sat for 45 min or more. I was ready to throw the towel in at that time.. The lowest of lows ever in a race for me. Feeling everything slip away. I was thankful my crew talked me into continuing. Knowing what lay ahead (tons more climbing, potentially more potty stops, a rough stomach and cold, slow, slow going), my pacer and I forged on… We tried everything! We fell short of the cutoff at Half Pipe by about 7 min. My race recap if you want gory details. Enough said.

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Loaded up and heading out of Twin Lakes for what would be my last section on the LT100 course that night. The look says it all :/

What I learned in 2017…
Failure is good. We learn from it. We get better with it. We are human. We grow stronger after defeat. The inner fires get stoked. The cobwebs of comfort and taking things for granted get dusted off. Leadville 100, the race was my failure this year. I’ve written in gory detail about it. I don’t socialize it when with friends much at all. I don’t like to wear failure on my sleeves so to speak. Leadville hasn’t see the last of me! I did put in for the lottery for 2018 to return for redemption! I will know on January 14th if they’ll see us again next year.

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The famous sign greeting visitors on the north side of town.

2017 Favorite Place
Telluride, Colorado. O Em Geee. This place is like Heaven on earth! How could ColoRADo one up all the OTHER awesome places, I ask? What happens when A. you go to a place you’ve dreamed about going and 2. you spend it with 8 of your closest friends and C. you spend it in a luxurious multi-level million dollar plus condo on the ski slopes right there in the Village! Whoa! That place is seriously magical!! The likes of the Sneffels Highline loop, Ajax Peak, Bridal Veil Falls, Imogene Pass and of course a pivotal aid station stop for the famed Hardrock 100(yes, we witnessed Kilian Jornet coming in with his jacked shoulder that Friday night)! Oh, and the beers, the food, the town itself, shall I continue?!? Dang, I want to go back and I know I will!

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2017 Favorite Race
San Diego 100. This race is so well run. Scotty Mills is the RD. A highly regarded veteran of the sport. From the moment I signed up, I knew this race would be a good one. I had heard such positive feedback for it’s great, rugged yet beautiful course, Scott and the area. Doing this race also had us staying in the small quaint (Normal Rockwell like) town of Julian, CA. That was icing on the cake for me to a great weekend. Such nice people, great food, small town feel and all the peaches and apple pie one can dream of! I will go back soon for sure and highly recommend this race for anyone!

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Cool copper buckle and shiny medal!

2017 Highest Peak
Well, this is a surprise with all the ColoRADo running I did this summer. The winner goes to Humphreys Peak, Arizona (12,633’). I wish I could have made Mt. Elbert in CO with friends while in town for Leadville but I didn’t want to risk anything that close to the race. Flagstaff is now on the map. Many accomplished runners and athletes train here. We are so fortunate it is just a two hour one way trip up. We have miles and miles of options once we get there.. Honestly, getting to the summit is really cool but the variety of the terrain with the inner basin area, weatherford, kachina, Mt. Elden and Schultz Tank areas, there are SO many options for us desert dwellers to get in altitude training. The finishing touch of a Diablo Burger or a coffee at Campus Coffee on our way back down the hill rounds it out every single time!

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2017 Most Thankful for…
1st and foremost, my amazing wife. Tara Christley simply rules! Living the life of a full time ultra runner is one thing but, having to commit to a spouse’s goals, dreams and quirky needs all year is another. I am so thankful she is full of relentless compassion and on top of this, such a good organizer. She can pull together the largest of volunteer teams, groups and those who support us out there on these crazy adventures. Secondly, I am most thankful for the friends I shared and continue to share a lot of dirt, races and adventures with. My wife and I manage the AZ TraiLeggers trail running group here in Arizona and it’s certainly been a grass roots, friendship bonding, like minded and goal oriented organization. It’s allowed a huge country like the U.S. feel small with all the connections and opportunities it’s opened up for us! Tara and I volunteer our time at races and other events throughout the year. This is another thing I am most thankful for and it’s just become a “thing” for us. Aravaipa Running will see more of us TraiLeggers volunteering for 2018 😊 Lastly, I’m very thankful for my sponsors who believe in me throughout the year allowing me to be part of their epic teams and organizations.. and to all of my loyal followers 😊.

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Tara Christley, crew buggy locked & loaded.. and this was only HALF of our gear!

Looking forward to 2018

Western States 100. The world’s oldest 100-mile trail race. Starting in Squaw Valley, California near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and ending 100.2 miles later in Auburn, California, Western States, in the decades since its inception in 1974, has come to represent one of the ultimate endurance tests in the world. I was informed by multiple means on December 2nd, I was successful in the draw. I had 4 tickets for this draw. 3rd year applying and it finally paid off!! I’ll say it again, I never ever really “win” anything in life so, to say I am over the top excited would be an understatement. I think I had perma grin for about a week after the draw. 2018 will be busy. Very busy!! I know what I need to do and where I need to focus. Let the ride begin!

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Western States is a registered trademark of the Western States Endurance Run Foundation copyright © 2017 Western States Endurance Run Foundation.

2018 Schedule

~Black Canyon Ultras 100K Feb 17th~
~Mesquite Canyon 50m Mar 17th~
~Zane Grey 50m Apr 28th~
~Western States Training Run 3d 70m May 26-28th~
~Western States 100m June 23rd~
~Leadville 100 Aug 18th~*
~UTMB CCC 101k Aug 31st~*

*Lottery results still pending (one or the other, not both)

 Thank You all for your continued support! Have a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

2017.Leadville 100.DNF

This may be a little long….
I got my 1st DNF but the DNF has not got me!
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Leaving May Queen aid heading up Hagerman road towards Sugarloaf Pass and Powerline.

Much was learned this past weekend in Leadville. And, it hasn’t been comfortable ever since 1:21am when my wrist band was cut at Half Pipe 71.56 miles and 21:28:40 into the toughest ultra I have ever done so far.
As with many things in life, uncomfortable things cause us to either adapt and conquer or fold to the very challenge that lies in front of us. The pain, the agony of defeat, the let down to my crew, family, friends and followers. These are all uncomfortable for me. But, it will not break me.
Leadville, Colorado(elevation 10,200’) lured me in circa 2012-2013. The dream of one day getting to run this race. I had SO much to learn of what kind of training would need to happen. What type of ultra runner takes on this challenge? How would one train for this while living a tad above sea level their whole life? What would the field look like, my age group, how would I stack up?
This race has evolved over the years. When I look back to the early days of my entering the ultra scene, I just couldn’t fathom going the distance of 100 miles let alone at that altitude! Lifetime Fitness markets this race and the Blueprint for Athletes series greatly. In terms of other ultra events, this may draw more than your average crowd to put in for their lottery each year. Because there are no requirements to run any other 100 mile race or comparable ultra, it tends to draw a lot of “first timers”. Probably explains a DNF rate that hovers around 50% each year. My hat is off BIG time to those who step up to this race as a 1st hundo!! For a small group of us, we had already submitted our chance as a group from the AZ TraiLeggers for the 2016 race but were unsuccessful in the draw. It would be a very lucky thing for me to earn my 2017 ride. More on that in a second.
I’ve compartmentalized the areas I feel would best represent milestones and manageable take aways for anyone seeking some perspective on the subject. After all, the most common phrase(s) I hear folks say of us Ultra runners are “You’re crazy” and “That’s insane”.
My race summary will come after which I will make it short, I promise! It must be short, after all, I didn’t take a single photo out there on the course! #amazing #whoami #notlikeme #photowhore
– The Journey
For me, it started long before winning the Gold coin last year at Silver Rush 50. I liken this scenario where one who starts on the roads running 5K’s, 10K’s, Half’s and full Marathon’s hears of this race called the Boston Marathon. Seems once we start hearing more and more about what this race stands for, the challenge to qualify, most of us at least “try” and get in. Leadville was my Boston Marathon comparison early on. Once I started hearing more about it, reading about it, hearing of it during podcasts on TRN(Trail Runner Nation), I just knew I would have to do it one day. This was circa 2012 when my ultra career was just beginning. 5 years later, ~40 ultras, various other races and my buildup and experience led me to believe I was ready.
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The infamous Gold Coin and the letter…

– Winning the “Golden Coin”
Was this really the best way to get in? How can one get into this prestigious event? The good and the bad about earning your way in to LT100 is this. You can submit your name for a lottery draw along with the masses(+/-thousands), win a Golden Coin entry(you still have to pay for the race), race in their other races, and even Volunteer your way in… In 2015, I signed up for the Silver Rush 50. A very tough race in Leadville and part of the series. Tons of climbing(up to 12,500’ 4 times during race). As an entrant, you receive a ticket on your bib to throw in the hat at the end of the race. Ken Clouber, Leadville’s toughest cowboy, former miner and creator of this great race(1983) draws the numbers from a cowboy hat AFTER you finish the SR50. I would be freezing at the end of this race and really not in the mood to stick around for another hour for the draw. I also figured this year, I would just put in for the lottery in December anyway.
It was in the summer of 2016 after the second SR50 I would stick around at the end for that draw. After we came across the finish line, my crew helped me stay warm, went and got Pizza for us to chill on the grass and wait for all the finishers and the draw. We tore my ticket off and threw it in Ken’s cowboy hat. I was the second to last number to be drawn.. the GOLD COIN was mine! I got it! I can still hear the roar and cheer from my crew, specifically Meghan Slavin. She has a loud cheer : ). I walked away with a smile from ear to ear and an envelope with special instructions as to how to enter. Mind you, they give you a VERY short window to “pay up and sign up” or else. I think my deadline was the following Wednesday. I signed up and secured my spot. There, I finally had ONE of my races planned for 2017. It would become my “A” race.
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One has a limited window of time to enter… and pay, winning the Gold Coin didn’t make it free 🙂

– The “A Race”
We are supposed to have an “A” race for the year. What does this really mean? For those not in this sport or new to it, most of us who plan our years in the fall for the following year will identify one as the A race or the one that we will adjust life for basically to train, prepare, learn about and target amongst a smattering of other races we may participate in leading up to said race. Leadville was for sure that race for me. Although I would still through my hat in for two other hundo’s (Western States 100 and San Diego 100), I was not sure of the odds of me getting in to either of those. Most lottery draws are in the December/January timeframe.
I missed out on WS 100 for 2017 (my 3rd yr putting in) BUT would be successful in the San Diego 100 entry. This really got my excited. For one, I heard so many great stories about this race over the years about the awesome RD, Scott Mills and the shear toughness and terrain was something I felt would give me a good experience and training for the LT100. I really thought the timing was better for me since it was the 1st part of June rather than the end of June for WS100 which I felt may be pushing it for another huge hundo mid August. On I went into January, learning of my friend’s plans to do their races and finish up my race calendar knowing what I had in front of me now.
– Training
I’ve come to this realization as many respectable athletes have. The best of planning and training does NOT guarantee a successful outcome! Questions running through my mind after I signed up… What would be different about my training? Should I do any other races during 2017? Could I devote the time necessary to this? How does one simulate the entirety and complexity of the Leadville course? They don’t. Plain and simple. Yes, they do run training camps in the mid summer timeframe for this course. They are broken up and do not cover the entire course.
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Targeted vs. Actual weekly mileage ramp ups to both SD100 and WS100.

