REDEMPTION RACE : Ultrarunning adventure with Bert Braden

My foray into the Indiana Trails 100 mile endurance race came as the result of my first DNF at the Kodiak 100 mile endurance race in August of 2019. I had made several strategic mistakes leading into that event seven weeks earlier which resulted in my dropping out at the 25 mile point. I erred in not allowing enough time to adapt to altitude at Kodiak (7-10,000 ft. elevation), in deciding to use the race provided nutrition in lieu of my preferred Osmo + Gu system, and in attempting to go caffeine-less in the days leading up to the race. Massive headache, nausea, and gastronomic rejection of nutrition and hydration commenced about six hours into the race and I DNF’d after arriving at the 25 mile aid station with only ten minutes before the cut-off time.

Kodiak 100 was to be my “A” race for the season and I had selected it because of the six UTMB points that it offered for me to re-qualify for the 2020 UTMB lottery. A finish would give me 11 points out of the required 10 points and lock-in an entry place in either 2020 or 2021. Failure to garner the points basically means back to the end-of-the-line and start over again in the next lottery.

Upon returning home in the midst of that dejected, bewildered state which descends from an incomplete objective, I tried to remember some of the things I’d picked up in my recent 7 year ultra-running career: “If you don’t fail you’re not setting hard enough challenges”, “ Anything can happen on any given race day”, etc.

After a couple days of mucking around, I resolved to at least explore whether there was any possibility of salvaging my UTMB effort. This late in the season the number of race opportunities has dwindled and choices are few. So imagine my amazement when I discovered on Ultra-Signup the Indiana Trail 100: a 100 mile race worth 5 UTMB points in Albion, Indiana, just twenty mile from my mother-in-law’s home on Lake Wawasee. With only 8,000 ft. of vertical gain, five 20-mile loops at near sea level, a 30-hour cutoff, and seven weeks for me to retrain to peak, it looked very achievable. It was as if the stars had aligned: How could I turn down a chance at redemption!


In a Kodiak 100 debrief later the next day with my Ultra-Coach Bob Shebest we discussed a game plan for putting the DNF behind me. When Bob told me he knew exactly how I felt about dropping out in an ultra, there was absolutely no doubting the sincerity of his condolences; here was a professional level athlete and a senior recreational runner sharing the same experience. We discussed the next easy race, goals for next season, and potential remaining UTMB qualifiers including this 100 mile race in Indiana in early October. As the end of our telephone meeting approached Bob suggested that I really consider the IT100, to which I responded “Bob, I went ahead and signed up earlier this morning so I wouldn’t lose the spot”. Somehow I think he already knew…

About this same time I ran across an article in Trail Runner magazine by David Roche titled “So You Had A Crappy Race…Now What?” David’s article pretty much validated everything that I had been processing over the previous week. Particularly the premise that “Bad races are big opportunities if you let them be” and “You don’t run in spite of the trials. The trials are the whole point”.

So You Had A Crappy Race … Now What?

The 25 miles that I had put in at Kodiak had barely made a dent in my conditioning, and so ramping back up to the 100 mile race distance seemed easy at first. I managed a couple of near 70 mile training weeks and seemed to be on my way to peak performance four weeks out from race day when disaster struck. While out on a five hour peak-week training run at Lake Sonoma, I took a bad step which jammed my right knee, overloading the joint. I finished the remaining three hours of the workout, but the next day it was apparent that I had developed a full-blown case of patellar tendonitis, the dreaded “runner’s knee”. I nursed myself thorough the taper portion of that final training block and even arranged for a cortisone injection one week prior to race day in an attempt to placate my angry knee. The shot in the knee helped enough to turn my attitude back towards “Just finish the race in 30 hours and get the points, no matter what”. I received further instruction from this athlete’s favorite PT practitioner, Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy, on how best to tape my knee for additional support in the event that it started giving me trouble during the race. (I probably looked a bit odd walking around before the race with one knee shaved in prep for a potential tape job).

The 6:00 am morning start saw temperatures of 34 degrees F, cold and breezy, but the rains had stopped and the course was drying out nicely. Huddled in the warm, cozy Main Tent at the Start/Finish I exchanged good luck wishes with my newly found friend from Sebastopol, Janice Bondar and her sister Linda Bondar who had traveled to Indiana for their first 100k attempt. Upon overhearing a remark that there were a bunch of people last year who started late because they were still in the tent, I decided to pry myself away from the flames of doom early in order to await the starting line outside in real conditions. Minutes later we were ushered off on our first 20 mile loop by race director Mike Pfefferkorn into two hours of cold, dark, breezy Midwest morning with the promise of an entire night of the same later that day.

One of the big lessons I’ve learned working with my coach Bob Shebest is the importance of managing my condition during ultra events. Personal race management starts with things that I can control such as equipment & clothing, fuel & hydration, pre-race sleep, etc. For race clothing I went with skin tight bottoms as recommended previously by Skip Brand, HRC; tech shirt with arm-warmers (for later removal, uh right); Patagonia long sleeve ventilated zip top, Patagonia nano puff vest, and a pair of recently commissioned Hoka Speedgoat 3 trail shoes. Two soft bottles filled with Osmo and a handful of Gu in my Salomon Skin12 vest and I was traveling lighter than I had in any previous ultras. This trail austerity was facilitated by the abundance of aid stations and volunteers on the fantastically well-appointed IT100 and the fact that forecast temperatures would be lower than I’m accustomed to in California. This meant that I could carry less fluids, hit up aid stations for additional calories every few miles, and adjust my kit and clothing every twenty miles at the Main Tent aid station.


At most ultra distance races, I’ve found a pre-race warmup unnecessary, and so I started this one out at a brisk race walking pace, which for me is around 14 min/mile. This fast-walk pace gives me time to warm up thoroughly, establish a sustainable baseline heart rate, and get a feel for the course. An added benefit was that I didn’t have to worry about tripping on obstacles or stressing any body parts early on. The bulk of the field gradually passed me by, but even at this fast-walk pace I could theoretically finish the 100 mile distance within the allotted 30 hour cutoff time. So I resolved to keep walking until daybreak, which in this westernmost portion of the Eastern Time zone would come at 8:00 in the morning, about two hours into the race near an aid station at the seven mile mark. Traveling with both a head-light and waist-light gives me better depth perception and allows my peripheral vision to follow my foot placements in the more diffused light of the waist-light. A dimming head-light called for an unplanned early stop to pull off the trail and replace the batteries, which saw me lose several more positions, but there was still a string of headlights behind me and it was very early in the race. Seven miles in and not a drop of sweat on my body, which is my goal for cold weather travel. In cold conditions like this, I figure that as long as I’m not sweating, and still making forward progress, I can keep up the pace indefinitely and with no risk of hypothermia. The no-sweat indicator has worked well for me in training and it played a key role in my success in this race.

