Archive for the ‘Race Reports’ Category


Best DNF ever

April 15, 2014

About 46 miles into Saturday’s Mad City 100K, I slowed to a walk.

For a minute or two, walking felt AWESOME! But then even that became difficult, and my race was over. I got a ride from the arboretum aid station to the start/finish area, reported my status to the race director, and took shelter in a friend’s vehicle.

It was a disappointing outcome, to be sure, but it felt different than my past racing failures (e.g., Mad City 2008). This time I was more ready to accept the result, less worried about whether it was “fair” or avoidable. I began the race aware that it would be hard to reach my very specific goal of breaking 7:20; I took my shot; and I came up short. It’s a shame, but it’s no Greek tragedy.

Thanks to everyone who helped me get to this point. And congratulations to the Mad City finishers, especially women’s winner Pam Smith and the five (!) men (Zach Bitter, Joe Binder, Nick Accardo, Jim Sweeney, Kevin Grabowski) who did go under 7:20.


Titus Van Rijn, Two Thousand Thirteen

May 31, 2013

Having Uli Steidl as your pacer is a bit like having Wolfgang Puck as your sous-chef. You don’t feel worthy of the honor, but still want to take full advantage while it lasts.

My latest attempt at the Titus Van Rijn one-hour track event came on May 25th at the Roosevelt High School track. I invited a few local running friends to join me; Uli was the only one to succumb to the temptation. He offered to pace me, I accepted, and off we went in pursuit of my goal of 11 “metric miles” (i.e., 44 laps of the 400-meter track).

At my request, Uli settled into a pace of about 82 seconds per lap, with a couple of slower lap times attributable to my consumption of Gatorade. We made it through 16 laps in 22:00 and 24 laps in 33:02, then picked up the pace slightly. We finished our 35th lap at 48:00, leaving exactly 12 minutes to cover the last 9 hoped-for laps. Uli locked onto the required 80-seconds-per-lap pace with his usual precision, and we ultimately completed lap 44 with 3 seconds to spare.

Our final distance was 17,615 meters. Thus, because of Uli, I was able to surpass my TVR distances from 2008 (17,420m) and 2001 (17,360m), though still falling short of my marks from 2006 (18,115m) and 2009 (17,920m). Not too bad for an old codger.

Thanks, Uli!


Coming of age

May 20, 2013

On Sunday I attended the annual “Coming of Age” service at the University Unitarian Church, where 9th-graders offer brief statements on how they define faith for themselves. Many were quite insightful.

One of my favorite speeches emphasized making the most of today, rather than dwelling on the past or the future. It’s a very familiar message, but one that bears repeating periodically.

The UU service came a couple of hours after I made my debut as a Master at the Nordstrom’s Beat The Bridge 8K.

Among runners, the word Master has a very specific meaning — 40 years old and beyond — but associated with that are numerous ideas and feelings. For some runners, becoming a Master represents a leveling of the playing field whereby they can let the young kids go and focus on the other Masters. For others, it’s a sort of rebirth — a time to resume serious training and competition after a period of inactivity.

For me personally, the “rebirth” concept was inspiring in the months leading up to my 40th birthday. But now that I have actually arrived at Master-dom, I don’t feel reborn so much as rebuilt with spare parts. I feel OK, but certainly not “as good as new.”

As I prepared for Beat The Bridge last week, I exercised what I thought was admirable caution in my speed workouts. I made them shorter than usual and obeyed “speed limits” so that I wouldn’t strain anything. Nevertheless, my left hamstring was bothered by 2x1530m on the mildly uneven surface of Cal Anderson Park’s gravel path and felt slightly gimpy afterward.

The race ultimately went fine. With my time of 25:42, I won the Masters division comfortably over David McCulloch (26:46), Travis Adams (27:13), and Mark Donohue (27:51). But the kids left me in the dust. After 1 mile, my hamstring was not quite normal, and I was already out of contention for the Nordstrom’s gift cards given annually to the top 5 finishers. (I placed 3rd in 2006 and 4th in 2009 and 2010.) The winner, 29-year-old Jordan Horn, ran 23:37.

Thus, as I embark on life as a Master, I don’t feel like a master in the sense of “master of the universe” or “master of disguise.” I’ve managed to regain some speed on a schedule of running every other day, and I may improve further in the coming months. But my very fastest and healthiest days are almost certainly behind me.

