Here are some big picture observations for when I run one of these again.

Packing food in dropbags. It can be quite overwhelming to try to plan out dropbags for this distance. Both here and at Moab, I tried to write out how many calories I should pick up and carry with me at each aid station. A few aid stations into Bigfoot, I was reminded how great the aid stations are. If you can stomach real food and you (correctly) tell yourself it’s okay to sit down for a hefty amount of time, you are in great shape. Beginning with Johnston Ridge, I think I had two breakfast burritos (eggs, bacon, guac, no cheese) at each aid stations. Filled up my pack / bottles with Tailwind, and I only needed some extra gummies for each section.

Cougar Bar & Grill somewhat near the start line: Serving up completely adequate burgers with a side of attitude.

Packing clothes in dropbags is another story.

Don’t fully trust the elevation profile. There are undulations that are not captured in profile just because of scaling. That’s probably not surprising. But the locations of some of the aid stations are off, relative to the terrain. For example, the Twin Sisters aid station is at the end of an out-and-back; you descend ~2.5 miles to the aid station, then turn around and climb back out. The Twin Sisters dot on the elevation profile should be moved to the left a bit. Minor. More often than not, I was pleasantly surprised when the aid station came early.

Home, sweet home for the week.

Also, the course section descriptions are very clear and helpful. Pay attention to them.

There are no easy sections. I might use the term, but it’s all unrelenting.

Without further adieu…

Poor PJ has to do three of these in the next 9 weeks.

Start to Blue Lake: I settled into an easy pace early, catching up with east coast speedster Jordan Chang, whom I had met for the first time at registration. We stuck together, occasionally with one or two other guys, for much of this section. There’s a decent climb, a boulder field or two that slows you down, and a nice smooth descent through the PNW forest.

Jordan cruising through the boulders

You’ll probably catch some 20/40/100Kers going out with you. There will also be some 20 milers coming back towards you. This makes it one of the more social sections. The aid station serves all 4 races, so it can be a bit crowded. Drop bag situation was a little chaotic so I spent some time finding mine. I might avoid having one here in the future.

Blue Lake to Windy Ridge: I got the heads up to load up on water for this section (h/t Jared and Sara). It’s 18 miles with a lot of climbing, and most importantly, after a brief stint in the woods, you are totally exposed in the heat of the day. There are a few river/stream crossings here. I was able to hop over all of them, though it did require a bit of planning and a few leaps of faith onto rocks that I hoped were stable. Here’s a sense of the landscape:

40 milers and 100Kers are still with you here, so it’s still social. Although it’s often a barren landscape, the trails are quite runnable, and I was feeling good, so I made good time here. The rivers are a bit silty, but there is a stream / oasis a few miles before the aid station that was teeming with dehydrated runners topping off their bottles. I hopped right through. Overall, I was feeling great through this section, and I was thankful that I had carried a little extra water weight.

Windy Ridge to Johnston Ridge: You get a bit of a reprieve on the next two sections. The most noticeable features of this section are the times the trail leads you straight into a giant set of bushes. You essentially have to walk into a wall of leaves and branches and trust that there is a trail under your feet (there is). The areas are well-marked so they’re not bad. But it’s a bit crazy.

Steady climb up towards Johnston Ridge, and you can see the observatory in the distance. Might be some tourists around here. I was still feeling great around here. I sat down for the first time at Johnston, fixed my feet up a bit, and got some assistance from Adam Kat who was waiting for his runner.

Johnston Ridge to Coldwater Lake. Easiest section of the course. Great views of Mt St Helens from up on the Ridge. Pretty decent descent, though not too steep, and very runnable trails.

The view a few minutes after leaving Johnston Ridge

The sun was less powerful at this point. Nothing too much to report from here. I cruised into Coldwater Lake and sat down for a bit, resting up for what would be a very tough section through the night. Started my trend of eating 2 breakfast burritos at each aid station, which I wouldn’t break until early Monday morning…

Coldwater Lake to Norway Pass. Coldwater Lake was gorgeous. The sun was slowly starting to go down as I started this section. You have a few flat / rolling miles along the length of the lake, wildflowers galore. Beautiful. Then begins one of the biggest climbs of the course.

Enjoying the flat section along Coldwater Lake

Pre-race, I had the brilliant plan to push through the first night and make it to Lewis River (mile 112) before sleeping for the first time.

The climb after Coldwater Lake abruptly put a damper on these plans. As soon as the sun went down, I was overcome with some serious sleepiness. Caffeine, food, and water did not seem to help. I sat on the side of the trail, leaned over and tried to nap, but to no avail. Eventually, I told myself to push through this section and I would reward myself with a visit to the sleeping tent at Norway Pass. The carrot worked to some extent, and I was able to make it through this section without wasting too much time. Bit of a zombie walk/run.

Short out-and-back to Mt. Margaret–view is supposedly gorgeous–then a short stumble down the mountain into Norway, a delicious breakfast burrito, and off to the sleep tent. I set my alarm for about 1.5 hours after I lay down, and probably slept about 1 hour. Got up, a bit refreshed, but not totally invigorated, and I downed another breakfast burrito.

Norway Pass to Elk Pass: Another guy, Geno, was heading out at the same time; we had run a bit together in the first section, and we decided to team up for this section, which I was very happy to do, since it was night and I still wasn’t totally awake. He packed a lipper (!!) and we were on our way. A light drizzle began to fall as we left the aid station and would continue on and off for the rest of this section.

This section was one of the easier ones from an elevation perspective, But, we were also introduced to a new reality of the course: downed trees. It didn’t have the most blowdowns of any section, but it might have had some of the largest, and a few you had to make a difficult decision of going over or under.

As the first signs of dawn were coming, I found myself fatigued and decided to lie down on some mossy ground. I closed my eyes and took what was probably no more than a 5 minute power nap. I awoke as another runner was walking by, popped up surprisingly rejuvenated and was on my way, catching up to Geno soon thereafter. We stuck together through the rest of this section. I told him I was expecting my first child in a few months. We bonded a bit, in the way you can only do in the midst of one of these races.