I would peak at 62miles in a week about two weeks prior to the race. During my ramp up, I incorporated an Ultra series (1/mo averaging 50k per race) plus the San Diego 100 on June 9th. I’ve included my training ramp up graph for those interested. Climbing weekly was a factor as well.. Closer to the race, I was fortunate enough to also hit Telluride for two massive peaks (Ajax and Sneffels Highline Loop) which really helped. We hit Flagstaff just about every weekend as well leading up to the race. As far as peaking for climbing, I was able to hit 9000 the week of Telluride(mid July).
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Elevation Training totals by week leading up to both SD100 and WS100.

Let’s touch on sleep quickly. I am a HUGE proponent of getting as much sleep as possible. I alleviate distractions starting at 8:30p every night and try and at least get in bed by 9pm. Even with many 4am wake up calls, I was able to average 7hrs very consistently. This was steady weeks leading up to San Diego 100 and then following for the rest of the weeks leading up to LT100.
Deep tissue massage from Mackenzie at least once every 3 weeks was also part of my regimen. I continued this even the week spent in Colorado prior to the race. It’s helped a lot and has been a part of my routine for the last 3yrs or so.
Alcohol and Nutrition. I scaled back to almost zero alcohol since Feb of this year. Although I haven’t been a heavy drinker in the past, I can probably count on two hands how many beers or glasses of wine I had during the months leading up to both hundos. I feel this helped immensely!!! BIG time improvement with sleeping too! I never really changed my diet per se. I don’t like to think I “diet”. I ate all the time. Mostly high fat diet, veggies and occasional meat about 1-2x/2weeks. Plenty of Bulletproof coffee thanks to Christopher Bean!
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Have coffee, will travel! After all, this blend has the word “Mountain” in it.

Training takes time and dedication and takes us away from our duties at home, our family, our time with spouses and sometimes even work. The sacrifices are numerous in exchange for 24-30hrs of racing. As ultra runners, we should never take this for granted. I have a truck load of thanks to hand out to all who support me.. Number one, my wife. She has put in a lot of time supporting, organizing and crewing me. Even when training for her own races and managing our kids and daily lives, she’s been there. I love her! My training partner, Meghan Slavin who even with no hundo of her own, spent literally almost every mile running with me out in the heat of summer, the darkness, the rain, the cold. Training partners offer so much to the equation and I am grateful for this. Pacing is no small task. I would have her husband, Brian Slavin pacing me at LT100 and he did an absolute stellar job! Probably a little nervous going into this but his encouragement and help got me past mile 50(my 1st consideration for dropping), mile 60.5(my 2nd attempt) and finally to Half Pipe.. more than 75 miles in. Thank You to all for your support!

– Planning
When the spreadsheets are done, reviewed, the meetings are done and the questions answered, does this ensure success? NOPE. I’ve always been a spreadsheet guy. I am of the opinion this helps the crews greatly. There is a benefit to putting it together to ensure you are not forgetting critical items. You can estimate arrival times into each aid station, which has proved to be extremely helpful. I have a pretty good track record of estimating pretty well with the help of Meghan Slavin who trains with me a lot. She and numbers.. well they get along real well : ).
For the two races this summer, I had large course maps(~24”x36” poster size) printed in color and stuck them to a board. Each time our team and crew met, we would review this. They also brought these with to help them understand the territory and see where I planned to have drop bags, get aid, crew access and the like. They proved to be worth the investment!
A few times during each training phase, we would meet to review strategy, goals, plan and just get on the same page about needs, gear, etc.. this is something we’ve been doing for a couple of years now (Brian, Meghan, myself and Tara).
– Acceptance
The 1st DNF is hard. It’s unknown territory. Like anything that is uncomfortable, it hurts bad, read bad. It’s what we do with it to learn for next time. For the record, I have not finished two other races in my career. One was a 54k of which a huge monsoon caused the event to be shut down and the other was the Bryce Canyon 50m of which I ran 50k of this race and dropped due to blood in the urine. Neither of these hit my Ultrasignup results(a site in which tracks the history of ultra racing and their status, times, placements, etc., etc.).
As I am writing this, I am accepting this DNF. I am human. I realize there is no such animal as a sure thing, perfection or a guaranteed outcome. I guess if I am to reflect on the length of my running career (~2006 and many races, racing injury free since), I have a proud history. I am holding onto that. In essence, I may have been due for a DNF! I am not going to let it break me. Period.
– Lessons Learned
What would I walk away with from Leadville that I can immediately put into action and what can I do to better myself for my next hundo?
Taper sooner. Even though I was still running and taking it easy, I feel I could have scaled back a tad more. I did not feel 100% rested prior to this race. I never felt fatigue during the race except for that top section coming up the return of Hope Pass.
Incorporate more cross training. Although this was my routine in the past, I had to scale back due to a C Spine flare up in March this year which had me very nervous about getting back into the gym. I still hit the gym from time to time to work on core but feel more training specific to building running muscle and strength is needed.
Stress less. Although I had never felt overwhelmed at the enormity of what was going to go down, there were times when the travel, the planning, the research and trying to balance every day life seemed a tad much.
Climb more. Climbing is my strength but I am not a great downhill runner. I feel binding up in my quads often on the steep downhills. So, with a course of >10k ft of climbing, you can bet there will be as much descent. I really need to incorporate both for the longer haul of a 100 mi race. I felt I could benefit from this at San Diego as well.
Come up with a solid Plan “B”. I feel like we talk a lot about a Plan A and march to those orders. When and IF the sh!t hits the proverbial fan, the entire team needs to be on the same page as to what to do IF things don’t go according to plan.
– Redemption
How long would it be before I return to Leadville? Did I see myself coming back during those 71 miles and why would that decision be different now after the fact? Leadville hasn’t seen the last of me. Will it be next year? Probably not. I plan to put in for both WS100 and CCC in Europe. We shall see. We’ve made Colorado trips for summer races now for about 6 years straight. I will definitely get back to Colorado next summer on plenty of my favorite trails in a handful of awesome mountain towns. Leadville and the people there, Ken and his wife are such great people. The town has much to offer! Like Ken C said, you are part of the Leadville family now.
– The Support Team
We can’t live without them. They are our family, friends, colleagues, competitors, sponsors, and more. Even though a core team of 2-4 attend these long events in town, out of town and the like, there are extended support systems. I’ve had a very fortunate opportunity over the years to have a fairly large and close knit group of fellow runners who share the same interests, train for races, come to our Sunday AZ TraiLegger group runs, on and on who sent me numerous messages along this journey and after offering their kind words. It means a lot and I am forever grateful.
Race Day
I’ll keep this part short, I promise. Rather than give you a play by play, I will summarize. This race starts in downtown Leadville on 6th. We leave town and head towards Turquoise Lake and head south for an out and back. The amount of roads vs. single track I would guesstimate at about 60%forest service roads, and variants/40% single track. Total climbing is around 18k feet and total distance is 100.4miles. There are 6 aid stations of which we hit 5 of them twice. These aid stations were the real deal. My hats off to the many hundreds of volunteers who made this event super enjoyable, had all the aid stations well stocked and ready to help. It was awesome!!
My #’s I was able to glean from Athlinks. 606 entries in race (although one week prior, I had noticed about 786 on the “start list”
287 Finishers out of 567 Starters
We were off! 4am start time. Everyone completely stoked! Ken C started us and down the boulevard we went. It was nice to start the race with Ryan Ingham, Deron and Melissa Ruse! I saw them often throughout the day. That was great. Temps hovered around the very low 40’s. Some forecasts were at 38-39 which was cold for sure but I don’t think it was that cold.
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Left to Right. Jon Christley, Ryan Ingham, Deron Ruse, Melissa Ruse

I had reviewed target times with the crew and forecasted them somewhat conservatively. I knew logistics and the sheer volume of vehicles getting in and out of aid stations would be a challenge for them.

Mile 5.6. Stomach. Oh Sh!t. 💩 Literally. Normally, I can get away with running a hundo without hitting the restroom for #2. It has happened in the past, no big deal. This time was different. I had a sudden “urge” to go and nowhere to go. A conga line of runners were so packed in for these first 13 miles, it made it extremely difficult to find a secluded spot not to mention we were at the edge of Turquoise Lake and the pitch of the terrain was slanted pretty good. After making the pit stop, I realized I was coming in to the 1st aid station at least 20min later than planned. The conga line has its advantages for those who go out too fast. To give you an idea time wise: 13 miles was the 1st section. The cutoff was 3hrs. Basically this means you must move. This section was not flat but mostly single track and a little climbing here and there. Nothing major. Of all sections of the course, this was the longest with the least amount of climbing. I came in at 2:26. Aid station cutoff’s for LT100 are no joke!
Things got better as I left. The team refreshed my pack and I told them I would gain some time over the next section. That I did. Coming into Outward Bound at the 25mi was awesome! Huge crowds and Meghan was at the front waiting for me to come through while Tara and Brian were working on my pack. I was able to hold things in tact so to speak while coming down powerline but definitely had to hit the restroom AGAIN. Ugh.
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We all know what this little guy represents! #poop

The cycle of running, wondering when or if I could make to the JJon’s or not was super frustrating for me. This continued unfortunately until the last aid station at 1:20 in the morning. Sparing all the details, I was super glad I had places to go and wipes on me!
Along the way, I was seeing friends, crew members other ultra runners I recognized. The cheering from the crowds at each major aid station was unbelievable.
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Throwing down half of a Ginger Beer at the alternate crew zone.

From Twin Lakes, after another 💩 and a refresher of my pack, I had to mentally prepare myself for the massive climb. This climb would be the 1st time I would pull out the trekking poles. I have never run with them. I had trained with them the week prior and were on loan to me from Aaron Berger which I was super grateful for when things got super steep(climbing and descending). There certainly is an art to using them and they can help immensely.
 2017-LT100-Run-Course-Profile
Hope Pass is the famous name that is synonymous with the Leadville 100. It is the most feared section on this course. While the powerline road is intimidating, it pales in comparison to Hope in my opinion. Hope gets up to 12, 400 ish feet. The ascent up the north side starts around mile 40 and climbs 3000′ over 4 miles. For those familiar Phoenicians it is like throwing in Humphrey’s Peak smack in the middle of a 100 mile race. Except, this Hope Pass thingy has FAR less switchbacks. It starts out rooty, rocky and steep. The aid station was about a half mile before the top and we were greeted by Vicky Foster and her famous Llamas. That was cool.
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Hope Pass Llamas! PC: Brian Slavin

Oh. Let’s not forget about that dark cloud mass that swept over us when we arrived. The weather was hovering around 50 near the top until the sleet and hail started. I couldn’t believe how cold it got.. Immediate scramble to put on rain gear and other items like gloves and a beanie. It kept up for about 15 min. Just about that time, I caught up to Billy Yang and we hung out in the aid station for a bit.