As a wise 9th grader once said, I’ll try to make the most of today anyway.

with Health E. Hound
My post-race checkup with Dr. Health E. Hound.


Not getting old

November 18, 2012

Yesterday I turned 39.5.

I don’t celebrate half-birthdays; usually I don’t even notice them. But yesterday I was exactly six months away from masters competition, which offers significant prestige and reward to those who excel.

I decided to mark the 6-months-out point with a race — my first race since my Achilles injury in 2010 and surgery in 2011.

While many of the fittest Seattle runners were in Spokane for the regional cross country championships, I headed to Magnuson Park for the first-ever Mustache Dache 5K.

I wasn’t sure how competitive the Dache would be. There were hundreds and hundreds of people with numbers on, but the singlet-to-costume ratio was quite low.

As the race began, I settled into about 7th place, with the top six within 10-15 yards. The pace — 5:15/mile? — felt brisk, given my current fitness, but manageable.

A bit less than one mile in, the tempo seemed to slacken. I surged mildly to the front of the lead group. That felt fine, so I extended the mild surge and distanced myself from the others without too much trouble. And that was that. I won by 17 seconds.

Regardless of the exact circumstances, it’s always exhilarating to take command of a race. To assert one’s fitness and experience and, in doing so, dictate the outcome. To announce, “Thank you for playing, but you are now playing for 2nd.”

However childish or arrogant this pleasure may be, it hasn’t gotten old in three decades of racing. I don’t think it ever will.


Satisfaction personified

August 1, 2010

At Friday’s pre-race check-in and pasta dinner, I spotted Meghan Arbogast and went over to say hi to her.

“So,” I said, “I think we’re kinda the favorites for tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I think we kinda are,” she agreed.

And then I looked toward the parking lot and saw Tony Krupicka walking toward us. “Um, I think the new favorite just arrived….” was all I could add.

The last-minute addition of Tony to the White River field eliminated any realistic hopes I had of winning and thus was disappointing to me in that respect. But it also refocused me on my years-old goal of breaking the 7-hour barrier.

After a relatively good night’s sleep, it was time to go. In contrast to last year, when I burst from the starting line and led the field through the first few miles, I felt a bit sluggish and settled into 20th or 30th place. My time to the first aid station, Camp Sheppard (3.9 miles), was 29-something, a minute slower than last year.

Next came the long climb up to Ranger Creek (11.7 miles). I never feel that great on this section. The incline is a slap in the face after the gently rolling terrain preceding it, and it’s depressing to watch the great uphill runners drop me with apparent ease. Also, the moderate altitude (most of the race takes place between 3000 and 6000 feet) offers an extra challenge for sea-level dwellers like me. Anyway, I made it to Ranger Creek in 1:42, still a minute slower than last year.

Continuing to not feel wonderful, I somehow got to Corral Pass (16.9 miles) ahead of schedule (2:26, vs. 2:28 in 2009). With this satisfying split under my belt, I might have relaxed a bit too much heading back to Ranger Creek, although this section is also a perennial challenge for me because of the two-way traffic and the need to return people’s greetings so as not to seem like an elitist ass. My split back at Ranger Creek (22.1 miles) was 3:07 (vs. 3:08 in 2009).

For the past two years, I had found the descent from Ranger Creek to Buck Creek (27.3 miles) to be gentle and relaxing — a chance to run fast with minimal effort before the strenuous climb to Fawn Ridge (31.7 miles) and Sun Top (37.0 miles). Yesterday, for whatever reason, the leg was less serene and slower than usual. I unhappily arrived at Buck Creek in 3:46 (vs. 3:45 in 2009).

With this unencouraging feedback from the various creek checkpoints, it was time to fish or cut bait. I stepped up the intensity, passed Adam Lint and Josh Brimhall, and got to Fawn Ridge in 4:29. I had again leapfrogged slightly ahead of my 2009 self (4:30). The ascent continued and so did my march forward place-wise. I passed Tim Olson, whom I briefly mistook for Tony because he’s long-haired and was running shirtless and in dark shorts, and then caught up to Scott Jurek, who was unmistakable in his fluorescent green top. “I love that singlet, Jurek,” I called out to him. “It’s like a giant bull’s-eye.”

