Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Way Too Cool 50k Race Report

I'll follow you into the dark.
Credit: The amazing Jenny Maier.

If you want to learn pretty much everything there is to learn about me, transport yourself to the finish line of the 2016 Way too Cool 50k. You hear the loudspeaker announce the first finisher coming over the hill, with just a few hundred yards to go. You cheer politely, expecting to see the usual Peter Pan in split-shorts coming over the horizon. Instead, you see a guy wearing a t-shirt and gym shorts, with running form like a rhino in need of hemorrhoid medication. Finally, after 31 miles, the rhino turns the final corner, with just 30 yards to go...

And eats shit. Followed by a full-body cramp. Followed by a mud-covered walk of shame to break the finishing tape at the biggest 50k in the US.

All while laughing really hard and smiling even harder. Well, smiling up until the moment that the rhino has a cheek cramp.

Seriously, I crossed the line covered in mud and blood, with my face spasming uncontrollably.

And that, my friends, is me.

I haven't blogged in a while. However, my puppy photos have gotten a bigger audience with Trail Runner Magazine, where I am writing weekly articles online and in print. People say print is dying, but I say hold the phone until we see how far printed poop jokes get us with the millennials. #poop #blessed

You can read Trail Runner's post race story here

With the tens of thousands of my words that are floating out there in the ether, I decided against writing a traditional race report. Instead, I am giving myself 30 minutes to write a stream-of-consciousness summary of everything I remember from Way Too Cool. Ready...set...POOP!

1. Northern California had been flooded biblical-style in the week before the race. It got to the point that most of Marin County was seeing if they had any Facebook friends named Noah so they could put two of their backyard chickens in his Prius.

So the course was wet and muddy, with more than a dozen creek crossings. Wheeeeeee!!!!!

Splish splash, taking a mud bath. Credit: the epic Mario Fraioli (subscribe to his newsletter here).

2. If you forget to buy anti-chafing cream for a wet ultramarathon, you can go to a 24-hour Rite Aid and buy intimacy gel. I didn't chafe, plus I got a refreshing tingle about 15 minutes after the start.

3. Megan has been working nearly 80 hours per week in the hospital, and she gets 2 days off over the next month. Her quote, "Well, if I only get one day off every two weeks, I might as well run 31 miles."

It's like fording the river in Oregon Trail.

4. In the car before the race, we cuddled with Addie and listened to "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" by Death Cab For Cutie. You should try it! It is very hard to take anything seriously, especially a running race, when you remember that it truly does not matter. All that matters is (1) love; (2) community; (3) pancakes. All of those are inextricably linked, in my experience.


5. The race began with a couple miles on roads, and I went to the front when people seemed willing to chat like it was a group Tinder date. The chase pack consisted of a dozen studs, including Alex Varner, Dylan Bowman, Jorge Maravilla, Paddy O'Leary, Chris Denucci, Levi Miller, Brett Hornig, Chris Vizcaino, Chris Mocko, Daniel Metzger, and a few others handsome devils. Speed demons, the lot of them. Run from your fears!

STUD-CITY, POPULATION 10. Credit: the badass Eric Schranz.

6. I think I fell 8 or 10 times on the mud. Falling was never bad though, because you just ended up sliding and coming up covered in brown. It was like using a slip-and-slide after your cousin pooped on it.

7. The amazing Eric Schranz of Ultra Runner Podcast gave me a time split at mile 8, and it seemed like a good gap had formed. It's daunting to think about 22 miles to go though, especially with such long-distance studs closing fast.

Credit: Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography (the best photographer I know).

8. My strategy with stream crossings was to do a shallow-water dive if they were deep enough. In retrospect, that was kind of stupid. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Credit: NorCal Ultras.

9. The energy from the volunteers and spectators was incredible. Everyone was so positive and supportive. I tried to tell everyone I loved them on the course, which probably scared many innocent folks manning aid stations. But, to be fair, if you give me a Clif energy shot with 100 mg caffeine, I truly do love you with all my heart. However, it's probably a good thing they didn't know I was all lubed up.

