Archive for the ‘Race Reports’ Category


A dramatic ending to the JFK 50

November 21, 2009

“Where the hell did you come from?” That was Michael Arnstein’s question as I pulled even with him during the 49th mile of the JFK 50.

Michael’s surprise was understandable, for he had been gliding toward an apparent victory for quite some time while I slowly reeled in the people behind him. After a cautious traverse of the 15.5-mile Appalachian Trail section of the course, I was in about 15th place, seven minutes behind the leaders. It wasn’t until mile 25 or so that I broke into the top ten and mile 35 or so that I entered the top five. I finally overtook 2nd place (Matt Woods, running his first-ever 50-miler) at mile 40 or 41. I was three minutes behind Michael at that point, and when told at mile 44 that I was still three minutes behind him, I gave up on the idea of winning. I was working really hard to run 6:50 miles over rolling country roads, and without a target in sight, I couldn’t go any faster.

Then at mile 46 I was told that the lead was down to 2:11, and the chase was on again. I accelerated, brought Michael into view, accelerated some more, and hunted him down like the cold-blooded killer I can be in such situations. Poor guy. I wound up with the narrowest margin of victory in the 47-year history of the race, 45 seconds, and the second-fastest time in race history, 5:50:13. It was undoubtedly the most exciting ultramarathon finish of my life, and I think the photographic evidence will confirm that I broke the tape with a huge smile on my face.

So how exactly did this happen? To start with, I think my fall training avoided some previous mistakes. For example, I shortened my long-and-hard runs a bit to avoid trashing my legs as much as in the past. I still tried to run near race pace along routes that roughly resembled the race course, but I gave myself more flexibility (in terms of both pace and venue) than before so as to make the training more enjoyable.

As for the race itself, there was a certain amount of luck involved, but I also credit myself for being very, very patient. I knew that I couldn’t stay with the leaders on the rocky Appalachian Trail, so I let them go without getting too stressed out about it. Then when I reached the flat, wide towpath that constitutes the middle 26.3 miles of the race, I resisted the urge to make up lots of ground quickly, instead letting myself ease into the faster pace. I also resisted the urge to check my splits every mile using the towpath’s mile markers, which likewise would have added more stress.

Finally, although it’s obvious that I and all ultrarunners depend on support from spouses, friends, race volunteers, etc., today’s race provided a particularly striking example of this. My friend Henry Wigglesworth, a former Seattle resident now living in Washington DC, served as my handler. At each of the five aid stations where personal handlers were permitted, he had my drinks and food ready so that I didn’t have to fend for myself or convey my needs to the aid station volunteers (who were great, by the way). He probably saved me an average of 12 seconds per aid station. If you recall that my margin of victory was 45 seconds, it is not much of a stretch to say that I won the race because of Henry.


A change of pace at the Lake Samm. race

October 25, 2009

At last fall’s 8K cross-country race at Lake Sammamish State Park, I went out at my usual conservative pace and, after the initial traverse of the beach, got trapped behind dozens of runners as the course narrowed. Yesterday found me at a similar course, but one advertised as only 5 kilometers in length (and then made even shorter to avoid trampling the attendees of a wedding in the park). I started aggressively to get ahead of the congestion of the 100-plus-runner field, and that seemed to work out pretty well. I hit the course-narrowing area in about 10th place, fell back a couple of spots in early-race jockeying, and then moved up gradually until getting outkicked for 3rd by my Seattle Running Club teammate Destry Johnson.

Upon finishing, I looked back and was a bit surprised to see 47-year-old Tony Young right behind me. Tony is really a miler, but he can still fake his way through cross-country races quite well. And just behind him was Mark Davies, a much bigger surprise.

Mark and I have been racing together for about 15 years, with both of us representing Club Northwest in the late ’90s and the SRC more recently. Though Mark did a lot of triathlons and I considered myself a marathoner, we always seemed to wind up near each other in cross-country races. And then Mark developed a mysterious unilateral weakness in his leg. That was several years ago; he’s been battling it ever since, enduring numerous rounds of physical therapy and countless frustrating races. Through it all, he’s remained a loyal and uncomplaining SRC supporter, adding depth to the cross-country roster while volunteering frequently at store-sponsored events. Mark is one of those quiet, reliable types whom every organization benefits from having, and it was great to see him running strongly again.


