Sunday, July 8, 2012

Western States 100

Just a couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to experience the Western States 100.  It was such a great life experience, and one of those days that even when it was hard, I knew I was lucky to be there and lucky to be able to run.  

I will leave you all with a few video highlights and some of the many memories made on the trail...

Thanks to my crew - Tony and Brian - for somehow keeping me moving out there, and to Kurt and TC Running Company for all the support.

And congrats to all who toed the line and ran 100 miles that day -- especially fellow Minnesotans Ethan Richards and Dale Humphrey at Western States, and to my friends John, Dylan, Paul, and many others out in the Black Hills on the same day.

Enjoy the trails!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Surf City Marathon

I have said before that you are only as good a runner as you let yourself believe you are; to forget the arbitrary limits and go out and run your heart out and see what you are capable of.  Well as we all find out from time to time, that’s a whole lot easier to say and believe on the good days when it works in your favor.  It’s harder in those moments when you realize the hard way what you are not capable of…at least on that given day.

I ran the Surf City Marathon last Sunday and went out and tried to do it quite a bit faster than I knew for sure I could.  I mean, the US beat the Soviets, right?  Rudy played for Notre Dame, Secretariat won the Belmont by 31 lengths, Rocky beat the Russian, and the Ducks beat the Hawks!  Hey, crazy things happen…I thought just maybe a scrappy runner like me could have a great day and run a 2:26 marathon.

Well, I tried my best but unfortunately completely fell apart in the process.  I was well-trained and well-tapered.  The weather was great and I was perfectly healthy.  Absolutely no excuses…well, I guess other than not being very smart.  A large part of me feels like a fool for being that classic guy in the race who wanted to be faster than he is.  The other part of me knows that’s what makes running so great, and the marathon such a perfect challenge.  To run a marathon to the best of your ability takes a risk.  There are no guarantees in running, it’s a very fine line, and by the time I fully realized I crossed the line it was already way too late.  I had a lot of respect for the marathon before Sunday, and have a whole lot more now.

As for the race itself, I guess the good news is that I think I ran a PR for about every distance under 17-18 miles :).  I went out and ran about a 55:30 first 10 miles and a 1:13 first half, held on pretty well through 17 or so, and then finished in 2:40:23.  Here’s the Garmin data with mile splits if you want to see how not to pace a marathon.

Although I’m a little bummed that I swung and missed on probably my one crack at a marathon this year, I guess it’ll be all that much sweeter when the day comes when everything just clicks.  And any day running a marathon is a lucky day.
Here's a picture of Arley, Seaton, and I after the race!

Monday, November 28, 2011

2012 Western States 100 Odds!


The original post on the initial assumptions is below, but there seems to be a bit more information out there now.  First of all, the number of people in the lottery is down to 1,946 and total tickets is down to 2,941.  Also, there's some chatter out there that there could be closer to 340 names pulled in the lottery this year...I think that's a bit optimistic though, so I'm going to assume 320.  I still haven't figured out how to account for the fact that once someone's name gets pulled, any additional names they have in the hat would be removed.  I don't think it's significant, but this would slightly increase these odds below...maybe by a percent or so I think. This all slightly improves these odds for each:

  • Odds with one name in the hat: 10.54%.
  • Odds with two names in the hat: 20.61%.
  • Odds with three names in the hat: 29.3%.
There's also a bunch of VERY CONFLICTING math being posted on the forum.  Some are coming up with some "logic" that having extra names in the hat doesn't help hardly at and decide for yourself!  I guess we can analyze to the end of the day, but we'll all find out soon enough anyway...good luck to all!

Below is my original post:


First, let me preface this by once again dedicating this post to my old man – he’s been been a math professor for something like 41 or 42 years now. This is all based on the same math from last year's WS odds post…from what I remember, I think he said there might be a few minor factors being left out, but this is a good estimate without getting too complicated. Thanks Dad!

On with the show:
The good news here is that they should be pulling more spots this year than last year since the two-time losers are done.  The bad news is there are quite a few more people in the lottery this year.