10. Speaking of Clif gels, here is how I fueled for those that might want to emulate my plan. At 1 hour before, I had a gel with lots of water. At 30 min before, another gel. Then I carried a 16 oz soft flask and filled it up with sports drink at every aid station, and had two more gels (on the hour marks). I think the mini-breakthrough can be credited partially to staying extremely well hydrated. Stopping at aids to fill up the flask probably cost 90 seconds of stoppage time, but saved 10 minutes on the final big climbs. I was sipping fluid so often that I felt like Marco Rubio.

Coming out of the 11 mile aid station with a fresh flask.

11. At mile 25, Jorge Maravilla came up on my tail and passed me like I was standing still. And he did it with such joy and kindness. What a wonderful person.

I love this man. Credit: Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography.

12. Fortunately for me, even wonderful people get cramps.

13. Of course, it's Jorge, and he continued to smile even as I passed him on the final big climb.

14. In the end, I won by 2:30, with Jorge 2nd, Dylan 3rd, Paddy 4th, Alex 5th, and Jeb Bush last. Poor Jeb.

Megan in the jungle. Credit: Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography.

15. As soon as I crossed the line and stopped spasming, I asked about Megan. The entire race, I was thinking about her and gaining strength from love (Ed. note: yucky). All I cared about was her. Finally, I got some news--she came through mile 8 in first place, but no one had any other updates. Okay, I thought, at least she felt okay enough to be in front early. But nerves continued to eat at the pit of my stomach.

Credit: Jesse Ellis, Let's Wander Photography

16. It's impossible, right? She had debilitating mono all last year, followed by shoulder surgery, followed by 80 hours a week in the hospital. Just showing up to the start line was such a huge victory given the obstacles that she had overcome. But, if there is one thing I have learned about Megan, it's that doubting her is not a wise move. 3 AM treadmill workout with 5 x 1 mile at 5:40 pace? CHECK. Amazing wife after 3 hours of sleep and constant stress? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT. Smells like roses all the time? UMMM...I PLEAD THE FIFTH.

17. Then, I saw her. 400 yards away, cresting the hill like a beautiful woman rhino. The PA announcer asked me to call her in over the loudspeaker. For the next minute, I just said "I love you! Keep going! I love you!" over and over until I'm pretty sure the hundreds (thousands?) of spectators thought I was the human embodiment of a malfunctioning CD player. As Megan skipped across the line, I yelped in joy, and did my best hobble over the barricade. She was laying in the mud.

18. "I can't feel my legs," she said.

19. "I can hold you up," I responded.

20. So we stood there, holding each other up. It was the most memorable hug of my life.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

U.S. 50k Trail National Championships (Headlands 50k)

Bronze medal! 3rd overall on an epic, amazing, muddy course (7000 feet of climbing) in 3:46. Strava GPS file here.

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.


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.

The morning dawned with a steady rain, which is perfect for me. I will always be a fat kid at heart and stomach and flappy bat-wing things under my arms, so it's nice when the weather sweats for me. Megan and I warmed up (aka jogged to a big tree and pooped in private) and kissed (not while pooping). Lots of studs and studdettes lined up, and the gun sounded. We splashed off, and it was really hard not to smile like a kid in rain boots at recess.


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?"
With visibility down to 50 meters at times, it was eerily silent on the course. The only sound was my breathing, the occasional curse word from a quick slip, and the frequent fart from a solid carb-loading week. At mile 8, we came to the first aid station, and I was told it was already 2 minutes to the leaders. After I passed through, I waited to hear the cowbells signaling the 4th place runner passed the same spot. It took about 2 minutes, so I knew I was firmly in no-man's land. Just as the cowbell sounded, the course turned up a 600 foot punchy climb and it began to rain even harder. "This is why I run," I thought, sucking down my first Clif shot gel and looking forward to the adventures ahead.