Refilling of hydration supplies has been problematic for me over many races. I have gotten much better at getting-in and getting-out of aid stations, but I still suffer a significant time loss in fumbling with bottles, powder packets, refilling, etc. In this race, a single bottle refill and a couple bites of food at Mile 7 probably cost me five minutes. But I also used this opportunity to adjust my pack and rig from night-running to day-running mode. At about 180th place, this was the farthest back in the pack that I would be for the remainder of the race.

Once I started running at first daylight, the miles and aid stations just seemed to roll by. I only had to deal with one more hydration bottle delay at Mile 12 after which my superb crew (mother-in-law Peggy Walls at the race site and spouse Kim Walls running traffic control back home in Santa Rosa) executed flawless bottle refills and bottle drops for the remainder of the race, including hot tea & Gatorade fill-ups at key intervals during the night. I was prepared to solo the race and hadn’t counted on this level of support, but watching Peggy get into the spirit of the race competition made this a particularly memorable event for me! With her help, I was able to essentially skip three aid stations per loop and reduce my stops to only the Main Tent and the 12/32/52/72/92 mile aid stations. Consuming a 250 calorie + caffeine Spring Energy Speednut every 5-6 hours provided me with a noticeable boost as well. The effect on my progress was dramatic, and I continued to march up the field: 120th place at the 20 mile first loop, 84th at 40 mile second loop, 66th at 60 mile third loop, 41st at 80 mile fourth loop, and finishing 30th at 100 miles. Needless to say I never could have accomplished my best ever 100 mile time and finish without the support of my crew and the excellent volunteer staff at IT100.


I’ve never been on such a well maintained course: 100 miles of flowing single track, hard-packed wide trail, and off-camber grass (what an apropos description). Did I mention that many sections had gnarly roots painted fluorescent pink & orange? Major intersections were blocked off with yellow caution tape and signage was plentiful so there was never any doubt on route finding (There was that one sign that I missed at Mile 18 leaving the parking lot by Park Administration, but a fellow runner called out to save me). Beautiful autumn colors and falling leaves with a steady, crisp, cool wind, and filtered sunlight through the trees set the tone for the day. “Plan for anything, expect nothing” as coach reminds me before every race. So my in-race drama began with minor stumbles around 15 miles in: “Gosh, I’m shocked to find roots and rocks on this course” my body language projected to the runners around me. At about 25 miles came my first fall; a rock or root tripped me up, however I quickly shoulder-rolled and popped back up to my feet. A little dust, no serious damage, but the message was received: “This course is not inherently dangerous. But it is unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect”. Forewarned is forearmed I supposed; but not enough to save me from another negligent fall at Mile 35. This time I was not so lucky; in the blink of an eye an invisible hand at my feet launched me into the air with no point of contact. Fatigue slowed my reaction time and translated my ad hoc roll into a full shoulder tackle of the glacial esker with a sickening crunch. Thoughts of another humiliating DNF crossed my mind along with intense bargaining to walk or crawl the remaining 65 miles if necessary just to finish the race. Although this could just as easily have been a broken collar-bone incident, my ribs took the brunt of the impact, made worse by the hard tops on the two soft-bottles I was carrying at the front of my vest. I briefly walked back up the trail to see what had tripped me up amongst the leaves and trail detritus, but quickly concluded it was a waste of time as the runner behind me was closing in “Did you lose something, can I help you find it?” she offered with a smile. Just my dignity and sense of trail security I thought to myself. “If the bone ain’t showing then keep on going…” is the running adage that seemed to apply here. I wasn’t spitting up blood, there was no grinding noises from by ribs, and besides I was pissed off now. So nowhere to go but forward, keeping in mind that I’d been put on final notice: I had no more falls to give, a third and I would be out…

The idea of posting a sub-24 hour, 100 mile time was deep in the back of my mind leading up to the race. More of a fantasy than an actual goal, since part of the mental preparation I’ve been working on over the past four years is to let go of race outcomes while sticking to a primary goal of just finishing with an emphasis on running the best race that I can via good race management and strong execution. On paper, the IT100 looked like a potentially fast course compared to the other ultras that I had participated in. It is near sea level, with cool temperatures, and has modest vertical gain of only about 8,000 ft. Certainly a PR was possible, but a sub-24 finish might be a stretch and I could not afford to jeopardize those 5 UTMB points. On race day as I finished Loop 2 at a projected 20-hour 100 mile pace, the idea of a sub-24 hour finish took hold. All I had to do was maintain my current effort, keep eating & drinking, not get lost, not fall again, and not succumb to hypothermia. My legs were still strong and Loop 3 would be a total daylight run. Even so I rigged for night running and switched out of my cushy & grip-fast Hoka Speedgoat 3 shoes into my tried and trusted Saucony Ride 7 trainers (my 20th pair of this model) to take advantage of the additional ground clearance and extra toe-space for my swelling feet. This turned out to be a crucial decision for the better as my mangled toes would testify to at the conclusion of the race.

I had been told by wiser (not older, since hardly any of my running friends are older than me nowadays) that in a five-loop 100 mile race the fourth loop is the one to watch out for. The fifth and final loop pretty much takes care of itself because, well, you’re on the home stretch. But that fourth loop can really mess with your head. So, in this case, forewarned was a good thing and I proceeded to go out and crush Loop 4. I discovered that the roots and rocks were actually easier to see in the dark with my two headlight setup. The fluorescent-pink painted roots were a welcome sight now too. Kind of like running-by-numbers: put your right foot here, left foot there, hop this way, etc. Pre-stashed bottles at Mile 72 aid station and helpful volunteers sped me along. Getting lapped by the race leader at Mile 75 (Mile 95 for him) was really not such a bad thing; he seemingly wasn’t really running that quickly: “Heck I could probably move that fast…” came a fleeting thought. Peggy got me out of Main Tent aid at Mile 80 with hot tea and a fist bump in no time flat.

Shortly before Main Tent aid at Mile 80 the wheels had shown signs of coming off. Fatigue in my left calf turned to cramping, and thence to a total lock-up every time I stopped or slowed; my right Achilles was flaring red hot with friction trauma; and I couldn’t cough or blow my nose lest my ribs explode in pain. Just like Doc. Yinger had predicted, the original right knee patellar tendonitis with which I had come into the race had faded into the background as if to say “Why are you looking at me?” But I placed guilt on that knee anyway because I knew it had started a kinetic chain of events that was going to make my final 20 miles miserable.