White River 50: familiar territory

July 25, 2009

The official White River 50 results will show that I placed 3rd. In my mind, though, I was 1st in the Mere Mortals Division, while Tony Krupicka (6:32:07, a stunning course record) defeated Mike Wardian (6:51) for top honors in the Uli Division.

Aside from any illusions I may have had about challenging Tony and Mike, my main goal was to break 7 hours, as it always is on this course. My first attempt, in 2005, resulted in a 7:34 (on a warmer-than-normal day). Last year I got down to 7:07 (which included a 2- to 3-minute wrong turn). This year, as I advanced from the Skookum Flats aid station (mile 43.4) toward the finish, I thought I might finally break 7:00. I needed to run this final section in 49 minutes, and while it took me 52 minutes last year, I felt stronger this time. And so the internal pleading began. “Come on, 20 more minutes and then you’re done . . . with trail running . . . forever!” I lied to my legs. Alas, my split was about 52 minutes again, and I had to be content with a 7:01:59.

On the whole, this year’s splits tracked last year’s rather closely. I ran 0:28 to Camp Sheppard, mile 3.9 (vs. 0:29 last year); 1:41 to Ranger Creek, mile 11.7 (vs. 1:43); 2:08 to Corral Pass, mile 16.9 (vs. 2:09); 3:08 to Ranger Creek, mile 22.1 (vs. 3:10); 3:45 to Buck Creek, mile 27.3 (vs. 3:51); 4:30 to Fawn Ridge, mile 31.7 (vs. 4:33); 5:29 to Sun Top, mile 37.0 (vs. 5:33); and 6:10 to Skookum Flats, mile 43.4 (vs. 6:15). Either my pacing strategy is pretty close to optimal, or I’m making the same mistakes every year.

Another interesting consistency is that I always seem to enjoy the second major climb (from Buck Creek to Sun Top) more than the first (from Camp Sheppard to Corral Pass). This partly reflects the fact that the second climb is more “runnable,” with fewer really steep sections and fewer rocks and roots. But there’s also a psychological side to this. During the first half of this race (or any ultra, really), I’m a bundle of nerves, worrying about whether I’ll make it to halfway in a decent time and with enough energy for the second half. After that, those worries dissipate (assuming that things have gone reasonably well), and I permit myself to “dig in” a bit more because, well, the second half is supposed to hurt. Also, in the second climb I’m running near guys of about my speed, some of whom are fading, which is better for the ego than getting left behind by the fast guys during the first climb.

A final bit of deja vu came in the form of longtime rival Ian Fraser. Ian and I first raced each other in the 1993 or 1994 NCAA Division III cross country meet (he competed for Haverford and I for Williams), and since then we’ve dueled in various Seattle-area races. Ian’s longest previous race was a low-key 50K, so I was surprised to see him at this one — and even more surprised when he passed me at mile 15! He eventually succumbed to cramps and struggled in for 5th place (7:17) behind Scott Jurek (7:13), but, for the first 40-plus miles, it was a heck of a debut.

Thanks to race directors Scott and Leslie McCoubrey, their large team of volunteers, and the race sponsors for another great event.


Another non-disaster

June 7, 2009

Overall, yesterday’s 50-mile trail race — the North Face Endurance Challenge — was quite similar to my previous two trail races (the White River 50 and the Chuckanut Mountain 50K). I paced myself reasonably well and finished respectably, yet was disappointed to finish so far behind the winner. In this case, the winner was Sal Bautista, a 25-year-old ultramarathoning newbie from Dickinson, ND who somehow completed the mountainous and technical course in 7:13. Timmy Parr, (27; Gunnison, CO) was 2nd in 7:46, and I was 3rd in 7:52. The women were led by Jamie Donaldson (34; Littleton, CO; 9:42), Alison Hanks (28; Winthrop WA; 9:55), and Allison Moore (39; Seattle, WA; 10:15).

I’ve written frequently in this blog about my difficulties with gnarly trails, and they were certainly evident yesterday. After Sal and I ran in close proximity for the first two hours, he scampered up a short, steep, rocky slope to the Chuckanut ridge and disappeared. I could only marvel at his nimbleness and take a consoling swig of Gatorade from my bottle.

On the other hand, as I continued on alone for the next six hours, I realized that rugged trails do suit me in at least one important way: they make me listen to my body.