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!

Clever girl.

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!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships

Zermatt, Switzerland. July 4, 2015.

In horror movies, little kids are always the ones with gut-wrenching insights or horrifying premonitions. They are the ones that see the dead people or predict that the character played by Tom Cruise is in love with their mother.

At mile 16 of the Zermatt Marathon, a group of 5 children had such a horror-movie moment. I was sitting in 20th at the World Champs, with the US in great position for a team medal, about to start the longest climb of the day, when they began the chanting.

"Die! Die! Die!"

I was later told that meant something like "Go!" in their language, but I've seen enough horror movies to know that the death chant was either an astute observation or an insightful prediction. They were seeing the metaphorical dead person or the figurative Tom Cruise setting his laser eyes on their mother.

Remaining: 10 miles with 4000 ft of climbing up to 9000 ft elevation

Diagnosis: Horror-movie bonk, confirmed by adorable children

For one of the first times in my running life, I was going to face down one of the most scary monsters of all--failure on the biggest stage. This is the story of fighting the bonk monster.


Back in May, Megan and I found out we made Team USA. We would be racing up the flank of the Matterhorn on July 4 with some of our mountain running heroes as teammates. It was going to be as American as baseball, apple pie, and accepting that 5% of our processed foods are made up of rodent droppings.

We were ready. 1st at the Hyner Challenge 25k, the Denver Trail Half, and the Leadville Heavy Half, with good training and better spirits. Best of all, we were going to get to share the experience. This was going to be my 2nd USA singlet, and like last year when I made the Mountain Team, I was acutely aware that it could be my last. Sharing it with Megan meant that--no matter what--I wouldn't forget it.

The monster was looming though. Looking at the course profile, you could almost hear it snarl. 26.2 miles, 8000 ft of climbing, only 1000 ft down. And, while we have learned to fake it, neither of us consider ourselves uphill runners. So we trained our asses off and hoped for the best. Fear is a wonderful motivator.

After a mini-taper and a few dozen maxi-pizzas, I was that optimal level of squishy for a long day in the mountains. As we left the USA, our red, white, and blue wardrobe felt even better with the news that those colors now incorporated the whole rainbow, at least when it came to love.

The usual hellish travel 2 days and we were in Switzerland! Somehow, we successfully navigated Swiss public transportation. Every train map is signed by M.C. Escher.

Then we saw it. The Matterhorn. Running there was like stepping into a Disney movie and getting to explore the parts of the set they never show you. Each switchback had another superlative.

"Wow!" "Shitballs!" "(awe-struck silence followed by tripping on a rock)!"

We met our teammates, who also seemed like they were from a Disney movie--too wonderful to be real. We ate our weight in gelato, rode the train in the afternoon rain, and kissed over Swiss Miss. Fortunately, we did not eat Tex Mex, because the walls of the Team USA apartment were pretty thin.

Race day dawned hot and clear, with a full moon over the Matterhorn and our hearts full of love for the experience. Megan and I did our 5 min warm-up together, shared a start line smooch, and waited for the gun.

A quick glance up revealed a shadow engulfing the valley. It was the monster lurking, 26.2 miles in the distance.

The Matterhorn was temporarily blocking the rising sun.


It's hard to explain the start of a marathon or ultra. Using the Independence Day analogy, it is like being given 100 fireworks, and planning a few-hour fireworks show. You think about the show, the beautiful explosions and the brilliant colors, only to get to the day and realize that most of a great show will be empty space.

Fire those babies early, and the end of the show will be terrible. Wait for the finale, and it may already be too late. Instead, you need to be consistent, and stick with the plan, hoping the fireworks don't turn out to be duds when it counts.

I decided to save them. Over the first half, which had 2500 ft of climbing, I tried to run smooth and relaxed. My group included the Italian runner who was expected to win (Spoiler: he did!), so it seemed like the perfect position. When it was flat or down, I'd lead, only to go to the back on the steeper ups. Not the best pattern in an uphill race, but I was full of hope!