Elk Pass to Rd 9327: I really enjoyed this section. It started out flattish / gently rising on a quasi-ridge line.

Happy for now.

The rain was letting up when I started out but there was a lot of mist / fog. Very cool / ethereal / LOTR-feeling. I was getting my second wind as the day was brightening. There was a little bit of climbing, but I took the whole section pretty slow. And stopped for some pics.

pretty flowers, pretty clouds, pretty mountains

Rd 9327 to Spencer Butte: There had been a tentative plan for Melisa and Danny to show up here to crew–I had stayed with them in Portland before the race, and I had to given them a very vague estimate of when I’d be here + they had friends arriving in town + there was no cell reception since 40 hours ago = I was setting myself up for them not showing up here.

But… as I approached the aid station, I saw four people locked in a high-stakes game of Kubb. Hurray! They made it! And my estimated arrival time was pretty damn accurate if I must say.

We did a little foot repair here. Danny taped up one pinky toe; Melisa did the other. Danny’s was better. I made them both aware of this. Danny was going to pace me for the next two sections, so we headed off to do a little of bonding.

Leukotape is your best friend. Taking care of your feet is priority #1

This section was memorable for the company and the conversation but not as much for the scenery. Heavily wooded area. Nothing too memorable perhaps because I was focused on trail games. Ran into Melisa and friends picking berries here.

Spencer Butte to Lewis River: There’s a short section along a road to start where I had to force myself to run. Then begins a brutal brutal descent. I forget if I read about this somewhere and/or was just worried from the elevation profile, but this descent was in fact brutal. I got passed by two people here. Didn’t care too much.

Eventually you pop our near a “Lewis River” campground, which is pretty well populated by campers and day hikers. It’s possible at this stage in the race, you will think that you are close to the next aid station (named “Lewis River”), which is a reasonable assumption. But you’re not. This section dragged on for me. Very beautiful but something about the crowded trails slowed it down for me.

Lewis River (Lower?) Falls. Still not that close to aid station.

Lewis River to Council Bluff: I spent a little time with the crew since they’d be heading back to Portland. In a race full of amazing volunteers, I had my first above-and-beyond experience with a volunteer (name forgotten!?!?!!), who–after informing me that the aid station didn’t yet have Tailwind–offered me some of his own stash. At first I tried to politely decline, but I knew this section would be tough, so I graciously accepted. Volunteers: beautiful people. I left the aid station with a smile, which… would not last long.

I had the misconception that it was a steady climb away from Lewis River / creek. The course description advises you to top off on water before you climb up out of the valley. So, the first time I crossed the river, and going off the elevation profile. I topped off. But, then, we ascended and descended and crossed the river, and ascended, descended, and crossed the river. And again. And again? I think? I was getting a little frustrated. And darkness was falling. But I eventually climbed out for the last time. And then darkness fell.

And then I started to lose it.

I could not keep my eyes open. I don’t even know how dangerous this section was, but it felt like if I took a wrong step, I would fall down a near cliff. And I did slip a few times, sometimes climbing over a log, sometimes just walking. A switch flipped in my head, and I was telling myself this was not worth it. I was ready to call it quits.

I found a flattish area next to the trail, laid down and took a 5 minute nap. I woke up and still felt abysmal so I put on my long pants, jacket and lay back down for another 5-10 minute nap. I woke up and felt even groggier. Finally, I took out my bivvy sack and climbed in. This nap seemed to do it. I got up, stuffed my sack away and trudged on.

The trail continued to gradually climb and switch back and forth. In the dark, I became convinced I was backtracking at one point, but I continued on.

Eventually I came to the aid station, which was run by a couple of 200-mile vets. One guy was a few PBRs deep, which was fun? I was pretty drained but he gave me some tough love and told me that last section was the hardest, which was reassuring.

Council Bluff to Chain of Lakes: This was a shorter, easier section with a bit of road. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep for a split second as I was running here. I was in full-on survival mode at this point, just trying to get to Chain of Lakes for a nap.

Chain of Lakes to Klickitat: I took another nap for about an hour at Chain of Lakes which was crucial. Got a good foot repair job, and I was ecstatic because the bottom of my feet were hurting big time. I thanked the volunteer that helped me profusely. He downplayed it a bit and also told me the tape job might not last too long because of three upcoming water crossings. womp, womp.

I headed out as the sun was coming up, still tired, but optimistic. Sure enough, it didn’t take long to come to the first crossing, short, but knee deep and a fast current. I think there was another short one you had to get wet in and then a long ~50+ foot crossing that was nice and cold.

Long, cold river crossing

I got a third/fourth wind on this section and there was a fair amount of flat terrain where I was able to run. It felt great!

Sustained climb to Elk Peak was tough but manageable. The final out-and-back section to get to the top was very steep, but the views were awesome from the top. My watch ran out of memory and deleted everything on the way down. Awww, man, no cool Strava posting I s’pose.

Mt Adams

Klickitat to Twin Sisters. At Klickitat I got some not-amazing tape-work, then re-did it into fairly decent tape-work and changed socks and shoes. My feet were a mess and at this point, I just decided not to take off my shoes and socks again.

I feared this section the most. I knew I wanted to run this during the day because I’d read about this being a hard section to follow the markings. Ultimately, this section was very hard, but I think just because of my (good) state of mind and the fact that I got it all in daylight, it was manageable, and I just trudged on through without too much fanfare. There are two lakes that serve as potential water sources–I would not rely on these as legit sources.

Speaking of, I came upon another runner, Ryan, who was out of water–he had planned on filling up on the lakes, but finding them gross and stagnant, he declined. I gave him some water and tried to get him to take a spare half water bottle. I thought we were super close at this point but we had ~3 miles in reality. We stuck together for a few minutes; he said he had crew at Twin Sisters, so I soldiered on.

Sun setting on the descent into Twin Sisters.

Twin Sisters to Owen’s Creek. I came into Twin Sisters and found Andy Pearson wrapped in blankets–apparently he’d had some fun with hypothermia earlier on. Also, one of the front runners had gotten off course, so I was in 4th place. I knew I was far back from the next person, but I was quite surprised to find I was this far up.