Scott was climbing well, and I didn’t pass him until after we both caught Yassine Diboun, who was walking up some of the steeper parts (as most people do). I eventually pulled ahead of them; then came a prolonged downhill after the false summit, and they passed me back; then came the final switchbacks up to Sun Top, and I overtook Yassine again. I arrived at the summit hot on Scott’s heels in 5:24, now a whopping 5 minutes ahead of my 2009 split.

pic of me hot on Scott's heels
[Here’s me closing in on Scott as we approach Sun Top. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.]

I passed Scott a minute or two into the 6.4 mile descent on the Sun Top dirt road. He asked me whether we were on sub-7 pace and, not having the breath to explain the caveats of my calculations, I simply said yes. I felt pretty strong and smooth, considering the uphill charge I had just made, and the metal mile markers on the side of the road offered welcome updates on pace and distance. At Skookum Flats (mile 43.4), I was still 5 minutes ahead of last year (6:05 vs. 6:10), and Scott was nowhere in sight.

The final 6.6 miles are fairly flat but full of roots and rocks. Last year I came to this section thinking that I could blast through it fast enough to dip under 7:00, but I couldn’t. This year I had the time cushion that I needed as long as I didn’t trip badly or run out of gas. Fluid intake and foot placement would be top priorities until I was figuratively and literally out of the woods.

Finally, at about 6:56 flat, I reached the dirt road that would take me to the finish line. “Thank God!” I said aloud with nonreligious but profound relief. I finished, smiling, in 6:58:10 — 3:49 faster than last year.

My smile was not a smile of victory, as I had been trounced by Tony (6:25:29, breaking his course record of 6:32 from last year!) and 19-year-old phenom Dakota Jones (6:49:20!), nor was it a smile of having run the best race I possibly could have. But I had finally laid my sub-7 quest to rest, and I was awfully satisfied with that, and it showed.

chatting with the champ
[Here’s Tony explaining how he ran 6:25 or, more likely, graciously complimenting me on my 6:58. Photo by John Wallace III.]


The Great Kilted Run

May 26, 2010

This wasn’t the most consequential of events — it began with me giving a silver bowl to the race organizers and ended with them giving it back to me. But it had its moments.

Phil managed to finish the one-kilometer kids’ run, thanks to faithful pacing and encouragement from Mommy. He was pleased with the ribbon he received and didn’t seem to mind being trounced by the older kids.

In the 5K, Mommy and I each placed 1st. Mommy’s win was essentially uncontested, as she finished nearly two minutes ahead of the runner-up, a 13-year-old whom she coaches. My own triumph was less decisive. For the first two miles, I dueled with a pleasant young man named Tahoma Khalsa. As I finally edged ahead in the third mile, Brian Oster’s shout to me was instructive rather than celebratory: “You’ve got to go early, Greg; he’s faster than you!” In other words, he has a better finishing kick, so I needed to put some distance on him immediately. Which I did.

As for the bowl, it had been awarded to me at last year’s race, and now it was time to pass it on to the new champion . . . which turned out to be me. Next year, if I’m feeling really confident, maybe I’ll just leave it at home.


Rocky Raccoon: bigger, better, and almost indefensible

April 30, 2010

[This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of UltraRunning.]

Founded in 1993, the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Huntsville State Park, Texas, was once a relatively remote outpost of ultramarathoning. That was before the addition of a 50-mile race (in 2002), the reign of current race directors Joe and Joyce Prusaitis (since 2004), and the hosting of a USATF 100-mile trail championship (in 2006). Today, the event is one of the largest and most well-known in North America, with runners coming from near and far to enjoy the wide, gently rolling trails punctuated by frequent aid stations (one every four miles or so), along with weather that is usually mild and dry (as it was this year). There were 344 starters in the 100-mile race and another 296 in the 50-miler.

Rocky Raccoon’s growth in size and reputation has made it increasingly difficult to win. Meredith Terranova, the women’s 50-mile champ in 2008 (8:21) and 2009 (8:02), was back this year to defend her title and clocked a blistering 7:12, well under the old course record of 7:44 set by her coach, Amanda McIntosh, in 2002. Yet 7:12 was only good enough for 2nd place, as Terranova’s friend and fellow Texan Melanie Fryer ran 6:59:40.