Just before halfway, tummy issues forced me to stop briefly. How briefly? Well, Strava GPS calculates total elapsed time and moving time. The offset should be called Bowel Movement Pace. Mine was only 26 seconds. Poop PR!

I lost contact with the group, but it wasn't a big deal. Lots of racing to go! We ran through thousands of spectators leading up to the big climb at mile 16. I was sitting in 20th, still comfortable-ish and just behind a group of 10 that included the eventual gold and bronze medalists. But something disconcerting happened as we turned out of town, careening up an alley to a 3000 ft climb.

I fired off a few of my best fireworks, and nothing happened.

So I tried another. Then another. Still nothing. Oh shitballs.

Just then, the 5 children began their satanistic death chant, and I knew that the English version of what they were saying was exactly right. Dying! Dying! Dying! I was stripped bare on the dusty, hot mountain. The monster was still lurking ahead, and I was defenseless.

And that is the moment I will always remember. The urge to quit was momentarily overwhelming, the prospect of climbing the hulk in the distance utterly insurmountable. But I didn't quit. Not even for a second.

I kept firing off lame-ass fireworks, never giving up hope that the next one would light up the sky.

Here's where we stood: the US had our 3 scoring men ahead. They were strong, but you never knew what might happen on the mountain. I knew that if someone couldn't finish, we could still get a team medal if I kept fighting. With that, I began the 10 most unpleasant miles of my life.

Full body failure is a tough thing to explain. Think of the most random, obscure muscle on your body. Okay, what were you thinking of? Pinkie toe? Forearm? Sphincter? Now, imagine that muscle spasming as if it chose an inopportune time to practice twerking.

That is full-body failure. And my extremities were all doing one hell of an inspired Miley Cyrus.

I don't remember too much after that. It was gorgeous beyond belief, I remember that. I also remember spectators yelling "Happy National Day!" as I slogged by in my drenched USA jersey. Outside of those snippets, my memory is a dull haze of searing discomfort.

The usual trail race stuff ensued: I ran. I walked. I fell. Parts of me twerked involuntarily.

And after 3 hours, 30 minutes, I got to the finish line at the base of the Matterhorn. The first thing I heard was Team USA leader Richard Bolt saying the men had silver. I was filled with indescribable joy! I'd later learn that with my finish, we'd have medaled even if someone ahead on the team didn't cross the line.

Then, I sprinted down the mountain on peg legs to see Megan finish. She had almost an identical experience, and I am so fucking proud of her for fighting her ass off. At the finish, we shared a kiss and a few waves of nausea (I never thought to ask whether hers came from the race, or came from the kiss). Then we sat down. We couldn't move, but that was okay.

There's the Matterhorn. There are our teammates for the race. And right there is my teammate for life.

Mix with post-race beer, and it doesn't get any better than that.


Thank so much to all of you guys for your support over the years! Oh my gosh, it's been a crazy ride. Special thanks to Pat Werhane and Nike Trail Running for being the best, most supportive company on the market. Everyone should buy 1 million shoes. Thanks to Clif Bar for fueling the adventures. And thanks to everyone involved with US Mountain, Ultra, and Trail running. What a great community. 


Saturday, December 13, 2014

XTERRA Trail Run World Championships

3rd overall, culminating in a podium kiss with my bronze medal buddy.

This could have gotten awkward if one of us finished 2nd.


In the last 6 months, Megan and I have raced in Montana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Utah, Italy, Oregon, and now, Hawaii. We have sampled the local cuisine (Italy: gelato, Oregon: beer, Montana: lost hiker), gotten married in a mountain meadow (our groomspeople were mosquitos), and explored a couple thousand of miles of trails. And last week, all that culminated in being named the male and female USA Sub-Ultra Trail Runners of the Year! This really has been a once-in-a-lifetime whirlwind of a half-year. Thanks Nike and Gu for supporting the adventures!