Twin Sisters had another memorable volunteer, Mark, who brought me burritos, soda, etc. and lied and told me I looked amazing. I pictured the next aid station as the finish line. Yes, there would be 13 miles more after that aid station. But if I got to Owen’s Creek, THEN I’d be on the home stretch. I was ready to do it.

I left Twin Sisters as dusk was falling and ‘flew’ up the climb. I wasn’t running but I was powerhiking with purpose, and I legitimately felt great. As the sun was going down I decided to pre-emptively drink a 5-hour energy, which I figured would take me through the night no problem.

Then night fell.

The out and back to Pompey Peak was tough and a little scary in pitch black. From there, it was essentially a long downhill to Owen’s Creek. No problem.

Yes problem. There were more downed trees than I could count. It was wet, slippery and, as I had on the two previous nights, I was losing it. Eventually the downed trees end, and I was introduced to the green tunnel.

This was an old fire road that was pretty straight, slightly down hill, covered in grass, and surrounded by dense growth on all sides. And it was night time, so any details that might have existed were not visible to me. Later on, I would be somewhat comforted when hearing other runners recount the monotonous horror of this section. But not for now.

I had heard several versions of a story of Bigfoot 2017 in which, late in the race, Van Phan, no stranger to ultras, was found in a trance on the trail. When asked if everything was okay, she replied, “I’m just stuck in a time warp and trying to get myself out.” Extracting herself from said time warp was a simple matter of throwing her poles down the trail, picking them up, throwing them, picking them, rinse repeat. I think in one version of the story, her ultimate escape was sealed by hurling the poles off a cliff on Pompey Peak. Obviously.

These stories to me sounded absurd. I had experienced mild hallucinations many a time and at Moab, I had gotten to a pretty dark space, but, time warp? I don’t think so. Wrong. The time warp is real.

I felt like I was running / walking on a treadmill with the same grassy path passing under my feet and the same dense forest passing on the sides. I would power hike for 10 minutes, look at my watch, and find that only one minute had passed. I would hike for 10 more minutes. One minute had passed. I was continuing to move, but I was not progressing.

I decided to play some music to confirm the passage of time. No headphones, but I frantically pulled out my phone, pulled up my music and played the first song I saw. LCD Soundsystem: All My Friends. Good song. Not a good song to listen to while trying to convince yourself time has not stopped. Two chords, no lyrics for the first minute. Honestly, pick anything else.

Anyways, I got through. Somehow. Eventually there were puddles and streams that I didn’t recognize, and I knew I was making progress. Then there was the bottle of tequila–I declined–and I knew I was close. And finally an aid station. I have never been so excited to see another human being.

Bachar was there. I relayed the last few hours of my life. I ate some food. I was ready to be done.

Owen’s Creek to Finish. It’s a half marathon to go. It’s a gravel road. Then a paved road. Then a barking dog who appears fierce, but he’s stuck on the other side of a fence, so what’s he going to do? Then it’s the dog reaching a gate, sliding under the gate and trotting after me, barking. It’s me walking backwards, swinging my poles to ward him off. Then he’s gone. Walking forwards now, very little running.

A car passes. Civilization. I’m listening to music on headphones to stay awake. The cracks in the tar are dancing figurines, but I know it’s not real. Then a right turn, and another. Then a bridge. One more right turn. Bachar drives by in our house-van. I’m close. It’s stadium lights in the distance. A lone cowbell. Hiking poles folded up.

A turn into the parking lot, entering the track, running as fast as I can. Not fast. Bachar’s filming. Me trying to look good for the camera. Failing. It’s a long slow turn on the far end of the track. The final straightaway. A blue inflatable arch. Volunteers, up from a nap, cheering me on, multiple cowbells.  It’s me breathing it all in, on the verge of tears: happy, exhausted, proud, broken, grateful… finished.

PJ finishing strong.

H.U.R.T. Slog Blog

Getting in. The lottery for the 2017 H.U.R.T. was held the day I finished Fat Dog 120 in August. After a fitful night’s sleep, I hobbled over to the lodge, connected to the internet for the first time in a few days and happily discovered that I had not been awarded entry. A week later, the waitlist was released, and I, remembering only the glory of Fat Dog, happily discovered that I sat at #2. A few weeks later, I was in.

Training. I focused on running the Richmond marathon in early November. Then, figuring my meticulously-planned training for Fat Dog seemed to work well, I jotted down the mileage I put in for each of the 10 weeks leading up to Fat Dog, and tried to replicate it leading up to H.U.R.T. I came fairly close. My long runs were VDM at Thanksgiving (~27m), Birthday MGM (50k) and Boyer’s (40m), on which I resisted the peer pressure of Marthon urging me to quit with them at ~32. #mentaltraining

Obligatory setback. 2016 was a great year of running for me. I came within about 10 minutes of it being a perfect year of running, but with about a mile to go on a pancake flat December 31st run, I took a bad spill. I was finishing my run at a decent clip, daydreaming about running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in April when I caught my foot on an off-kilter concrete block. I went from vertical to horizontal before I knew what happened, landing hard on my right side.

I managed to run with mild discomfort over the course of the next week, but the following weekend, I had to cut a final Rock Creek run in half when I was wheezing in pain less than a mile into the run. Unofficial diagnosis was a bruised rib. I shut myself down for the final week and hoped for the best.

Relaxing in Hawaii.

Here are some things I did in the 2 days before the race:

Pillbox Hike on Thursday morning to see the sunrise
Course scouting: favorite tree we’d run through 10x

Relaxing at Waimanalo Beach the day before the race. This beach is nice

I did other things, but I either don’t have photographic evidence or they were not worthy of reporting.