On the roads, I’m usually hell-bent on maintaining a certain goal pace. In pursuing that goal pace, I may ignore my body’s warning signs until it’s too late, leading to dramatic meltdowns. (Possible examples: 2007 Mad City 100K; 2007 JFK 50 Mile; 2008 Mad City 100K; 2008 World Cup 100K.)

On the trails, without such rigid notions of how fast I should be running, I probably do a better job of listening to my body and avoiding those meltdowns. It may not be a coincidence that my body has never shut down in a trail ultra — with the exception of the 2007 Western States 100, which was simply too long for me to handle at the time.

My greatest competitive successes have come and will continue to come at road and road-like races. But even for a road guy like me, there’s something to be said for heading to the woods and listening to one’s body.


Clash of the Titus

May 3, 2009

The rules of the Titus Van Rijn One-Hour Distance Classic are straightforward: any interested person can go to a track at any time during the designated period (May 1 to June 1 this year), run as far as possible in one hour, rehydrate with some black cherry soda, and notify event organizers Andy Roth ( and Mike Persick ( of the distance covered.

The protocol is so straightforward, in fact, that my friends and I decided to spice it up a bit this year. Two kinds of black cherry soda were purchased: an expensive microbrew from Virgil’s, and another variety of no particular distinction. Runners who met their pre-race goals would get the bottles of Virgil’s; those who didn’t would get the other stuff.

Goal-wise, Warren and Will endeavored to beat their respective 2008 tallies of 14,940 and 14,240 meters, while I set a goal of 17,768 meters, wanting to be closer to my 2006 distance (18,115) than my 2008 distance (17,420).

We met at the Roosevelt High School track on Saturday, May 2nd. By happy coincidence, local coach Tom Cotner and several of his runners were also in the area and offered cheers of encouragement amidst their own (non-TVR) workouts. Also in attendance was a 40ish female from Vancouver, seemingly bearing a familial resemblance to Will but identifying herself only as a “talent scout” from the 2010 Olympic Games.

With such robust support on hand, the hour passed quickly for the three of us. Warren and Will ran together for the entire race, with Will finally pulling ahead for good (15,003 to 14,980) in the final minute. I totaled 17,920 meters in a steady solo effort. Virgil’s sodas were then hoisted and enjoyed by all on the infield of the track while 1:49 half-miler Bruce Jackson whizzed by in lane 1.

In closing, we bid a reluctant farewell to Warren, who will move to Vermont at the end of the month. No resident of Vermont has ever participated in the TVR; will he become the first next year? Time will tell.


The race in a Chuckanutshell

March 21, 2009

Some notes on today’s Chuckanut Mountain 50K:

* A Confession. I’m ashamed to admit that I recently started using a performance-enhancing drug. It’s called diphenhydramine, although some of you may know it as Benadryl. I use it to fall asleep the night before races I’m nervous about. I hope my competitors don’t mind.

* Retired? No, Not Yet. During the pre-race milling around, more than one person said to me, “I thought you had retired from ultras!” Well, no, I wouldn’t put it that way. I realize I’ve been rather quiet about my running lately, but GEEZ….

* Attack of the Road Guy (Part 1). Having never done this race before, my understanding of the course was that the first and last 6.3 miles were on a mostly flat gravel path, with 18.5 miles of hilly, muddy, sometimes technical trails in between. I figured I should use my road speed to get a lead before the tricky trail stuff began, so that’s what I did. But my split of ~41:30 into Aid Station #1 put me less than a minute ahead of my closest pursuer, Aaron Heidt of British Columbia.

* Shades of White River. I came into this race wary of Aaron because he had snuck up on me during the 50th mile of the White River 50 last summer, forcing me to outkick him. This time things turned out a bit differently. He caught me during the 10th mile, pulled ahead after a polite chat, and pretty much dominated the race after that, finishing in 3:53. Still, the race did remind me of White River in another way: I was basically satisfied with my effort, yet somewhat disappointed to have wound up so far behind the winner.

* The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Although I struggled pretty badly over the more technical sections of the course, I saw no other runners for much of the morning. I guess once Aaron and Hal Koerner pulled away during mile 14, I was far enough ahead of everybody else that only one guy (Keegan Rathcamp) caught me on the ridge trail despite my usual gracelessness in avoiding rocks and roots. I have to say that it was nice to be alone. Running slowly isn’t so bad when there’s nobody whizzing by you and making you feel even slower.