Results since I last posted:
US 50k Champs: Megan 1st! David 4th!

Megan winning her 2nd national championship in less than a month.

Brazen Championship Race: Two 1sts!

On our taxes, we plan to write-off frozen yogurt as a business expense.

Mt. Tam Trail Race: Two 1sts!
Moab Trail Marathon: Two…DNFs.

Oh man, that last one. That last one was tough, for both of us. The course just didn't suit us and there was no way to keep going that day. We had planned to end our season after Moab, prepared to run very little and eat just enough ice cream to make like a Twinkie, indestructible and squishy all over. But standing on a slick-rock tower in southern Utah a few hours after the DNFs, we decided to shoot for one more big race. XTERRA Worlds in Hawaii.

The week before the race, I was crossing a street in Alaska when I accelerated to catch a light. Of course, Alaska is the land of snow and ice, and I had an exaggerated, cartoon-like fall onto my butt. Why does David cross the road? To make a fool of himself in front of work colleagues, apparently. But definitely not to get to the other side. He isn’t very good at that. The booty contusion will come back to the story later…

The rest of the week was spent doing my runs on ¾ of an Anchorage block that were mostly ice free. Also, if you run 8 miles back and forth in front of the mayor’s office at 6 AM, you may get questioned by the police. Just an FYI.
Wedding pic interlude!

After a few 16 hour work days and meals composed primarily of cute, charismatic megafauna, I met Megan in Hawaii. She had med school finals while I was dining on fairy tale creatures in Alaska, so we were both exhausted and one of us smelled vaguely of salmon and caribou. Surprise twist: that person was Megan. She slept with Addie the Adventure Pup while I was gone, and everything Addie touches turns to an exciting, fur-covered olfactory experience.
Addie couldn't attend our wedding, but she still had a front-row seat.
We had an amazing home-stay in Oahu, just 3 miles from the race-site. Sergio is an amazing athlete and father, who did not ask questions when we treated his 2-year old son Kai like a puppy. “Good boy! Come here for a head scratch! FETCH! /throws tennis ball” In our defense, it’s all we know. Also, Kai actually did fetch the ball, so we’ll probably be the best parents.

The day before the race, we did our shake out jog in the jungle. The best word to describe trail conditions would be moist. It was the moistest. After Alaska, I was sweating from orificies I didn’t know I could sweat from. Ear sweat is a thing, and it makes it harder to hear my own humidity-induced wheezing, which is a good thing.
Our pre-race strides came with a view.
We woke up on race morning to a gorgeous moon-rise and an even more gorgeous gallon of instant coffee. Sitting there with Megan, an hour before the race, there was a moment of silence on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Thinking of the sacrifice filled us with a humbling swell of gratitude. Being there, at that moment, with my soul mate—that was empowering. Whatever happened in the race, we made a pact. Let’s go for it, fight our asses off, and finish no matter what.

Like the booty contusion, that “no matter what” would come back to the story later…
Hawaii is amazing.

At 9 AM, the humidity was touching 100% and the sun was rising high into the sky, just as the gun was about to go off. I sprinted to the start line, where Megan was waiting alongside of some of the best trail runners out there. To give context for the next moment, I have to tell a quick story.

In 2010, 2.5 months after we met and 1 month after we said “I love you” for the first time, we did a race that started at midnight on New Year’s Eve. We were both wearing evening-wear, were a couple drinks deep in the night, and were entering the race as non-serious non-runners coming from other sports. As the ball dropped, I leaned over for the obligatory New Year’s kiss. I put my hand on the back of her sparkling dress, and my lips slowly began the descent to her face.

She didn’t even move her head. She just grunted disapproval and took off like a bat out of hell as the start gun fired. She ran a 17:xx in her first race, coming straight from field hockey, in a ball gown, and won an oversized $100 check. That is when I first learned an important lesson. The kiss comes after the race.

