Trail and Ultra Running in the Post-Krupicka Climate

Jim Walmsley Paul Nelson
Photo: Paul Nelson

 

There seems to be somewhat of a distinction forming— a line being etched across the dirt.  The community as whole seems unusually divided.  The comment sections of seemingly every article slowly gestating toward the inevitable.  Even places normally reserved for congratulations and respect, like Strava runs, are seen exploding into 40 comment arguments.  I haven’t been running for very long so I’m not exactly a historian when it comes to the cultural swings and relative zeitgeist of the mountain ultra community, but I’m starting to feel like we’re at a crossroads.  

I’m a bit ashamed to admit, when I first got into running it was really because of Born to Run.  I was in a post-college basketball funk where I hadn’t figured out what I was going to do athletically and was getting incredibly sedentary, bored and fat.  I was primed and ready for somebody like Chris McDougall to tell me that I was designed by evolution to run, so I should probably be running.  It made sense to me.  I don’t have any problem doing things that make sense. Plus, it felt really good and it got me outside in the mountains— at first I didn’t even think about running on the road, it wasn’t even an option, I wanted the romanticized spiritual experience that McDougall was selling along with a pair of minimalist shoes.  

Pretending I was a tarahumara certainly kept me running everyday and was getting me into great shape and calming me down and having tons of other positive side-effects, but I seriously doubt I would have tried to push my running as far as I have without Tony Krupicka. The runners that I knew about at the time were people from Born to Run, like Scott Jurek, but I had yet to even pick up a running magazine or look at an ultra running website.  I really didn’t know much about the culture of the sport at all.  

Then I ran my first ultra and the race director put a three-month-old issue of TrailRunner Magazine in the swag bag.  The big story inside was the 2013 Speedgoat 50k matchup between Anton Krupicka and Sage Canaday (where Anton gets beat by 90 seconds and they run the fastest two times ever on the course).

So then I get introduced to these guys and it’s already very apparent how different they are: Sage is wearing maximal shoes, a fanny pack, long(ish) and a sleeveless tech shirt.  Anton is wearing some New Balance Mt100s that he probably whittled the heel down on and the smallest pair of shorts he can find.  He’s got long hair and beard.  Sage is clean shaven with a stupid hair cut.

Speedgoat podium 2013
2013 Speedgoat 50k podium (From left: Krupicka, Canaday and Jason Schlarb) Photo: Billy Yang

A little more research produced more of the same: Sage talked about running on the track while  Tony talked about a spiritual connection with the mountains.  Sage was doing hill repeats on graded fire roads and Tony was tagging every 14er in sight.  Tony has other aspirations in the mountains: climbing, skiing— hiking when he was injured.  Sage Canaday seems like the type of dude to pick running on an Alter-g treadmill in physical therapist’s office over going on a hike and has no other aspirations in the mountains from what I can tell. (Side note: I’m not trying to single out Sage Canaday for some reason, this was just how my experience happened. I think Sage is an amazing runner, obviously.)

At this point, I pretty much wanted to be Tony Krupicka.  He’s the basically the coolest dude in the world.  He was out there talking about running like a buddhist philosopher and then toeing the line on race day and crushing everybody’s souls.  He was some mythical legend, sleeping in his car at trailheads all summer and running every big peak in short shorts and no water bottle,  taking routes that most people would be roped-up on.  He slept on the floor of a buddy’s hotel room then won the Miwok 100 the next day to punch a WS100 ticket.

He was the definition of minimalism. He needed less than everybody else and he was still going to perform the best.  Kilian was and never will be what Tony Krupicka was for a few years there: a true mountain runner.  Tony was running in the winter still, he wasn’t skiing yet.  He was literally running in the mountains everyday and, in the summer at least, showering in the river.  He just embodied this certain ideal.  He lived and breathed the mountains.  Like he would rather not run than step on a treadmill or a track and he would most certainly choose to forgo shoes altogether before lacing up a pair of Hokas.  

TK Scramble Rob Timko
Photo: Rob Timko

Then we lost Tony. I realize this is an entirely selfish point of view.  I don’t care.   We need him now more than ever and I want him to come back.  As his old self.   At the very least, I’d love to see him running again, with his newly-honed climbing and biking proficiency, he’d undoubtedly be doing some insane running/biking/climbing projects that nobody else would have the skill set for.   But as of right now, there’s nobody to fill his shoes.

I hesitate to even mention it so early on but he has, ever since his recent trip to Chamonix, been logging some solid runs in the mountains.  He has put multiple runs over three-plus hours on Strava in the past couple weeks and he seems to be holding up.  So there’s that.  Could be something. Fingers crossed.

I read an interesting article by Chase Parnell where he talks about the dichotomy in ultra running and just reading it, I get the sense that if Tony were still his former self, this debate would be a lot less heated.  The purist-mountain runner side has no one to carry our flag. Walmsley and Co. seem to be growing by the day (thanks to Rob Krar, according to Tony Krupicka].  We should make hats like surfers did when Laird Hamilton re-popularized paddle boarding, ours will say “Blame Rob”).  And all us mountain purist people have to either site Krupicka circa-2010 or hope that Killian beats Walmsley at UTMB.  

TK Speedgoat Matt Trappe
Photo: Matt Trappe

Chase spends a lot of time talking about the difference in technicality of the races and making predictions about certain match-ups in the mountains and I certainly agree with what he’s saying.  There’s no way Kilian gets beats by Walmsely because Kilian won’t line up for a race that Walmsely is going to win.  Kilian likes steep, super technical stuff.  I ran The Rut, that shit is not flat.  There’s a better chance we see Kim Kardashian line up for Western States than Kilian again.

But I think he’s missing the point about this whole debate.  Tony Krupicka was so special because he transcended running.  Tony was so much more.  Tony Krupicka was like a religion, a lifestyle.  Listen to any podcast that he’s on and the hosts alway ask the same questions: trying to decipher his lifestyle and unlock the code to his success.  He lived the dream and he did it for the right reasons.  He respected, humbled himself to, drew motivation from and exclusively ran in the mountains.  It was pure and it was beautiful.

At first, I was mad about the whole Tony Krupicka thing.  Then, I realized that I was being ridiculous and selfish. Sure, he had completely abandoned most things that seemed to give him so much success early on in his career and made ridiculous statements about how old he is and how his “body can’t take the pounding it used to” when there are numerous examples of people much older than him running much more, some exclusively in the mountains and some at a much faster pace (like Mike Wardian).  But at the end of the day, none of that shit is my business.

Thinking about this (and spending entirely too much time in comments sections reading about this) recently has highlighted the fact that even a small community like ultrarunning—where most of the famous runners are essentially no-names to the general population— is still an incredibly celebrity driven culture.  We’re obsessed.  It’s a problem.  Why does everyone care so much?

jim-walmsley
The man of the moment, Photo: Clif Bar

I loved being inspired by Tony Krupicka.  I still go back and read his old Runner’s World blog posts when I’m feeling especially unmotivated.  But if I don’t have my own very real reasons for wanting to go running everyday, for wanting to spend time in the mountains, nobody else is going to be able to get me there.  Everyone gets to pick which races they run (for the most part, lotteries can be a bitch) and everyone gets to pick where they devote their own time, effort and money.