Attempting to run after leaving Mile 80 I tried to engage running speed, but there was nothing there! Visualize the Millennium Falcon “Jump-to-Hyperspace” scene in Star Wars; I pushed the run button and there was no response. By now my left calf had cramped to the point that I could barely manage a walk; shots of pickle juice provided at least some psychological comfort. My right Achilles was burning with fire at every step; I hadn’t changed socks when I switched shoes and the accumulated friction had sent it over the edge. I knew from experience that both of these annoyances would heal with time, which I would have plenty of following this season-ender. But it was clear that my slowed pace wasn’t going to reconcile with the goal of a sub-24 hour finish, so a new tactical plan was in order. The words of my coach came back to me: “There’s no excuse for not playing good defense…” So that earlier sub-14 min/mile fast-walk baseline pace that I had refined at the start of the race? Yep, back to defense baby. Taking it to the bitter end, whatever that may be…

Pushing hard toward a sub-24 hour finish, I now resolved to run everything that looked runnable. In other words, any trail sections clearly free of rocks, roots, and obstructions mandated hustle. I focused on keeping my stride compact and my foot placement tight & contained within the worn portions of the single track. In the grazing light of my double-headlight setup, it became easier to avoid the land mines that had tripped me up earlier in the day. My world thus reduced completely to a small ribbon of dirt directly in front of me, I dwelt in flow state for the better portion of the night. No pity, no whining, and no projections: Just assess, manage, and keep moving forward…with certainty towards an uncertain end…

So it was at Mile 93 that I was surprised by an unfamiliar tone from my GPS watch. I glanced down just as the message faded out “Battery Critical Low – Saving Activity”…then nothing but a dark screen…WTF!  I usually carry an extra charge battery with me because I know that my GPS unit can only go about 20 hours on a single charge. In retrospect, I had given it a quick boost at Mile 40 aid and it indicated 70% charge remaining so I had let it go. But I had also slowed down the last 60 miles, eating into my allotted time. Now I was seemingly screwed with no data for time, pace, or remaining distance (or heart-rate for that matter, although HR was irrelevant at this point as I had been nailing it in the zone all day). How was I to challenge a sub-24 finish with no watch? I just laughed at this nonsense because it was so ironic and fitting for the circumstances; in that moment I truly believed that I was right where I was supposed to be. I knew by scratch calculations in my head that I should be able to snag a sub-24 hour on paper, if I kept the pace up and finished strong. At this point, the only card remaining in my hand was the one marked “RUN YOUR ASS OFF” and now seemed like the right time to play it. So it was by pure dead reckoning and visceral feel that I finished the remaining 7 out of 100 miles, leaving everything out on the course, with perhaps my best splits of the entire race.


Crossing the finish line in 23:26:20 and collecting a sub-24 hour finisher’s buckle from Race Director Mike Pfefferkorn provided a much welcome sense of closure to a long season of growth, challenge, and learning for me. This season hadn’t come together exactly as planned, but as I went down the list of accomplishments: UTMB qualified…check; WSER qualified…check; 100 mile PR…check; sub-24 100 mile …check, I had to acknowledge that it was a very good year.

Become a hero in my own story…check.

Bubbas Bend Bombast

The 10-year Boston Marathon anniversary was marked by this trip to Central Oregon where the Empire Runners 60-64 contingent stood out in the half-marathon and 10K events in Bend on Sunday. Mild-mannered Bob “The Ginger” Rogers was anything but, turning in a 1:38 half to edge out teammate Frank “The Quiet Storm” Cuneo, aka “Boxcar” Frank, by about a minute to take the division crown. A full 10 minutes would pass before a seriously undertrained Larry “Lazy Legs” Meredith came through in 4th place, narrowly eclipsing his 1:50 pre-race prediction and just seconds ahead of “Demon” Dale Peterson, who waged a courageous and successful battle with a Buffalo Chip over the final mile.IMG_4264

In the 10,000-meter event Paul “Ice” Berg, coming off a victory in the IPA 10K, was running hot in the cool morning air of Bend, breaking 46 minutes to nail down the silver medal in the age group. “Breaking” Brad Zanetti, despite being held up for 30 seconds or more at an inexplicable traffic stop, came home in the bronze position.IMG_1907

“Rowdy” Robin Stovall was set to represent our feminine side in the 5K but a last-minute misfortune kept her from making the start.IMG_2117

Off the course the Thirsty Boys were just as dominant, collecting 11 brewery stamps on our way to a major award presented to us by the local visitors center. Other off-course highlights included hikes along the waterfall-rich Paulina Creek and through the spectacularly craggy Smith Rock State Park. In summary, another memory-filled adventure for this group of running buddies.IMG_1993

Recap by Coach Larry Meredith, mostly true, although some details had to remain in Oregon.

Running Amongst Tea Fields and Spices

Running Amongst Tea Fields and Spices: A race report for the Vagamon Ultrail 50K in Kerala state, India

By Heidi Cusworth

Picture1Women’s race winner Maha takes a photo with us just after the finish

Running in a new area is usually quite interesting, and something many runners seek out.  An added twist to this is running in a new area where running is not common at all.  This adds a whole new dimension to the experience.  Bill and I decided to spend 5 weeks in Kerala, one of the southern states in India.  Kerala is known for its lush tropics, spices, tea fields, food, and mountains.  While planning for the trip, we came across a listing for a 50K set amongst all of this!  We couldn’t believe it, so of course we signed up, despite the fact that I’d never run a 50K before, let alone a marathon.  While I run and hike regularly, I pinned a lot of hope on the idea that the landscape would carry me through (and Bill!).  The race was at the tail end of our trip, so for the first 4 weeks in Kerala we ran every day followed by afternoon hikes.  I think this ultimately helped me in being able to finish with a big smile on my face.

The race was based in Vagamon, at an elevation of ~1100 meters (3400 ft) above sea level.  Vagamon is a small village in the Indian state of Kerala and is mainly supported by outdoor adventure activities in the surrounding areas.  With its scenic valleys, pine forests, spice plantations, tea estates, waterfalls, bald grassy hill tops, and overall greenery, it really is rather striking area.  The course took us through these different terrains and was very well-marked with signs and friendly volunteers.  The elevation provided relief from the heat and humidity from the tropical coastal areas and was really quite pleasant for running – 60 deg at the start and about 75 deg at the finish.

We opted to participate in a partial package tour for the race.  This was perfect as it allowed us the opportunity to spend the night before and the night after the race, in the race headquarters hotel.  It also included a pre and post-race breakfasts and dinners, transportation to and from the start and finish areas, and transportation back to Cochin, the city with the airport for our flight home.  It made things very simple to use this package as we could just focus on the experience and not any of the logistics.