Flash forward 4 years. We’re married, with puppy, living 3000 miles away from where we fell in love. And at the start line of the World Championships, 20 seconds before the starting gun, she grabs my hands and gives me the biggest kiss we’ve ever shared (in public).

And just like that, THEY’RE OFF!


Put simply, what came next hurt. It hurt bad. I’m not sure whether it was Alaska, or the exotic meats, or the humidity, or just a long season, but the usual trail race tooth-grinding effort came 10 miles earlier than normal, on the very first climb. But I promised Megan. So I fought.
I like this picture because you can't see the actual 1st place hidden by that shrub on the left.

After 2 uphill fire road miles, I found myself in 3rd, with Patrick Smyth and Brett Hales in sight and the muddy single-track upcoming. The trail wound through jungle trails, past the filming locations for Jurassic Park, Lost, and most of my nightmares involving freakishly large beetles.

I was losing ground to the leaders rapidly, who were out of sight at mile 6, when I was given a 1 min time gap. At that point, I was firmly in my own head anyway. It was going to be a battle fought with a few neurons for the rest of the race. In the back of my battling head, I knew 3rd place had major financial incentives for both Megan and I. But that wasn’t the motivator. It was that crappy feeling after Moab. It was the beauty of the island. Most of all, it was that pre-race kiss.

Also, the freakishly large beetles that could be lurking around any corner provided solid incentives to keep moving. Through the lactic acid and dehydration, I attempted to survive the climbs and push the downs close to 4:30 pace, just to make up as much time as I could when gravity was doing the work. Basically, my internal monologue undulated from “Gravity, FUCK YOU!” on the ups to “Gravity, you complete me!” on the downs. But even the gravity-love on the downs was about to change…

Because at mile 10, at the end of the longest climb of the day, we came to the descent from hell. 2 steps in, I fell, tumbling off the single-track trail. Get up, David, GET UP. Then I fell again. And again. And again. It was a mud-slick down a 20% grade, with no traction and nowhere to hide. So I decided to roll with it. Literally, roll with it, spending the majority of the down on my butt or my side, slipping-and-sliding down as fast as I could (which ended up being 11 min pace down the half-mile climb).
Post-race exploring intermission.
I survived, bruised and battered, sure that 4th place was breathing down my neck. I got up, covered in blood and mud, and decided to fight. It was a feeble fight, to be sure, but I recommitted to the single-track, with 5 min pace becoming 6 min pace and 7 min pace. I was moving forward though. Relentlessly forward. Then down to the ground on a slick spot. Then forward again.

After a few miles of pain, I made it to the finish, 3rd overall at XTERRA Worlds. And I promptly collapsed. Refusing to budge from a spot of shade at the end of the finishing chute, I waited for Megan. Moving between worrying about blacking out to worrying about my wife, I sat there dumping water on my head and attempting to keep myself together enough to avoid being carted away. A few minutes later, in third place as well, Megan crossed the finish line. Without seeing me, she collapsed. And when she hit the ground, she was right next to me in the same spot of shade at the end of the finishing chute.

We spent the next 30 min in the med tent, sharing one cot. We did post-race interviews curled up in the fetal position, side-by-side, until we recovered enough to sit upright. Sitting there, our grimaces turned to smiles, which turned to giddy laughs. We made it. We fought. And now, it was after the race. 

So, in the tradition started on that first New Year’s together, she hugged me, and we kissed.

Med tent romance.

Thanks so much to everyone for all of your support this year. I am writing this story with a booty that is the shape and size of the Goodyear blimp. And the same color too, if the Goodyear blimp looked like a mostly-purple Jackson Pollack painting. At my much needed, impromptu standing desk, I have pictures from this year, from all those different locations. And the biggest take-away is how much I love the community we have met along the way. YOU ALL ARE AMAZING. The biggest thanks to Nike Trail Running for believing us. In 2015, it's time to really live up to the Nike Trail Team hashtag of choice. #werundirty

Follow us on Twitter here: @MegRoche33 and @MountainRoche
Strava: David and Megan
Facebook: David and Megan

Friday, September 19, 2014

World Mountain Running Championships

Team USA women were 3rd, taking home the bronze! The men finished 4th. Megan was 21st overall and 2nd US woman. I was 59th and 6th US man. We had 12 servings of gelato apiece. We signed dozens of autographs. And we said "Italy is beautiful" almost as many times as we said "I love you" and "You smell kinda funky."