Regardless of where the community as a whole swings, or regardless of who graces the magazine covers, there will always be people on the fringe, people who spurn the establishment for a more pure, simplistic style.  People who draw their motivation from a different well.  Breathe the air a little more deeply.  And they probably belonged out on the fringe all along, where they prefer to be.

 

Afternoon Delight

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“Wait.  You want me to put cheese slices in your milkshake?” The confused looking teenager asked, glancing sideways at me across the white counter, shocks of his disheveled hair sticking in every direction from underneath his paper In-N-Out hat.

“Yeah.” I replied, “But you have to melt the cheese first.  If you just put the cheese slice in the milkshake, I won’t be able to drink it.”

He stared at me for a couple of seconds before turning his back and walking toward the closest grill, throwing two thick slices of american cheese on to it, and then pacing back toward the milkshake machine.  A couple minutes later, I was on my bike, cruising down Washington Blvd toward the beach, slowly sucking strawberry milkshake through a straw.

I was about to go on a run.  Normally, I prefer to eat nothing or maybe a banana before running, but today was a special occasion.  It was the first day of spring break.  The area where I was set to go running would be a complete shit-show: tourists everywhere along the bike path and boardwalk, lost Uber drivers weaving unpredictably in and out of traffic trying to find their fares, huge groups of people dumping off of tour busses and just your average can’t-be-bothered-to-look-up-from-my-cell-phone unaware idiots.

Normally on days like this, I make it a point to get my run in before 8am.  If that doesn’t happen, I end up experiencing some sort of run-rage:  kicking cars, yelling at bikers, snorting disapprovingly at selfie-takers and generally announcing things to people that I feel they should be more aware of.

It isn’t good for my mental health.  Running is an escape for me, I usually do it in the mountains.  I have learned over the years that if I need to go on a run in a situation like this, I need a recourse.  I can’t be yelling at people.  Even when people are blatantly ignoring simple rules of etiquette and common decency, I don’t like to tell people what to do.

And I shouldn’t have to.  But they still need to be taught a lesson.  They need some sort of accountability.  And I need something to ensure the worst offenders are dealt with.  For mental health’s sake.  Enter american cheese/strawberry milkshake.

My bike locked up, I sucked the last of the pinkish goop through the straw, tossed the cup in a trash can, pulled my shirt over my head and took off on my jog.  It was a gorgeous day, 72 degrees and with a slight onshore breeze and just a nip of humidity in the air making it feel closer to 68.

I headed down the palm tree-lined street, straight for the beach and as I approached the intersection in front me, I was fortunate enough to have the light change and was greeted with a big, bright walking man in the crosswalk sign.  The car sitting at the light started to pull forward with their left blinker on, looking to turn left.  I had noticed the large Uber symbol in the back window and so I immediately knew this person had no idea where they were and was totally reliant on gps to get anywhere (meaning they would be looking at their phone, not where they were going) and remained vigilant.

Sure enough, just as my first foot landed on the striped asphalt of the crosswalk, the driver apparently got new information and decided he wanted to turn right.  He didn’t signal or look, he just went (having to perform a u-turn at the next light would be devastating) cutting back across the crosswalk, barely making it into his own lane, only missing me because I came to a complete stop.  He still had no idea I was even there.  There was a large cat sitting in his lap and two huge phones sticking out of the dashboard on holders.

I started running soon enough to pull parallel to the rear of the car, I had just enough time.  I cocked my head back to the left, covered my left nostril with two fingers and let the first one go.   A huge projectile ball of thick pink snot went fluttering across the open space between my face and the rear window of the black Prius.  It splattered upon impact, the main glob sticking to the center of the window while edges started dripping down in a mess of pinkish goo. Bingo. It didn’t look bloody yet, but I knew the strawberry milkshake just needed a little more time to work.   I was shooting 100% early in this run.  Feeling good, salty breeze in the air, I headed down toward the boardwalk.

I hit the bike path and hung a hard right, headed northbound, the outline of the Santa Monica Mountains silhouetted across the hazy horizon line.  Directly ahead of me on the path, I could see what seemed to be a traffic jam.  There was a large congestion of bikes stopped in the middle of the path, halting all traffic coming from both directions.  I weaved in and out of a few bikes until I could see what was causing the jam:  a group of five or six twentysomethings were crowded around a single cell phone that was extended in an arm from the center of the group.

They had stopped in the middle of the bike path to get a selfie, something that required blocking both lanes, mere feet away from a safe boardwalk with plenty of room and no flow of traffic.  I gathered my ammunition steadily with a few well-timed nostril inhalations.  I approached the rear of the group and veered to their right, covered my right nostril and let a rocket go from my left nostril.  It hung heavy in the air before splattering on the back of the last guy in the group.

A bit of commotion ensued, signaling that he might have realized what just happened.  I was busy weaving through the middle of the group and out the left side, placing two fingers on my left nostril and with a slightly-cocked head, sent a huge glob of snot directly onto cell phone of the selfie taker.  It exploded across the back of the phone and sent a stream of red-yellow mucus streaming down her arm.  She looked dazed… then angry.  I sprinted away to the sounds of screaming and commotion.  Luckily for me, their selfie stop had caused such a traffic jam on the bike path, they had no chance of catching up to me any time soon.

Three for three. I was feeling hot.  Sure, the targets were easy (I was effectively shooting layups at this point) but it still felt good to dish out a little old-fashioned snot rocket justice on inconsiderate and unaware idiots.   Just as the phlegm began to reconvene in my sinuses, I spotted an interesting situation unfolding in the bike path ahead.

In one of the pedestrian crosswalks that bisects the path, there was a fat woman wearing a yellow bikini crossing with her two sons.  One of the children was halfway across when he decided to sit down.  Bikes and runners traveling southbound started slowing to a stop, waiting for the child to move.

The mother, who was behind her son, stopped in the crosswalk as well, blocking northbound traffic and started screaming at her son: “You’re in the way!” and “Move!”.  She had her arm outstretched and was pointing at the jam of bikes he had just caused, completely oblivious to the pile-up she was causing behind her.

As I approached, weaving through the traffic they were causing, the mother was no closer to her son and had still made no effort to pick up her confused toddler and move him from harm’s way. He was crying very loudly.  Screaming, really.

I covered my left nostril firmly just as she shouted, “Get out of the way!” at the top of her lungs and sent a tight ball of firm pink snot shooting towards her.  It hit her exposed shoulder and exploded like a water balloon, sending mucus globbing down her arm and back.  I could have sworn I heard some cheering from the congestion as I darted out of sight down the path.  Keepin’ it 100.  Unprecedented accuracy.  I was in the zone.

