Category Archives: ULTRAS

Updates on Ultras that our members participate in.

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.

Getting Back to Business, by Bob Shebest

(Reposted by permission from Bob Shebest. The original post can be found at

Getting Back to Business

North Face Endurance Challenge – Dec 2015. Photo Credit: Let’s Wander Photography
North Face Endurance Challenge – Dec 2015. Photo Credit: Let’s Wander Photography

As runners, it’s tough not to run. And when something’s hurting (and it’s not going away) it weighs heavy on our minds. Denial can sometimes be stretched out for weeks, even months. After dealing with an injury a year ago, however, I was a bit wiser this time around, and recognized the need to get some help with my issue, rather than procrastinate as I’d done before, just increasing the time it took me to come back to healthy, happy running. The hardest part was taking the first step, before things really got outta hand.


At the end of Jan, an x-ray and MRI at Kaiser revealed I had some nasty stuff going on inside my left knee (likely my right too but not as severe). Here’s the blog-post about it with MRI results. Now of all times, this was an especially shitty time to have an “injury” to deal with, since, for the first time, I’m entered in this year’s Western States 100, held at the end of June. But as happens with many ultrarunners, we tend to run ourselves into the ground. And living in the Bay Area, man it’s not hard to do since there’s such a wealth of wonderful trail running events. Peer pressure and supporting sponsors are contributing factors as well. Well that, and racing is fun! So yeah, at the end of 2015, I ran myself into the ground, but mind you, for what I perceived as an essential reason (see previous post for more on that).

So the knee was really pissed at me and I now knew exactly why. The next step was to visit Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy. Whenever I feel it’s the “beginning of the end” [of my running], Dave gives me hope, and that leads to [patiently] bringing my running back to life, and with renewed gratitude.

Kaiser suggested I take 8 weeks off with no running or cycling. That made me really nervous because I knew two months away could really put me in a hole, out of which would take some time to recapture the fitness I wanted to have in the bank by June. I wasn’t prepared to think about running Western States in any other form but excellent. I need confidence to be high, for this, my eight 100mi trail run, and one that’s on a pretty big stage. I might not get another opportunity to run this bad boy. I need to make this one count!

Dave did a thorough assessment of my situation, and we discussed how and why my left side was dealing with yet another stress-related injury, now two in the last 16 months. After this assessment, Dave and I went to work on creating a rehab routine that included a variety of stretching and strengthening exercises. I’ve done them religiously since our meeting back at the start of Feb. I’ll be 42 this year, and what I’ve learned—the hard way—-is that if I want to keep running at a high level, I have to be increasingly vigilant about giving my body more TLC in the form of foam-rolling, yoga, the use of Trigger Point balls, cycling, strength training etc. Yet again, my run training needed a face-lift. I needed to evolve and I had plenty of time in Feb to think about how I wanted Mar-Jun to roll out, in order to give myself the best chance of running well at States on 6/25.

February – No Running. Weeks in ascending order chronologically. Source:
February – No Running. Weeks in ascending order chronologically. Source:

As you can see I was really into the cross-training during the work-week starting out in early Feb. Intuition (and a little ego) told me it’d be okay to do a long ride on Sunday, which I felt was necessary to at least break even with my fitness once I returned in March. That first Sunday I hit 100mi, which I found was me trying to show myself I was still strong and could do a bike workout that felt similar to my standard Sunday long run. The knee didn’t hurt but the notion that I really needed to use this month wisely, to really recover, started to sink in, through my thick, stubborn skull. Thus, I just focused on morning TLC sessions, doing my SRPT routine mixed in with some yoga. I walked to work a lot as well. The weather in Feb was dry so I was lucky to be able to consistently get out on Sunday for long rides. I focused on hitting long, sustained climbs in my Zone 2 (ultrarunning HR zone).

My wife, Amanda, also helped nurse my knee back to health with a variety of remedies including mixing up some Essential Oil blends as well as having a friend of hers make me some amazing bone broth (I drank a cup every morning and night for a few weeks. Amanda also researched and got me a variety of supplements that I’m still taking, more out of fear at this point than anything. I’m grateful how smart and proactive she is, dealing with her unreasonable, grumpy-when-injured, ultrarunning husband.