Somewhat similarly, Jamie Donaldson (Littleton, CO) offered a strong defense of her 100-mile title, her 2010 time of 16:54 being just three minutes slower than her 2009 time. Yet she too was dethroned. Liza Howard ended the first 20-mile loop with a split time of 2:49 and a one-minute lead over Donaldson and Connie Gardner; she extended her lead to 13 minutes by the end of lap two (5:47) and was not challenged thereafter. Howard finished in 15:45:03, the second-fastest female time in race history, behind only Jenn Shelton’s course record of 14:57. Howard had also raced Rocky Raccoon in 2009 but was slowed by stops to nurse her then-one-year-old son, as well as a nap during the fourth lap. Her win thus came as a surprise to many, though not to those who witnessed her beat all men and women at the Cactus Rose 100 last October.

The times of the winning men were perhaps less impressive than those of the top women, though Andrew Bloom of Illinois registered a very quick opening 16.67-mile lap of 1:52 in the 50-miler. He was passed during lap two by fellow 23-year-old Dominic Grossman of California, who ultimately cruised to a 22-minute victory over Sean Lewis of Texas, finishing in 6:26:05.

Among the male 100-mile starters, six came through 20 miles in times between 2:38 and 2:41, including Greg Crowther (Seattle, WA) and Ian Sharman (Bend, OR). Crowther remained slightly ahead of Sharman at the 40-mile and 60-mile checkpoints (5:20 vs. 5:22 and 8:09 vs. 8:19, respectively). The fourth lap proved decisive, as Crowther kept running while Sharman slowed to a walk and was passed by Tony Clark of Kansas, who eventually became the second male finisher in 16:28, behind Crowther’s 14:58:32. This was Crowther’s second attempt at the 100-mile distance; he declared it to be an unpleasantly long way to run, but added that it was less unpleasant than DNFing at mile 62 of Western States in 2007. He enjoyed pacing help from John Reynolds and Paul Terranova, the same duo that paced Jamie Donaldson to her victory in 2009.

Among other notable performances, Jeff Holdaway of Virginia ran 20:13, his 10th Rocky Raccoon 100 finish in 11 years, to become the sixth member of the “1000-mile club.” Previously inducted members adding another 100 miles to their lifetime totals included 67-year-old Rolly Portelance of Canada (26:43) and 69-year-old Hans-Dieter Weisshaar of Germany (28:39).

Top performers were rewarded with locally produced trophies made out of rusted metal. At least one veteran of past Rocky Raccoons considered these prizes preferable to a previous year’s offering of “large tree segments.”


Take what the day gives you

April 11, 2010

Yesterday’s race made me feel old. I don’t mean that in a purely negative sense.

At certain 5Ks and 10Ks, I seem to play the role of the crafty old veteran whose sensible tactics partly compensate for limited legspeed. I generally pace myself well, respecting the features of the course, and wind up passing some really fit kids who went out too fast. It’s not as fun as winning the whole race, which often requires good tactics AND good speed, but there’s a certain satisfaction in using one’s experience to achieve the best result possible on a given day.

Yesterday’s race, the Mad City 100K, was a similar exercise in coaxing an acceptable performance out of a less-than-fully-cooperative body. I was hoping to run 7:05 or better, but the desired pace felt uncomfortable, so I slowed down, drank copiously in recognition of the unseasonably warm temperatures (47 degrees at the start, 67 degrees by the finish), and revised my goals to be (A) staying under the national 100K team qualifying standard of 7:20 and (B) placing as highly as possible. I remembered something that Patrick Russell said to me at this race three years ago amidst lousy weather — “You have to take what the day gives you” — and adopted that as my mantra for the last 50K.

I finished far behind winner Matt Woods (7:06:21), which was quite disappointing. On the other hand, I worked my way up to 2nd place with a late rally, passing Chad Ricklefs at 88K and Chikara Omine at 91K, and my runner-up position and time of 7:15:11 should be enough to get me back onto the national team, which will compete in Gibraltar in November.

I may avoid long races during the next few months so that I can focus my training on preparing for Gibraltar. But we’ll see what the summer brings.

pre-race mug shotNo, I didn’t quite live up to my bib number. Photo by Timo Yanacheck.