Some key assumptions:
We first have to make a really big assumption about how many names they are going to pull in the lottery. They say that they need a five-year average of 369 starters and they usually select about 400 total (planning for some attrition of course) Within that, there are a few more assumptions:
  • Montrail Cup Series Winners - 36 spots reserved according to the website. 
  • Raffle spots - 5 were drawn last June, and I’m assuming another 5 were drawn last December for the 2012 race, but not sure 
  • Top 10 runners - That's 20 spots, but not sure how many will do it (13 maybe?) 
  • International preference - They say they preference foreign entrants not drawn in the lottery – let’s assume 6 (complete guess) 
  • Gordy and Cowman - 2 more starters 
  • Groups that sponsor and staff aid stations and some sponsors can designate one runner – maybe 15 -20 spots? Let’s assume 18 (another complete guess) 
  • 9-time finishers going for their 10th - maybe 5 spots 
  • Finally, not sure where they are they at on their 5-year average starters? They have to average 369. I believe they had more starters two years ago than last year, which might help us this year. 
Now with all these things considered, assuming they select 400 total, and subtracting all those preferences, that would leave about 310 names pulled in the lottery. Last year they pulled approximately 230 (and I think there were about 80 two-time losers), so this would make sense.

If anyone has an inside track on the actual number of names being pulled in the lottery, let me know!

Laying out the facts:
Before we get to the real exciting part, we first need to lay out some of the facts. Most of these important details are on the site provides quite a bit of these important details for us:
  • One-time lottery entrants: 1,251 
  • Two-time lottery entrants: 497 (two-time entrants get two names in the hat) 
  • Three-time lottery entrants: 269 (three-time entrants get three names in the hat) 
  • Total lottery entrants: 2,017 
  • Total names in the lottery hat: 3,052 (1,115 + 497*2 + 269*3 = 3,052) 
  • Number of people selected in lottery: 310 spots (very estimated, remember?) 
Now we get to do some math!
Let’s start with the easy one – the chances of a one-time lottery entrant getting selected. Pretty basic, it’s just 310/3,052, which is 10.1573%. Good luck to you guys…you’ll need it.

Now for all you people with two names in the hat, pay attention! We start by figuring the odds that you are not selected with your first chance. With 3,052 names in the hat and 310 pulls, that equals 2,742/3,052 – or 89.8427%. Now the odds of not being selected with your second name are a very tiny bit more favorable at 2741/3,052 – or 89.8100%. Now to find the odds that one of your two names is selected, we multiply both and subtract from 1. So, since .898427 * .898100 = .806877, after you subtract that from 1, that means all of you two-time entrants have a 19.3123% chance of getting selected!

Now as you should have figure out by now, it’s really easy to determine your odds if you have three names in the hat. Just multiply the odds of not getting drawn after two pulls (.806877) by the odds of not getting drawn on the third pull (2,740/3,052 = .897772) and you get .724392. Subtract that from 1 and your odds of getting drawn with three names in the hat are 27.5608%. Approximately. I think.

Good luck to all in the lottery!

Let it be noted:
Last year, a couple people (Kurt N and Steve Quick), pointed out some potential minor flaws. Since I never really understood their explanations of a fully correct method, I’m just going to assume they didn’t actually know what they were talking about and this is pretty close to accurate (just kidding guys, I know you are both real smart).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This past weekend at the Superior Fall Races was one of my favorite weekends of ultrarunning I’ve ever had…and I wasn’t even running!  The Superior 50 was my introduction to trail racing back in 2008, and I have never stopped loving that trail.  Sure it’s provided many painful hours of feeling frustrated, hopeless, and helpless – but I still love it.  That’s just classic, good-old-fashioned, hard-as-hell ultrarunning.

When Kurt started talking about bringing the TC Running RV up to Oberg to man the aid station, I told him I was in for sure.  Then when John Horns decided to run his first 100 miler, I told him I was in for crewing too.  Luckily, John is incredibly fast and I got to do both!