* Attack of the Road Guy (Part 2). When I arrived at Aid Station #5 (same as Aid Station #1), I was told that I was in 3rd place, about a minute behind Hal. This was EXACTLY what I needed to hear for motivational purposes. Hal is a strong all-around runner; nevertheless, it was almost lunchtime, and the Moeben-clad Oregonian was suddenly on my menu. He held me off for a couple of miles, but by running my last 6.3 miles in almost exactly the same time as my first 6.3, I ultimately pulled away and finished in 4:01:05, about 70 seconds ahead of Hal.

* Most Improved? Among the top male finishers, the one who surprised me the most was Michael Havrda (6th place in 4:09), who (as far as I know) is not accustomed to finishing ahead of people like Brian Morrison. Way to go, Michael! The first three female finishers (Ellie Greenwood in 4:34, Shawna Wilskey in 4:42, and Lisa Polizzi in 4:46) are not at all familiar to me, but this probably says more about me than it does about them.

* Beating the Odds. I carpooled to the race with Tom Ederer and Jeff Phillips. In a car of three random runners, you might figure that, on any given day, one guy might race well, one OK, and one poorly. But all three of us came away satisfied; the results show that Tom (4:36) and Jeff (5:17) easily beat their previous Chuckanut times.


Give me a break!

November 10, 2008

I can’t bear to write yet another race report describing how everything started out fine and then slowly unraveled. Let’s just cut to the chase: it’s time for me to take a break from ultramarathoning.

I’ve been showing signs of ultra burnout for the last year and a half, but the diagnosis became much more obvious this past weekend. The race result itself was just another huge disappointment — a time of 9:04, about two hours slower than expected. My reaction to it was unusual, though. I typically respond to poor performances by trying to figure out exactly what went wrong and how I can avoid similar pitfalls in the future. This time, I thought: I’m tired of having to guess why I didn’t get the result I deserved. There’s no point in putting so much into these ultras when I’m getting so little out of them. I want to run races where the suffering lasts for minutes, not hours, and I want to go home afterwards and recover in three days, not three weeks.

So that’s what I’m going to do, once my legs regain their structural integrity: some 5Ks and 10Ks, maybe a half marathon. But no more ultras for a while.


Somewhere between great and good

July 27, 2008

At yesterday’s White River 50-Mile Trail Run, I carried a small laminated piece of paper with aid-station splits I listed as “great,” “good,” “fair,” and “poor.”

The actual times at which I left each checkpoint were: Camp Sheppard (3.9 miles), 0:29; Ranger Creek (11.7 miles), 1:43; Corral Pass (16.9 miles), 2:29; Ranger Creek (22.1 miles), 3:10; Buck Creek (old location — 27.2 miles), 3:49; Fawn Ridge (31.7 miles), 4:33; Sun Top (37.0 miles), 5:33; Skookum Flats (43.4 miles), 6:15; finish line, 7:07. In short, I flirted with greatness for a while before winding up somewhere between great and good.

A few runners delivered performances that were fully great. Mike Wardian won his third USATF ultramarathon title of the year in 6:52, the second-fastest American (i.e., non-Uli) time ever on this course; he was followed by Adam Lint (6:59) and Jasper Halekas (7:04). Among the women, Susannah Beck smashed Nikki Kimball’s course record by seven minutes with her 7:32, rendering Kami Semick (7:42) a bridesmaid here for the third time in four years.

I knew Susannah was having an unusual race when she caught up to me just before the Corral Pass turnaround. (I myself was only about 90 seconds behind the overall leader.) As she greeted me from behind, I was so surprised that I nearly fell off the trail.

I really did leave the trail about six miles later. Just after the Ranger Creek aid station (22.1 miles), there was a detour around a giant fallen tree. I veered left instead of right and wound up in a valley while eight or so runners went by along the ridge above.

My inattentiveness had cost me a couple of minutes, increasing the gap between Wardian and me to about six minutes, but I soon forgot about that as I started the long descent to Buck Creek. I found this section uncomfortably steep when I ran it during the 2005 race, but this time it felt wonderful! My competitive angst and concern with splits melted away, and for a few miles I simply enjoyed the sensation of gliding down the trail. I felt like the quarterback who finds serenity amidst the oncoming pass rush in the Fountains of Wayne song All Kinds of Time.