Ease back into running. Weeks in ascending order. Source:
Ease back into running. Weeks in ascending order. Source:

March 1st couldn’t come fast enough, and my patience was indeed wearing thin. I was itching to run. Coming back, I knew I had to continue exercising restraint. There’s just too much on the line this year, to take unwarranted risks. So, I figured running every 72hrs (3 days) starting back would allow my knee to continue strengthening while easing back into run training. Those first few runs were pretty wonky. I wasn’t confident at all my knee was ready to come back to the stress of running. By the weekend, however, things felt a lot better. The following Monday, I felt I was ready for a quality session. And since it was my downhill running that overtaxed the knee, I felt an [up]hill session was a wise choice for the first quality session back. That went well and so, encouraged, I did a tempo run 72 hours later followed by a Sunday long run 3 days after the tempo run. It felt so good to run up at Lake Sonoma, even if I did get tangled up in a bunch of briars while swimming across a flooded section of trail from recent heavy rains. I’ll take it!

According to plan, I just wanted to get my feet back under me, build a bit of fitness, then take the next 5 days or so to really recover and absorb those initial quality sessions. This time off preceded my Spring Break from teaching, which, including weekends would be ten days in duration (3/19 – 3/28). With all that time off I could easily over do it…

Spring Break Training – 3/19 – 3/28 (10 days). Weeks in ascending order. Source:
Spring Break Training – 3/19 – 3/28 (10 days). Weeks in ascending order. Source:

I love hilly long runs. Naturally, this is why I gravitate to long, hilly ultrarunning events. They speak to my heart and soul. Thus, I planned it out to conduct four long runs over the 10 day spring break. Where once I would’ve done a long run every other day (and more heavily accumulate fatigue) I decided it best to stick to my 72-hour rule, which had been working well since I started back running. The plan was to hit the first long run that first day off, which coincided with the Lake Sonoma 50mi Training Runs anyway, and Lake Sonoma doesn’t have the long, steep descents that I find at Hood Mountain & Sugarloaf Ridge. Essentially, Lake Sonoma would be a little friendlier to my knee for this first “official” long run back.

My long runs were then scheduled as follows: Saturday, Tuesday, Friday, and Monday. The day after the long run would be a non-running day where I’d get out and ride the bike, easy, for a few hours, just spinning the legs. The day before the long run, I decided to do double days. But, running twice in a day didn’t seem like a wise decision considering my knee, so I decided to make the morning session a pretty easy fast-hike wearing my 20lb weight vest. I get a kick out of this session because I’m killing two birds with one stone, i.e., practicing a skill—fast-hiking—that’s important in ultrarunning while getting some strength stimulus from the vest. I soon started listening to podcasts during this session as well. Eventually I’m going to integrate minimalist shoes since the session’s only an hour, I’m not running, and stress on the legs is minimal. Seems to me a cool place to get my feet even more in touch with the trail. Hoka’s got some very light, more minimalist style shoes that’ll work well for this particular session.

Another point of note: now two days removed from the long run, I was feeling the effects of the long run and felt validated in the decision to run long every three days versus every other day. We feel the effects of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) most two days after a hard session. With the extra day of recovery, I feel we can not only arrive more fresh to the next quality session, but increase the duration of that session, deriving even more quality from it. Because most of us are slaves to the 7-day work-week, we can’t take full  advantage of this 10-day training cycle that a lot of pro endurance athletes use. If/when life presents the opportunity to employ it, I highly recommend trying it out! Quality sessions are more fun when the body (and mind!) are fresh. Weekly training volume is what it is.

The PM session—opposite the weight vest session—is what I now refer to as the “Easy. Light. Smooth,” or “ESL” run, whose name I stole from Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run, documenting how the Tarahumara Indian tribe runs—Easy, light, and smooth. Recall, this session is my first actual run since the long run two days prior so I want to use it to gauge how I’m coming off the long run before I ask my body to do another one. As it turned out, the method turned out to be very effective. Endurance sports training 101: Keep the easy days easy so the hard days can actually be hard. And in a long run, the quality comes from duration not intensity.