Crewing and Pacing
John ran the course pretty much perfectly…stayed real steady and put a lot of trail behind him during the daylight.  He got pretty worried around halfway when he wasn’t holding his pace, but I think we finally convinced him that no one holds their pace steady in this race or any 100 (except for maybe Adam Schwartz-Lowe who ran an incredible second half).  He came into every aid station within 5-10 minutes of when we expected him based on the splits we had.  It’s crazy how much you can learn from crewing…I definitely learned a lot from John.
John coming into Silver Bay around mile 25.
We split up the pacing duties four ways since we had quite the crew, and I got handed the last two sections from mile 90 to the finish at 102.6.  We knew that John had a big lead at mile 62 of 1:20 or so, but also knew that Adam was gaining ground incredibly fast during the night.  It was a little weird trying to help one friend hold off another, but it’s all friendly competition and the tables could have easily been turned.  They both finished the tough last section real strong and John held on for the win by just 7 minutes in 24:13.  It’s so great to see good things happen for good people who work hard.

Volunteering at Oberg
The TCRC Oberg Crew consisted mostly of Kurt, Paul, Bateman, Dylan, and I.  We didn’t just consider ourselves volunteers – our goal was to be the Crew for every runner who came through Oberg that day and help them out however we could.  Man we were busy, with runners from all three races coming through steady all day.  Hopefully we didn’t dish out too much bad advice and mess up anyone’s last section :).

This was my first time volunteering at an aid station in a 100, and I’m convinced there is no better way to gain appreciation and understanding for this sport.  It’s so incredible seeing the whole spectrum of runners heading into their last section.  The frontrunners make it look easy, but you know they are in at least as much pain and have worked incredibly hard for a long time to get there.  The people fighting the cut-off were the most inspiring…I can’t even fathom the thought of still having so much determination and commitment after being chased by the sweeps for 95.5 miles.  I was so happy to hear later that everyone who left our aid station made it to the finish in time.
Photo from Zach Pierce who finished his 2nd Sawtooth 100 on Saturday!
This was the scene at the last aid station when he came through.
It was a very memorable weekend at an incredible race.  John Storkamp and his team poured their heart and soul into making this race great.  There were more runners than ever, the volunteers were great, the runners were inspiring, the trail is like no other…ultrarunning doesn’t get much better than that.

I told myself at last year’s race that running Sawtooth was a one-time experience for me – the course was too hard and there are too many other great adventures out there to be had.  After last weekend though, I know I’ll be back.  There might be a lot of other races out there, but this one’s just different...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cascade Crest 100 - Tall Trees, Tough Trails

It’s been over a week since I ran Cascade Crest and I’ve had plenty of time to think about the race while wandering around Washington.  I really had no clue what to expect… I set out to enjoy the day and take the challenges as they came.  Part of me was convinced I was in over my head and not cut out for this.  And another part of me knew I trained hard -- and in this sport, you usually get what you train for.

Goal #1 was to finish no matter how long it took. Goal #2 was to try to break 20 hours if the stars aligned and I had a perfect day. Knowing that perfect days in a 100 miler are hard to come by, Goal #3 was to stay positive, be flexible to the plan, keep it steady through the low points, and finish strong.

I crossed the finish line in 21:08:25 and in 4th place. Even though it took me a bit longer than I hoped, for some reason I am just as happy.  I usually measure success in a race based on how fast I ran, but this race is a little different. The time in a 100 miler says nothing about what you went through to get it. Sure it says a lot about how well you did overall, but at least for me, this race was more about the full experience and working through the highs and lows on a tough day.

The Crew
I don’t know how well I would have been able to keep my head together through the rough spots without Tony and Brian out there to crew and pace for me. There’s nothing like knowing a couple really good friends believe in you, even in those moments when you don’t believe much in yourself. There were many miles that I completely stopped caring about my time or how many more people were about to pass me, but those guys thankfully had very little sympathy and kept me moving through the night regardless. They traveled across the country and didn’t sleep for 30+ hours to help me do something I worked really hard for, and for that I will always be very thankful.