I jogged a couple uneventful miles, enjoying the ocean breeze and the mild temps.  Despite his early reticence, the In-N-Out employee ended up putting together a perfect concoction of thick-sliced American cheese and creamy, real ice cream milkshake.  The balls of snot conglomerated to a seemingly impossible size and held together perfectly as the flew through the air, only releasing on impact.  I tipped my Patagonia duckbill cap to him as I looked for a final target.

I had one solid piece of ammunition left; one that had been coalescing for the past couple miles and had finally gathered toward the end of my nostril, sitting prime to be ejected.  I turned my back toward the beach and headed inland, toward the traffic.  I approached the first intersection to find approximately 40 people waiting to cross the street.  I was still about 100 yards back when the light changed and they were given their little white man symbol to start walking.

Waiting at the light to turn right was a red convertible Maserati. The driver was incredibly irked that he had to wait for these people to cross.  He tried to jump out in front of everyone, and as that failed, I saw him throw his arms up in disgust.  He had to wait. System check: I slowly inhaled through my nose.  All systems were go.

The driver of the red convertible Maserati wanted to make sure that everyone knew how inconvenient this was for him, so he refused to sit and wait, he slowly kept inching forward into the crosswalk as the people walked past him.  By the time I approached, at the tail end of the the crossing pack, he was halfway into the crosswalk, still slowly inching forward, refusing to stop and wait for the pedestrians with the right of way to cross.

I only need three steps in the crosswalk to eclipse the front of his car, I was banking on the fact that as soon as I passed, he would slam the gas pedal to the floor and continue to his back-waxing appointment or wherever a dude that drives a Maserati goes.  To buy designer sunglasses?…

He did.  As soon as I was a fraction of an inch clear, he gunned it, cranking it hard right to get back into the first lane.  I stopped immediately in the middle of the intersection, pivoted on a dime and, my right hand already covering my nostril, unleashed the granddaddy of all the snot rockets that day, right toward the open cab of the car.

Time seemed to slow down.  The pinkish glob hung in the air for a moment, the sun reflecting off of it, turning it red.  For a split-second, I thought it might disintegrate in the air before reaching its target.  It was a huge, bulbous blob, way too big to be obeying the laws of physics, and it was somehow, someway holding together and floating toward the driver.

It almost hit him.  Instead, it hit the back of the headrest on the passenger side.  When it exploded I thought I could see and entire slice of American cheese being stretched inside it.  His white leather interior was suddenly stained pink.  His face, shoulders and chest were covered with snot, as well as the entire backseat.

He slammed on his brakes and stopped in the middle of the street, looking stunned.  He examined the damage like he had just been shot.  He didn’t know what to do.  The driver behind him honked.

I, on the other hand, felt like Michael Jordan in game six of the 1998 NBA finals.  I was floating.  I arrived back at home feeling refreshed, phlegm-free and utterly satisfied with my running experience.  Perfect way to kick off spring break.  Snot rockets in flight, it truly was an afternoon delight.

innnout
The perfect ammunition.

 

An Inconvenient Truth

“Ha ha. 6k? That’s like four miles. Four miles is a joke.”

I was wheezing so heavily through my nose that I thought my left nostril might rip.  It, meaning my nostril, was beginning to feel like loose skin flapping in the wind each time I was fortunate enough to begin exhaling the oxygen–nay, CO2– that was trapped in my lungs, stretching the shit out of my diaphragm and forcing the aforementioned wheeze out of my flapping left nostril.  I refused to breathe through my mouth.  This was a training run.  This was way below my (self)prescribed distance. I’m an ultra runner. I run 100 miles a week.  Four miles is a joke.

I was never a cross country runner.  I didn’t come from this background.  I began running largely as an escape, an attempt to get away from the bullshit.  I needed to get away from my phone, away from my boss and away from anyone who wanted to contact me.  I ran from people and for myself.  Then, a time came in my running career where performance started to become a bit more important.

Running was now a habit.  I had run everyday for three years.  I was enamored with the simplicity, the solitude and the brain chemistry.  In fact, I was addicted to all three.  A couple of my more scientifically inclined friends started referring to me as a junkie.  I was after the brain chemistry, they said. I needed the dopamine to function like a normal human being, they said.  I couldn’t be trusted to control my reactions in everyday situations unless I had run for at least three or four hours, they said.

As I had ascended to this level of junkie, I was clearly ready to have more performance-based aspirations.  So what to do?  I felt like my running had plateaued a bit.  I was running consistently and I was maintaining a solid weekly mileage, yet I still felt like there was something missing… an unexplored side of my craft.

heroes6k

“Fuck that shit!”

Was my initial response to my wife’s inquiry of whether or not I’d like to run a 6k race for her work.

“You realize I’m currently training to run a 100k, right?  And you furthermore realize what a big fucking deal I am, right?  I mean, I might have a good– if not relatively good– chance of finishing in the top 20 of a trail race in which 99.99999% of people have no idea exists and if they did realize it existed would (somehow) care less about it?”

Long story short, I lost my argument and I was toeing the line with a few hundred other runners on a balmy September morning in the Santa Monica Mountains at the Heroes in Recovery 6k.  I’m not exactly one to make excuses *cough cough* but I had like 65 miles on my legs already that week and I was entering this race with far less knowledge of the distance than was ideal.  My shortest race to date was a marathon and I only had one of those tacked to a 15-race resume.

The crowd around Paramount Ranch wiggled, the gun went off, and the participants of the Heroes in Recovery 6k danced their ways down the trail.  I stayed with the first group, probably six or seven guys, for the first kilometer of so, until the first mildly sustained climb, at which point I looked down at my watch and saw that I was pushing a 5:40/pace.  Way too slow.

I dug into the hill and passed a couple runners on the ascent, sucking wind heavily as we crested the small peak, grateful to fall into the descent down into the tiny valley below.  I did my best Scott Jurek impressions and kept the wheels turning, owning the transition, and started my climb out of the low valley when I glanced at my watch.  I had only run for .86 of a mile.  And I was about ready to puke.  I certainly wanted to stop.  It was reminiscent of the latter stages of an ultra for me.

But this wasn’t an ultra.  This was a 20-min race.  I needed to get it together.  I was rolling.  The hills at Paramount Ranch certainly were.  The elevation on my Suunto was.  My stomach felt like one of Kanye’s waves.   Then, I saw a runner ahead of me.  I couldn’t really breathe.  But I felt like I had to go.  There he was.  I had a little climb, my advantage.  Next thing I knew, he was behind me.  My nostril was flapping.  I couldn’t breathe.

Mind numbing pain.  The hysterical sucking for air.  Loss of limb function and general motor control.  Theatrical vomit sensitivity. All things I was taking for granted the first few years of my running career.  It was mostly mountain tops and sunsets and easy mountain mornings over coffee… ridgeline traverses and butterflies floating on descents into lush valleys.  Summits and sunsets.  Now, I tasted pennies and blood in my mouth and I wanted nothing more than to stop running. Immediately.

But I couldn’t.  There’s some asshole ahead of me with his tank top hanging around his neck like it’s a fucking a cape and he thinks he’s the flash and he seems to be slowing down a bit and I really really want to pass him.  I also really don’t want to yack on my shoes.