Getting to the next aid station had to be fastidious. Even though we simulated my arrival at 4pm, I knew with that stop and the steep descent on the south side, I would come in a tad after. Cutoff time: 6:00pm. I have heard so much in the past about those who just throw in the towel at mile 50 which is where we could pick up our pacers at Winfield. Thoughts were going through my mind. I had to hit the plastic house once again when I got in there. 💩
Eating and drinking up to this point. I am one who relies on Tailwind to be my primary fuel source for all my ultras. It has worked for me every single time. I was taking in my TW pretty darn good up to this point. My only other fuel sources were an occasional Honey Stinger waffle, Honey Stinger Gold gel and Justin’s Almond Butter. The team was keeping track of my calories at every stop. I was averaging about 300 cal/hr MOST of the day.
At this point, I knew what was ahead of me. a 10:00 cutoff for Twin Lakes. I was already doing the math. Brian my pacer and I left Winfield heading back out onto the Colorado Trail. It was slow going at 1st but we did run here and there between that aid station and Sheep Gulch. This is where the immediate left would start. When I say immediate left this is where the ultimate grind comes. When Ken C talked about “Digging Deep” this was no doubt the mantra going up this 2670′ ascent virtually straight up to the Hope Pass saddle again.
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Here we are.. Heading out of Winfield on the Colorado Trail. We were both smiling at this moment. 🙂 PC: Brian Slavin

As we started up, the lines started again. Since we had some separation earlier between runners, those seeking to turn it up a notch were banding together with their pacers to beat that cutoff time over on the other side. It was a death march at the top. As if it wasn’t already, when I glanced up near the top, I had a flash back of those movies about Mt. Everest. While Hope pales in comparison, the death marching did not. Everyone was moving step by step in very flow fashion getting up those last few switchbacks including yours truly. We were nearing the final switchback and all of a sudden my left quad (VMO, vastus medialis oblique) was binding up big time. Alien was a word Brian used to describe it. I had to stop for a few. I was not doing good at all. Luckily, at that moment, Amy Novotny and the Ruse’s were passing. Amy’s PT expertise suddenly belted out, “heel strike, Jon”. That was awesome advice. The next few strides were long and slow and that issue went away. Thanks Amy!
The Hope Pass return broke me. That climb, considering how I was feeling, just simply kicked me square in the jingles. Emotions were low and sensitive, I was starting to get cold again, shivering and well yep, you guessed it, that sudden #2 urge was upon me once again! 💩 UGH. Brian was great about having me focus on doing one thing at a time stay up on hydration and to not worry about the looming deadline for Twin Lakes. I was once again doing the math and it didn’t look good.
A million scenarios ran through my mind on that descent. Eating a bunch, huddling to discuss a potential drop, bone broth, swapping pacers, taking in caffeine(up until this point I had zero), getting in solids, changing clothes, all of it. We still had a freezing cold river to cross before hitting Twin Lakes at mile 60.5 as well.
With about 14 minutes to spare, we rolled into Twin Lakes at 9:36p. Twin Lakes was a defining moment for me. It was here that I really needed a push! I sat for a while contemplating all of the scenarios. With the constant stops, the inability to run for an extended period without the feeling of the lower bowels unraveling AND the relentless 3 mile uphill climb ahead, I was losing faith we would make the next cutoff. I had a quick chat with everyone, got some food in, some caffeine and off we went! Again, doing some math.
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Loaded up and heading out of Twin Lakes for what would be my last section on the LT100 course that night. The look says it all :/

I’ll wrap up in the next two paragraphs. This last stretch felt impossible at times. More climbing, another 💩 stop and while we did break some running sections in especially near that final stretch, I came up short. She was there. The cutoff lady(sorry, forgot her name). With her scissors. It was 1:21a and the cutoff was 1:15. With a valiant effort and great pacing and pushing from Brian, my race was over. 71.56 miles and 21:28:40. Gone was my wrist band.

We huddled in under a tent with a flame thrower for heat. Others that also missed were huddled in there. The quietness, the lack of emotion, some with utter disappointment. We were all the same status now. DNF.
I was SO happy I toed the line with everyone this year. I was SO impressed with the roar of the crowds, the people saying “hey Jon”, “great work 217”, etc.. and especially grateful for my crew, wife, friends and others who helped support me this day. Huge Congrats to all who ran this incredible race and especially those who finished under the 30hr cutoff.
Leadville, you haven’t seen the last of me!
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I really did smile that day! 😉 PC: Meghan Slavin

Racing in the Hundo’s after doing a Hundo…

OK, this recap won’t be the novel San Diego was I promise!! Although this race was over in around 8hrs, at points it felt like an epic 50 miler given the elements!
Phoenix as with the rest of the southwest was experiencing some of the most extreme temps ever recorded. Multiple heat records were broken around not only Phoenix but other parts of the southwest. Snow pack would be melting at a rapid rate for those doing WS100 and other high mountain states. Heat advisories in Phoenix was a daily thing for the last couple weeks.
Usually, Arizona does start seeing in influx of humidity and Monsoon season officially kicks of this week. Up till now, mainly just very hot, dry and only slight humidity was the story. The forecast highs for the weekend were to be 115 degrees for both Saturday and Sunday. We had already reached 119 this week in the greater Phoenix area.
Race time adjustments were announced Thursday from Aravaipa and some talk of even cancelling the race due to heat advisories.
Nevertheless, race day was approaching. I was born and raised in Arizona and have been doing most of my summer running thus far either around the 6am range or 6pm range.. The heat for me really hasn’t kept me from training per se.. You just learn to adapt, hydrate properly and prepare.
Hydration.. That is most important since Arizona’s weather is largely a dry heat. On this night, we would also have a slight wind for most of the night. This was both a good thing and bad depending on how you looked at it.
I was just coming off the San Diego 100 miler two weeks prior and really had only run a combined 33 miles since that race. My post race plans always include deep tissue massage, a lot of foam rolling, LOTS of sleep(I managed to average 8hrs since that race/night), oh and lots of good food! I don’t calorie count at all these days knowing how much training I’m doing and this race was so close, I just kept shoving it in!!
The pre race protocol I have been sticking to for the last few months is Pedialyte, lots of coconut water, kombucha and a large juice from Nekter the day prior. Increasing the amount of turmeric, sea salt, lemon and even some pickle juice in those days is also working for me. Again, all things I am ironing out going into Leadville this year.
This race was the 3rd in the Insomniac summer series for Aravaipa. It took place next to PIR for those of you familiar with the area.. The Estrella Mountains are quite expansive.. The main park is just west of this area we would be using for the race. The technical and long loops are here. I haven’t done this course since 2014 when it was a 60k and on the trails at the main park. Racers would be arriving around 7 for tonight. The 54k would start at 8:00, 23k at 8:15 and 8:45 for the 8k.
These trails were no joke. The elevation profile is included below. Besides the scorching heat wave (ie. Blast Furnace) runners would face, technical, rocky trails with mostly single track and climbs would await us. I even heard some folks saying they were just “fine” knowing they were only doing the one tech loop! For us 54kr’s, we would run the 8k tech loop route once and the outer long loop 3 times.. Yep, that’s right! My Garmin read 3015’ of elevation gain over the entire course and it sure felt like every foot of that for sure!
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Elevation Profile – 54k

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1 Tech Loop and 3 “Long Loops” for us 54kr’s. Image: Aravaipa Running

Ambient temps hovered around 105 at race start. The winds were picking up and the clouds provided an awesome sunset and relief from the “fire in the sky”. By the time we would wrap things up, temps would drop to a mere 96. Whew, what a relief! Yaaaaaaaaaahh right…
Folks were piling in and racing would start soon. The looks of giddy, excitement yet scared all to hell were pretty obvious going into this heat! Some adjustments from longer distances down to the shorter ones were being made “real time”.
Before Tara and I left the house and at the last minute, I thought about all the ways I could stay cool. A strategy of mine was to keep ice on me at ALL times during this race.. One small investment I made for SD100 was the cool off bandanna from Zombie Runner (absolutely worth every penny)!! I also had to find a nifty way to keep ice on my noggin during my race. I’ve tried a few things in the past, frozen sponges, bandannas and the like and nothing was going to last in this heat.. See below. I dumped the contents of a headlamp from a baggie I had and decided, this would be it! Fuzzy texture and small enough to place under my hat directly on the grape!
The race for the 54k had about 25-30ish runners. All of us because of the advice and rules of the RD, Noah, had our packs, bottles and at least 60oz of fluids on us. Headlamps, Tailwind, Honey Stinger gels, back up flashlight, everything was a go! I unfortunately had not had a chance to socialize much before this event due to the focus I had on getting gear ready, drop bag/cooler to the start and such.
We were off! 8pm start time. The wind had kicked up enough but trust me, it was like a hair dryer blowing directly on your face! The 8k was our first loop in a clockwise direction on single track. We would be pretty tight for the 1st mile and a half and I was able to sneak out into an open position with the handful of leaders out front. Stephen Sinek was running this one again. I was able to chat with him briefly. Brandon Welling, a great friend of mine also raced this one on the old course and I was expecting huge things from him tonight. He was out front at this time, guessing in the top 3. He’s one fast dude!
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Trying to capture a quick photo before loading up the pack, the ice and securing the headlamp! PC: Tara Christley