The Course
I knew this course was really hard, but I also had heard that it should be a faster course than my only other 100 mile experience at Superior Sawtooth. I think for some reason I interpreted that to mean it would be a little bit easier. I have since realized two big problems with that logic:
  1. I think I totally forgot how hard Sawtooth was.
  2. Faster doesn’t mean easier – it just means you have to run more.
I was mentally prepared for the several big climbs – 3,000 foot and 1,500 foot climbs in the first 17 miles, the 2,500 foot climb to mile 60, and the 3,000 foot climb to mile 81. Where I went wrong was that only adds up to 10,000 feet, which is less than half of the total climbing on the course! It was those “short” steep suckers that I didn’t see coming that really did a number on me. And I learned pretty quickly that “short” in the Cascades is all relative and still way longer than anything we have here in Minnesota.

To be honest, most of the race was sort of a blur…I think running a hundred miles forces you to sort of shut down the mind and just roll with it as the miles pass by one section at a time. I recall most of the course being nice smooth trail or dirt road, but it offered up a little of everything. There were beautiful views of the Cascades and Rainier, there were gradual climbs, steep climbs, roads, singletrack, smooth trail, and technical trail…the list goes on.
It looks hard...and it's harder than it looks.
The Lows
I think the section I lost the most time was unfortunately one of the most runnable – the PCT from mile 17 - 47.  I was just not feeling it.  I got passed by probably 4 or so people and was having a really hard time getting the stomach settled. Some would probably say I went out too fast on the first climbs, but I have no regrets...I felt good and was working the plan. I think it was mostly the heat of the day, having 30+ miles on the legs, and knowing in the back of my mind how far there was to go.

I’d also have to say the “Trail from Hell” definitely lived up to its name.  This was from mile 68 – 73 and Tony and I were doing 20 minute miles here.  It’s hard to describe, but was sort of like a really hard section of the Superior Trail with a lot of blow-downs.  Then the 7 mile, 3,000 foot climb that followed was even worse.  Don’t get me wrong, it was very runnable…I just was not running. It hurt more to run than walk, and Tony was walking faster than I was running anyway, so we hiked almost all of this. This is when I really started doing the math on whether I could break 24 hours if I had to walk the whole way to the finish.

The Highs
The first 17 miles were hard, but I felt good on the climbs and enjoyed having a bit of company. I ran the first mile or so with the winner and new course record-holder Rod Bien, and then I did a good chunk of the early climbing with Phil Shaw. He’s done this race 8 times, has won it a couple times, and gave me some good advice about the course.

The tunnel – at about mile 50 the course went under Snoqualmie Pass through a 2.3 mile long tunnel!  It used to be an old railroad bed so it was flat as a pancake and quite the unique experience. They even tossed a few skeletons in there hanging on the walls for added effect. I felt good here, was glad to cool off and be over halfway, and had moved back into fifth place on the section before. Getting to the Hyak aid station right after was also a great milestone, since I had Soller pacing me there and would have company the whole rest of the way.

And I must have done so much walking from mile 68 – 88 that I fully recovered or something, because I mustered up some energy to finish strong…

The Finish
The last two sections (mile 88 - 96, and from there to the finish), were run on pure adrenaline.  I didn’t even really eat anything this whole stretch, other than a few cups of coke and some M&Ms at the last aid station. We got progressively faster on the long descent from mile 88 to the last aid station as the sun came back up. Then we hit the last aid station, downed that coke, and kicked it to the finish.  We did the last section (over 4 miles) in 27:57 and passed two people. Based on how I felt from mile 68-85, I never would have dreamed that the fastest section of my race would be the last one. I’ve only done two hundred milers now, but in both of them and especially in this one, once I finally got to the end I wished I could have kept going.

Friends ask me once in a while, “Are these crazy races you do actually fun?”  Well, I can’t say that it’s everyone’s definition of fun or that there aren’t times that are nobody’s definition of fun…but I can honestly say I was having the time of my life as I cruised into the finish line back at the Easton Fire Department.

An Excuse to Make Some Popcorn
Soller got some good footage to capture a few of the moments at the aid stations and at the finish.  There's also finish line video at the end of David Reese who finished right behind me in 5th (after getting in some extra miles from getting lost), and the women's winner Shawna Tompkins.