I kept pushing my legs, looking for my turnover like a fat kid in a Pillsbury factory as we switched back onto a little ridge and dropped steeply into a wide gully that I immediately recognized as the single aid station on the course.  I wondered why it was only a kilometer in as I blew past at an unsustainably fast pace only a few minutes ago but I guess it made sense now as I lollipopped back out with only a kilo to go.

Despite any pain I was feeling, there was no chance I was letting off the gas. I was feeling alive.  Lungs and stomach be damned.  Like I previously made clear, it’s fucking 6k. Less than thirty minutes. Let’s go. This is what I came for.

I slowed a bit to take in the commotion that was mostly the overweight, hiking contingent of race crowded around the oasis, still only a .62 of a mile into the race, refreshing themselves on electrolytes and refined sugar, when I noticed, in my periphery, a runner cresting the lip and plummeting toward me at breakneck speed.  The runner in front of me was just exiting the climb out of the valley and out of sight and I had this sweat-inducing vision of being passed and the two runners in front of me battling it out, gladiator style, sprinting barrell-chested toward the finish line with the requisite scantily clad women cheering them in as I gasp for air and vomited on myself in the dirt a few hundred yards back, just out of sight (and mind).

As that outcome seemed less than ideal, I decided I needed to stop being a pussy.  I had less than four minutes of running left and I was on the verge of passing one runner and about to be eclipsed by another.  I was in the heat of battle like I had never really been in an ultra, at least in such close proximity, where runners are usually spread over vast distances and regularly stop for significant amount of times at aid stations.  No, this was different, and it was fun.

It was a similar adrenaline rush that I feel at the beginning of a race, with all the people around pushing hard, but this was complete with the late race brain chemistry (I had been going for a bit), the simultaneous feeling of being chased and hunting someone else, all coupled with that amazing smell of the barn (I had pushed and I was ready to be done– and it was close).

Despite the sense of stomach bile rising steadily up my throat, I couldn’t help but smile.  I was having fun.  I was running, I was racing, I was testing myself against other people and natural terrain.  It didn’t get much better.  I finished 5th, just out of the money (fucking 4th place got $100) but the experience opened my eyes.  It was great experience, not only running fast on a trail but racing against other people, pushing myself beyond my limits to find that finish line before and (unfortunately) after a few people.

I crossed the finish line, jogged out fifteen or so strides and then bent over with my hands on my knees.  A volunteer ran up to drape my medal around my neck and for a split second I started formulating an apology for yacking on his shoes, but I held it in- even after he walked away, and didn’t puke up my morning coffee.

______________

In the beginning of my ultrarunning career, I spent too much time running too slowly.  I spent too much time where it felt too good.  Most of the time, it is supposed to feel good.  Like the sunsets and butterflies and shit I was talking about earlier.  But those moments where it feels good are only highlighted even more by the moments of deep suffering.

As an ultrarunner, neglecting the high-end of your own spectrum can come with severly negative consequences.  For one, sprinting is good for your running technique.  Most of us run pretty perfectly when we’re sprinting and it’s always good for our overall mechanics to feel that (especially if you’re like most people and your slower-paced running form sucks balls).

Secondly, when you run really hard, you’re always out of your comfort zone, and that’s where the growth really happens.  It’s an inconvenient truth, but a truth nonetheless.  The more time you spend outside of where it’s comfortable and sunsets and butterflies, the more you grow and the better you get.  Just look at what guys like Dakota Jones (who placed 2nd and 3rd at Hardrock) and Tim Tollefson (who recently took third at UTMB) have been doing the last couple weeks:

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Running slow and recovering on the move certainly has it’s place, but in your hard workouts, when you try to improve your ability as a runner, it doesn’t belong.  As they say, you gotta have easy and hard workouts, from now on, I challenge you to make sure your hard workouts make you look forward to your easy days. You’ll be a better, faster runner for it.   

You Run Like Shit: Pose Arguments

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This is Part Two of a Pose Method series. Here’s Part One if you missed it. 

For a while after I discovered the Pose Method, I lived in a happy little bubble.  I was so excited about how fast I was beginning to run and how all my little aches and pains were dissipating as I was simultaneously increasing volume.  The amount of effort it took me to run at high speeds was coming down and my heart rate was staying much more consistent— especially on big climbs.  It all seemed perfect and everything made sense.  It was beautiful. All was right in my world.

Then I made the mistake of going on a comment thread on some stupid website and making a small, inconsequential comment about physics and running, without any specifics and certainly no mention of Pose. From there, a reader found my website, discovered I run Pose Method and then him and his angry cohorts proceed to spend about 15,000 words telling what a stupid fucking moron I was, complete with the phrases “google it” and “ask any physicist”. 

First, I was a little shocked.  I didn’t realize this kind of ire was out there.  I couldn’t possible fathom why people would be so upset about the Pose method. It didn’t make sense to me.  It’s not like it effects other people if I’m running Pose. At the very WORST, Pose gives us some tools to think about what were doing.  Someone isn’t going to misinterpret the Pose principles and go blow up and building or shoot somebody.  Why was it so polarizing?  I had to get to the bottom of it. 

So, I descended deep into the Pose-hater rabbit hole.  Like, to page 125 on the google search results deep.  And it was interesting.  It was great to read some of the well-crafted attempts at refutal.  A little bit unnerving that people waste THAT much time dissecting things that they don’t believe in or want to try, but hey, you gotta do you. 

One big problem that quickly became glaringly obvious: most Pose coaches don’t fully understand what they are teaching or they are unable to articulate it properly.  Sure, they can look at stride and point out inefficiencies and they probably have a solid grasp on what Pose running entails, but they can’t effectively argue the physics or biomechanics involved.  More often than not, they get pushed a little about the physics on a message board and they get angry and start spouting Romanov quotes and the discussion starts to turn away from physics into something much more dogmatic.  I for one, wish these people would stop. No one wants to hear about how you know the Pose Method is perfect because of how you feel. You’re making us all look stupid.

After my research, I believe that Pose skeptics/haters can be broken into one of three categories:

  1. The runner/running coach with a background in biomechanics and/or physics.  This person never actually finds anything wrong with Pose per se, but they don’t fully endorse it.  They will usually make a claim that Pose has “some good tenets” or say something about how the cues can be helpful, or that “most elite runners” show “pose principles at a high speed”.  But these guys are scientists and as such, can’t really be certain about anything.  They would all probably agree that running form is something we should be talking about and, from what I read, probably agree that Pose is the best technique being taught.  But it’s not perfect. 
  2. The entitled millennial who believes that they are super special and super unique and nobody— I mean nobody— has any idea what is best for them except for them.  They are beautiful snowflakes of individuality and if anybody has the fucking audacity to tell them how to run, they’ll be sorry.  They don’t have an argument beyond “google it, moron” but if they know anything for certain, it’s that you’re wrong. 
  3. The skeptic sniffing out any dogma, ready to pounce regardless of the topic.  Quick to call Pose runners “cult members”, etc. 