Picture2Checking in at the race hotel

The day before the race, we checked in at the race hotel and received our bib number and T-shirt.  Much to our surprise, all of the bibs had the first name of the runner printed on the front.  Even more of a surprise was then seeing the race T-Shirt, which has the full names of each the runners printed on the back!   Overall, the T-shirt is a nice design but unfortunately the color is a rather bright pink/peach blend, which is neither Bill nor my favorite so you probably won’t be seeing either of us wear it in public.    Before the pre-race briefing, we struck up a conversation with the race organizers and learned a bit about the club that was putting on the race.  The club is called Soles of Cochin and they started organizing workouts and races about 3 years ago.  Their first race was the Spice Coast Marathon in Cochin, which is at sea level along the coast, and where the climate is always hot and humid.  Our race, The Vagamon Ultrail, was the clubs first organized race in this more mountainous area.   We found out when chatting with the organizers, that we were the first international participants in any of their races! As night fell, the race briefing finally started and luckily for us, it was all in English.  So many languages are spoken in India that English ends up being the main common language for all of them.   Immediately following the briefing was a pre-race dinner, served outdoors.

Picture3Early in the race through the tea fields

Saturday, January 6th was race day and it was so hard to sleep the night before because I was so nervous and excited.  The bus arrived at 5:30am to take us to the start at a schoolyard and also breakfast for those who could eat.  Bill managed to wolf down the provided hummus and flatbreads, while I sipped a cup of tea.  The race briefing was short and sweet with lots of cheers to just celebrate us all being there.  We started on time at 6:30am and immediately found ourselves immersed in the tea fields.  About 90 percent of the course was on trails or dirt roads, with the rest being on paved, but rural roads.  Overall, the course was very technical with a lot of steep and/or overgrown sections and rocky footing everywhere except the paved sections.

In general, there was an Aid Station or a Rest Area every 4 kms (2.5 mi).  The aid stations were incredibly well-stocked with water, energy drinks, fruits etc. during the race.  The rest areas along the course were additional items and places to lie down.  Because this race was so incredibly well staffed and organized, we didn’t need to carry anything!  With the aid stations being so frequent, we were never short on water or anything else we needed.  At the 20K rest area, there was hot food and tons of it!  We actually stopped for over 20 minutes to sit down and have a proper breakfast!  During our travels in Kerala we fell head over heels in love with the food. In addition to flatbreads with hummus, they had Idli’s, which are one of Kerala’s main breakfast staples.  They are made up of fermented roasted rice and lentil flour and served with various curries and chutney’s.  They had tons of fruit, coconuts, tea & coffee etc.  No one left hungry.

Picture4Side by side the whole way!

Our time goal for the race was simply to beat the pre-stated 10-hour time limit and the 30km intermediate time limit of 6 hours.  We knew ahead of time that the course was actually 52.7km, a little bonus distance at no extra costJ.  Our plan was to run the flats and downhills but walk the uphills and steep rocky sections.  The course was marked every 5km, so we knew we needed to be under an hour at each mark.  At the start we hoped to put “time in the bank” by actually running each 5km under an hour and get to 30K in 5 hours.  We hit the first two 5Km markers at 45 min each and the 3rd in 30 min (probably was short) so even with the 20min breakfast stop at 20K and a huge climb around the 25K mark, we still reached 30K in 4:59, right on our goal!!!!!  At that point we were feeling great and knew we could make the time limit even if we walked the rest of the way.  From that point on, we were well into a zone that neither of us had trained for, so we did end up walking a fair bit of it with the occasional jog on downhill and flat sections.

After running in the tea fields along with the tea field workers and their homes in the early part of the course, we crossed streams and eventually dropped into a cardamom spice plantation.  Around the 35km mark, we passed into a specially planted pine forest called Pine Valley that was a big tourist draw (they don’t have natural pine forests in India).  For that part of the course, we kind of felt like we were back in the USA running around Tahoe.  The course then lead us back into more tea and spice plantations, up into rolling hills and eventually along a razor-edge cliff top path that was breathtaking.  I had a hard time looking down as the drop was rather drastic, there were parasailers flying around in the draft, it was rather awesome to be a part of.   We started seeing runners that were doing the concurrent 80K course and were running most of the 50K course in the reverse direction.  The last part of the course was an out and back section to the top of a sacred rock outcrop called Thangalpara before finally finishing at the Vagamon Orchidarium.

Picture5One of the many selfies during the race –this one in Pine Valley

Whenever we ran by people we were always greeted with a smile and a hello.  Sometimes we were even asked to stop and take a photo.  Selfies are very big in India!  Several racers took selfies with us in Pine Valley.  At Thangalpara, which is this incredible rock outcrop near the end of the race, we were stopped two different times by groups of guys who were genuinely excited and somewhat surprised to see a girl running. We were asked to stop and take selfies with each person in the group!  There must be quite a few funny photos of Bill and I during this race that we’ll never get to see.

Before the race started, I was lucky to bump into one of the other female racers who ended up being the overall female winner.  I had a really nice chat with her.  Near the end of the race while I was running up the Thangalpara outcrop, she was already coming down.  Instead of just running by, she ran up to me, stopped, and gave me a big hug and said how happy she was to see me!  It was just so heartfelt and it really gave me a new spring in my step which I really needed at that point.

Bill and I crossed the finish line hand in hand with huge smiles on our faces.  We finished in 9:16 and while we were exhausted, we were so happy that things had gone so well.  Every finisher was adorned with a ceramic finisher’s medal and then each person was asked to bang a gong to commemorate their accomplishment.   They had plenty of snacks and cooked food at the finish which we thoroughly enjoyed after draining ourselves on the course.

When the final results came out, we were surprised to find out that we finished 20th and 21st overall out of around 70 finishers (out of 110 registered).  I ended up finishing 3rd of 7 women in the field, just a few minutes behind 2nd place. I have to give massive thanks to Bill for sticking with me and being such a great running partner.   We would highly recommend this race to anyone looking for a unique experience!

You can check out a video trailer for the race at:

Student Grant Fund Awardees 2017

The Empire Runners have a long-standing commitment to providing scholarships to deserving student athletes of Sonoma County making the transition from high school to college. Made possible by dues and contributions from our members, we are giving our 4 recipients a total of $5000 in scholarship awards this year. All club members should be proud of the part they play in this most wonderful of traditions through generous donations.

These four student-athletes will be formally introduced and awarded their scholarship checks at the Kenwood Footrace on July 4th. Please join us in congratulating these outstanding young members of our running community.

Our first recipient comes from a large family of Empire Runners. He began his athletic career as a varsity soccer player at Windsor High. With the changing of the boys soccer season to the spring, the Fall 2016 became open to explore cross country, and through determination and hard work he made varsity his very first year. As a first year runner, his coach was very impressed with his positive attitude and hard work.

To just discuss this athlete’s athletic accomplishments would be a disservice to his academic career. This scholarship student is not only a 4.5+ GPA but also graduated #1 in his class and was the Salutatorian at Windsor HS. His teachers speak of him in glowing terms not just because of his GPA but rather the impact he has in the classroom, bringing the level up for his fellow students. Our first recipient will be continuing his studies at UC Irvine and continuing his running in intramurals and we are looking forward to him coming home and running more Empire Runner events.