Up Next
I am very much looking forward to just running for fun this fall, and a little break from racing.  I’m now most looking forward to crewing, volunteering, and watching some friends suffer through the Superior races this weekend and making sure they keep on moving until they get to Lutsen.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Hay is in the Barn

It’s been a pretty steady week since Voyageur, and the last week of hard training before tapering for Cascade Crest 100.  I’ve gotten in about 110 miles since the race last Saturday, and just finished it with 40 hill repeats out at Hyland.  Now I’m ready for a break.

I signed up for Cascade Crest way back on February 12, the day before I ran a marathon in New Orleans.  I started training two weeks later. I’ve run 2,510 miles in 23 weeks since -21 of them over 100 miles, 1 at 97, and another at 40 when I was sick in CO.  My biggest mistake as you could probably tell was not taking down weeks to recover, but I guess some lessons in the sport you have to learn the hard way.  There’s no magic recipe to training for ultras.  It’s all one big grand experiment, and you never know where that fine line is in training until you toe it…or go over it a bit.

I’m excited but pretty scared for this 100 miler, but then again I can’t imagine anyone not being a little scared for a race that long.  I have no idea how it will go, but all you can do is work hard in training and find out what you’re capable of on race day.

The team for the race (Tony, the Sollers, and I) have been brushing up on some race knowledge with looking over race reports, old splits, and some pretty good YouTube videos.  Here's one that gives some pretty good views from the course...can't wait to see it in person!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why do I run?

A good friend and one of a few runners who have influenced me the most always has this to say about ultras: “Highs and lows, peaks and valleys…”  I never ask myself this question during the highs, but I’m pretty sure every runner has when they’ve hit a low.

A little over halfway through Voyageur was one of those low spots for me, and I spent much of the second half pondering that question, “Why do I run?”  I couldn’t help but think about all the other hobbies and interests that sound so much easier.  If I kept the hobbies I had when I was a kid, I’d be spending most of my free time fishing, collecting coins, or catching butterflies.  Think about it…on a bad day of fishing, the worst case scenario is still a relaxing day on the lake.  On a bad day in an ultra, the worst case scenario usually comes with a whole lot of pain and misery – or even worse, the dreaded DNF.

So, back to yesterday at Voyageur, as I left the turn-around at the Duluth Zoo, the biggest decision I had left to make was which aid station I was going to pull the plug at.  I threw up four times in three miles, was way overheated, lost all fluids, couldn’t eat anymore, had no energy, and the body just felt like it was shutting down.  All I could think of was how pointless this was, and for the first time in my life I was trying to come up with reasons to justify calling it a day.

When it came down to it though, I think it would take more guts for me to actually willingly choose to take off my number than to keep going.  I dragged myself to an aid station around mile 18 or so.  Thank goodness Tony was there…as several of us found out yesterday, there is nobody better than Tony to pick you up and kick you back out on the trail.  After he got me stocked up with some Gatorade and ice and after several cups of coke and ginger ale, I was back out on the trail.

I did feel better relatively soon after that.  It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s crazy how you can bounce back from rock bottom to rebound and feel better.  I never felt real good and had to drink all my calories for the last half, but was able to keep it moving slow and steady to the finish when I didn’t think I could.

I’ve said this before, but making it through an ultra on a tough day is sort of like an episode of Full House.  There’s always something bad that happens in the middle, but in the end it is all resolved and everything is perfect again.  As frustrating as it was and as much as I questioned, “Why do I run?” during the race, as soon as it was over I had no doubt about the answer and my love of the sport.

All in all, the 30th Minnesota Voyageur is in the books thanks to Andy and Kim Holak, who are such great people and race directors.  The volunteers seemed especially incredible this year.  And I’m always excited for many friends and training buddies who finished – some their first 50 miler, some with great races, and others who just grinded it out on a hard day.

Someone who I met after the race shared with me some great words of wisdom, “The sun don’t shine on the same horse’s ass every day.”  For some reason, I liked that a lot.  I think the more you can take a tough day in stride and still enjoy it, the more good days you’ll have in the long run.