Let’s start with the people who are actually trying to have a discussion, understand that running technique is something that we should be talking about and attempting to use science to refute Pose principles.

The Physics:

Go on any running form message board where people are talking about Pose and you will see inevitably see a handful of comments that say something like this:

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A “giant joke”? What do you think the chances are this guy could actually articulate an argument against the Pose Method?  But someone else reads this crap and regurgitates it somewhere else and… well, you know. And why is the word physics in quotes like it’s some made up thing that doesn’t exist?

This is my big problem with comment threads— no one makes an argument.  “Google it” or “ask a physicist” is not an argument, but for some reason, people not only think it’s an argument, they actually waste their time posting it. 

Beyond the message boards, however, you can find some very intelligent people with an actual background in Physics or Biomechanics and they’re usually making one of three claims:

  1. Gravitational torque cannot provide horizontal linear momentum by itself.
  2. You MUST push off: ground reaction force is being ignored/seriously underestimated.
  3.  Your general center of mass travels upwards vertically after you leave support, which is contrary to falling.

Let’s run them down quickly….

1. Gravitational torque cannot provide horizontal linear momentum by itself.   

According to Newton’s Second Law of Motion:

“The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.” 

Dr. Romanov claims gravity is moving you forward, so how can that be?  As soon as your general center of mass (GCM) is in front of your support (leg on the ground), you’re producing angular rotational torque in a forward direction.  In other words, you’re falling forward, toward the floor in front of you, a fall that is cut short by your trail leg swinging through to the front, where you can recapture the Pose and fall again.  Many people erroneously believe that running is a continuous fall forward— you’re falling to regain your pose and fall again, linking these falls together is what we call “running”.

A lot of people making this argument believe that gravitational torque does provide horizontal momentum, just not enough to be the primary source of locomotion.  Which leads us to…

2. The push off argument: ground reaction force is being ignored/seriously underestimated.

The failure to account for the forward momentum created by rotational torque is usually combated with a some sort of force plate data (from some study that has less than 10 participants) showing that the force upon foot strike is equal to two or three times your body weight and so, according to the third law of motion, the ground reaction force (GRF) is equal to this and is the main cause of forward momentum, which essentially becomes the “push off argument.” 

This could be true.  It’s hard to believe that GRF is more responsible for forward movement than fucking gravity (smh) but there isn’t any definitive data on this (that I could find) in the form of a scientific study.  Even if it is true, it changes nothing about the Pose method.  Pose teaches a “pull” of your foot from the ground as opposed to actively attempting to propel yourself forward with a push.

My big problem with the GRF argument is that I still don’t see any evidence of an active push off.  Your body is impacting the ground with force, and this force is being redirected (by the springs that are your legs) and applied to horizontal (and possibly vertical) momentum.  The energy is there, there is no need to add extra muscular effort to this equation. That extra effort is simply wasting energy and increasing time on support.

Here’s a quote from Dr. Romanov’s 2006 book, Training Essays:

“Does [the push off] exist or doesn’t it exist?  Neither is right and neither is wrong, too… Basically, very simple things that push and pull exist in the same system of movement, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes separated by a fraction of a second. All our movements contain push and pul and it is very difficult to see whether we are pushing or pulling and for what purpose. In running, push-pull relations are hidden, camouflaged by a seemingly obvious presence of a push-off, so obvious that there is almost no reason to question it.

But the questions are there: do we have a push off and do we need a push off?  The answer to the first question is positive.  We have a push off, and the sport science received a tremendous number of force platform data confirming there are vertical and horizontal components of ground reaction force. But does that mean that we got the answer?  The movement is not as simple as it seems. There are two types of movements here and only one of them needs to be produced by our voluntary muscle contractions, our muscular efforts.”

Even Dr. Romanov freely admits that there is some sort of vertical reaction force propelling you from the ground, he just realizes that “we don’t need to do it with voluntary muscular efforts, all we need to do is release the elastic property to do the work.”

I admit that some of the calculations and claims being made might about the amount of momentum gained from GRF might not be 100% accurate.  There is a possibility that, under the Pose Method of running, GRF might be underestimated.  But even if this is the case, why does it matter?  You’re moving forward from some combination of gravitational torque and GRF. An active push off doesn’t make you run faster or more efficiently.

The bottom line is still the same: you’re not thinking about pushing into the floor for forward momentum.  There is an apparent disconnect here between what is ACTUALLY happening and what you are actively MAKING happen.  No matter how much GRF you’re getting, you’re still simply thinking about pulling your foot from the ground.  This doesn’t change anything about the Pose Method or how you should run.  In fact, it reinforces the Pose principles. 

3. Your general center of mass travels upwards vertically after you leave support, which is contrary to falling.

This argument seems anecdotal but according to one website:

“Objective measurement from video recordings demonstrates that [Usain] Bolt’s COG rises after mid-stance rather than falling as Pose theory predicts”

Naturally, the author links no actual study and fails to elaborate at all about how these “measurements” are being taken or how they are determining where Bolt’s GCM is.  Taking measurements of moving person’s COG from a video sounds pretty unscientific in general, but without the information, who knows?

I think this argument goes hand in hand with argument number two and it’s pretty easy to see why this argument is made: in order to keep falling, your GCM has to rise. But because Pose Method is claiming gravity is the main source of forward momentum, it’s very hard to see what is causing your GCM to rise, when intuitively, we see gravity as pushing us DOWN. 

People running using Pose technique do, in fact, have vertical oscillation.  Your GCM has to rise, but pushing into the floor is not what causes this to happen.  This is happening by a combination of unweighting and the muscle/tendon elasticity that is happening thanks to Newton’s Third Law of Motion. 

From Training Essays once again:

“Vertical displacement in running happens by utilizing muscle/tendon elastic property, which lifts the body 4-6 centimeters above the ground, just enough to shift the body weight from one support to the other.”   

How much of your GRF is being converted into horizontal momentum vs. vertical oscillation?  Obviously a little bit of both is happening and the vertical oscillation gained from your muscle-tendon elasticity is enough to allow your GCM to rise enough for you to recover Pose and fall again. Repeatedly.

These arguments are all great.  They force you to think about what you’re doing and they push everyone’s understanding of running further.  Diversity of intelligent opinion makes us all better and I welcome it.  From where I’m sitting, however, these arguments are pretty knit-picky about certain claims being made, when these claims have nothing to do with the actual function of running.  Sure, the propulsive forces might be skewed a bit but I think it’s pretty clear that a) nobody really knows what is going on for sure and b) it isn’t changing a thing about how you’re running anyway. 

It seems like we’re arguing about semantics when the practical application of the running remains unchanged. If you disagree, please comment below, I would love to get a discussion going and I know I need to learn a lot more. 

_____________________

Beyond the scientific arguments, there are numerous anecdotal arguments out there being thrown around.  Let’s take a quick look at the most compelling:

Pose Method moves the load from the knee to the ankle, causing subsequent achilles tendon injuries.