For the subsequent three long runs, I wanted to get out to my fave place to train here locally—Hood/Sugarloaf, where I spend much of the time just going uphill, which is great for me ’cause that’s my limiter in ultra racing. And all the low-impact uphill work didn’t affect my knee. Over the whole spring break I was very reasonable and controlled with my descending (my strength), which unfortunately places incredible demands on the knees, especially in races that last 7-19 hours! Anyway, I really enjoyed these last three 5+ hour runs with around 8000′ of climb each. The streams are flowing and everything’s green. The temps were down and I could easily get around my loop on one 300cal bottle of Vitargo for hydration. That will not be the case as the season heats up!

Spring Break Running Totals: 147mi w/ 36,000′ of elevation gain/loss

Thus my spring break served its purpose—establish a strong foundation moving forward with training and get some very specific work for the 16,000′ of elevation gain/loss at Canyons 100k on May 7th. I’ll hope to have this wonderful opportunity to race on the Western States 100 course, but also get to compete one more time whilst I’m still 41 (I turn 42 just two days later). I love getting to race on or near my actual birthday. Provides some extra incentive! I will, however, have to keep my eyes on the prize and listen to my body during Canyons. If the knee’s really talkin’ to me, I might have to make a tough decision and drop in order to, as I tell athletes I coach, “preserve the future.” I do anticipate racing strong from start to finish but given that Canyons is only 7 weeks out from States, I just have to be careful. There’s a big difference between doing an easy 5-hour long run and racing a demanding 100k. My plan is to arrive to the starting line of Canyons very fit and fresh so I can not only race effectively but also recover very well in time to get back to a training block for States, which I’m very excited to do!

Psyched and super grateful to back on board with HOKA ONE ONE this year. Lots of great new models to try out and keep me running strong. It’s gonna be another awesome season!!
Psyched and super grateful to back on board with HOKA ONE ONE this year. Lots of great new models to try out and keep me running strong. It’s gonna be another awesome season!!
Equally psyched to back on board with the fastest muscle fuel out there—VitargoS2. And by the way, the new watermelon flavor is the!!
Equally psyched to back on board with the fastest muscle fuel out there—VitargoS2. And by the way, the new watermelon flavor is the!!

Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”  |  Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me keep the dream alive!


Shawn Sullivan: Pine to Palm 100 – 23:03:42

Nov15_Sullivan002Question: Hi Shawn, congratulations on finishing the Pine to Palm 100 miler in less than 24 hours and getting 9th place! That is a huge accomplishment! What motivated you to enter this particular race? Is it the longest race you have completed so far?

Answer: This is the longest distance I’ve raced but this would be my third hundred miler…I was actually at this race last year crewing and pacing another runner. I knew before my runner was even halfway through the race that this was a race I wanted to do – it’s beautiful course, great vibe, and great people .


Running 100 miles means you have a lot of time to think about things on the trail. Do you have a strategy for keeping your mind focused?Does your mind sometimes attempt to convince yourself that you should stop and give up? How do you deal with the psychological aspects of running so far?

Well although you’re thinking about the finish line, you should really run aid station to aid station, and breaking it in smaller chunks helps a lot. Your mind tells you not to even show up at the start line…haha, but yes it can be a battle in your head at any moment or the entire time! I have started using an iPod on these long ones – I’ll usually have an audiobook and a bunch of different music .

Nov15Murdoch07How did you survive the “three epic climbs of 7000 feet” with over 20K of elevation gain? Did you ever have to walk?

Oh yeah, you walk or power hike, although I don’t think I walked a step up until 35-40 miles in. If you’re running slow enough that you could be walking the same speed then you should be walking and keeping your heart rate down. The first climb was really good and I was fresh, my adrenaline was going (on 2 1/2 hours sleep even),  plus running at the front you kind of feel like you’re being chased. The second climb was pretty awesome as well – I was really excited to get to the top of Dutchmen Peak because I had just climbed back into third place (after losing about six spots) and I would be getting a pacer when I got to the top. The third climb was not so great.  I had quit eating about 10 miles before this climb, apparently my stomach was not OK with me eating around 25 Roctanes and a few other gels. Although the view at the top of Wagner Butte is pretty awesome it looks down on Medford I believe, and this was the toughest part of the race for me.