Please join us in recognizing this future Anteater, from Windsor High School: Dylan Moberly


Our next recipient also began his running career later after playing soccer and basketball his first 2 years of high school, finding his way to cross country and track his junior year. In his first year of cross country his impact was evident as he was voted most inspirational and accompanied his teammate who had qualified for the State XC Championships in Fresno. He has been an outstanding track and field athlete for Rincon Valley Christian running the 400, 800, 1600, triple jump and discus. His true passion is the pole vault where in just 2 years he has already cleared 12’9” and qualified for the NCS Meet of Champions. He has a PR of 18:00 on the Spring Lake Course which he then matched on a more difficult course at the NCS XC Championships.

This fine multi talented athlete has also had a strong and varied scholastic career, carrying a 3.75 GPA and excelling in music and piano. What impressed the committee the most was his thought that the influence of cross country has made him a better student. In his own words, “by making running a lifestyle, running 5 miles will not phase the individual. When something difficult becomes familiar, then other concepts become easier. Therefore, after running 5 miles, a test or paper no longer appeared difficult”.

This talented scholarship athlete will be continuing his studies and furthering his athletic career at SRJC. Coach Wellman is looking forward to this XC and multi-talented track and field athlete staying local and perhaps developing his decathlon skills.

We welcome this new Bear Cub, from Rincon Valley Christian HS: Nicholas Dolan


Our third scholarship recipient is the classic story of a runner with no experience who joins the XC team mostly for its social aspects, gets comfortable, works hard, sets goals… did we say works hard? Then she finally achieves her goal to run Varsity and has her best 2 races of her life at NBL, then NCS. Through her 4 years with the XC and track families at Santa Rosa High it wasn’t all just a meteoric rise but rather peaks and valleys, failures and achievements. But overall it looks like this classic story is just the first part of a multi-part sojourn with the next sequel being able to run at her chosen university.

From a 9 minute miler in her first XC race to a PR of 20:39 at NBL her senior season, she followed with the same time at NCS on a notoriously harder course. Her best team finish ever fulfilled her goals for XC and with this new found strength led her to success on the track.

Yet metrics alone fail in comparison to her impact on team dynamics, her hard work, toughness and respect she both earns and gives.

An excellent student with a GPA above 4.4 in a dedicated all honors and Art Quest curriculum, this recipient also filled her spare time with volunteering at a variety of events including a 6 year commitment at the Sonoma County Animal Shelter.

With a plan to direct her college career at Scripps University in the area of literature and writing with a goal of becoming an author, our third scholarship recipient can very well write her own sequel to this memorable story.

We’re pleased to recognize this former Panther and new Athena, from Santa Rosa HS: Samantha Baker


Our final scholarship recipient ran with the SR Express as a middle schooler but began his high school athletics on the football field. When he was recruited for the track team his running began in earnest. Natural ability led him to perform at an all-league level this first track year and continued well through junior year in XC and had him qualify to NCS. But that was not enough for this talented runner; his habit of setting “strong” goals drove him to improve his summer training regimen with the goal qualifying to State. He was a top area XC runner this last season with a PR of 15:32 (34th AT) on the SLC. A 9th place at NCS qualified him to State and his 11th place finish in his very first time on the difficult 5K Woodward Park course was evidence of his talent and commitment. It was more of the same in track with excellent times of 4:29 and 9:32 in the 1600 and 3200 respectively and a qualification to the NCS Meet of Champions. He was All Empire 1st Team in XC and Track.

Through all of this, our fine student athlete maintained a 3.6 GPA and worked at Fleet Feet as a shoe fitter. His outgoing nature, shoe knowledge and social ease makes him a top seller. His small team at Rincon Valley Christian often worked out with a combined group of Montgomery HS runners, to the benefit for all involved. He also volunteered regularly with Church events.

Commitment, strong goal setting and the determination to achieve those goals make this scholarship recipient attractive to a number of collegiate coaches. Those of us who follow College XC and Track will keep an eye out for him at Master’s University in Santa Clarita.

From Rincon Valley Christian HS we are pleased to present: Wes Methum

Mike McGuire and the 34th CIM

The 34th California International Marathon was contested on Sunday, December 4th. The weather could not have been more perfect and the pre-race organization was superb. Seemingly all the school buses in the county were enlisted to transport us from Sacramento to Folsom. We could then stay warm and seated in the bus until the start of the race. One could venture out to get some food or drink and witness one of the longest line of porta-potties ever assembled. A lady on our bus who works for a ‘potty’ company said the usual user to potty ratio is 75 to 1. CIM used 35 to 1. Truly a benefit for us runners! Finish line bags were collected at the back of two big vans. As the start came near, there was a crush of runners wanting to get their bags loaded. Some tried to throw the bag over the heads of the volunteers in the truck. A couple of volunteers got conked. The supervisor, stout and burly, shouted that if another bag was thrown he would shut down the trucks! The crowd became instantly cooperative. Good for him!


The start was smooth and efficient with pacers and over-head signs helping runners get in position. Off we went down a slight hill with no pushing or shoving or need to dance around ill-placed runners. Race conditions, I think, were perfect – cool, not cold, no wind and no forecast of dramatic changes. Aid stations were well placed with the first one about three miles out and then becoming more frequent and with greater offerings as the course continued. To those who went to the Healdsburg Running Club trail running movies, I was quite startled to see Jenn Shelton standing on the side of the road at eight miles, sweaty, smiling and looking like everyone’s best friend.

I had run CIM in 2013 under freezing conditions but ended up with a pretty good time and place. This time I was concerned about how aging and spotty training would affect my effort. I had enough training miles but only one run of 16 miles. My 1/2 marathon and 20 mile splits were both better than 2013. Beyond 20 miles, it all became more difficult. My watch displayed a great deal more time needed to pass each mile. I began to list to the right. Spectators had to move back as I veered toward them! With my name printed on my bib, people were calling out to me to do well, euphemistically meaning ‘don’t die!”


As runners flooded past me in the last couple of miles, I had to concentrate to keep one foot going in front of the other and to not trip myself. But the end came in time for a successful finish and actually a pretty good time. I was met by a lovely runner/nurse who chatted with me as she took firm hold on my arm and led me on a walk. “Let’s go to the med tent.” As we walked, a still-listing few feet to the tent, Bob Shor came up to say hello and to confirm the tent visit. Never having been in one before, it was a nice field trip. Two dozen people sitting or lying about with a busy staff offering water, soup, and encouragement. The young lady sitting next to me had just made her Boston Qualifying time and soon left with a warm cup of soup. I stayed about 15 minutes before thanking a volunteer and walking out much more vertical than coming in. By then, general stiffness had begun to take over and Frankenstein’s monster-like I set off to find Sandi.