The Course. H.U.R.T. has a reputation of being one of the least runnable (but most punnable!) races out there. The race consists of 5 identical 20-mile “loops,” and each loop consists of 3 legs (approximate lengths of ~7.2, 5.5, and 7.3 miles). To oversimplify, the course can be thought of as a “Y” with aid stations at the three points of the “Y” and the start/finish located at the bottom. Leg 1 runs up from the bottom to the central intersection and off to the right. Leg 2 retraces back to the intersection and off to the left arm. Leg 3 retraces back to the intersection and down to the bottom. The end of leg 3 does not match the beginning of leg 1 exactly, but in the other two cases, you’re traveling the same trail in the reverse direction when you leave an aid station.

The aid stations are at low elevations and the central intersection is towards the high point of each leg. So you descend into each aid station and begin with a climb when you leave, and (again oversimplification), each leg is basically one big climb, a little flat, and a big descent.

The trails are very technical. You cross through the Pauoa Flats trail  on each and every leg (3 x 5 = 15 crossing). This section has the most dramatic roots (see below), but, it’s short, it’s flat, so it’s really not bad. Much of the rest of the course is covered in rocks and roots. With few exceptions, you’re unable to get into a consistent stride for more than a few minutes.

IMG_4591 (1)
It’s not all like this.

H.U.R.T. is also known for great aid stations. The volunteers are all fantastic, and–not to take away from the wonderful people–there’s a very logical explanation for the quality of the aid stations: there are only three. So food supplies that might be normally spread out across 10,15+ aid stations are consolidated into three. Honestly, there are almost too many food options. But the people and the food and the atmosphere really do live up to the hype.

Race Plan. I had a large drop bag and the start/finish. For the other two I just had ziplocs with a few small food items, and I made sure to have a headlamp or flashlight at each of the three aid stations. I would carry two handhelds the whole time, except the final loop when I switched to a hydration pack with bladder, mainly so I could collect any headlamps left at the two other aid stations. Keli was there to crew, but I insisted that she actually enjoy Oahu and sleep, so the plan was for her to see me off, go explore for a while, crew all of Loop 3, go to sleep, and then crew Loop 5, running the last leg with me.

Loop 1: The getting-my-bearings-loop. We started in the dark at 6am. After the first ~2 miles of climbing, you reach a short section of paved road, followed by a relatively flat, relatively runnable section. In other races, you might feel excited to open it up a tiny bit. But the heat & humidity, though not totally oppressive, kept my energy levels at bay and helped me stay slow.

The roots also slowed me down, though I did manage to slam my shin into big gnarly ones on two occasions. I also slipped in the one stream crossing, soaking my left foot, which wasn’t the end of the world, but I learned to be more careful. I didn’t spend more than 2-3 minutes in the aid stations and just got my bearings. I believe adrenaline kept my rib pain at bay; it helped to be going slow as well.

Loop Time: 4:28, 24th place.

Loop 2: The hot-but-not-as-bad-as-I-thought loop. After a quick change of socks, I was on my way. About 1.5 miles out, I caught up to the legendary Nikki Kimball. We ran together for the next few miles, which was a treat. We stayed in close proximity the rest of the race–she would lose me on the downs, and I would catch up and pass on the ups. She was planning on having surgery on her leg two weeks later. I was not.

The heat was bad, but not nearly as bad as DC summers, and you’re under cover the vast majority of the time with a breeze helping at times. On leg 2, I took a spill on one of the least technical–obviously–sections of trail. I broke my fall with my handhelds, puncturing one of them. The rib flared up a little bit, but I walked it off and sat down for a few minutes on Bien’s Bench before descending to Nu’uanu. I felt strong when I finished the loop.

Loop Time: 5:07, 16th place.

Loop 3: Darkness falls, crewed loop. Master crew chief Keli had all my gear laid out on a towel, and I pointed to various articles as I rested in a chair. We taped up my punctured water bottle and I was on my way. Keli drove around to meet me at the other aid stations, so I was motivated to finish each leg and less motivated to leave.

In my pre-race research, I had come across several references to trails with “you-could-die-if-you-take-a-wrong-step” precipices. On loops 1 and 2, I pooh poohed these claims. But, when darkness fell on the third loop, and particularly on the descent on Leg 2 into Nu’uanu and the ascent out of there, I was pooh poohing no longer. When you’re sleepy, you’ve got 40+ miles on your legs, it’s dark, and there’s even a tiny bit of moisture on the trails (and we had a dry year), it’s  scary.

Keli was at the Nu’uanu aid station but went home to get some sleep. Towards the end of the loop, I could sense my mind slipping a bit. I thought I was on Loop 4 a few times and had to remind myself I was just on Loop 3, which was… disappointing.

Loop Time: 5:50, 13th Place

Loop 4: Blackout Loop. My drop bag at the start/finish was a small duffel bag with all my dry clothes in a trashbag and everything else loose inside. Upon finishing Loop 3, I grabbed my bag, sat down, removed the large trash bag of dry clothes, set it to the side, and took off my shoes and socks. Then I proceeded to frantically search the duffel bag for my change of socks. Ignoring the trashbag beside me, the amazing crewing from earlier, and the general selfishness of running an ultra, I sent a 2:31am text to a sleeping Keli, eloquently asking “Socks?! Where are they??” Just before putting my wet socks back on, I remembered the trash bag, sheepishly sent an apology text, put on my dry socks, and was soon on my way.

This loop was hard. The jungle provides a great deal of protection from the sun during the day, but it makes for a very dark night.  On Leg 2, descending to Nu’uanu, I encountered a feral pig snorting and scampering away on the side of the trail. I was not hallucinating. It was scary. I don’t want to talk about it. Karma for my text to Keli, maybe.

I had a sort of secondary crew member on this loop. Codi was crewing his girlfriend, who was just a bit behind me, so he was at all the aid stations when I came through. He swooped in and helped me out at the first aid station and was there to help at the others, which was nice. I think my bib # matched his lacross # in college, which was how we connected–a short-lived Bromance that was much appreciated.

Loop Time: 6:52, 12th Place

Loop 5: Heading Home Loop!

One. More. Loop.