The convergence of the two loops on the hillside had Aravaipa putting a water station here for all runners. Unmanned but critical as the night went on! More on that in a bit.
Loop one was complete and I was feeling really good.. Ice loaded in the bandana, and in my baggie even when I came in. The crowd was cheering, life was good. My wife and team RBF had all started. All runners at this point were in the field. Again, I am so proud of all of them showing up on a night like this!! I heart this community!
3 more loops to go on the long loop. 15k each. With an 8k behind me and a target finish time of 7:30, I was trying to determine if this time would stand for me. XTerra events had been held here in the past so, I had exposure to the 8k route but had not yet run the long loop to date. Again, coming off San Diego two weeks earlier, I wasn’t trying to push myself too hard especially under these conditions. Leadville is my “A” race for this year!
This next loop would be where I would determine how much run walking I would need to do to manage the rest of the night. I only assumed this loop would come in around 1.5 to 2hrs. The terrain was a mix of a lot of single track, whoops, technical and some very runnable sections of non technical trails. Another fear of mine during the warmer evening hours was the threat of snakes! For tonight, it would turn out that I saw more “stick snakes” than real ones. Whew!
Pacers were allowed for our last loop. I had a discussion with Meghan putting her on notice I may elect to have her pace me for said loop. As I have written about before, having a pacer works well for me and I prefer to have one. It would be the finish of the 2nd loop that I verified with her I would see her in another 2hrs. Brian and Meghan were already helping myself and others this night with various tasks, refilling packs, water, anything really.. It was awesome. Crewing support is a benefit I have always been thankful for and they do such a great job.
The darkness of night and some pain were coming on as I left for loop 3. Distance was really spreading out between us.. I was still seeing headlamps of others which was a good thing. However, one of the last things I heard leaving the aid station was folks were already having heat related issues. I had passed Brandon earlier but super glad we had a chance to catch up on things. He and his wife Odette are adventuourists to the max and I was stoked to hear of their upcoming events. The time was around 11ish by now and expecting a target time of 1 am to end this loop and finish up the last loop.
As I rounded the canyon side of the long loop, I came across the aid station. Team RWB was staffing this aid station and as always, they were super accommodating and helpful. Huge Thank You to them. I was asking if they knew what position I may have been in relative to others. This was not something I normally seek out but tonight, I felt I may have been in the top five based on what I was hearing and seeing. I was remembering how I felt and replaying the quotes from folks saying “didn’t you just do a hundred miler a couple weeks ago”? The one gent said I was in 4th at that point. On I went and realize I was a tad behind schedule. One minor but major thing I may mention. The new pack I got is super comfy(Nathan Vapor Krar 4L). It made it’s debut at San Diego. The tinkering with the pockets and the bottles are not easy to deal with. Everyone that has come cross the two bottles at aid stations, my crew and including me complains about them. The tubes are a nice touch. The tops of the bottles are fairly “mushy” causing the action of screwing on the top a complete challenge especially when both hands are wet. Ditching the bottles.. they have seen their last race. Enough said about that!
I would come into the Start/Finish about 15 min after expectations but I was still happy with where I was. I needed caffeine and a re fresh and Meghan was ready to go! We weren’t there too long and off we went. I was expecting this loop to take a tad longer at around 2:15-2:30ish hours. It was a relief to have a pacer. I do not use headphoes except in extremely rare cases and conversation is something Meghan is really good at! I must also note she was working on ZERO sleep from the day before AND just came hot off a flight from a business trip. What a trooper to take on this task in this heat!! Did I mention I heart this community yet?
We found ourselves doing the run/powerhiking thing for most of this loop. I was pretty cashed at this point. As far as the pain cave us ultra runners experience, I was at the entry. Holding onto some good feelings and on the border of pain. The rocks just feel extra large and extra sharp after about 25 miles or so!
We came up on the RWB aid station again, they refreshed me and off we went. We glanced back often to see where the next runner was in relation to where we were. I was on track to get in just before the 8hr mark at this point. I was still taking in what Tailwind I had left and a couple Honey Stinger gels. A couple banana chunks and some pickle juice worked wonders for me 🙂 I knew it was going to hold me until I got the last 4mi done.
The unmanned aid station I mentioned earlier was cominig up.. It was so refreshing to just have a handful of cold water to splash on my face 31 miles in.. I was charged and ready to “run it in to the finish”. Coming down that last hill seeing the twinkling lights of the Start/Finish and hearing the tunes was a welcoming sight.
I would finish 4th overall at 7:48:13. Compared to my 60k in 2014 at 8:42:09, I was happy! There would be 13 of us finishers under these less than ideal conditions. Heat like this is no joke. I had ice on me all night.. The constant drip on my shirt, the slight wind, pre race hydration, nutrition being on point were all huge factors in my finish tonight.
JonFinish

A little fuzzy but the race was over.. Almost 8hrs in I was SO done! PC: Tara Christley

Congratulations to ALL for all distances! Thank You from the bottom of my heart to my wife, crew, pacer and all of those supporting us out there! It means a lot. It really does. One step closer to Leadville.
Thank You for reading!
RaceSwag

Some cool race swag and finisher’s bottle!

I’d like to get a couple things ironed out going into this race…

It would start with this race towards the end of last year. Ok, well maybe about 3 years ago when I was setting my sights on the San Diego 100. I was looking for a prestigious, challenging, highly regarded, out of state, epic race to do. The Lottery seemed to come and go as I was contemplating which races to do each year. Getting a qualifying 50 miler done at 1st was the pre req along with the time off from work, the ability to fit it into my current training schedule and all of that.

Applying for Western States now two years in a row produced no entry for me for 2016/2017 and thus opened up that coveted June slot for me. The day I had waited for was finally here. I applied Jan 1 and was quickly notified on the 4th I had gotten in. This year apparently didn’t draw the group size in year’s past and even had some additional slots open. Let the planning begin.

Over the next few months leading up to the race, I managed to get in quality runs, long good runs, some races and even a down and out at the Grand Canyon in May to help prepare me for San Diego. The goal leading in to June would be to have a steady ramp up of higher than average climbing weeks. In the range of 3500-8500(peak) pretty consistently as well as a topper of 52 miles in a week had me considering if I had done enough for this challenging course. Race description and profile info. here.

Race week: My crew and I had met to go over last minute plans, logistics etc.. This would be a great meeting since we had already discussed some things prior to which mainly focused on the “why” I was doing this race, what would be new this time around and what to expect.

I wanted to use this race experience to help “iron out” two primary things: Challenge myself on new and unfamiliar ground. Leadville 100 would be coming up in a couple months. Surely, I wouldn’t have been able to run that course, do the recon I wanted to and a host of other things in prep. Yeah, I’ve been to Leadville, run some of it, done Silver Rush 50m twice but this would not compare to what I would experience in August of 2017.

The second reason for going down this San Diego road would be to put other logistics, crewing, packing and things like that to the test.. A “dry run” of sorts. This would prove pretty critical when I reflect back now. Everything was executed flawlessly thanks to my faithful crew(Brian and Meghan Slavin), leader and wife, Tara. They were simply awesome and I have ZERO complaints or issues as to how things went! Brian wore that UD Crew Bag well, very well! 🙂

Brian and the UD Bag

Brian sporting the UD Crew Bag well. PC: Meghan Slavin

From the moment we arrived at Lake Cuyumaca to the moment we left, I felt I could definitely see myself coming back in the future. The best way I can describe it for those who live in or are familiar with Arizona would be: Prescott and the Prescott Circle Trail meets Payson and the Mogollon Rim trails. Oh, throw in a little of Norman Rockwell and a hell of a lot of PIE options!! More on that as the race goes on.

This race had 275 entrants signed up and ready to go the day before the race.. Final stats here.

For those curious about the course itself… 100.5 miles(41 of them on the PCT/Pacific Crest Trail). Other notable sections: Noble Canyon, Pine Creek, Anza Borrego State Parks and the immediate area surrounding Lake Cuyumaca. There would be a total of 11 aid stations some being double out and backs and well stocked!

As advertised, the elevation specs were: Approximately 26k total (13k Ascent and 13k Descent). In my guestimate, I would venture to say 90% was single track, some forest service roads and a small section of pavement coming down into Pine Creek aid. Elevation ranges went between 3850’ and 6000’ ish.

Weather was forecasted to be epic! 73 ish for highs and 43 ish for lows depending on which site, and locations you stalked. I wondered if we would have WIND at all?!? More on that later.. This year, they would have received plenty of rain creating an ideal scenario for wildflowers and longer grasses. We headed the advice of the famous and very well respected RD, Scott Mills to wear gaiters to keep us from struggling with the cattails that lined most of the trails. Damn, that was great advice!!

The race briefing was spectacular.. The setting was at the Start/Finish right next to the main parking area and docks for Lake Cuyumaca. The weather was awesome! Oh and I may add we rolled in with plenty of time to spare! Not typical Christley casually late : ) The cool kids from So Cal were here… It was starting to feel awesome..

RD Briefing

Scott Mills delivering the details and necessary tips in the pre race briefing.

Scotty Mills is genuinely awesome.. I was blown away with the tips, tricks, and the thoroughness of his pre race talk and the sheer volume of his dedicated volunteers. A very top notch and well organized venue. It was everything I had already heard from the Ultra community as to how he is, who he is and how well he manages this race. We had him introduce to us the committed folks coming back year after year for their 5 and 10yr finishes and those who came in from outside the U.S. Again, pure awesomeness to look around and witness this as well as everyone’s energy and excitement to be here.

The fact that my favorite nutrition company, Tailwind was sponsoring this race and would be supplying all aid stations with Tailwind put it over the top for me! This was awesome as I also learned the San Diego 100 was Tailwind’s 1st sponsored event 5yrs ago when Tailwind was a fledgling brand new brand and graciously promoted on the likes of TRN(Trail Runner Nation) podcasts and has been a part of the race ever since. Other top sponsors for this event included: Orange Mud, Clif, Julbo Eyewear, High Desert Dropbags, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Squirrel’s Nut Butter, Running Skirts and host of others. Oh and the swag bags were pretty cool! I would also learn we get a medal in addition to a buckle for the 100m finish! A coffee mug to boot! Damn, am I done with this part yet?!?

Race Swag

Some of the race swag we got.. Oh and my 24×36 poster sized course map which the crew used during the race.. #somewereenvious

Jeremy's

Pre Race dinner joint Thursday night just outside of Julian proper. It was absolutely amazing!

Race morning: Our phenom VRBO we secured was in the town of Julian. A short 15min drive to the northeast. Well worth the drive over. Julian has a lot to offer for a small mountain town.. Farming community, historic stop along the PCT, mom and pop restaurants, and antique shops of various cowboy like flare..

The usual routine for me race morning is to get in Christopher Bean bulletproof style coffee and some minor food.. When I travel, I bring the necessities: MCT Oil, Grass Fed butter and the contraptions to grind, mix, and whip up this lovely concoction. I would also not normally eat solids within the magic 3hr window of starting a race. This morning I was slightly in and held it to two bananas and a couple teaspoons of Nuttzo. Mmmmm… Packed up the Hummer, crew was bustling and off we went to Lake Cuyumaca. The only thing we would need to do is get my Bib and do the final check in with staff.

Jon at Start

Race morning. Waiting for the gun to go off at the Start line! PC: Tara Christley

Start Line: We would arrive around 5:15-5:30a in plenty of time for the two drop bags I had.. There were two options for this race..Solo(unsupported but having drop bags and no crew options) and regular(crew/pacers/drop bags). I opted for the crew option. It’s a system I’ve used for years now.. Again, one of the primary reasons to do this particular race with crew was to iron the kinks out for Leadville. My crew is and will continue to ooze awesome sauce. I ran into a few friends I’ve met along the years at the start and had a chance to hit the potty a couple times prior to the start. I was ready! The sun was just cresting, the chill in the air had most of us wearing arm sleeves or a very light long sleeve. 6:00 GO!!! Scotty sent us off!