After several phone calls, we reconnected at the merchandise booth and headed to the drop bag corral. The fenced-in enclosure had thousands of bags lined out in number order. Volunteers would meet runners at a six foot cyclone fence, get our bib number and speedily return with our bag – no runners wandering inside the enclosure bothering those who knew what they were doing. I could replace my silver shawl with dry clothes.


Then we walked among other celebrants with Sandi striding ahead only to look back and see she had left me several steps behind. Everyone seemed in good spirits as the weather conditions stayed pretty moderate for an early December day.


One of the enjoyable parts of CIM is the community support. In many places along the route, live bands and recorded music encourage us along the way. There are also many places where throngs of spectators gather to wish us well. “Go (Dad!, Mom!, Larry!, Linda and Beth!)” “I came to hold a sign” “You Rock!” “Keep going. You paid for it” The support for individual runners was terrific. The sense of celebration and accomplishment was really noticeable and inspiring.


My shoes displayed a remarkable wear pattern. Scuffing at both ends and a near clean slate across the mid-sole. The toe scuffing, I think, was from my shuffle over the last six miles. Traffic buttons on the road had to be avoided as too tall and some painted lines were thicker than others.

Heading home meant a stop in Davis at DeVera’s Tavern for corned beef, potatoes, eggs over easy and a tall glass of pilsner. Very tasty and a needed stop to unkink my legs. Then on to Santa Rosa. The “welcome home” clouds brought a wonderful 24 hours to a close. A few chores taxed my mobility and reinforced for me why I like marathons – you can’t do the event half trained or without realizing that reminders of the effort will follow you for days. Which one will be next? Any suggestions? By the way, my very expensive GPS watch measured CIM as 26.36 miles. I am sure the course has been accurately measured at 26.2. My watch got me to each new mile further and further ahead of the official mark. I can’t get credit in my running log for the extra tenth of a mile!

Wharf to Wharf…Santa Cruz style, by Sarah Hallas

My very good friend, Vojta Ripa talked me into registering for this race. Having finished the Montana Marathon just 6 weeks prior, I was a bit hesitant to compete again so soon. But as soon as I got to the start area, I had no regrets. Seeing so many familiar faces was worth the trip alone! The race course was absolutely amazing! There were 50 bands along the way, a ton of spectators and every mile had an arch of balloons to run through. The competition was fierce with everyone gunning for a top-100 spot to secure a top-100 finishers jacket (definitely a cool bonus)! I’m already looking forward to next year.  Here’s the link to the race!

BIB 296, SARAH HALLAS, F35, SANTA ROSA, CA, 36:51, 6:08/mi

BIB 198, VOJTA RIPA, M25, SANTA ROSA, CA, 32:39, 5:26/mi

BIB 19, REESEY BYERS, M23, SACRAMENTO, CA, 29:52, 4:58/mi


August15Hallas3_WTW COURSE




The Marin Miracle Mile, with Reesey Byers

The Marin Miracle Mile is a USA Track & Field certified course and part of the USA Track & Field Pacific Association Grand Prix racing circuit, which took place July 12th in San Rafael. We wanted to get Reesey Byers take on the Men’s Open race!

Question: This was your first road race mile – how where your expectations different than the reality of the race?

I didn’t put any expectations on myself for this race. I just wanted to go out there, have fun and represent Strava well. I was a little surprised to be the first Strava member, I was really happy I could make an immediate impact to the team. Having just done a bunch of mileage lately I just wanted to come in and run as hard as I could and contribute.

The course was 400 meters down hill with two ninety degree turns, then 600 meters uphill with a 180 U turn at the top, then about 600 meters down to the finish line – what did you think of the course?

I really liked the course. It made the race a little bit more interesting adding some inclines and down hills. For time purposes I kind of wish it was just a flat Road mile to see what I could run but it was all about having fun and competing.

How was the competition – did you know any other guys in the race?

The competition was really good. I actually knew most of the top guys in the race. A bunch of us warmed up and cool down together before and after the race, we were all joking with each other about who beat who. It’s always fun when you can have friendly rivalry.

The Miracle Mile, Sunday July 12, 2015, San Rafael, California. Full results here:
The Miracle Mile, Sunday July 12, 2015, San Rafael, California. Full results here:

We noticed in the photo of you coming into the finish line your grimacing – what was going on mentally at that moment?

I just wanted to get to the finish line as quickly as I could. I had already been passed by two guys and I wanted to make sure I didn’t get passed by anyone else.

What was your time and where you satisfied with that as your first road race mile?

I ran 4:19. Timewise I wasn’t really pleased I was hoping to run much closer if not under 4:10. It appears that this year was much slower than last year so based off place I was pretty happy. It felt good just to be able to compete in the front and go for it.

Would you recommend this race?

I would definitely recommend this race especially as a first road mile because although it is competitive it’s also a lot of fun. Runners from all ages and talent levels come out to this race and see what they can do.

Since you graduated from Sacramento State, what you’re your post collegiate running plans? And tell us about Strava.

Strava is an elite development group. They are sponsored by brooks (which is good for me) and they are not location exclusive so we have many athletes all over California. What I liked about Strava is that they are very team oriented. We participate in PA cross country championships and club nationals as a team and many other cross-country, road and track races as a team. I knew a few people in the group and they really made me feel like I’d be an important member of the group and we are very supportive of each other. Most if not all of the members have part-time or full-time jobs so we aren’t making a living from Strava but we do get a great amount of support. Ex: entry fee coverage, travel fee support, gear, potentially hotel bookings, stipends are some ways that Strava support us.

The Miracle Mile, Sunday July 12, 2015, San Rafael, California. Full results here:
The Miracle Mile, Sunday July 12, 2015, San Rafael, California. Full results here:

What are some of your races in the near future?

My next race is the wharf to wharf six miler in Santa Cruz. I’ve never done this race before so I’m really excited. I got into the elite section so I’ll be running up there with those Kenyans (will try to anyway). After that I’m not going to be racing for a while, just building a good base for a few months and will probably start racing late September early October.

Reesey got 5th place with a time of 4:19 at the Marin Miracle Mile. Full results here:

Link to the event:

Carlsbad 5000, By Larry Meredith

For the fifth straight year a small contingent of Empire Runners made the pilgrimage to the Mecca of 5Ks in Carlsbad, California held on March 29. The event calls itself the “World’s Fastest 5K,” not because it is run on a downhill course, nor because it is pushed by tailwinds, nor because the surface is engineered for speed. On the contrary, the course presents a few gradual rises, runs back and forth along what can be a breezy coastline and offers standard road pavement underfoot. No, Carlsbad is internationally known as the “World’s Fastest 5K” because 16 world records, 8 U.S. records, along with numerous national and age-group records have been set on the scenic oceanfront course.