Pampered no longer

March 22, 2010

Until participating in the Big Climb race up the stairs of the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle, I had no sense of just how pampered road runners can be.

Here are some things that most road runners take for granted:
1. The option to train on courses similar to the race course.
2. The option to warm up thoroughly right before the race.
3. The option to pass slower runners without altering your stride or announcing your approach.
4. The option to keep an eye on the people you most want to beat, and to draw inspiration from their proximity.
5. The option to know immediately, upon finishing the race, whether you beat those people.

As I found out, these generally are NOT options for stair races such as the Big Climb.

Liz and I did manage to exercise option #1, but only because of a chance email exchange with PJ Glassey, who let us join his Saturday morning practice sessions at the 63-story municipal building across the street from the Columbia Center. Otherwise we’d have been stuck preparing for the 1,311-step Big Climb on outdoor stairways of 200-300 steps with landings, turns, and handrails very different from those in the Columbia Center.

The other options listed above are rendered impractical by the logistics of sending thousands of people up a 43-inch-wide stairwell. People line up 15 minutes ahead of their scheduled start time, twitch nervously while standing in place, and then are sent into the stairwell at five-second intervals. Passing and/or getting passed are frequent occurrences except for the lucky few at the very beginning of this vertical parade.

Being a pampered road runner at heart, I did not exactly take these inconveniences “in stride.” For example, my amazement at the size of the Illahee Middle School team — over 200 participants! — turned to frustration as I seemingly encountered 190 of them on the way up, demonstrating every conceivable pace, trajectory, and level of awareness of those behind them. I would later find out that I had placed 6th in a slower-than-desired time of 7:54. Four of the five guys who beat me had the benefit of a very early start. (One of those was raw-food evangelist Tim VanOrden, who was exacting revenge for my win over fellow raw-food advocate Michael Arnstein at the JFK 50 last November. That’s the theory of my friend Henry Wigglesworth, anyway, and since Henry was at JFK and is a stair-racing expert, how could I doubt him?)

As I lingered at the top of the Columbia Center and some of my teammates arrived, my tension dissipated. Yes, I was part of a team — a very nice one, in fact, irrespective of my focus on the pursuit of individual glory. And we, the “PATH To Victory” team, consisting of employees and friends of PATH, were doing the Big Climb in memory of Steve Rider, who died of complications of leukemia last June.

I myself never met Steve. But he was younger than me when he died, and he was the brother of a former PATH employee, and the Big Climb exists to help people like him and families like his. And so it was a good lesson to be slowed down by a bunch of middle-school kids and then to be reminded of where this ranks in the grand list of life’s hardships.

Below are a couple of pictures of some of my PATH To Victory teammates: Dave Oxley and Melissa Valdez in the top photo, and Janet Vail, Shannon Mills, and Doug Palm in the bottom one. Thanks to them and the others (Christine Brooks, Grant Kidd, Deborah Phillips, and Paul Sivesind) for welcoming Liz and me onto the team.

Dave and MelissaJanet, Shannon, and Doug


A pyrrhic victory

February 7, 2010

You could say that my day at the Rocky Raccoon 100 was foreshadowed by the movie I watched on Friday with my aunt and uncle: Avatar. It was really long, had lots of running through the woods, was about a guy whose legs ceased to function and who wished for a new body, and included much pain and suffering followed by a happy ending.

The story of my race could also be told in part by the split times of my 20-mile laps: 2:38, 2:42, 2:50, 3:04 … and 3:45. Most of the last lap was in the dark, but at the rate I was moving then, darkness was hardly an impediment.

I spent much of the first lap running and chatting with Paul Hopwood, who had finished the grueling HURT 100 only three weeks earlier. He was in good spirits and seemed light on his feet until I happened to ask him about the number of 100-milers he had completed. At that instant his toes caught a root and he went down, rolling forward and springing back up again. “Well, this is going to be my last one,” he said. “Thanks for asking, Greg.”