Conga Line

About a mile in.. start line congestion.. This wasn’t like this for too long.. Probably 80% of the way to Paso Picacho aid.

Paso Picacho Aid Station(1) – After getting onto the forest service road, it was still quite congested as we conquered our 1st climb up Middle Peak. Even when we got a couple miles in, the proverbial “conga line” was still present.. I was happy to run into an AZ ultra vet Michelle Wagher during that stretch.. Seeing and chatting with the other AZ folks was great! Dean Hansen, Brad Schmitt and Matt Simmons.. We would all have finishing times at this race. Congrats to you all! Checking in here only had me re filling my small soft flasks with tasty Mandarin Orange Tailwind. “48 out” my 1st chance to blurt that out to Angela Shartel.

Trailside Pic

This was as we were climbing out of the 1st aid station Paso Picacho.. Thanks for snapping this pic Brad Schmitt!

Chambers (2) – The climb out of Paso Picacho had stupendous views all the way around the immediate areas. It was amazing to hear some of the other runners talking about the area.. the plants (yep, I was pretty sure I had never run into Poison Oak or Ivy but was scared to death of picking some up along the way based on what I was hearing) that lined the trails and were native to the area.. I would learn “Poodle Bush” was also a pretty, purpley bush but “steer clear”. Chambers aid was on the other side of the Dam at the Lake.. Everyone there was super helpful and re filled me immediately.. The sleeves came off before this and the Cool Off Bandana went on.. Was super glad I got this knowing we could encounter hot weather for this race. “48 out” to the gal taking down numbers for us.

Sunrise 1st Pass (3) – This would be my 1st chance to pretty much run solo and have a decent spread.. Some single track farther in but for the most part, plenty of room to spread out.. I was taking in a small fruit stick I carry with me, Tailwind was flowing and a Honey Stinger gel during this section. Up until this point, I was not consuming a ton of calories outside of the 200cal/hr of Tailwind. 21 miles up to this point before I would come in and see my crew here.. I had a chance to run a bit with a trio, which included Amy Chavez, a veteran ultra runner, and all around bad@ss.. We all came into Sunrise ready to greet our crews. Was a great sight to see them and they had me in and out in a flash! It was awesome. “48 out”

Sunrise 1

Jon, Amy and a another trail friend coming into Sunrise 1. 1st full Crew stop for us. PC: Tara Christley

Pioneer Mail 1st Pass (4) – After leaving Sunrise, we crossed the S1 Highway and onto the PCT. This was awesome.. We went from rolling hills and grasslands to a very hilly mountains for miles section. Once we(Amy and I) got back on track, we were a steady 11-12min pace with the climbs here and there.. The run “trot” was a great strategy. Amy would say that frequently as we tooled along on our way to Pioneer Aid. This section would have us experiencing windy more sunny and exposed trails. The temps may have been hovering around 70 but with direct sunlight the entire way.. My Cool Off Bandana was working great! The trails were in great shape up until this point.. Encountering the cattails along the section from Chambers to Sunrise was all that we had so far(thank you gaiters for protecting the sharpery pointy thingies that would have normally punched right into the socks). As far as technical, rocky sections we had not seen any major sections, yet… “48 out”

PCT

This was the 1st time I saw a PCT sign marker. Had to get the shot!

Pioneer Mail

Me coming into Pioneer Mail.. The second crew stop along the course. Things were hopping here! “peace” PC: Brian Slavin

Pine Creek (5) – Did I say yet? Almost the entire time from when we left Pioneer(Amy and I still moving forward together) all the way down to this aid station, this trail would be littered with rocks of every size category. I had heard so much about what NOT to do leaving Pine Creek I was focused on this for the time being.. Hydrating as much as possible, conserving energy for that arduous climb up Noble Canyon.. There was a small section of asphalt leading us to Pine Creek but I would assume it wasn’t more than a couple miles. Time to re fill, fuel up and head back out with Amy. Boy, is she efficient!! I was still getting folks to fill and top me off and she was ready to roll! Off we went.. Trotting for well, about 100 yards it seemed like. According to the charts, the amount of ascent/climbing we would expect to encounter up here would be 1952’ over 7.6 miles. We were already 36.2 ish in for ground covered at this point. As we climbed up Noble, the heat soared. It felt like 80 with some high elevation sun scorching our backsides going up this thing. At times, there was a conga line. Seemed Amy and I switched positions back and forth with a few guys along this route. Some had made stops to cool down. Luckily there were a couple creek crossings with cool flowing water we could use for dunking bandanas, hats and the like. As we were drawing closer to the aid station nature was calling! I definitely had to hit a Porta Potty. Thankful for the small things in an ultra race of this duration. I would say my next section was “sponsored by a Penny Pines Porta Potty”.. : )

Smashing Downhills

I took this after we had just left Pioneer Aid on our way down to Pine Creek aid.

Noble Canyon

Yep, this was a teeny section of Noble Canyon.. #rocky

Penny Pines 1st Pass (6) – I ended up spending way too much time here.. Amy left and trotted on which was fine since I had to recycle through my drop bag, get refilled and use that Porta Potty! Dang glad that thing was there! I should mention the assistance of every aid station worker. EVERYONE was very accommodating, this one in particular. There was a group of youngsters here pitching in asking us if we needed anything. That was so cool! “48 out”

Single Track

This photo doesn’t do much justice but that was a narrow single track through some really cool meadows leaving “meadows” aid on our way to Red Tail Roost.

Meadows (7) The section between Penny Pines and Meadows was awesome! A lot of pine trees, open meadows and such. I enjoyed the brief relief of the rocky, technical terrain. Amy was ahead and I tried txt’ing my crew to let them know what time I left PP and when to expect me. I would find out later they never got said txt. Actually, I would also find out I disappeared for some reason from ultralive.net and wasn’t showing during this section for some reason! Maybe mentally, I was gone but physically, I sure the H E double hockey sticks was there making my way through miles 43 and 48.. I was getting super stoked to be able to pick Meghan Slavin, my pacer up very soon! I would be able to get changed at Meadows now for the night running, another quick change of clothes and I would be good to go. I was starting to actually feel hunger pains off and on… I wasn’t feeling a bonk at all since I never really stopped eating but I was ready for a little solid food here. As I rolled into Meadows aid, I was thinking of things I could eat.. Chicken Bone Broth came to mind since it was dropping in temperature at this point. I had Tara grab my hydro flask and I took some.. I have been doing this concoction as of late during the later stages of my racing and it is fab!! I do a bone broth with Sea Salt, Turmeric, and sometimes a shake of cayenne and pepper. I warm it up but not too much so I can get a quick chug in. It’s awesome! Meadows aid seemed like it came and went but I now have 6.2 miles to get to Red Tailed Roost and a mere 1000’+ of climbing. “48 out”

Crew Shot

I think this was somewhere either at Pionner Aid or .. well, I can’t remember lol.. “haaaaay” “Christley’s Crew”. Thanks for the shirts Bridget Cohen 🙂

Red Tailed Roost (8) – As I rolled in here, it would be headlamp time.. dark, tons of people and pacers ready to meet their runners. I had developed a bit of a lower right back cramp that I had Meghan work out for a bit while I tried to get a few solids in. I had almost emptied both soft flasks of Tailwind and water from my bladder upon arriving at each aid station. I was fine with the mandarin orange flavor up until now.. I try and get the green tea caffeinated flavor in around dark to get me going through the night. It’s worked in the past. I had a stick I dumped in while I was at Penny Pines aid. Tara was the best each time I came in saying “you relax, we got it”. Brian was there all the time filling my flasks, replenishing my Honey Stinger Waffles, Gel and fruit stick with each aid station. This time around I asked for some sweet potatoes the crew had from earlier. I got a cup and threw in some other sweet potato fries with cinnamon, grabbed Meghan my pacer and off we went up the hill and towards Dales Kitchen 1. “48 out”

Dale’s Kitchen 1st Pass (9) – My initial thoughts as we went up this hill were two things.. Where the “F” did all of this wind come from all of a sudden? Gale force gusts just whipping from every direction and temps were dropping. And, what the heck would I grab from this aid station 1.3 miles ahead.. Well, that answer came fast as we rolled up and were rushed through the station. I did manage to eat that cup of glorious carbs I mentioned earlier but the aid station folks indicated this stop wasn’t really an “aid station stop”.. “48 in, 48 the F out”.

Cibbets Flat (10) – OK, I knew we would have a huge descent ahead of us leaving Dales Kitchen.. This was an understatement. If one were to review the course map, you would see a large “V” starting at mile 56 and coming back up the Canyon. Net loss here in this 7.7mi section was 2115’. 80% rocky, 110% WAF-Windy as F*CK and the bushes were quite thick in this section.. This would be the 1st chance we had to start seeing the leaders coming back up. That was cool! I recognized some friends and was glad to see them. Meghan kept me moving. We caught up again to Amy Chavez and her pacer. That was cool too. Amy was having a little bit of a rough go after a pretty good toe jam/trip when her and I were going into Pine Canyon earlier. We pressed on. The one side of this downhill was completely open and exposed to utter darkness on the one side and did I mention how awesome that wind was yet? We could see the aid station way down at the bottom where we would meet Brian and Tara. When we arrived, I immediately rushed over to change my shirt under my long sleeve and UD ultra rain jacket. I rushed over to the rest room and changed. After this, my body would start shaking uncontrollably from the cold. I would ask Tara to get me soup but nothing was hot enough. Even though I had gloves and a beanie on, I was still shivering. This has happened to me in late stage ultras. It’s frustrating and a bit scary to go through. We stood by the campfire real quick. I got refreshed, brushed my teeth(yes, this is an amazing experience 65mi into a 100mi race), warmed up and thought to myself, if I can just get moving, the heat would get generated going back up that long ascent to Dales Kitchen again. Off we went. “48 out”

Dale’s Kitchen 2nd Pass (11) – On this ascent back up the hill and into the aid station, we stopped frequently, chatted when we could about small talk, giving a couple high fives, trying to keep the mind from going to a dark place and honestly, with that wind whipping our UD jackets, it was hard to even talk much. I began to wonder what my strategy would be when we go to DK. Eat hot stuff, replenish and not spend a lot of time there. I was already starting to get behind on target times. Nowhere near cutoffs but I spent way too much time at Cibbets. The aid station staff was so accommodating every single time. That is so refreshing. These guys and gals were veterans. We weren’t here too long but left DK 2 around 2:30am. Pitch black and yet so thankful my last big climb was done.. Did I mention the rocks on that route and the wind?!? “48 out”