On the current list of 5K world records by age (, Carlsbad is the listed as the record-setting site 39 times. And now you will see that the most recent addition to the list is a 7-year-old Empire Runner by the name of Daniel Skandera who sped around the course in an amazing 19 minutes and 25 seconds. Competing in the 12-and-under age group against 77 others, Daniel placed 6th.

You might want to check out Daniel’s accomplishments at other distances ( He is listed as the world record holder at age 5, 6 and 7 for the mile; at age 6 for the 600-meter run, 1000 meters and 1500 meters run; at ages 6 and 7 for the 2000 meters, 2 miles and 3000 meters. O.K., so Daniel’s not listed in the steeplechase (an event his Grandpa Harry excelled at) but that’s only because he can’t reach the top of the barriers.


But enough about the young prodigy among our band of long-distance travelers for a short-distance race. Our elder statesman Brad Zanetti was testing out his 60-year-old wheels and fared quite well, placing 12th in a field of 120 in his division.   In a race of over 2000 masters runners special awards go to the top 250 finishers and Brad claimed 204th, just 3 places ahead of fellow ER and long-time Carlsbad devotee Bryan Porter. Carlsbad rookie John Harmon earned a medal as well, taking 235th and placing 26th out of 188 in his 55-59 group. Larry Meredith placed 312th.


Carlsbad’s final races are truly elite affairs and this year’s field of competitors did not disappoint the thousands of spectators lining the streets of this fashionable little burg. In the women’s race Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia turned in the 2nd-fastest road 5K ever run, a 14:48, to win going away. Lawi Lalang held off fellow Kenyon Wilson Too by just 3 seconds, finishing in 13:32. Third place went to America’s most decorated distance runner, Bernard Legat who, at 40, set a world road record for masters at 13:41.

If the time and expense of traveling so far for a 5K puts you off, don’t forget that the coastal corridor down south is home to some world-class breweries and Brad Zanetti is a willing and more-than-able tour guide for this type of extra-curricular pastime. There are swimming pools, hot tubs and beaches, local cuisine and family activities nearby. And with our cheerful designated driver Bev Zanetti negotiating highways and byways, a long weekend with a short race turns into a mini-vacation. Mark your calendar for the weekend of April 2-3 and join in on the fast fun next year.


Never Say Never – The American River 50 Miler, by Shirley Fee

Never Say Never

One year or so ago after I had completed a few 50K races I was asked, are you going to do a 50 miler now? No! I replied with emphasis on the no.

Jump forward to a cold and dark April 4, 2015. What am I doing sitting on the ground,in a tent at Folsom Lake with my friend Anette Niewald and fellow ultra runner, Ted Watrous, plus a few hundred other runners? I must have mixed up my no’s with my yea’s. So here I am waiting for the start of my first 50 mile run. The American River 50 miler . I think I was tricked.

The American River 50 miler has become the second largest 50 mile race in the United States and is supposed to be a good course for first timers which is what Anette and I were hoping.

At five o’clock it was dark, the sky was full of stars and and the full moon shining on the lake created a shimmering diamond effect. There is something to be said about being up and about before sunrise.

As we were making a last trip to the porta pottie we were treated with a view of the eclipse of the moon. For once in my life I was able to see the whole eclipse from start to finish. It was an amazing and beautiful sight.

Start time is 6:00 am for the faster people and 6:15 am for the slightly slower runners. I’m feeling scared, excited, and filled with doubts as to whether I would be able to make the cut off times. Anette had similar thoughts especially since her husband was convinced that we both were going to die. He does not run and cannot understand why we do what we do.

Anette and I started together, we thought we had trained well, and felt good, but it was dawning on us, 50 Miles is a long way, a lot longer distance than we had ever run before. I say run but only the elite truly run almost all of it. We run as much as we can with walk breaks along the way. Our longest run was 31miles a few weeks before the race. My goal was to get to the finish before the cutoff time of 14 hrs. The first wave of really fast runners took off at 6 AM, it was still fairly dark so I watched the headlamps of the lead runners fly by and disappear into the darkness.

6:15 rolls around and off we go. I had a plan in my head and figured I would go out easy, warm up, settle down and be sure to drink and eat early on. The course started out on the road for a short distance then turned into a single track alongside the lake. I and Anette start out together with another woman I had met at a race last year, both reminding each other that we trained well and we could do this. We started slow, we couldn’t go faster because there were so many runners on the single track and dawn was just breaking. Lots of laughing, conversations and noise in general was going on. In the first mile a young man from Arkansas made a comment about not having rocky trails like this where he lived. I lifted my eyes from the trail to look back and make the comment that this was nothing, when Kersplat!! one of those little rocks caught me and down I went. I didn’t do my usual graceful three point landing, this time it more like a tree falling, down and bounce one side to the other. My left knee must have landed on a rock because it hurt, a lot, but I got up and walked a little bit thinking to myself this is not a good omen, I hope the day gets better. Note to self, keep eyes on trail.

We settled in with an easy pace, Anette got her groove on and went ahead. I continued to hold my pace hoping my knee would feel better soon. Talking with my other friend took my mind off my knee and it began to feel ok. The trail ran parallel to the lake giving us some beautiful views of the lake as the sun came up. After 4.97 miles we changed to the bike path to mile 12 then it was mainly bike path intermixed with a little fire road and short single track until we reached mile 24. I left my other friend a little before 12 miles, she was going to quit. She was not feeling very good so we said goodbye and I went on. By the time I reached Beals Point at mile 24 my legs were beginning to complain since I trained on trails and had done only one training run on bike path. My attitude was going down hill in a big fat minute. I kept thinking to myself “I didn’t sign up to do a road marathon, what the heck?” There is one great thing about ultra running though, that is the people you meet along the way. We know we have a long way to go so it gives us time to meet, greet, offer encouragement and support. Running an ultra gives you the opportunity to meet runners from all over the world and make new friends. The time flies by as you run along and chat with your new found best friend, no complaining allowed.

Finally we started up on a single track and the real views began, as we ran weaving in and out of trees with views of the lake and an abundance of wild flowers in blue, purple, yellow, white and one outstanding bush covered with brilliant red orange flowers, also, an abundance of poison oak. I’m sure many people who stepped off the trail for a break went home with a good case of the itchies. Itchies, is that a word? All the while all I could do is think how lucky I was to be able to see all the beauty surrounding me and enjoy the company of the other runners that shared one common goal, finish this race before 14 hrs.