So you’re telling me that switching the loading from the knee (an unstable hinge joint operating in a single plane of motion) to the proprioceptive monster consisting of your foot-ankle complex is a bad thing?  In Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run he details running— and winning— the Western States 100 with all the tendons and ligaments in his ankle “completely shredded” from a bad ankle sprain he suffered playing soccer a day before the race.  You think if Scott Jurek sprained his knee, even a little bit, that he would have ran WS?  An NBA player will roll his ankle so bad he can barely walk and be playing again five minutes later.  That same player tweaks his knee the smallest amount and he’s out for the rest of the game until they can get him in the nearest MRI machine. 

The problem isn’t switching loading from the knee to the ankle.  The problem is failing to take into account the fact that most of us are running around with shortened, weakened achilles tendons from our shoes that have padded heels.  It’s going to take a lot longer than six weeks for this to be fixed.  But you can’t tell someone who has been running their whole life to stop and slowly build back up so you develop the necessary strength. No, that would be absurd. Just keep fucking up your knees. That seems like a better idea. 

We are not “taught” to walk as babies, and we don’t need to be “taught” to ride a bike, we just figure it out.

So if you just happened to come across a bike, you would just pick it up and “figure out” what to do with it?  This is sorely underestimating or misinterpretation the meaning of the word “taught”.  Just because you lack the vocabulary to be taught in words how to walk as a baby, you’re certainly being “taught” by observing.  And you’re not wearing SHOES!! How is this overlooked? 

We are all too different for one way of running to be applied to all of us. Essentially the millennial “I’m special” argument where people cannot, under any circumstances, come to grips with the fact that, despite minor difference, were all walking around with the exact same equipment and using it in the most efficient way involves the same patterns. 

Actually, you’re not fucking special at all.  You’re just like everyone else. You’re the same collection of levers and fulcrums.  Look at any other animal in the world.  They don’t move around differently.  You don’t see two different horses running with different gaits.  They might have a little bit of their own style— as we do as humans— but their fundamental moment patterns do not differ. Even dogs, who have been tinkered with beyond belief in terms of artificial selection— they all still run the same.  You’re telling me the lever length matters THAT much? 

It’s too difficult to teach.  After a couple weeks, the participants were reverting back to their old gaits.  If it’s so hard to teach, what’s the point? 

Considering how ridiculous this argument is, it’s amazing how often it’s cited.  People making this argument are lacking a certain understanding of how our brains work. Simply put, every time you move, the corresponding motor neurons in your brain are communicating.  Doing the same movement repeatedly causes these motor neurons to get better at this communication process. After a while, you essentially hardwire a pattern into your brain.  For movements you do all the time, the ones you don’t need to think about (like picking up a cup of water and taking a sip) have become automatic because those motor neurons talked so much they’ve become super efficient at it.

Developing neuromuscular patterns is what “bro science” would call “muscle memory”. Obviously, you’re muscles can’t remember shit. You’re brain certainly can.  This awesome component of our elastic brains allows us to become proficient at movements that are important or necessary to us.  The problem arises when we’ve been doing a movement wrong for a long time.  It is very hard to undo that hardwiring.  You can start making new patterns, but your brain wants to fall back into the old habits— they’re more efficient. 

There are studies being done now that show people born with a disease like cerebral palsy, may have recovered the ability to walk normally as they have gotten older, but they cannot overcome the patterns for walking that have been hardwired into the brain over time.

(There is a great Ted talk about this by Karen Pape entitled, “Baby Brains Do Recover but Habit Hides It“, if you’re interested.) 

For runners that have been running incorrectly for years and years, it’s gonna take a little bit of time.  You can’t do it in two weeks.  You probably can’t do it in six weeks.  Have some fucking patience, it’ll be worth it in the long run. 

________________

I don’t think the Pose method is perfect.  I do think that it helped me a ton.  I admit, I was not a runner before.  I never had a high school track or cross country coach telling me what to do when I was running.  Pose was my first foray into the world of “running technique”.  So, this probably gives me a huge advantage over the runners out there who grew up hearing someone telling them the wrong things all the time. 

I was starting out from first principles, with zero bias or investment either way.  I just wanted to run faster and farther and not get hurt.  Pose did that for me.  I don’t have some biblical desire to see everyone running Pose.  In fact, it’s better for me if you don’t run Pose (I’m a pretty selfish person for the most part).  But if someone comes to me and asks for my help, I have to go with my experience, an experience paints a pretty compelling picture for the Pose Method. 

Six Ways to Suck at Strava

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We all love Strava.  Or hate it.  Or spend hours obsessing over it while simultaneously pretending that we don’t care at all.  As has been pointed out exhaustively—it’s a pretty polarizing piece of the social media puzzle.

I personally spend anywhere between five minutes and two hours a day on the site, a time usually determined by how impressive I deem my current activity levels.  If I went on a run that boasts impressive stats, I’ll repeatedly open the page throughout the day at work just to look at the run—check my splits again, memorize my segment goals or simply just stare at mileage totals. 

If I haven’t been doing anything impressive—or anything at all—I am far less likely to open the app throughout the day.  I’m just going to see that Dylan Bowman ran 22 miles in a little over 40 minutes and summited Mt. Tam for the #108 time that week.  Or that Anton Krupicka rode his bike 150 miles to the base of Longs Peak before skipping up the keyhole route and tagging the summit.  Just a bunch of depressing shit mainly.  But you can’t say that it isn’t motivating. 

Strava at it’s best is a statistical catalog that allows you to track and share your endurance activities while giving you a transparent look at the training programs of your friends and some of your favorite athletes.   

Like all social media, however, it can be horribly misused.  Just like you have friends who suck at Facebook or Instagram whose name you dread seeing pop-up in your feed, we all have those people on Strava that we feel obligated to follow even though they suck at using it and perpetually flood your feed with garbage.

If you’re already one of those people who suck at Strava, just keep doing what you’re doing.  If you are using it properly, please stop immediately and follow these six steps:

1. Break your run into as many parts as you possibly can.    You would never want to have a single activity as your run on Strava.  Then you’re just lumping your warm-up, cool-down and actual run into one thing.  This is going to bring your average pace way down.  Not cool. 

If you can, try to break every run into 4 separate activities: pre-warm up, warm-up, run, cool-down, and post-cool down cool down.  That way, we can all see your “real” pace during your workout but you can also flood all of your follower’s feeds with multiple activities. And— perhaps most importantly— you are effectively quadrupling your Kudo potential.  Just think about all of those extra Kudos. They are going to make you feel sooo good.

2.  Put EVERYTHING you do on Strava. Did you walk to the mailbox?  Strava that shit.  Did you walk around Whole Foods for 15 minutes?  Strava the hell out of that shit.  That’s mileage you gotta keep track of.  When you’re looking back at your training log trying to figure out why you performed so well last year, the answer might be in all those walks down to the corner store for beers.  You never know.

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Holy shit bro, you were walking FAST that last mile. 