Todd’s Cabin (12) – I would venture to say this was probably the most quiet, and dark and what felt like a slow jaunt.. Even though we were running here and there.. It just felt like it took forever to get to this aid station. I thought, “who is this Todd and is there a rustic cabin out here, what is this place”? Low and behold we saw lights shimmering through the trees and there it was! The most awesome sight I’ve seen in the last 10hrs. A structure. A real cabin. People were everywhere. Then I thought… Will there be someone to let us in? The spread they had here was unreal.. Dark Chocolate this, that, all things Ginger, boiled potatoes, bananas, it went on and on.. It was SO cool! Someone said the bathrooms are in the cabin.. We made our way over and knocked on the door we saw few runners coming out of.. Some gent answered the door and welcomed us in.. OMG. Warm, cozy and a puppy nestled there in the kitchen on the floor. We think this may have been Todd himself who let us in to use his restroom.. It was unreal. We took turns, washed up a tad(real soap was a god send here), and made our way out. That was the best feeling.. We immediately felt recharged. “48 out”

Penny Pines 2nd Pass (13) On our way to PP 2, we experienced the subtle sunrise. The surreal experience where your body has been running for endless hours, you feel like sleepwalking is a “thing” but all of a sudden realize the sun coming up just means things will start getting better. Well, this section had a shot ton of rocks on the trail again and some sweeping twisty turning climbs, descents, ascents, etc… I wasn’t too much of a fan but knew we would see our crew at Pioneer Mail soon and then after that, the downhill to the finish would be near. Time wasn’t all that concerning to me at this time but I still had a certain goal in mind but wanted to be strong about it mentally and not let anything get me down. Meghan was doing an awesome job trying to clear rocks for me at this stage and I may have cussed them at least 47 times just since picking her up at Red Tail Roost. We rolled into PP2 around 5:20a. Man o Man… Did I see Pay Day’s at this aid station? WHOA and I mean whoa.. They also had “rice balls” OMG. These were awesome. I had chicken broth and swished that down with the rice.. Oh man.. I may not have wanted to leave this aid station. I rustled through my drop bag, got what I needed and we left.. Dang that was another great refresher to have eaten a little solid food. “48 out”

"Peace"

Meghan, my pacer and I.. She did 46+ mi with me on this course! PC: Brian Slavin

Pioneer Mail (14) – Even though we had been running for some time now along the PCT, this was the time I really wanted Meghan and my crew to see some of the beauty of this trail along the eastern edges of this huge mountain range.. S1 was the highway I believe. They came up on this earlier when they provided me aid on Friday. The views with the sunrise at this point were unreal and I will never forget those images. Another great boost coming into the home stretch. I had not run that particular route coming down from Dales Kitchen on our 1st pass since we went to the west towards Pine Creek. Again, that section albeit hard and somewhat technical was beautiful! We met up with Brian and Tara since we had not seen them since around 8:30 Friday night. We both had hoped they got some sleep during the night. They refreshed both our packs, and off we went.. This aid station was unreal as well.. Two huge Class A motor homes surrounding the aid station, propane heaters, great food, paydays, even pancakes!! It was quite the get up.. “48 out”

Coming down into Sunrise the 2nd time

On the way towards the home stretch on the PCT.. This was about 1mi out from Sunrise aid heading towards the start/finish. PC: Meghan Slavin

Sunrise 2nd Pass (15) – Coming down this section was just as awesome as the previous day except for one factor. That “F’ing” wind.. Damn, it seemed relentless!! At times just pushing us almost over onto the ground.. Gale force and very very consistent hardly ever letting up! This section although it was only 4 miles to get here from Pioneer Mail seemed to go on forever!! I forgot to mention, my Garmin 5x was running out of battery juice during the night so we had to rig up a portable charger to get it back up to a good charge but it was reading well over 100mi at this point.. like in the 111-112 range.. I thought WTF! I had Ultra Track GPS mode on. Not sure what happened. I was a Suunto guy for so many years, I’m still figuring this awesome watch out! Tara and Brian were there giving us final aid! We would only see them for about 5 minutes maybe 6-7 and then we were off! Yep, that wind was still whipping around.. I had my long sleeve black Tailwind shirt on heading into the early morning sun hoping I wouldn’t overheat. “48 out”

Jon at Finish

Just finished.. 28:58:43 officially.. What an unbelievable experience!

Lake Cuyamaca (Finish) – The last 9mi were really great for me. I loved the feeling of knowing I was near the finish and feeling good. My 2nd wind was certainly not coming on prior to leaving Sunrise. I really turned things on this final stretch averaging a 10:55 moving pace. I passed some folks but that wasn’t the goal really.. I wanted to finish this great race strong, happy and satisfied!! And that is EXACTLY how I felt crossing that line at 28:58:43. Scotty Mills did just as he promised.. shook my hand and handed me that buckle. Angela Shartel placed the awesome medal around my neck and I was greeted by my wife, Brian and others. Quick hugs, kisses and all of that and we walked around a tad.. Tara and Brian had picked up pie and I grabbed a chair and just sat for a few. Taking in the feelings, witnessing bad@sses crossing that finish line including Catra Corbett coming across as a Solo female finishing her 10th SD100, the second person to do so and only female so far.. Yes, that’s right, her 10th! She is amazing! I was so proud to be able to run alongside with here throughout this course.. There were so many great ultra runners out there.. Scott Mills delivered big time and I will cherish all the memories forever and may even put this one back on my radar very very soon!

Oh yeah, those two goals I mentioned.. knocked them out of the park! Here I come Leadville!

HUGE Thank You all to the volunteers, the crews, those who supported me along the way, my awesome sponsors.. everyone!!! Congrats to all who took this race on! You all rule in my book!

Race Photo on the PCT

PC: Gary Wang

SD 100 Hardware

Cool copper buckle and shiny medal!

Why Tailwind Nutrition for me? Read on from the Co-Founder Jeff Vierling… 🙂

Tailwind Nutrition

Why I created Tailwind

Tailwind grew from my own personal experiences as an endurance athlete. I learned the hard way how important nutrition is to performing your best and enjoying the effort. I tried virtually every product on the market, but couldn’t find a solution that was easy to use and solved the nutrition problems common to endurance athletes. That’s what drove me to develop Tailwind Nutrition. Specifically, I wanted to maintain steady energy and feel strong throughout while solving common issues: stomach problems (feeling full/bloated and worse), ease of use (getting fuel and electrolytes from a single drink rather than juggling gels, electrolyte pills, or bars/chews), no cramping, and a taste I could drink all day without getting sick of it.

developingTailwind[1]It took a couple of years of research and experimentation, but it worked, and I’ve been using it ever since as a sole fuel for training and racing…

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I wouldn’t have been able to spend the night witnessing the pure bad@ssery and camaraderie that I witnessed had this night not played out the way it did.

Escondido TH

All races used this route from Start/Finish. The Scenic Trail ridgeline is in the background to the north.

The 2nd race in Aravaipa Running’s Insomniac Series night race began with our 54k starting at 7pm at McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills, AZ. The 27k and 10k were quite stacked and ready to go at 7:30 and 7:45. This race gets a bigger crowd each year and will continue to be a favorite for a lot of folks.. The course is great, mostly single track and temps aren’t quite as HOT as other summer night runs. In fact, it would be rather chilly most times during the middle of the night in May out there.

Sunny start line area!

Forecasted highs this day were set at around 97 degrees. There was a slight breeze and it was very dry.. It really never felt this hot to this AZ native. 🙂

With the San Diego 100 fast approaching, I had full intentions again of making this a long training run from the get go. With doing the Grand Canyon the weekend prior and continuing to get runs and climbing in during the week, I didn’t want to risk anything or try and over do it. Tapering would start for me starting Monday for my June 9th hundo. The 1st of the summer hundo season.

Race day was pretty much low key for me, starting with the usual routine of Christopher Bean Coffee, bulletproof style, plenty of good fats during the day and running around to grab a few things for the race.

Both Tara and I knew there would be a great showing of AZ TraiLeggers tonight. Their RBF’s girls team would show making this their 2nd race of the series as well. Others would be there as well as we had been hearing of more folks signing up throughout the week.

AZTL pre Adrenaline Race

Great looking group of TraiLeggers here.. And a few more were still trickling in before the races started.

The 54k field would have been full of veterans this night. Our great friend Brandon Welling who’s been known to show up in his boxers last minute and tear up the dirt out here would also be arriving soon. The Painted Warrior, Stephen Sinek would be here and other great runners.. I was stoked. Oh, and my faithful training partner would be a “walk up” tonight to race the 54k.

Getting there early earned me the ability to mingle a tad with a lot of folks which I normally don’t get to do much of since most who know me go by “Christley Time” which means I either A. barely make it to the start line with enough time and 2. arriving slightly late to a certain event sometimes… “casually late” as I say.

Jon at the 54k Start

I knew I was taller than that ladder!

The design of this course would have runners running in the same direction but sharing two distinct loops and also having two way traffic on shared singletrack. One loop weighs in at around 6mi and about 600’ elevation gain on a ridge line. Both trails we would share leaving the Four Peaks Staging Area/Parking Lot(McDowell’s overflow lot to the north at the east of the entrance) would have us starting on Escondido. Then, the 10k splits on Cinch and continues up on the Scenic trail. The ridgeline all the way is pretty technical until you’ve crested and start your descent around the back side on an undulating and fun single track which heads towards Pemberton, a famous loop for runners and mountain bikers. The short jaunt down Pemberton allows the fastest of runners gain speed since it is very groomed, wide open and slightly downhill to join scenic and then finally Cinch back to the start/finish. That loop would be labelled the “Blue” loop.

Jon's outfit

Somehow, I color matched this night! 54k Start

54k and 27k runners each did at least one of the blue loops with the addition of the Escondido trail(54k got a double dose). This is a single track route which has some love/hate about it at the same time.. At night, it takes you a considerable distance out to what seems like the abyss. No structures, complete darkness and solitude. During the hot days, you are completely exposed on this trail as with 98% of the trails at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Escondido aid station was at the junction of the NT and Lousley parking lot areas (about 5mi). This would prove critical for me later in this post. The rest of the route joins Pemberton and follows the same route back to the start/finish as mentioned above.

What about the actual race? How did it go for me? What happened? What did I like, dislike? What worked/didn’t work etc.. Well this is where the “other people” in my life come in..

Normally, I do get a fair amount of socializing in but it’s in short clips and often a hello and not much more. This night I would finally have a chance to spend more quality time with some folks. Before the race started, I got to catch up with Stephen Sinek (his 2nd also in the summer series). We chatted about his recent training and things leading up to this race. He is a beast and tends to some pretty extreme sh!t including a self demo of a pool in his yard, OCR and adventure racing. Yes, most dig pools in AZ to fill and enjoy.. Stephen had other plans and decided as part of his remodel projects to use said space and pools for other plans. I can’t wait to see it when he’s done. He would go on to finish 15th, 9th Male overall. Proud of him.