It was a great trip.
Red, white, and blue love.


At the U.S Mountain Running Championships in July, Megan and I secured spots on Team USA for Worlds. Over the next 2 months, we raced 10 times (including winning a national championship!), got hitched, and fell in love all over again on the trails of California, Utah, Colorado, and North Carolina. It's a dirty, mud-spackled love that smells like a musty basement and is fueled by Gu and ice cream.

A week before jet-setting with Team USA to Italy, we did one more thing together...WE SIGNED WITH NIKE! (more details in this Competitor Magazine article) Nike is moving into the trail scene in a big way--the Nike Trail Elite Squad is loaded with the best runners on single-track, with studs like Chris Vargo, Alex Varner, Mario Mendoza, David Laney, Ryan Ghelfi, and Worlds teammates Zach Miller and Patrick Smyth. Studettes include Sally McRae, Emily Harrison, Clara Peterson, and Alicia Shay. It's an honor to join the Nike family and rock their awesome shoes: the Wildhorse 2 and the Terra Kiger 2. With Nike, you know that every decision from the engineering floor to the marketing department is thought out. It's an honor to know we'll always be wearing the best shoes, have the best teammates, and run for the best company.

Megan's wedding shoes were ready for some trail adventures.

So on Wednesday, we grabbed our passports and boarded a plane destined for the land of Nutella. 24 hours later, we landed full of groggy excitement. And the Italian adventure began.

On the bus ride to the hotel, we passed the leaning tower of Pisa, which is smaller than you'd guess and curves to the left, which is not an assessment most men or buildings would be happy with. We arrived at the hotel and learned a new term: Italian time. I am still not quite sure what it means, but it's either 15 min early or 45 min late. Just anything but on time.

The view from the start. We finished...up there :)

Megan and I met teammates Megan Lund-Lizotte and Josh Eberly for a shake out along the Mediterranean, where I learned that the ideal for male beach fashion seems to be Borat's bathing suit. After 6 easy miles, Josh and I dunked in the water. A small, adorable boy came up to us, and reached down into the water to pull off his pants. After about 15 seconds, he pulled them back up and walked back to shore. Our ice bath became slightly less icy.

We had a team meeting and a buffet dinner, closed by a heaping serving of gelato. True fact: there were 6 gelato shops within a 1.5 block radius of our hotel. AKA heaven has an Italian PO box.

Recovery food.

Megan and I were energized, but we had slept only 2 hours in the last 36. So we tucked into bed, expecting a good night's rest, and...we couldn't sleep. This began a theme, where we were exhausted but had trouble passing out. And one more disconcerting thing...we did not poop. Like the buses, our bodies seemed to be operating on Italian time.

The next day (Friday before a Sunday race), we ran easy in the morning and previewed the course in the afternoon. The course was the most beautiful, epic mix of single-track, rock climbing, and ancient city running. During an off-trail scramble at the 7k mark, I made my decision: I was going to go for it. I may only get this opportunity once, and I'd always regret not giving myself the chance for a great result. Plus, Team USA's best chance at medaling would be an amazing performance from Zach, Josh, or I (the other 3 men, Joe Gray, Patrick Smyth, and Eric Blake, are consistently studly and 4 score). Having a strategy was liberating. It was going to be a beautiful victory for Team USA, or a beautiful disaster for me.

Go for it. No regrets.

Temporarily flag-bearing before the Opening Ceremonies.