3. Log your indoor resistance training workouts (with details).  I love it when I’m looking through my feed and I see “Lats and Core Work Today” or “4 x 10 reps of Bicep Curls”.  This is really why I started using Strava. Oh, the motivation!  I think I’m going to drop to floor right now and do 25 pushups so I can log it.  I should probably take a photo too…

4. Sign up for every possible challenge that you can, every month, over and over again.  Sign up for the 10k challenge every month, even though you run a 10k every other day.  And definitely sign up for the open-ended challenges that track your mileage monthly, that way it pops up into feeds each time you run 25 or 50k.  That’s better.  I love when I can’t even see a single activity in my feed because all I can see are someone’s list of 14 current challenges. It’s awesome.

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Nothing against Jorge Maravilla obviously- the guy is a badass- he just sucks at Strava

 5. Create a bunch of segments-within-segments so you can find the perfect section where your time cracks the top ten. I know Strava says they don’t want you doing this but simply ignore all those warnings about your segments being to similar to existing segments.  And definitely do NOT make it private. We all need to see these results and how amazing you are.

6.  If you go running on the treadmill, please take a picture of the treadmill screen after you’re finished.  Otherwise, you could totally be lying.  Plus, when Strava updated their app to give photographs a much bigger role in the interface, this is exactly what they had in mind: treadmill photos.  Just like treadmill runners are their target demographic for Strava Premium Memberships. 

An Open Letter to the Non-Runner

I know what you’re thinking: Here’s another self-righteous asshole trying to tell me what to do. Up on his high horse, berating my sedentary lifestyle, tossing around phrases like “obesity epidemic” and “heart disease”.  Making grandiose claims about brain chemistry, all while promising a decrease in body fat and an increase in energy. 

But that’s not what I’m here to do.  I want to talk about running in the context of our culture.  I want to talk about running as a way to escape. 

I used to be just like you.  There was nothing about running that appealed to me.  I used to sit behind the wheel of my car and scoff at the idiots running by in their short little running shorts and stupid visors.  I would laugh at their sweat stained shirts as the artificially cooled air spilled out of the vents and into my face. 

“Why would anyone want to run, just for the sake of running?” I would often wonder.  It just didn’t make sense.  It was too simple to be attractive. There were no bells and whistles.  It wasn’t exciting enough. “If I want to do cardio, I’ll just play basketball.  Then at least the running has a purpose beyond just… running.”  

But then something changed.  And it wasn’t from a physical standpoint, like you’re probably imagining.  No, this particular change came from a spiritual standpoint.  To put it succinctly, I was bored.  I had gotten myself into a place where I was completely overrun with stimulus; sounds and pictures and lights constantly bombarding my senses; computer screens and TV screens and a cell phone screens, music being pumped directly into my ear canal and advertisements shouting at me from every direction I looked.  But somehow, amidst the ever-present stimuli being disseminated on a level unlike anything the human brain has ever seen, I was incredibly bored. 

I found myself withdrawing further and further from the reality TV, fast food, endless-consumption culture that was being thrust upon me at every turn.  It just didn’t feel right.  Everything about my life had become so complicated.  All the technology that professed such convenience and comfort was making me feel like a prisoner.  Complications that beget more complications.  Did it ever end?  Suddenly, I was craving simplicity. 

As Steve House, arguably the finest American Alpinist, reiterates many times in his book, Beyond the Mountain, “The simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes.” It seems counter-intuitive, but if you keep it simple you’ll never get bored. We’ve been brainwashed by consumer culture to think that we need a huge production to be entertained.  I’m here to tell you that the exact opposite is true.  What you really need is to get as far away from your cell phone and TV as is possible in your current situation.  You need to pull the headphones off of your ears, get off of the air-conditioned car seat and start putting one foot in front of the other.  Just run—like we’ve been doing for thousands of years.  It’s time to regain a little primal simplicity.

Use running as a way to stand up and rebel.  Don’t watch Keepin’ up with the Kardashians like everyone else.  Don’t spend countless hours a day mindlessly browsing Instagram and Twitter feeds like everyone else. Just get outside and do exactly what we were designed to do: move. 

Use running as an escape.  Don’t think about how many calories you’re burning or how fast you’re running. Take the most simplistic, primal activity that exists and make it a part of your everyday life.  Get away from your work emails and group texts.  Don’t worry about the trending topics.   Just enjoy the rhythm of your feet falling onto the dirt or the road or the grass.  Really listen to the sound of your breath.  Connect with the landscape.  Find your place in the natural world.  Find your flow.

If you’re even a little bit like me and you’ve been feeling bored staring at all those screens—trapped in a world that never stops trying to sell you something—I am offering you a simple, no-strings-attached escape:  Run.

The 2016 Bandit 50k

(Photo by Howie Stern)

I had heard about the Bandit 50k from Chris Price at a race a few years back but at the time I didn’t know anything about the Santa Susana Mountains.  Since then, I’ve gotten married and I have begun to spend a decent amount of time out in Chatsworth at my in-laws house.  At first I thought this sounded terrible.  Then I realized that the summit of Rocky Peak was only a five-mile run from their doorstep.  Then I discovered the Chumash Trail.  Then my wife started thinking we were spending too much time at her parent’s house. 

Bottom line: I fell in love with the Santa Susana Mountains (I summited Rocky Peak 26 times in 2015), so I knew I had to try the Bandit 50k, and it did not disappoint.  I thought the Race Director was crazy for giving his address to all the runners who signed up for the race, inviting them over for early registration… but then I realized that these are just good people.  It made so much sense.  Leaving the Shoemaker residence on Friday night, I had a very good feeling about the event and the people running it. I was excited. 

I pulled into the parking lot at Corriganville Park at 6:30am on the dot.  Perfect timing.  I had plenty of time to get dressed, warm up, use the facilities and make it to the start line to hear Randy give the pre-race briefing.  I took a sip of coffee and reached into the backseat for my shoes.  No shoes.  My hand frantically searched every inch of the backseat in the dark.  Nothing.  Fuck.

Seconds later I was flying back out of the park against the heavy flow of traffic pouring in.  Luckily, my in-laws house is only seven minutes away. One exit on the freeway. Two blown red lights and a few miles on the 118 and I was back— with my shoes— and ten minutes to spare.  Fortunately for me, this time I got to park about 3/4 of a mile away from the park, the distance lending itself to a nice little warm-up.  Not exactly the relaxing, auspicious start I was hoping for, but hey, I wasn’t starting late and trying to pass 100 people. 

Without much time to think about anything, we were off, flying around the park in a loop before starting the climbing up toward Rocky Peak.  I don’t know if it was the stressful shoe situation, my restless sleep the night before or my coffee fiasco (I won’t even go into the details here) but I felt like absolute shit the for the first six miles of the race.  We left the park and headed up under the 118 freeway, Kenny Ringled and Felix Lawson out front, Michael Eastburn (fresh off a 2nd place finish at the Ray Miller 50k) running in a close third… and then me, desperately trying and failing to keep up as we marched up the steep, technical sandstone toward the Rocky Peak Fire Road. 