I wouldn’t have been able to learn more about Ryan Scully if I had other plans. Shortly after leaving the Escondido aid station Mile 6 when I met up with Ryan is when I feel the race really started for me. Ryan is such a great guy. He has a back story and has run with our AZTL group a few times in the past.. We ran for a bit together chatting about how we felt, our pace, and things like that. He politely asked me if he could keep pace with me. That was so cool! I had no problem with that. We ran lock step at a 10min pace until we hit the Start/Finish. We quickly refreshed, hit the blue and white plastic palace and headed out for loop 2, the scenic loop. Again, pretty much lock step holding onto a 10 min pace. We had just seen our friends, Brandon, Stephen and Meghan Slavin crushing the course! I had a feeling Meghan was in the top 3 based on who I was seeing at that time…

Ryan and I stuck together.. We chatted and small talked about running ultras, our training and things like that. We planned to hit the start/finish again real quick and head out again for Escondido. When we rolled in, he went one way, I went the other since my wife Tara was there to help crew me. I did a quick headlamp change, a sip of Ginger Beer, a pickle, Tailwind, and a couple Honey Stinger Ginsting gels of course. A quick note here.. Bottles have been my choice of late in lieu of a pack.. It was working wonders for me especially on these loop courses.. Back to Ryan.. He was hanging for me patiently as I wrapped up with Tara and off we went.

For the next 3 miles I got to know Ryan. The readers digest version of the things I learned about him: Military background: Army(Thank You for your service Ryan). Two kids(boys), an avid OCR Tough Mudder guy and successful business owner, True Fitness LLC. He was giving me more details which was fine with me. I enjoyed chatting with him and learning of his love for trail running and our friends in common.. It is such a small world!! Sounded like he will be transitioning to some bigger trail running events in the near future. Wish him the very best! He would finish later as 10th overall and 7th male.

I was developing some tightness in my right hip. The legs just didn’t want to turn at a 10min pace at this time (about 9:45 to 10:20pm). Some power hiking was going on as we were getting through the more hilly sections of Escondido. Nutrition was on point, temps were nice. I was just feeling perhaps some fatigue from the GC and training this week.

As we were cruising along we saw a headlamp coming straight at us.. I thought, who could this be? It was my friend Danielle Bukovnik Hartle, she had ran past a critical turn at Cinch and was heading down Escondido again so we made sure she was OK and heading back to her turn.. She joined us the week prior for a recon run on the Blue/Scenic Loop(during daylight : )).

Slightly more ahead and as we rounded a corner at mile 18.9ish and I saw a headlamp ahead off trail. Deep down, I was hoping it wasn’t my good friend Meghan for she was probably 5-9min ahead of me kicking @ss earlier. Unfortunately, it was. My thoughts went from deep conversation with Ryan to deep concern for Meghan at this point.

Sparing everyone any details here, she was having a rough time. I’ve been through some hard trail miles with her from previous events. She has rallied BIG time in the past. Ryan hung out with us for a couple minutes. I assured Ryan she would rally and he continued on. Told him I would catch him at the Start/Finish. He was doing great!

I wouldn’t have been able to support Meghan during this rough time if I had other plans. The priority was to get her to take in some fluids, maybe a little Tailwind if at all possible and anything that would give her the strength to get to the Escondido aid station. This section would take us about an hour twenty to get through and I felt bad for her the entire time. Our good friend Thomas O’Reilly came up on us during this time and shared some of those miles with us. The three amigos. We were Escondido bound! Just trying to get a chair (something other than dirt and random areas next to the trail) for Meghan to sit down on. I had no phone with me for me to check in with crew, her husband or anything. She was getting a few txt’s through to her husband, Brian Slavin. It was then we learned he finished his 27k and also was getting sick. Like real sick.

Coming up on the aid station, I knew I would see my good friend and local legend to us all Tommy Lunetta and the RWB Phoenix crew. Tommy and a few others saw our headlamps coming and starting cheering loudly in the dark and silent night.. No moon out yet.. As we approached, the sounds of cheer went to concern and silence so we could get Meghan stabilized. I would learn later her and Brian caught a bug, like that kind of a bug which has you down, hurling, chills, sweats, you know the drill. All of us were trying everything to get her fluids, trying Ginger (thank you to all the runners offering your Ginger candy and the like along the way).. Nothing was working. Tommy took his own sweatshirt off his back to lend to Meghan to keep her body temp steady as well as an extra shirt.. Hell, he even dug out a solar blanket to wrap her up like a shiny golden burrito! Thomas and I were able to re fuel, chatted a bit and learned Brian and Tara were coming to potentially pick her up. Each time we went to get Meghan up and moving she got sick again. It wasn’t looking good.

When Tara and Brian arrived, we brought them up to speed on the situation. Brian who looked the white background you see here on my page wasn’t fairing well either. You see, Brian gives everyone a little warning about his “loud” hurls.. He then disappeared for a bit. Time was passing and Tara was offering support, Tommy, everyone was trying everything. In these moments, everyone suggest what they think will work. Interesting that the things that come up often are: Gingeraide, Mountain Dew and Coke. She tried a little of it all I feel like.. Nothing was working very well. My headlamp was flickering and running low.. The kind of guy Tommy is.. a giver! He gladly gave me his headlamp and wasn’t even concerned the least.. Thanks a million Tommy!

Total aid station time was approx one hour and ten minutes. We made the call largely due to the cutoff for starting our last and final loop. We would have to start by 3:00am and it was approaching 1am at this point. One last test walk between Tommy and Meghan would prove OK but then after putting her pack on, getting ready to leave she got sick again.. That was it. In good conscience couldn’t allow her to press on knowing we had the last loop plus some climbing ahead of us. Collectively, we advised she not continue on. Not ONE time did she ever say she was “done” or that she didn’t want to press on. You see, she is NOT a quitter and does not have a single DNF on her record. She is determined to finish anything she starts.

I wouldn’t have been able to spend some much needed quality time with my good friend Thomas if I had other plans. He and I have raced together on occasion. He’s also signed up for the whole night series (Delirium Pass) so, it should be a summer of fun. I consider Thomas a pillar in the foundation of my AZ TraiLeggers group. He’s been around since day 1 and is constantly evangelizing to others to join our group and weekly runs. He is also an Aravaipa Running Ambassador.

We both left that aid station reflecting on the last hour for a bit and agreed it was the best for Meghan to not continue. It’s something Thomas is familiar with since he too has seen some instances of sickness during his runs. It’s a tough call to make. You think, will I rally? Will this pass? Do I continue or not? We plugged along. One thing I did while at the aid station was put down a couple cups of Mountain Dew for a caffeine jolt and about 3 ginger cookies. This would cause me a slight side stick for the short term until we got about a mile or so down the trail. Our goal at this point. Stick it out, run it out, power hike, run/walk, anything we could do to finish at this point.

I was glad I stuck with Thomas. I hadn’t had a chance to mingle and catch up much this year with him. I’ve had a crazy training schedule, as had he in preparation for his Badwater Salton Sea 50. We moved along catching up. It was cool. Talking running, group runs, life, our next race, etc… Thomas is crewing and pacing me at my upcoming Leadville Trail 100 race in August. We knew what our cutoff time was so we focused on that, taking our time and not rushing anything.. Spending more time on my feet would be completely OK with me.

I wouldn’t have been able to experience seeing the waning crescent moon rise if I had other plans. Wow! It was beginning to come up as we were rounding down Pemberton over to Cinch. It was spectacular.. No iPhone camera was going to catch this one! I just gazed at it every chance I got. I was beginning to wonder again how Meghan was doing and hoping she was OK at this point.

It was darker than dark before that.. Something I didn’t mention earlier was the spectacular sight it is to see a train of headlamps out in the desert just moving slowly along in the distance.. It was unreal!! I’ll never forget it was this series back in 2012 when I first experienced this. It was AWESOME!! Contrary to that view at 2:30am, I wasn’t seeing not even ONE headlamp at this point. Many of the 54k racers had already passed. We did however see someone pass us while at the aid station and wondered if that was the last of the 54kr’s. It was quiet.. again, great for conversation.. Thomas had developed a side cramp so we were doing a lot of run / walk running. Oh, and my Suunto watch I borrowed died at this point. Again, I wasn’t too concerned with it at this point.. It just got me more excited to know my new Garmin Fenix 5x was arriving this week. I had worn Suunto since way back when the T6c was a great watch to have.. I still have that watch!

Coming into the start was cool. Music still playing lights still shining and people still volunteering.. Noah was there at the finish greeting us and keeping things going. The aid station was huge here.. Patty Coury was still running things strong into these early morning hours. As we rounded a small turn and came over to the crew, the time was somewhere around 2:15 at this point and I saw Tara, Meghan, Brian, Brandon, Stephen and Brian was in the car I believe sleeping. Tara is always there, waiting, crewing and getting everything I need. Love that she runs, manages other volunteer shifts and still seems to help me in every way.

We chatted a bit with Brandon who smashed the course, came in second place and small talked with Meghan real quick who was happy to see us but wrapped up and still not feel ing 100%. We didn’t spend long here.. maybe 4-5 minutes tops, refilled and took off for the last loop.

Thomas and I did the same thing.. Ran, walked, and planned to power walk up the Scenic ridgeline.. I figured we’d be another hour and a half before we could finish. The temps at this point were very nice.. Again, dry desert middle of the night temps can make one feel chilly at times. We were in awe over that moon though.. It came up over the scenic ridgeline and was quite cool! Finishing was happening for us as we approached the final stretch, the remaining folks cheering us on, music still playing, Noah still snapping pics.. We finished. The plan: Cross at the same time as buds.. 08:32:47.

Jon/Thomas crossing 54k Finish line

I would spend at least half the night with this fellow and we would run that last loop and a half together.

There was no regrets, no hurry, just plain having fun and hanging with friends. There would be plenty of opportunities ahead to “race”. Thank you to all volunteers, friends, AZTL, other peeps and especially my lovely wife, Tara who is always there supporting, crewing and helping me reach my goals. : )

We will see you all in five weeks at Hypnosis!

Thank You for reading!

The Series: Aravaipa’s Insomniac Night Trail Run Series consists of eight runs throughout the Maricopa County Regional Parks plus one at Fort Tuthill County Park in Flagstaff. The series runs from April through November.

Race distances for each ranges between 5 to 75K. The passes offer a wide variety of options for anyone from a beginner to the top dogs. Some are Loop oriented and some offer a little of the loop “ish” notion. This is really great because crews and family can come, spectate, support and logistics are simpler.

For myself, I am using this Delirium Pass option to help augment my ramp up and building blocks for my Hundos this year (San Diego 100, June 9th and Leadville Trail 100, August 19th).