I passed a bunch of people during the climb from Buck Creek to Fawn Ridge, and then I was alone. Fawn Ridge to Sun Top was hard, but I found solace in the fact that I was still running up all of the hills. Then came 6.4 miles of dirt-road downhill. Again, the contrast with 2005 was striking. Back then my chewed-up quads limited me to a 7:30-per-mile shuffle; this time my stride was a lot healthier and my pace a full minute per mile faster.

As of the last aid station (43.4 miles), I was pretty much locked into 4th place, being well behind the top three and comfortably ahead of everyone else. But with less than half a mile to the finish, I was caught by Canadian Aaron Heidt. Irate at the possibility of being passed, I launched a furious kick and finished 40 seconds ahead of him.

Aaron later told me that, as a college student, he had been a miler — exactly the type of runner I fear most at the end of races. Fortunately for me, the effort of running 49-plus miles had sapped him of his usual speed.


Race report: the Titus Van Rijn One-Hour Distance Classic

July 4, 2008

For some background on this race, see my very first post to this blog.

Here’s the report I submitted for the official race archives:

June 9: Warren Cornwall, Greg Crowther, and Will Kemper gathered at the Franklin High School track on an evening where local wind gusts reached 35-45 mph. Cornwall nonetheless logged 14,940 meters, a one-lap improvement over his 2007 tally of 14,540m, whereas Kemper (14,240m) failed to match last year’s mark (14,840m) despite maintaining an impressively high heart rate above 170 bpm for the entire hour. Crowther ran alongside the others, saving his energy for a more serious attempt later in the month. The black cherry soda was likewise held in reserve.

June 28: Crowther and Kemper returned to the Franklin track on a warm but calm Seattle morning while Cornwall competed in the Lake Padden Triathlon in Bellingham. Kemper was slowed by a respiratory infection and fell 200m short of his June 9th total. Crowther quickly ascertained that his 2006 performance (18,115m) was out of reach and instead focused on beating his 2001 result (17,360m), which he did — barely — by “kicking” at 5:20-per-mile pace for the final 10 minutes. Crowther found the Hansen’s Diet Black Cherry Soda purchased by Kemper’s wife to his liking, yet he was only able to drain a single 12-ounce can. Kemper, perhaps concentrating on fluid consumption for the sake of his cold, imbibed a full 24 ounces — possibly a new post-race drinking record among the Seattle runners.

Here is a summary of this year’s results by race co-directors Andy Roth and Mike Persick:

Congratulations to all 46 participants who made the tenth annual TVR Classic remarkable. This was far and away the largest group in the event’s history. (TVR has averaged about two dozen participants, each of the past four years.) Over 10 years, TVR participants have amassed 2,307 kilometers in distance (~1,434 miles), but notably nearly a quarter of that total (539 kilometers) is from this year’s run. At least four blogs now feature TVR . . . but participation seems to remain spurred primarily by word-of-mouth.

TVR 2008 featured not only large numbers of participants, but also top quality performances. Two runners exceeded 17-kilometers, with Greg Crowther (WA) just edging first-time TVR competitor Trevor Palmer (OR) for the men’s title. One the women’s side, the 2002 champion, Sarah Brooks (WA) returned to the victor’s podium. Bob Julian (OR) established a new TVR masters record for men (16,495m).

TVR continues to be a truly international event: This year, Haverford alum Walsh McGuire ran in Taiwan, and Phil Smith, who has a British passport, joined the competition.

On 12 June, Dire Tune (Ethiopia) ran 18,517m, but she failed to send in her results, so TVR officials determined not to count her performance. We also suspect that she neglected to drink black cherry soda afterwards, but we commend her on a fine performance anyhow.

Finally, here’s what some other blogs had to say about this event:


A picture is worth a thousand meters

January 17, 2008

Since we don’t stay up late or drink heavily, Liz and I opted to celebrate the New Year by winning the “Double Dip” team division of the 2008 Resolution Run 5K on January 1st. We received a nice trophy topped with a male and a female running in perfect synchrony.

Our lackluster times (16:12 and 20:36) would have been somewhat faster if not for a slippery hairpin turn just before the finish:

dry for now

partly submerged

fully submerged

partly emerged

on to the finish!

Thanks to Chuck Bartlett and my brother-in-law for the photos.