I was barely able to keep the lead group in sight as they crossed the small valley and headed up the climb.  I kept going over the checklist in my head, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  I shouldn’t have been feeling this bad this early.  I had done anything yet. I ripped off my shirt. I was sweating too much too soon. The weather was too good for this to be happening. It was 57 degrees.

I tried to shift my focus away from how I was feeling and focus on the looming climb.  It was time to settle in and grind it out.  It would be over soon enough and I’d be floating down the Chumash trail (currently one of my favorite trails in Southern California— especially when you’re going down).  Just the thought of that was enough to put a smile on my face and lift my spirits a bit.  I got a little Vitamin D on my chest, put my head down and fell into a rhythmic breathing/stride up toward my current peak of choice: Rocky.  Honestly, if it didn’t take so damn long, I would have tried to sneak a summit into the race.  But that would have cost me 15 minutes easy and added a couple hundred feet of vert.  I was still trying to win this race. 

I was starting to feel a bit better as I cruised into the Chumash aid station.  Lead group nowhere in sight.  There seem to be far less restrictions in Ventura County about what can go on at the aid stations and as such, this race was AWESOME! It was like a party at the stations.  Volunteers were offering me beer.  During the race.  There was music blasting, people dressed in costumes dancing, drinking and generally having a great time.  It was hard to leave not feeling great.  A handful of pretzels, a swig of coke and three S! Caps later, I was flying down the Chumash Trail, enjoying the dramatic views and buttery single track. 

I finally started to feel like I was emerging from the fog.  It was time to start running.  I hung two sub-seven minute miles down the Chumash Trail and pulled into the Marr Land Aid in what seemed like no time at all.  This aid station seemed to have a prevailing Star Wars theme and there were little Yoda and Boba Fett signs encouraging me as I left.  Still feeling and anxious to try to close the distance between myself and the leaders, I drank a couple dixie cups full of coke and was gone (I only spent a cumulative seven minutes in Aid Stations during the Bandit 50k, down from 13 minutes at Mt. Disappointment 50k in July. Getting better).  I knew I had an out-and-back section coming up so I would get to see exactly where I stood.

The section after the Marr Land aid station was the only part of the course I was unfamiliar with, so I was excited to get to see a new section of the mountains.  There wasn’t a ton of climbing in this section— really only one—but it was gorgeous, cut along a nice ridge and the mountains seemed to have changed topography, losing the ubiquitous peppering of sandstone boulders for a little limestone and some trees.

I was cruising along through this mostly flat section, keeping my pace comfortably below eight minutes a mile.  My only concern was the slightly rising temperatures.  It seemed significantly warmer the farther west we traveled (it was after 9am now) and the cloud cover had thinned out quite a bit.  I wanted to get back to higher elevations and cooler temperatures as quickly as possible and made a mental note to spend some time drinking water at the next aid station. 

Depressingly, still almost a half a mile from the turn around, I caught a glimpse of Felix’s face rounding a corner.  We nodded and muttered words of encouragement.  Ten seconds later, Kenny came whipping by, looking fresh, with a nice high cadence that makes us tall guys jealous.  It was about two minutes before the third place runner, Michael Eastburn, appeared around a bend.  He didn’t look as fresh as the other two but he was still moving at a nice pace and I made another mental note that I had my fucking work cut out for me going forward. 

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Photo by Sarita Shoemaker

I pounded five dixie cups full of water, took four salt caps, ate two Oreos and I was gone.  The chase was on.  I had to catch at least one of these guys.  The podium was in reach and I had to go for it.  Win or blow up trying.  I dropped my pace and hung a couple seven minute miles back out of the turnaround (where I picked up my conveniently placed t-shirt, at least I didn’t have to hold it in my hand the ENTIRE race. At some point I’m going to learn to just leave them in the car) and started climbing back toward the aid station.

The legs and the wind were feeling solid on this climb and toward the top I passed a fellow 50k racer coming down the climb who shouted, “Bro, you look great!! Go for it! You can catch those guys!!” and I can’t even tell you what a burst of energy it gave me.  I don’t know who that guy was, but because of him I ran that next mile and finished that climb at least two minutes faster.  My spirits boosted and my confidence restored, I found myself back at the Marr Land Aid Station at 2:51 elapsed time.

Randy was there to give me some words of encouragement and I felt great leaving the aid station with a fat Red Vine sticking out of my mouth and approximately 12 pretzels in the pockets of my Patagonia shorts.  This time, we headed up through Las Llajas Canyon to make the ridge and the Rocky Peak Fire Road (another great quality of the Bandit: it could have been an out and back but they offer two separate loops to switch up the course and the terrain).  I was still feeling good as we started the climb— and at this point I’m passing 25k racers every few minutes, what went from such solitude the for the first three hours has suddenly became a traffic jam— so I kept pounding, maintaining what I felt was a good pace, waiting to see that Chumash Aid Station and the end of all the real climbing.  After that, it was a couple rollers along the fire road and about 1500’ of descent back into Corriganville Park. 

I rounded a bend in the steep fire road, still maintaining a decent running stride when I was distracted by a large group of 25k runners (yellow bibs) sitting on the side of the trail.  As I came around the corner they all started to get up, obstructing my view of the trail ahead.  I had to veer to the far left side to pass them and as I did, I was surprised (and elated) to see a hunched, hiking Michael Eastburn.  I pulled along side of him and asked him how he was doing.  All he could muster was a muffled, “I feel like shit.”  I tried to offer some encouraging words but, having been in that place before, knew it probably didn’t do much good. I knew he didn’t want to waste his energy talking to me so I pushed on. The podium was now in my sights.  Third place was mine to lose.

My arrival into the Chumash Aid Station was bittersweet.  This aid station was particularly awesome, I was almost talked into a beer there and the volunteers gave me a tremendous boost. Plus the climbing was over.  But I felt like I hadn’t pushed hard enough coming into that aid.  I know that trail too well.  I should have hit a couple of those last climbs harder and tried close the gap.  As it was, I was 12 minutes back of Felix and 10 mins behind Kenny.  Almost an impossible distance to make up in less than six miles, all downhill, with those guys running out in front.  They’re fast. 

I resigned to cruise in, relax and enjoy the finish.  The fourth place runner wasn’t in sight as I left the aid station so I knew I didn’t need to push too hard.  During my last few races, I have become much more conscious in the moment during my finishes.  In the past, I had always been so happy to be done or so emotional or simply too overwhelmed at the finish of a race to fully appreciate the moment. Then I look back on it later and realize how incredible it actually was and what an amazing feeling of accomplishment it really is to finish a race like this…

So this time I consciously let it all soak in.  I just wish I could bottle it up.  It’s my drug. I love it.  It feels special to finish well at a race in (what feels like) my backyard.  I love these mountains. I’ll be back.

This was a great race put on by amazing people with a competitive field of runners (the swag was dope too).  I can’t wait to come back next year and spend (hopefully) around four hours running through the Santa Susanas again.