Keli greeted me at the end of Loop 4, helped me through a small pity party, got me changed, and I was off for the final loop. Here’s where the benefit of the loop course comes in. At the end of Fat Dog, I was pretty unsure of what lay ahead, how much more climbing I had to do, how far I had to go to get the next aid station, etc. This was tough on the mind. Here, I had a very good sense of distances and landmarks. (e.g. when I reach this fallen tree I’ve got 4 more switchbacks to the top, this climb takes 10 minutes at an easy pace, etc.).

The last loop is a celebratory loop in ways–this is the last time I have to make this climb, traverse this mud patch, cross this stream, etc. I bid a fond farewell to each aid station as I passed. Keli crewed me at the first aid station and then met me at the second one to run the last leg with me. As we climbed out she was worried that I was keeping the pace slow on her behalf. I assured her this was impossible. I eventually told her to run ahead because I wanted to slow down even more.

Once we’d reached the highest point of Leg 3, I let Keli push me to a much faster pace than I would otherwise have run. We passed the first place female and “sped” towards the finish. A kiss of the sign, a ring of the bell, and I was done!

Loop Time: 6:26, 9th Place.

It wasn’t.

Here are all my splits for the mathletes. Leg times are measured from time in to one aid station to time in to the next aid station–so Leg 1 times (except loop 1) include the longer break taken prior to beginning that loop. Bold underlined legs required headlamp use for at least a portion of it.

Leg 1 Leg 2 Leg 3 Loop Time Total Time
Loop 1 1:40:11 1:11:23 1:36:36 4:28:10 4:28:10
Loop 2 1:50:47 1:25:19 1:51:16 5:07:22 9:35:32
Loop 3 2:02:28 1:37:58 2:09:32 5:49:58 15:25:30
Loop 4 2:36:23 1:49:10 2:26:33 6:52:06 22:17:36
Loop 5 2:37:31 1:44:00 2:04:07 6:25:38 28:43:14


  1. I liked this race a lot more than I imagined I would. The loop setup required minimal logistical thought ahead of time. The loops are long enough, the terrain varied enough, and the jungle flora interesting enough that it did not feel boring. Knowing what lay ahead at the end was very helpful psychologically.
  2. Slow is good. Lack of drama: also good.
  3. I’m not typically a beach person, but I am after a 100 mile race.


America’s Friendliest Marathon

According to its website, the Richmond Marathon is “America’s Friendliest Marathon!” The quotation marks clue the reader in to the fact that this is an unofficial designation, and can a marathon itself really be friendly anyways? Anthropomorphization knows no bounds. I was skeptical.

Regardless, in early 2015 I signed up for this race with the intention of avenging my two barely-over-3-hour marathon efforts and finally breaking that barrier. Shortly after signing up, I discovered that a friend of ours would be getting married that weekend. I took advantage of the option to defer my entry to 2016 for a small fee.  Then in between, I got my sub-3 at the DC Rock and Roll marathon in March. All pressure was off.

Keli was running the half. We would be staying with friends of friends–the friends would be there too, running the half, and the friends of friends would be running the 8K. Our hosts picked up our packets for us on Friday and prepared a nice pre-race pasta meal at their home–they were super friendly. I slept well, getting close to 8 hours of sleep (a rarity before races and a good sign).

Race morning, we were able to park in a a garage, quite literally, 1 block from the starting line (smaller marathons are the best). The temperature was probably high 30s and was looking to warm up a little but stay below 50 for the duration of the race, which was a good sign for me. We spotted a gsp puppy (good sign), and I was able to relieve myself of a little weight in the port-a-potty (another good sign). Tired of good signs? Bad signs included (1) the fact that I accidentally dropped my clif block shots in said port-a-potty and (2) it was a bit windy, which could make things tougher. I still had 3 gels, so all nutrition was not lost.

The half-marathoners head off in several waves beginning at 7:30am, the marathon at 7:45am. I jogged up the sidelines two blocks and watched Keli and crew run by, then went back to wait by the start. Around 7:40am I noticed that there seemed to be more runners yet to start then could feasibly cross the starting line by 7:45am. Just at that moment, I overheard another marathoner ask about this, and I learned that the marathon in fact started two blocks away (this is the problem of having gracious hosts take care of all details for you). I made a dash for the real start, snaked my way through the crowds and hopped the barricade for the first wave with about 30 seconds to spare. Game on.

Oftentimes when a race has both a marathon and a half marathon option (my sample size was 2 before Richmond), the two races share the first ~12 miles and then deviate. A marathoner in this situation has to deal with the crushing reality that he/she has another 14 miles while watching the half marathoners peel off for their final mile. The worst. Richmond is great in that the two races run in parallel for just the first 2 miles. Then the marathoners split off, do their thing, and the two courses share the final 5 miles. Jealousy is less prominent.

The first half was relatively uneventful. You have about 2 miles in the less scenic downtown area, but you quickly get into some nice residential neighborhoods. You cross the St. James River just before mile 8, then you get the next 1.5 miles running right along the south side of the river on a heavily shaded wandering road, with zero urban sights in view. It’s lovely and it’s early enough in the race that you should probably still be feeling good.

I took down a gel around mile 5 then again at 10. Around the halfway mark I spotted a “candy tent” and snagged a handful of gummy bears to make up for the aforementioned port-a-potty gummies. I crossed the halfway mark at a 1:27:30 which was faster than I was planning, but I was feeling in control so I didn’t panic. yet. At mile 15, we turned north back over a bridge.

The next 3 miles were tough. It was a very slight but steady incline and it felt like we were going into a headwind the whole time (despite a 90 degree turn halfway in the middle). It might have actually been a stiff crosswind on the bridge, but bridges are agonizing. I had picked up one of the race’s gels, an “Accel Gel” before the bridge, and had it soon after the bridge. Its metallic aftertaste prevented it from receiving my official endorsement. One final gel at mile 21 represented the extent of my fueling, which seemed to work well.