I caught up to and was passing another runner so we had a short conversation, he had done this race before so told me to be sure and take it easy, as up ahead was about 5 miles of what they called the Meat Grinder. What? I tried to figure out what in the world he meant by meat grinder. In all my research about the course nothing was mentioned about the meat grinder. Ah, I thought, how bad could it be? We had trained on some pretty gnarly trails, it can’t be that bad. I continued on my way enjoying the views nature was providing until we got to Granite Bay. Wow! there are some very impressive homes on the hillsides of Granite Bay overlooking Folsom Lake. About that time my knee was beginning to ache after going up and down a few hills and going down hill was becoming painful. I had to slow down and be very careful how I planted my foot.

Also at that time I left the flowers, trees, and beautiful homes, to face great big boulders, little boulders, slippery boulders, granite boulders for crying out loud, with some areas that could qualify as mountain climbing because the trail was almost nonexistent. No shade, just bushes, not even poison oak, which had been plentiful earlier. In some places you had to step down two to three feet on more rock then step up two or three feet. I wondered, what do short legged people do? What do the Elite runners do? Do they run on this stuff? By then my left knee was not going to bend much so the going got tricky. I was alone, no other runners in sight. I sure didn’t want to fall, it was a long way to the bottom. That was the longest 5 miles of my life. All I wanted was to get off the boulders and on the trail to the next aid station which would put me at 40 miles. I caught up to another runner so we kept each other company and commiserated over the meat grinder.

Finally, back on a nice single track, soft easy trail in the shade I could start running again, except downhill, my new running friend noticed that I would slow down on the downhill, I told him about my knee and he gave me an Excedrin, yay for the traveling druggist. We continued on and after a short steep descent into the Rattlesnake Bar aid station, we were 9 miles from the finish. The Excedrin kicked in so I was feeling good. I grabbed some food and headed back up the steep incline back to the trail. It was a nice shady trail, winding around the hillside following the American River, up, down, over creeks, with an occasional small waterfall surrounded by big green frothy ferns thrown in for good measure.

I had been told about one last killer hill at about mile 37 or 38 called Last Gasp, so I held back and walked, jogged behind one group of men when I really wanted to pass them and keep running. I guess I didn’t trust my instinct that I could pass them and run and still have plenty of energy for Last Gasp and the 2 mile up hill finish. So I took my time and enjoyed the conversations. Earlier in the race another runner told me that all I had to do when I came to Last Gasp was put my head down and just count my right foot steps, when I got to 150 then I would be at the top. I could hardly wait to test that theory.

Finally, we came off the trail onto the fire road right down on the American River. Once we got off the single track and hit the road I decided it was time to take off, so I did. Eventually the road led to a power plant where it left the river and headed up. I’m alternating walking and slow running up the fire road waiting to come to Last Gasp because I know then, I’m just a couple miles from the finish. Anette and I had run part of the finish a few weeks before after we had done the Way To Cool 50K so I knew if I got past Last Gasp I had it made. It was 2 miles of uphill but it was not steep.

What is this?? I see an aid station ahead, I’m confused, the next aid station is supposed to be Last Gasp. As I get to the top I see the sign Last Gasp Aid Station. Darn! I didn’t get to count my steps. I had to laugh, in the description of the course you hear all about Last Gasp, nothing about the Meat Grinder. Sneaky.

As I start my last 2 miles I want to sing but figured I would not put that misery on the other runners, I just smiled really big and passed them. It was hard to wrap my brain around the fact that I just traveled 50 miles and felt so good, much better than I thought I would feel.

Anette had finished ahead of me in 12:20:30, she and her husband Tom were at the finish line to greet me. I finished 12:39:07. We both said, well that is done, now we don’t have to do another. Ummm, well, a few days later, we were talking about our next one. We didn’t die and we beat the cutoff time. I won my age group, and what made it better, I was not the only one in my age group. There were two others.

I don’t have the words to describe what it is or how it feels to run a marathon or ultra distance on a challenging trail other than you get to know who you are and what you can do. Yes it is competition, mostly against yourself and the trail. It is a time to listen to your breath, your feet hitting the ground and pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do and succeeding. Never say never, it will come back and bite you.

A Slice of Pi, By John Harmon

On March 14th of this year, an older brother of mine turned 60. While his sexagesimum was cause enough for celebration, it is also a special date in that it was “Pi Day” – 3.14.15. This date (3.14.15) comes but once a century. Even with unforetold research, it would be a stretch to attend let alone participate in the next one.

Pi, that noble symbol for which we owe William Jones a debt of gratitude – lest we be referring to it as quantitas in quam cum multiflicetur diameter, proveniet circumferencia is that irrational number which binds the circumference of a circle to its diameter. So to celebrate this unique confluence of dates, we embraced the theme.


Seattle, the town of my birth and youth and still so for the rest of my family, accommodated us by staging a fundraising fun run/walk at Magnusen Park on Lake Washington (formerly Sand Point Naval Air Station and close to my childhood home) – The (“There will be Pie”) Pie Day Dash. It was a 3.1415926 mile trek. The event began at 9:26….of course. The object of this fundraiser is to fight Leukemia & Lymphoma – both devastating afflictions. Its champion is one Holly Westerfield, whom I was told teaches High School Math (“I like a shower. I like a bath. I like a girl who teaches math.”*). She puts on different fundraising events every year for her cause and decided to make it a fun run/walk this time around. Affixing it to Pi Day seemed appropriate for a Math teacher. I have a fondness for such wit and for Math and its instructors. It seemed like something my favorite teacher, Sister Maureen Rose, would have done. How can it not provoke a smile?

I surprised my brother and the rest of the family with entries into the event. Five of my family joined me. I ran the race while they walked. The Birthday Boy was drawn away that day, sadly, for a funeral of someone very close to him. But one of his sons joined my two other brothers, one’s fiancé and our mother. The weather in the days preceding the event was beautiful – sunny with only a hint of wind. But this was Seattle, so rain crashed the party. 2000 foolhardy soles (well if I say that then it was really 4000) completed the event with smiles on their faces and pie in their bellies – a slice of pie was the finisher’s award.

Despite the rain, we and the horde all survived – including a double loop course with the slower runners and walkers commanding the entire footpath leaving the lead runners to dash and dodge on the edges which I’d love to use as my excuse, but I shan’t.


My intention was to test myself for the Carlsbad 5000 at the end of March. I finished with a somewhat disappointing 21:35 and only managed third in my age group – age group prizes were only to the top two places. But my mother, who walked the whole way despite hip replacement surgery last year, put on a furious kick at the end to edge ahead of the only other octogenarian female in the event (We practiced the Kim Conley lean just before the start which obviously paid off). In the evening, we convened at Mom’s to continue the celebration with libation, pizza pie and, now that you’re all following the theme, pie for dessert.

It was a great day for just family, for a milestone birthday and for the run – any way you slice it.

–john harmon

* As much as I’d like to, I cannot take credit for this little ditty. Dave Kneeshaw, a family friend, composed this – that story awaits another day.