Delirium Pass (50K-54K)

April 29-30 — Sinister 54K — San Tan Regional Park
May 20-21 — Adrenaline 54K– McDowell Mountain Regional Park
June 24-25 — Hypnosis 54K– Estrella Mountain Regional Park
August 5-6 — Vertigo 54K — White Tank Mountain Regional Park
September 9-10 — Javelina Jangover 50K — McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Race Week: Planning training miles AND racing in a week was tough on me. I was certain I didn’t want anything too harsh this week and too long. It was going to be a 55 mile week for me with a 34mi race thrown in there. We’ve had busy weekends of late: volunteering for another Aravaipa Race last weekend and this being a night series race, these really take up both days Saturday afternoon and into the night on Sunday. This schedule will test me over the next few months. For those that are not aware I run, manage and host AZ TraiLeggers here in Phoenix with the great teamwork of my lovely wife Tara Christley. Traditionally, our runs are Sunday morning’s in the North Phoenix and Scottsdale areas. So, finding stand in help from my buds to help lead those is something I’ll be doing in the short term! Thank you Amy Starr and Aaron Berger!

Miles hovered around 18 for the week going into Saturday’s run mainly on lower than average terrain but still accumulating around 1000’ of combined climbing. The weather forecast looked outstanding for the weekend as well. We just came off our hottest days last weekend for those running the Dam Good Run out at Lake Pleasant. 99 degrees officially that Sunday from what I heard. Forecast highs for Saturday were only to be in the 82-84 range and that translates to chilly nights especially in the arid climate we have out in the fringes of the city and desert. This would prove to be the case as we shivered uncontrollably after the race was over!

ElevationTempSinister54k

Elevation Profile plotted against the temperature during the race.

Race Day: Normally, I would have had a meeting or two, phone call with my crew, lined up pacers, made a spreadsheet or three knowing me, packed 47 bags and cut the sleeves off a cool racing shirt all for a race over 50k. I’m happy to report I really didn’t do any of those things leading up to Saturday night. My wife and a group of gals signed up to race during this same time period: The Evolution Pass (9K-50K) with a ramp up starting with Sinister’s 9k and ending with Javelina Jangover at 50k. SUPER proud of them. Most of them are brand new to the racing scene with Aravaipa. Needless to say, I threw one drop bag together and a small cooler for me. No meetings, no calls and no plans. Again, this was to be a “training run” for me. I told my training partner(Meghan Slavin) my motto for tonight: “consistency” time wise, nutrition wise was my only plan really.. She was also racing tonight in the same race. This was a race she debuted as a pacer in 2014 when I did this same race. Many lessons learned that night! She still steps up to job every damn time so I guess this pacing job didn’t scare her off back at that time.

Nutrition: I had to adjust a bit for day and hold off for the Christopher Bean Bulletproof Coffee until around 4pm. This is not to say I did not have a coffee drink earlier in the day :). For this race, I planned it simple: Tailwind Nutrition and Honey Stinger. Water bottles only were the gear of choice. This being a 9k loop with an aid station around the halfway point made it easy to plan and manage this. This combination proved to be successful for me!

TheTWSystem

Carried dual bottles this night. (One, water only, the other with a Tailwind Naked stick pack per bottle). One Honey Stinger gel + 200cal Naked TW stickpack per loop would keep me fueled!

San Tan Regional Park: We rolled in around 6:10p. It would prove my wife’s 1st opportunity to load her nifty cart/wagon thingy up with all our gear. That thing is awesome! Highly recommended for crews! Still had plenty of time to mingle with friends and such before race start. This is a beautiful mountain range on the fringe of the far southeast valley. Miles of multi use trails with stupendous views in all directions. The trail this race would run on would be run on parts of the San Tan, Hedgehog & Littleleaf Trails. The 9k would have their one loop, 27k 3 loops and for us 54K’rs we would do 6. All in the same direction. This route has moderate elevation change +/- 500’ according to my trusty Suunto Ambit watchy thingy.

TheCart

Tara’s new cart! She loves this thing. This has been a long time coming. This will come in handy!

54kStartline

Start Line for all races. Counting down to the start of the 54k.

Race Start: 7pm. Had a chance to mingle a bit, use the porta potty at least twice and gather the light gear I spoke of earlier. Headlamps powered up and ready.. Super special people here tonight were not only close friends, Brandon Welling and his adventurous wife Odette and her kids, but the Wrocklages, The Painted Warrior (Stephen Sinek) and again my wife’s racing crew were all in attendance. I forgot to tell you. They call themselves Team RBF. RBF stands for Resting Bitch Face. Yes, this an expression my wife sports and is quite proud of. Their plans to wear their custom shirts and sport RBF faces were spot on!

TeamRBF

Team RBF. RBF faces engaged…

Loop One: Our field was fairly lightweight. We had around 29-30 starters I want to say so it was never crowded. The sun was just dropping below the mountain tops at the start so headlamps were fastened but not turned on as of yet. We all took off. I was able to hang for a few with Stephen and Thomas. It was great running with those guys for a tad. Meghan was ahead of us and looking strong! Loop one felt good but slightly faster than I wanted. I was hoping I wouldn’t regret that later. That “consistency” plan again. Targeting to get in around 55-60 min, not stopping for aid. I couldn’t believe how smooth the trails were since I raced this same race in 2014. It was awesome! Only a couple gnarly sections which weren’t even that bad at all.. It was already cooling down and the wind had subsided a bit. All was good.

54kStart

54k racers starting down through the chute.. Meghan Slavin in blue skirt. Me, in the red, saying I’m taking this 1st loop “easy peasy”.

Loop Two: After coming in to a huge cheering crowd which was awesome! I had to find a tree for relief. The Potty lines were long as the 9K’rs were soon to be starting.. This broke the space up between Meghan and I for the entirety of loop two. I tried to stay on pace with the 55-ish minute arrival time and things felt better now that things were warmed up. The RWB folks were holding down the aid station at the San Tan Aid 2.5mi mark. Aravaipa has been doing something cool of late. Going cupless.. They sell these nifty collapsible silicon 7oz cups which pack away and travel nicely.. Some folks were using these as directed. Coming into the end of each loop my goals were again to finish at least 40oz of water, Taiwlind and a Honey Stinger Ginsting Gel. I just used this as my caffeine source for the night. Just enough for me!

Loop Three: At the main Start/Finish I would be asked every time by someone what they could get me.. “Water Please” seemed to be my thing. I just wanted to stay true to the nutrition plan I put in place.. It seems to work for me. At this point though, as I left, the quads were feeling some binding up so pickles and or juice were sounding pretty good. Meghan had shouted out to me while starting Loop Three so we were able to hang here and for the rest of the race which was pretty cool! She was doing great. Tonight she had every potential to be in the top 5 or less. I was sure of it! This lap slowed us down a tad though.. It seemed in the desert, warm and cold pockets were showing up here and there.. Thought for a second: I may need to break out the arm sleeves Aravaipa so graciously included with our goodies but I managed to not need them after all. Sporting my new Tailwind Trailblazer red shirt and shorts and a Run Steep Get High Buff would prove to be all I needed. This loop did have us interacting a tad with the 27k folks and the fast 9k’rs were moving right along. Man, it’s so awesome to see the younger kids out on the course. I believe two boys were probably in the 12-14yr old range but hard to tell for sure.. They were like a blur when they smoked past me!

Jon54kStart

That new Tailwind Trailblazer shirt though! Thanks Tailwind! 🙂

Loop Four: After having my wife, help out a bit with the bottle transfer and Brian Slavin offering me some pickles and even a sip or two of Bundaberg Ginger beer seemed to hit the spot!! Starting out felt kinda “eh”.. on this one. At least for me. 17ish miles in now, I was feeling like the legs were feeling the burn from earlier. Again the quads… Everything else felt great. We managed to hold running to anything that was flat, downhill and even some of the more mellow hills. There was a tad of wind at our faces during this loop but temps were still perfect.. (73 ish range according to that watchy thingy I spoke of earlier) Stopping to chat a bit and get a water refill at the San Tan aid station was a quick but necessary thing to do real quick. Time wise, we are still on at this point and feeling happy.

Loop Five: It was great to see the crew again, friends and the girls of Team RBF had left at this point. Darkness was in full swing. This loop would prove to be the longer of all loops. We set out on this but knew power hiking anything that even resembled a hill was the strategy at this point. Leaving for loop 5, we had just found out where Meghan stood in her race position wise and it was awesome! Podium finish for sure and based on our not seeing anyone for what seemed like forever we had a feeling I was in the 6th position based on what Brian knew at the time. I was happy. Some quieter time on this loop due to the fact, some pain and other misc issues were present. Nothing major but we pressed on. Things got exciting when we saw what appeared to be a young teeny bopper rattlesnake! All night, we figured we may see something but the temps were cooler now and to our amazement, we rounded a corner and there he was taking his sweet time meandering across the trail. He only had a couple rings on his tail and two maybe three rattle chambers.. Not even a sound out of him though. That was cool but we had a race to finish! On to the Start/ Finish.

Loop Six: After getting refreshed and going again, it was nice to know we wouldn’t see the same portion of trail again for the night. We felt all the 27k folks had already come in, the cheering crowds subsided and we heard a few friends were doing great but still out on the course. Darkness was in full swing as well. Although I never really felt sleepy, it was past the 1:00am hour. We did more running this loop and felt generally a whole lot better than loop 5. Stopping at the San Tan Aid Station quick enough to see they had the Beers, Red Bull and Fireball on the ready for weary travelers! Thanks again to Team RWB for cheering on rocking out and keeping us going! We came up the last climb and powered down the towards the finish.. There’s something about seeing the lights in the near distance of a night race and knowing you’re on the home stretch.. The music going, the few who were there cheering us in.. It was awesome! Finished my “training run”.

SinisterFinisherAward

Finishers bottle! Really cool and different!

RaceSwag

These series always has some really cool swag. Our old backpacks from years ago are still holding up. This one is going to replace the old one though.

Results: Final time: 6:43:29, 6th Male and 8th overall. This compares to my early Ultra days by a 7:31:50 time so, I was real happy. I really enjoyed this race.. It was yet another spectacular event hosted by all the great folks at Aravaipa. It was nice catching up with Hayley pre race, saying Hi to Patty, hearing Jubilee’s announcing skeels and chatting a bit with Noah throughout the night. Course markings were spot on! So many folks there started their night series race and plan to do more! Huge congratulations to all and Thank You again to my wife for her crewing skills and a few of these pics you see here 🙂

We will see you all in three weeks at Adrenaline!

Thank You for reading!

The 2017 Race Schedule!

Wholly crap! Just when I thought my 2016 race schedule was full and action packed, here came 2017! #prettystoked

Completing 2 100milers are one of my goals for 2017.

Mesquite Canyon 50m March 18th
Sinister 54K — San Tan Regional Park April 29-30th
Adrenaline 54K– McDowell Mountain Regional Park May 20-21st
San Diego 100 June 9th
Hypnosis 54K– Estrella Mountain Regional Park June 24-25th
Kendall Mountain 12m* July 22nd
Vertigo 54K — White Tank Mountain Regional Park August 5-6th
Leadville 100 August 19th
Javelina Jangover 50K — McDowell Mountain Regional Park September 9-10th
*Tentative