I had known from the beginning that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to approach Eric Clifton’s race record of 13:06:02 (set on a different and perhaps easier course). However, my 20-mile split of 2:38 was right on record pace, and I decided to see whether I could maintain that pace for a while longer. After lap 2, which I ran alone, I knew that the record was indeed out of reach, and I refocused on my original and primary time goal of breaking 14 hours. Lap 3 was a bit slower than I had hoped for but still consistent with a possible sub-14-hour finish. My first pacer, John Reynolds, was waiting for me at mile 60, and I figured that the help from him and Paul Terranova (who would run miles 80 to 100 with me) would minimize further slowdowns.

John and Paul — good names at a race named after a Beatles song — did an excellent job, yet my pace projections for these final laps proved wildly optimistic. There was nothing remarkable about my fatigue — no sudden failures of particular muscle groups — but it deepened gradually and relentlessly.

At my request, John did his best to maintain a one-sided conversation so as to distract me from my deteriorating condition. He told me about his preparation for the upcoming Nueces 50, which I misheard, perhaps tellingly, as the “Oasis 50.” He also handled what I called the “public relations” of the lap: greeting other runners, warning them of our approach from behind, etc. The 50-mile runners did a 16.67-mile loop that was very similar to the 100-milers’ 20-mile loop, and there were multiple segments with two-way traffic, so encounters with other runners were quite frequent. Many of them offered friendly encouragement, and John responded in kind so that I could save my breath without feeling like a jerk.

I arrived at mile 80 knowing that a sub-14-hour time was out of the question but still assuming that something better than 14:30 was likely. Paul took over for John, and off we went.

Having come this far, I dearly wanted to win the race, but I had trouble getting accurate information on the size of my lead. At 83.1 miles, someone told me that I was ahead by only 14 minutes. This seemed unlikely but made me nervous anyway. My strength continued to wane, and I doubted that I could rebuff a challenge from anyone running fast enough to catch up to me. At the JFK 50, I had stolen a victory from Michael Arnstein in the last ten minutes of a nearly six-hour race; was I about to fall victim to a similar act of cruelty? I asked Paul to watch for runners approaching from behind.

Paul continued John’s public relations work while providing me with gentle encouragement and tales of life in Texas. Despite his exceptional companionship, though, my mood worsened with each passing mile. When a volunteer at the Dam Road aid station (mile 92.2) offered me some delicious-looking macaroni and cheese, of which she seemed quite proud, I hesitated. I had grown sick of Gatorade and Shot Bloks hours ago, and it would have been great to sit down and eat some real food for a minute…. But Paul politely declined on my behalf, bringing me back to the reality of the miles ahead. As we trudged onward, he said, “Did you know that some Texas restaurants are so proud of their barbecue meat that they serve it without sauce?”

In that moment I realized just how hard Paul was trying to keep me engaged. I coughed up an involuntary laugh — one of my only vocalizations between miles 86 and 97 that was not a groan or a sigh.

At the Park Road aid station at mile 95.6, I was finally able to confirm that my lead was safe, and my mood lightened slightly. Then we reached a junction that I had determined earlier to be about 2.9 miles from the start/finish area, and I checked my time: 14:32. With a strong kick, I could still slip under 15 hours. I ordered Paul to accelerate and followed him over the wooden footbridges alongside Lake Raven and then up the path away from the lake. I suddenly felt strong and alert again. My flashlight abruptly died, so Paul gave me his and I moved in front of him.

Before long we were sailing along the final straightaway, a couple hundred meters long. “Number 169 is finishing!” I yelled to the race officials. As Paul and I finished in 14:58, I raised his hand in triumph, for the victory belonged to him too — as it did to John and to my uncle Chris, who crewed for me thoughout the day, and to Paul’s wife Meredith, who assisted Chris after placing 2nd in the 50-mile race.

Race director Joe Prusaitis emerged from the darkness. “You ran a great race!” he enthused. “No, YOU ran a great race!” I said, poking him in the chest with my index finger. “That was REALLY well organized!”

I hobbled to the recovery tent, changed into dry clothes, and talked with Paul, Meredith, and Chris. Then Chris and I went to find some macaroni and cheese.

Photos by Chris Eckert

mile 40
Me at mile 40 (I think).

the salmon and the buckle
Pacer Paul Terranova (holding the box of smoked salmon that I gave him as a thank-you gift) and me (holding the belt buckle awarded to sub-24-hour finishers) in the recovery tent after the race.

trophyMy 1st-place trophy. It’s a cowboy made out of rusted metal.