Do you “enjoy” these long races? How would you describe the experience and the outcome? Is it the challenge that it is seemingly impossible? Is it the special belt buckle you get at the end?

Oh definitely I love these things, there’s such a sense of community and family in trail running. The experience itself is kind of hard to put into words, how you feel from moment to moment during the race isn’t necessarily the same as when you reflect on the overall endeavor. You may have extreme lows that seem unsurpassable in the moment but slightly less significant when you look back at the big picture. And yeah the belt buckle is pretty sweet too.


What does your body experience after twenty miles……forty miles……sixty miles…..eighty miles………?? Do you find that your body goes through various stages ranging from feeling ok to feeling like your entire body is rebelling against you?

Oh man that’s so hard to answer! It’s always different, I don’t blister so that’s never an issue.  Depending on how long I’m out there the sleep monster tries to get me at some point or maybe multiple points.

And yes my body has rebelled in so many ways, and although seemingly impossible at the moment most things can be overcome, barring causing permanent damage of course.


What is your hydration and nutrition strategy? How often do you drink and eat, and what? Do you ever get sick, meaning either diarrhea or throwing up? Anything special in your drop bags at the aid stations?

Nutrition is a constant learning process for me. Up to the 50 K distance I used to just drink Cokes and eat Oreos. These days I’m trying to use just mixes and gels, they’re so convenient in so many ways. For me I try to be consistently eating and drinking, a slow steady flow into my stomach works best. I’ve gotten sick a few times, nothing too bad, but it’s just convincing yourself to eat afterwards that’s the hard part. Drop bags hmm – depending on the course layout and crew availability maybe a light rain jacket and headlamp. Individual wet wipes can be very handy…….you get pretty dirty out there.


During the race itself, do you have any stories of anything that happened? Something interesting that happened along the way?

Ha!  Yeah we were just talking about this – one of my pacers/crew who shall remain nameless (Jeff Knapp) apparently took a projectile bottlecap to the face. Apparently when you take a homebrew up a few thousand feet it might not respond well? Hopefully I can get you a picture one of the course photographers snapped.

During a standard 10K, basically everyone is out there running for themselves and it’s over pretty fast. In a long race like this, do the competitors help each other?


Yeah the community feeling in these races is awesome, you’re all out there to get it done and cross that finish line, just some faster than others. And yes, as a matter fact, I was getting dehydrated about 35 miles in due to overshooting my crew by 45 minutes and not being able to get an extra bottle for the exposed section coming up. I figured when I got to the aid station I would just drink extra and take some salt with me but that aid station hadn’t gotten any salt tabs yet so a few miles out from that aid station a fellow competitor passed me and asked “Do you need anything?” and gladly offered up some salt tabs. This is one of the many reasons I love ultra running. I don’t think any of us would leave a fellow runner in distress if we could help,  just for the sake of beating them.

Based on the results, I counted that 120 people started the race, but only 75 finished – that’s a 37% drop out rate. Almost all of them quit at 52 miles or less. Why do you think so many people drop out?


Hundred mile races are tough and this course is no joke. To start the first 10 miles is just a consistent climb followed by a 10 mile dissent and then mile 30 to 50 was pretty exposed.  That could have something to do with why most runners dropped at 52 miles.

What was your greatest high during the race? And compare that to your worst low?

Greatest high would be running up to the top of Dutchmen peak after taking several spots back and now being back on the podium …biggest low was probably climbing Wagner Butte – it’s not even that long of a climb but it just never seemed to end.

Did you do anything to reward yourself after the race?

I took a nap ….


Would you recommend this run to someone considering their first 100 Miler?

Sure – it’s a very doable course in a beautiful area, and you can’t beat a point to point race.


Here is the link to the Pine to Palm 100 website:  

Here is the link to the results:

2015 Ilsanjo Classic 10 Miler, Neo-Classic 4-Miler, and Newt Scoot, March 8th, 2015
2015 Ilsanjo Classic 10 Miler, Neo-Classic 4-Miler, and Newt Scoot, March 8th, 2015

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.