We joined up with the half-marathoners at mile 21, and the course did a good job of having a line of cones down the middle of the road to keep the two groups separate. By this point, I knew sub 3 was assured, a PR was also virtually assured, and if I didn’t crash much, sub-2:55 was also very likely. And here is where the race really starts to get, dare I say, friendly. Though not pancake flat, it’s about as close as you can get (blueberry pancake flat?). I kept up very even splits from 21 to 25, and then began to push it after mile 25, which is slightly down hill (fastest mile for me!).

The final quarter mile is steep downhill; gravity does all the work if you can just lift your feet and deal with the debilitating knee pain (Strava said I was running a 5:17 mile pace at the end). I spotted Keli and crew on the sidelines, veered to the side to get some high-5’s before the final push and crossed the finish line in 2:53:12, a new PR by 5 minutes, bringing to an end what can only be described as the friendliest marathon I have ever run.

We made a quick exit, showered, rehydrated, caffeinated, and were ready for a productive day of beer mile training.

Fat Dog 2016!

I ran the Fat Dog 120(+2) in August. It was a tremendous success by all measures, so without further adieu, here are my 10 steps for a successful Fat Dog (portions of which are likely applicable to other similar races):

Step 1: Optimize non-running portions of the trip. For me, this consisted of linking up with a merry band of fellow runners (Marthon, Julian & Daniel) and planning a vacation with Keli after the race. Even if the race itself was a disaster, I knew the trip would be a success because  I would have fun before and after (I did). Plus, the guarantee of pre- and post-race fun mitigated the need to obsess over my performance. Less obsession with performance –> relaxation –> better performance.

Team Fat Dog!

Step 2: Don’t overtrain. I averaged about 50 miles / week leading up to Fat Dog, maxing out with 60-mile weeks on 3 occasions. I had 4 long runs: Holy Cowans 50K in May, Highlands Sky 40 miler in June, 28 miles of pacing at Hardrock and Catherine’s 50K in July. I had another few 18-20 mile runs but not many.

This sounds like a lot to me, but it’s definitely lower mileage than many other people; some people run more for half marathon training. I resisted peer pressure to run more on a few occasions (including those crazy Watkinses suggesting a back-to-back 50K the day after Catherine’s). I’ve built up my mileage very slowly over the course of years–not months or weeks–and I found that this amount of training, plus a healthy taper,  left me uninjured, happy, and rested. Post-race recovery was not all that bad either.

Step 3: Get Excited! You’ve gotta have a good amount of enthusiasm going into an event that will last a day and a half, and I had that. I didn’t let the adrenaline tire me out, but I did allow myself to get psyched up for this race in the weeks leading up and a bit at the start. The first minute of the race was probably the most exciting minute of my year, and really really wanting to do this race helped me throughout. Note: the last minute of the race was the most relieving minute of my year.

Step 4: Stay cool; don’t look cool. In thinking of what might lead to failure, I was most worried about the sun and overheating (that contributed to my demise at Bighorn last year). So I donned a really nerdy hat that covered my ears and neck and rocked some newly-acquired arm sleeves. I’ve appeared more stylish in races, but I think the sun protection was very helpful.

Step 5: Stop and smell the flowers. This race is incredibly beautiful. The vast majority is on nice trails, there are wildflowers galore and beautiful vistas when you get up high on the major climbs. We even got a clear night with thousands of stars and a meteor shower. Enjoy it. Slow down and take pictures. The pictures never do it justice, but it keeps you going slow, and you’ve gotta go slow to go fast.

Scenic Death March
This guy has the right idea
Flowers for days

Step 6: Eat lots of Bannock. Mmmmm, so delicious. I almost retraced my footsteps to get more from the aid station after I left. In addition to that fried, bready goodness covered in fresh blackberry jam, I thought the food at the aid stations was great. Bacon galore. Lots of variety. I don’t overthink my nutrition, but I generally had success in fueling throughout the race.

Step 7: Stay positive. Attitude matters, so I told Keli my #1 goal was to come in and leave (well, at a minimum, leave) each aid station with a smile on my face. I definitely allowed myself some pouting and self pity on the course, but I figured forcing myself to be happy at regular intervals would help my overall psyche. I achieved this goal at all aid stations, with the exception of the last one, at which there would be only frowns and bug bites.

Step 8: Rely on the kindness of strangers & new friends. Attitude only gets you so far; sometimes you need a little help. All of the aid station workers and runners were super friendly (it was an ultra, and it was in Canada, duh). But, I got a few notable boosts along the way:

1) At the first major aid station (Mile 18), Julian’s crew of Nicki and Ann were there to help get me nourished, refill my bottles, and give me encouragement. Even without the promised pom-poms, they gave me a big shot of energy going into the next section, which was a tough one.

2) Work constraints made Keli have to fly out the morning of the race and was supposed to meet me at the next major aid station (Mile 41), but United Airlines had other ideas, so I found myself alone (she missed me by 4 minutes!). As I was looking around for Keli, Hannah and Jack swooped in to help me get changed and geared up for the night. Hannah also shuttled my drop bag to the next major aid station for me.

3) Finally, I fell victim to bad blisters (for the first time ever really), and I was a bit of a mess coming through the Nicomen Lake Aid Station in the middle of the night. A volunteer there gave me a few of her own bandages to get me through the next 15 miles (I got the full treatment at a major aid station the next morning). I’d also forgotten to pack some Advil, but on the way out another runner saw me hobbling and offered up some of his own stash, which was critical for making it through the night.

It’s amazing how much these little acts of kindness help out.

Step 9: Have a good pacer. On the whole, I felt great and could have managed all alone had the race been a mere 100 miles, but I was losing steam big time as I approached the final section, which had lots of climbs and would get some exposure to the hot afternoon sun. Luckily Martha was there to pace me after helping crew in the first half of the day. Martha enjoys conversation, so I knew that she’d have no trouble distracting me for those final 20 miles, no matter how long it took. But she also knew that sometimes a suffering runner just needs silence, so before the race, she armed me with a safe word (i.e. short, profanity-laced sentence) that I could use to demand quiet if needed.

non-verbal manifestation of the safe word at mile ~105

Despite claims of being a bad pacer, Martha was great. She reminded me to eat and hydrate; she told good stories; she told one horrible story, then during quiet contemplation reformulated that story into a 15-minute masterpiece. I never came close to using the safe word in large part because Martha could intuit when I was suffering, and she herself would suggest halts in conversation/monologue that lasted five, even upwards of ten minutes–a veritable ultramarathon of silence for her.

