|It took a very large treat to get Addie to pose for this photo.|
The 50k this year was probably the most competitive trail national championship in U.S. history, and it's not all that close. The players:
Patrick Smyth (U.S. Mountain Champ, 1:02 half marathon, low 13s 5k)
Andy Wacker (2nd at World Long Distance Mountain Champs, 28:xx 10k)
Mario Mendoza (2-time U.S. Trail Runner of the Year, tons of amazing results that could take up 10 pages)
Jared Basset (8:30 3k Steeplechase)
Levi Miller (4 minute miler)
Galen Burrell (Pikes Peak Marathon champ and trail legend)
Ivan Medina (fast as heck marathoner/half marathoner and defending champ)
Sam Robinson (5th at 2014 50k champs, general badass)
Chris Vizcanio (14 minute 5k)
Will Christian (Olympic Trials qualifier)
Ben Stern (Miwok 100k champ just profiled by Competitor Magazine)
And that is just a few! So it was going to be hot at the front. And not just because Pat Smyth and Andy Wacker's running forms are two of the sexiest things a human body can do. Them running is smoother than a Barack Obama speech. I, meanwhile, run like a Donald Trump press conference.
But if Mr. Trump can top the polls, maybe (just maybe), I could bloviate at the front of the lead pack. Donald Trump: empowering dreams! Alternate slogan: Donald Trump: making people run away as swiftly as they can!
|Things that make Addie "smile": her parents coming home and a Donald Trump debate performance.|
Pre-race:Megan and I have been jet-setting around the globe this summer for real work (lawyer/med student) and fake work (running). We finally arrived back in California last week, where the drought monitor has gone from the color of Donald Trump's skin (in May) to the color of Donald Trump's hair (in August). If it were an old western movie, before the final shootout, a Trump toupee would blow across the road.
|I'm guessing the ones labled "Saturday" and "Sunday" are just off to the side of the photo.|
I've also become a columnist for Trail Runner Magazine! Here's some links if you want to experience ALL THE POOP JOKES:
Running Form Tips
Hill climbing form
Structuring a Training Week
Strength Training in 5 Minutes
5 Workouts to Build Race Strength
Planning Race Week
I went into the 50k sure I was fitter than ever, but coming off a summer with lots of crappy race results. First, I sucked at the World Champs in July. Then, I was awful at the U.S. Mountain Champs a couple weeks later. Finally, I dropped a delicious sandwich on the ground and Addie won the race to pick it up before the five-second rule expired. Beaten by the world champ mountain runner Francisco Puppi I can understand. But crushed by Addie the actual puppy? MALARKY!
So I had something to prove to myself going into the National Champs. It wasn't so much that I needed a "good" result, just that I needed to enjoy racing on the big stage. Because if running isn't fun, it's pretty darn pointless.
Race:The race began on rolling single-track, with defending champ Ivan Medina jumping to the lead. I waited until about a 1/2 mile in and then put my strategy into play. I ran by Andy Wacker (saying "I know I won't beat you, but I've gotta get this moving" as I passed) and jumped to the lead, dropping the pace to around 5 minute/mile for a few minutes. My thinking was this: Andy is a racer and would come with me, which would make Pat Smyth put in a move to stick with Andy. I was hoping the slugfest that would ensue between those two would leave one (or both) vulnerable later in the race. So after about 2 miles, they cavorted off into a fog, destined to spend a romantic morning together in the Marin Headlands. And I began plugging away, alone in 3rd.
|"Do you even lift bro?"|
One of the coolest things about the next 5 miles was seeing countless members of the local running community out to cheer the racers on in horrible conditions. They included international trail stars Alex Varner and Jorge Maravilla, who provided a great pick-me-up on the lonely trails. At about mile 13, I filled my handheld flask with Clif electrolyte drink and began the first long climb of the day, up Miwok.
I've had a breakthrough in the last few weeks when I remembered the importance of leaning forward when going uphill. I probably looked like I was taking a break from my day job ringing the bells at the Notre Dame cathedral as I slip-and-slid up Miwok, hunched over and clawing forward. It was completely empty on the mud-slicked trails, with only two pairs of trail-shoe prints to keep me company.
|The phantoms up the trail. Credit: Richard Bolt, US Mountain Running.|
A couple low-5 minute miles on the descent and we reached the next aid station at mile 16. Another flask refill, some much-needed human interaction, and I headed up the biggest climb on the world-famous Dipsea Trail. Dipsea is like classical music--I understand conceptually why it is so well regarded, but whenever I experience it firsthand, I'm wondering why anyone puts themselves through it willingly.
But boy, in retrospect, it was a fun climb. Rain-slicked roots up 30% grades mixed with California fire roads, never a second to get complacent. It embodied what trail running is all about.
At the Cardiac Aid Station near the summit, trail legend Gary Gellin said I was 1 minute ahead of Alex Varner's previously untouchable course record. But I was 6 minutes down on the leaders! My hope was that the carnage up ahead would start to manifest soon on the technical descent. So I kept plugging away in solitude, loving every second.
|My internal monologue for 3 hours: "Puddles! WHHHEEEEEE!"|
Well, I loved every second until mile 24, when we hit the final climb. I had gained 1 minute on the leaders over the previous few miles, conveyed to me by 2:28 female marathoner Renee Metivier Baillie, who gave me a big hug as I passed through the aid station. The final climb was up Steep Ravine, famous for stairs, ladders, and possibly velociraptors hiding in the redwoods. A strategic velociraptor attack could definitely get me 1st or 2nd!
I huffed and puffed up the climb, with absolutely no idea where the chase pack was. But I was barely moving, so they had to be close. "Think positive! Think positive" I thought, positive that I would be caught.
After what seemed like an eternity, we crested the 1600 foot climb and I got the news I was hoping for: one of the leaders was struggling. 6 minutes had become 3 minutes, with 4 miles of switchbacking downhill to the finish. I took off, running toward the leader and running away from the chasers.
The song that best embodies my descending style is a country diddy titled "Let Jesus take the Wheel." In other words, let it fly and hope for the best. Finally, after rocking out to internal country radio, less than a mile from the finish, I saw the man in front, Pat Smyth. It was the first time I'd seen another racer in the last 28 miles.
I ran out of ground, and ended up crossing the finish line about 1 minute behind Pat. Andy ran one of the best 50ks in U.S. history, and I'm so proud of him (he is also an outstanding guy). Pat had made a wrong turn later in the race, and handled one of his first finishes not atop the podium with so much class. Quick bro-hugs, and we waited as streams of incredible runners came through a few minutes later. 4th place was Mario Mendoza, 4 minutes back after fighting through a tough day. 5th was Jared Bassett, 3 minutes after Mario.
|I cross the line with a look of constipated consternation.|
I was proud that I confronted my fears and went for it in a longer race, solo. But what I will always remember about the finish is not the big $ check (though that is very important for a public interest lawyer!) or even the awesome camaraderie with the racers. No, it was the hug from Megan. She had physical issues and had to drop at the first aid station, one of the only disappointing finishes of her career. Through the rain (and possibly a few tears), she was there for me at the finish line. She looked me in the eyes and smiled, when part of her clearly didn't want to. That salty kiss meant more to me than anything in the world.
Thanks so much to everyone! Special thanks to Richard Bolt of US Mountain Running, Renee for being the best cheerer, Nike for all of the support and the amazing shoes, and Clif for making sure I didn't bonk myself to death. You all are awesome!