We killed time with our amazing teammates over the next day and a half. The women were incredible--Megan Lund-Lizotte is a supermom and one of the best mountain runners in the World, Allie McLaughlin is going to be a legend one day soon and is one of the most delightful people I've ever met, and Juliane Masciana is an awesome runner with one of the best perspectives I've ever been around. The men were equally impressive, from Joe Gray's calm confidence to Zach's inspiring story and amazing running range. Waking up the morning of the race, both Megan and I were just unbelievably excited to wear red, white, and blue with such an amazing group of people.

Team USA women were relaxed at the Opening Ceremonies.

At 8 AM, the women were bused up the mountain to their start. Before we parted ways, Megan and I had one minute alone together in a tight Italian alleyway. My bride looked stunning in her singlet, beautiful in her bib. We smiled, kissed, and didn't say anything. Time to run up a mountain, like we'd done a hundred times together. See you at the top.


The men's team got together and made the trip to Forno, where our race began. Hundreds of runners from all over the world milled in the streets, nervous energy having a palpable presence. Well, it was there for everyone but Joe and Patrick. They just looked relaxed and ready, and that confidence spread to the rest of the team. It had only been a few days, but I loved this team and the colors we were wearing. I couldn't wait to bury myself for USA.

Red, white, and blue warm-up.

But first, the start line. To put it simply, it was a shit show. There was no rhyme or reason to the madness other than a general directive to line up alphabetically. I got intimate with Ukraine and to third base with Uganda. I know Eastern European men have a reputation for being smelly, but that's unfair. Across the globe, all men smell like armpit. It unites us.

The gun sounded, and the stampede began. Somehow, Team USA got out cleanly and the six of us had good position on the first mile through Forno. The plan was to be well-positioned when the single-track began at mile 1.5, and we were executing, with all of us in the top 15. Mile 1 had 200+ feet of watch beeped the split at 4:52. This was going to be interesting.
This alleyway was 200 meters into the race.

Left turn onto a set of steps and the race truly began. Immediately, Joe, Patrick, the Ugandans, the Eritreans, and a few Italians distanced themselves from the pack. Almost as immediately, I could feel the power sapping away from my legs. It felt like I had done a few sets of squats and some lunges. I fought for position up the climb to Casette, falling to 20th or 25th but in a good place at 4k. As I would soon learn, the climbing had barely begun.

Up through the town we swept, bounding over stairs and alleyways. I think I saw a goat wearing a cowbell, but that could have been oxygen deprivation. I began to struggle mightily on the stairs and into the most technical portion of the course. My legs bellowed with a dull, low sound that I hadn't felt in years. I asked, but didn't get a response. I fought, hard, but it was not going to be my day.

Another warm-up picture, just before the single-track.

To be honest, I may have DNF'd if not for the red, white, and blue on my back. I've always thought love of country is stupid. Who can love soil? Why should an accident of birth determine destiny? But on that mountain, so thoroughly deep in the pain cave that I could not even conceive of the light at the other side, I think I began to understand. It is not the soil, it is the idea. It is not an accident of birth, but an intentional way of living life.

I was going to finish. I was going to fight. USA! USA!

When it comes to food, Italy! Italy!

But boy did it hurt. I moved up 10 places on the flats and downs, and got dropped like a stone on the steep stuff. My girl was waiting at the top, and I spent the last 10 minutes with nothing left in my legs, but lots of love in my heart. I reached the top of the mountain and the finish, where my amazing teammates were waiting. We were all slightly disappointed, but were able to fight for 4th in the world on a tough day.

And that's when I heard the best news--Megan was amazing and finished 21st in the world. The women took home the bronze.

We were at the top of a mountain, like a hundred times before. And we hugged, our hearts filled with a red, white, and blue love.

The women celebrate at the closing ceremonies!

Thanks so much to everyone. When I started this blog, I had never run more than a few miles and was years away from meeting Megan. Your support over the years has changed everything. A special thanks to Richard, Nancy, Paul, and Ellen with Team USA. Italy was an unforgettable experience, and it never would have happened without all of you.