And finally, it never came to it, but she was prepared to defend my honor, possibly with violence, in the final stages of the race: first when a chipper 40-miler was gushing over the beauty of the course as I sat on a log, looking deep within my soul and my bag of trailmix, trying to muster enough strength for the last 5 miles. And again in the final mile when overzealous course markers nearly tripped me up in a frantic effort to line the course with glow sticks… an hour before sundown. (And she also provided 50% of the photos that appear in this post).

Step 10: Have a great crew. It should be noted that anyone that serves as a crew is almost certainly an excellent person. Obviously, they help speed things up / eliminate chaos at each aid station: your drop bag needs no retrieval, bladders are refilled, food is brought to you, packs are cleaned of trash, etc. etc. If they really really like you, they may even massage your tired legs. Life in the aid station is good and efficient.

If, on top of this, you recognize the utter selflessness of crewing, you may feel compelled to repay crew by 1) not dropping unless absolutely necessary (they have invested their time for your success) and 2) moving as quickly as possible to minimize their waiting time. And if you genuinely like your crew, then, in those few miles before an aid station when you may be feeling sluggish, you may have even more motivation to keep moving to see a friendly face.

And if, on top of all of this, your crew is someone who not only is supporting you in the race in question, but also has supported you in multiple other races, and supports you in all non-running aspects of your life as well, then that is a comforting thing to think about and can give you a healthy dose of perspective when you want to amputate your feet in the middle of the night: what you are suffering through is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. So while I may not approve of Fat Dog’s slogan, I do think that having the above perspective does in fact help you to “suck it up” at low points.

All of the above applied to me at Fat Dog, and I could not ask for a better crew chief than Keli. After the race, we got to explore Whistler & Vancouver, where we had a grand old time, hiking, biking, drinking, eating, and singing our favorite new song (courtesy of Martha) a bit more than we’d probably care to admit.

Recovery hike with my crew.

References and some practical bonus advice:

11: poles were helpful for the last 20 miles but I didn’t need/want them before that.

12: the race organizers take the mandatory gear list pretty seriously (and it sounds like it was all needed in 2015), so I wouldn’t try to cheat it. It’s not horrible but you should probably practice carrying extra weight in training.

13: Save your quads and go slow on the first few descents. 120 miles is a long way.

14: The ‘flat’ section from ~80 – 100 is a lot less flat than you would hope.

Photos I took from the first 40 miles

Professional Photos from the race.

Elevation profile in feet and employing a more useful scale than the one on the website.

If you’re considering running it, do it!

On Goals

On Goals

The Goal

Once the dust of Hellgate settled, I gave myself two running goals for 2016. One is to finish the Fat Dog 120 in August out in British Columbia. I am 0 for 1 in long races out West, so I’ve got a healthy dose of respect for and fear of this race. But it looks absolutely beautiful, there’s a good group going, and Keli and I may make a longer vacation out of it, so I’m really looking forward to it.

My other goal was to run a sub 3 hour marathon. I ran a 3:00:42 in Charleston in 2012 and then a 3:00:26 at Boston in 2013 and hadn’t tried to go faster since then. I’ve spent the last two years dipping my toes into and then fully immersing myself into the trail running / ultra world, largely leaving the roads behind. But the marathon does hold a special place in my heart–that’s what got me into running–and my PR seemed too close to the 3 hour mark to just let it sit there. I was only partially looking forward to this.

I picked the DC Rock and Roll Marathon to give it a go. The plan was to get down to business in January and February: eat healthy, do some marathon-specific training with some longer runs on roads, maybe some hill repeats on Joey’s hill (which the race would pass through). The reality was not close to the plan. No dedicated speedwork / hills to speak of; holiday food galore; weddings; travel, etc. I did have a good 3 week stretch with some solid runs, and I kept up running fairly consistently, but I tended not to rearrange my life in favor of training.

The Race

In the end, I arrived at race day unsure of how I would perform. On the one hand, I assumed my legs were generally much stronger than they were 3 years ago, but on the other hand, I hadn’t trained specifically for this race or for speed in general. I probably hadn’t run a total of 26 individual sub-7 minute miles in the past year. I wasn’t sure which side would win out, but I figured I had a decent shot, particularly since the weather cooled off and it looked like it would remain cloudy all day (it did).

My plan was to run the first half in 1:30, and then try to crank it up in the second half, and hope my legs and mind would carry me through. In my previous two 3-hour marathons, I’d given myself a good cushion at the halfway point, only to crash and burn in the final miles. Unlike my attempt at a serious training regimen, my race plan would be executed well.

I got some crowd support from my Dad in Rock Creek, made it up Joey’s hill at mile 6 just fine, got some more support from Keli, Melisa and other friends on North Capitol Street, and I’d shared much of the race from mile 4 onward with Robin and Martha, so things were going smoothly.

Martha and I bid a jealous adieu to Robin–she was running the half–where the two races diverged, and we came through the halfway point just a little behind 1:30. So far so good. Two pace bikes emerged and ultimately indicated that Martha was the second female. She seemed pleasantly surprised/cautiously optimistic. A few spectators let out a “Girl Power!” cry as we cruised through Capitol Hill, which presumably gave Martha power but conferred no benefits on me.

Soon after we entered the out-and-back section at miles ~15-17, we saw Aaron on his way back towards us. He was looking good (he went on to finish a solid 8th in 2:45), gave us some encouragement, and we continued on waiting to see how far ahead the first place female would be. Female #1 was looking strong when we crossed paths with her around mile 16, and though I botched timing how far ahead she was (my brain not good during the marathons), it was a good 3-4 minutes. Outwardly, Martha seemed content to hang back in 2nd, but internally may felt differently. We continued along our way.

Around mile 18, I noticed that a bird had pooped on my shorts, which is good luck? or not. But it was an appropriate metaphor for the current mood that was setting in. My legs were protesting a bit from the pounding of the roads, and I started to plant seeds of doubt in my head. During this stretch, I was doing my best just to keep up with Martha.  The race thins out a lot in the second half, and had I been running alone, I don’t know if I could have kept it up the pace (that happened to me late in the race at Charleston, another small marathon). So I fought a mile or two of pain, determined not to fall back. Ultimately, I took down a gel and some Gatorade, which helped a lot, and as we came through mile 20, Martha told me we just had to run the last 10K in 45 minutes to break 3. It didn’t seem quite “in the bag” as she noted, but it did seem very achievable.

good aim.

There’s a gradual ~0.5 mile loop at this point at the end of Anacostia Park, and as we were coming out the back end of it, I caught a glimpse of the lead female’s two pace bikes less than a minute up ahead, just before they turned the corner out of view. I wasn’t sure if Martha had seen that, but I kept quiet since 1) she seemed to be in the zone (it was a rare silent Martha sighting) 2) I figured at this pace, we would catch her in a few minutes and 3) let’s be honest, I was working too hard to talk much.

Sure enough, we crossed paths with the leader as we came to a U-turn around mile 21. Then as we approached Fort Dupont park around 22, Martha kicked it up a gear and pulled into first never to look back. By the time we crested the final peak in the park, second place was a good 100+ yards behind. We’d separated from each other a little bit by this point–Martha had a race to win–and coming down the descent from that last hill, I didn’t try to keep up.

By now, I was confident I would make it and I felt myself ease up just a tiny bit, still keeping under 7:00 miles. I would spend the last ~3 miles running alone with Martha just ahead. Somewhere between 24 and 25, I heard a voice behind me and turned to see Keli riding up behind me. We chatted a little but she wisely told me to stop talking and cruised alongside me, giving encouragement, until peeling off just before the finish.

1/2 mile to go. it’s gonna happen!

Coming down the final chute, the crowd gave me a huge ovation–okay, fine, maybe it was for Martha who was about to break the tape despite the efforts of the guy behind her (not me). But the roar was inspiring nonetheless, and I crossed the finish line in 2:58:07. hurray!

The Aftermath

I envisioned two scenarios going into this race: a painful suffer-fest in which I managed to slip in under 3 hours or a painful suffer-fest in which I didn’t make it under 3 hours. I didn’t imagine the possibility of a non-suffer-fest. Now, I’m not going to say it was easy, but apart from ~2 miles of pain and self-doubt, the race went incredibly smoothly and overall was, dare I say, very fun. And, soon after the race, I couldn’t help asking myself… could I go faster?

I think the answer is yes. I averaged 30-35 miles a week in the two months before the race and topped out at 51 miles. Most of this was quality running (trails with hills, harder running on roads, running a few miles on a full stomach after WUS). But there are people on the Strava doing much more mileage. Plus, with two big hills, the course is not a fast one.

So then… do I want to go faster? Again, the answer is yes, but I am not sure to what extent. This is a little bit of an oversimplification, but I’ve derived enjoyment from running in two ways: 1) the satisfaction of working towards a goal and achieving it and 2) the actual enjoyment of running (this isn’t a particularly profound thought, I don’t think).

Both aspects have always been a part, but the balance has changed a lot over time. In the beginning, I was very much focused on #1. I watched the Marine Corps Marathon one year, decided I wanted to run one and ultimately qualify for Boston. And I did (eventually!) and it was great. But I enjoyed going out for runs primarily because I saw them as a stepping stone to achieving the goal I set for myself.

The desire to set goals and work towards them is still there (uh, that’s what this post is about), but in recent years, the balance has shifted much more towards enjoying running for the sake of running. Short runs alone help me relax and clear my head, WUS is a welcome mid-week break, and weekend runs in Rock Creek are as much a time for socializing and animal watching as they are for training.

All of which is to say: there’s still a part of me that will want to push myself to go faster, but there’s a larger part that will probably be resistant to serious non-fun training, and would be very mad at myself if I got overzealous and injured myself trying to shave a few minutes off my marathon time. But, as I said, I actually had a lot of fun in the race, so we will see…

Congrats to Martha on her victory! Thanks for dragging me to a sub-3 finish. Sorry I ate your chips. The worst part is, they weren’t even that good.

Oh, that reminds of potential Goal #3: Get a Wardian-type record for running Hellgate in a birthday hat on my birthday…

Two Paths to 3:21 at MCM

I ran my first ever marathon at the Marine Corps Marathon in 2007 in 3:21:39. This year I managed to crush that time by 6 seconds coming off of Grindstone just two weeks ago. I started a little slower, but was feeling okay and wanted some therapeutic suffering, so I slowly ramped up my effort. Still very far from my PR, but given the circumstances, it felt very good to run this time and in this manner. And it’s a PR on this course. Here’s my strava log of it.

I went back and pulled out my splits from 2007 from the website, and here is my overall average pace plotted against distance for both years. Look how smart I’ve become. 2015 was much more enjoyable than 2007.


Maybe next year I’ll go for the elusive 3 hours here. But they’re moving the expo to the National Harbor, which is a huge letdown…

Begin Transmission

Why did I create this blog?

Probably 95% of what I write on this will be related to running and other outdoor adventures I may have. The reasons for wanting to do this in the form of a blog are:

  1. When I’m running a new race, particularly longer ones, I enjoy scouring the interwebs for race reports to help prepare me for the great unknown. Since I find other people’s race reports helpful and at times entertaining, perhaps other people may too find these reports helpful. But probably not entertaining.
  2. I want to become a better, or maybe smarter, runner so writing these should theoretically help me reflect on things I did well, did poorly, etc.
  3. Since my memory won’t last forever, I want to document what is a very important, fun part of my life, and this lets me put it in one clean place, with links and photos and cool formatting if I can figure it all out.
  4. I want to get better at putting thoughts into words–I sometimes think too long even when writing simple emails. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll eventually open up and opine on other facets of life. And I believe openness is a good thing, in theory.