Running the Mountain

The following words were written after a rainy trail run on Taylor Mountain, a 2.4 mile ascent gaining 1152 feet to the summit.  It is a run I like to do weekly on Tuesday mornings.  The time I began running it coincided with my divorce.  In fact the first ascent I made was the morning after I’d filed the paperwork at the county courthouse.  Each time I do this run I think about how it is the perfect metaphor for the challenges we each face in life.


I sat in the warm cab as the rain beat down on the windshield. A hot cup of coffee sat in the console and I knew my work colleagues were either still in bed or just getting up. I was at the trail head, it was 5:45 am, nearly 2 hours before official sunrise, and I had 2.4 miles of vertical trail I would cover twice taunting me to come out and meet it’s challenge.

As I exited the truck and shrugged into my hard shell rain coat in the downpour, I briefly questioned why I was putting myself through this. Before I could talk myself out of it my feet began pulling me up the mountain. Truth was I didn’t have to be out here. No one was depending on me to go out in the storm and perform some heroic measure. But it was the vision of what lay ahead that drew me up the mountain.

Despite the knowledge that I was going to be cold, wet, muddy and tired, I knew this was an investment in my future. Fourteen weeks away from a trail race with 300 other hardy souls, Eight months from a high mountain elk hunt that would test my lungs and legs and extract a hefty sum from my fitness bank account. Today was about making a deposit in that account. The deposit slip would detail the sum of vertical ascent, viscious weather, missteps and mudslides. Like pennies, nickles and dimes, they added up to a paltry sum at the moment, but I was depending on frequent deposits in the upcoming days, and the compounding interest of early saving to be my solution when the mountain and its four footed collection agents handed me the bill.

As I picked up my stride and found my pace with the wind pelting me with raindrops, I thought how this climb seemed to mirror my last year in its challenge. Not happy to sit idle out of the weather in a 20 year marriage, I kicked open the door and took on the elements and rooted rocky trail that is divorce proceedings. At first the residual warmth from my stored up heat kept me comfortable, but that faded with time. The effort of propelling myself forward though kicked up my internal furnace, and as the chill of the first mile crept in, my internal core pushed back the cold.

While the dark was daunting, my headlamp cut through to illuminate the trail ahead. Just far enough to plan my next few strides. Some puddles and rocks showed in the meager light, but others became only obvious under my feet, requiring a path adjustment and a shortening of stride. Much the same way that letters from opposing lawyers, court orders, and legal bills were obstacles in my path. I continued onward as the trail steepened and became rougher. I looked ahead and saw the trail flattened as it passed through a grove of oaks. I imagined the trees would provide some relief from the wind and rain, and my stride lengthened as I entered the cover of the forest. But the trees merely concentrated the precipitation into big soggy drops that found their way down my collar and challenged the heat from my core. What I thought was a haven from the storm was merely a different challenge to my resolve. Shocking at first, the drops mingled with my sweat and equalized the temperature and I soon relished the cool dampness.

“Relentless Forward Progress” I told myself. “As long as you are moving forward, you are making progress. The summit will still be there, whether you are walking or running.” I let my breath become ragged gasps, reminding me to moderate my pace on the steep pitches and pick it up on the more level sections. Pitches and benches, ruts, rocks, roots, and down branches. Each step was challenged, then rewarded with progress. Even the slick muddy section took away progress as a foothold gaveway but my fingers grabbed the turf and pulled me back to my feet. Rocks that were once obstacles became footholds as I scaled the steepest and most treacherous section.

Once I’d reached the bench the narrow singletrack that skirted the hillside gave me firmer traction and I picked up pace despite the rain clouds and fog that obscured the trail ahead. This was the final pitch that would take me to the summit, a quarter mile of treacherous trail that came to a stop at a bench at the summit. There a rock cairn greeted me. A sign that others had been here before me, and the stack of igneous stones stood as testament that I was following a path blazed by many before me. I could ascend no higher.

As the wind drove the rain into my exposed skin there at the summit and my heat rose out of my scalp as steam, I shouted to the gods of weather, light, fog and darkness to let them know I’d penetrated their defenses. That they could not hold me back, like so many other home snug in their beds who wouldn’t even challenge their reign. For a brief moment the wind and rain surged in defiance then slackened as if to acknowledge my claim.

As I began my descent, I knew that the same trail sections that challenged my climb lay in wait to trip me or slip my feet out from under me, and my vigilance was heightened. My destination was the trail head below, and I had to negotiate those sections with care. Where I’d slipped climbing up before, my feet quickly went out from under me and I slid on my hip, negotiating the rocks as I slid. Like the new relationship that took me by surprise, I was getting where I was going faster than I’d intended. Despite the startling fall, I steered my way to my feet, and continued the descent, each time falling, sustaining a minor scrape, but continuing down the path to the ultimate goal.

Below, coming up the trail I could see headlamps bobbing, my fellow runners following the path I’d left. Their mountains were different, and they negotiated the obstacles in different manners and at different paces than I did. But we recognized the kinship in each other and greeted one another as brothers and sisters in arms. Nods, grunts, smiles and hand gestures were exchanged as we each continued along our respective paths. It wouldn’t be the first or last time we crossed paths in life and some meetings would be marked with a hug or handshake. And each time we met, we gave a little bit of ourselves and collected some from the other. Another Karmic exchange of goodwill.

As I dropped below the clouds, I didn’t seem to feel the wind and rain any more. Perhaps I’d become immune to it, or it had actually lessened. Morning twilight, muted by the iron grey sky, illuminated the trail slightly and my pace quickened as the trail smoothed and widened. I could see my finish ahead as I kicked up my pace and lengthened my stride. On the final flat section I found more endurance and sprinted to the gate, jubilant in the effort and result.

I’d done what I’d come here to do. To conquer the weather, the trail, the dark and the elevation. As I reached in my pocket I could almost feel the jingle of the coin of conditioning I’d collected, while the currency of confidence filled my other hip pocket. A few brief moments later savoring the hot shower with my warm comforting cup of coffee, I washed the mud of the mountain off my legs and watched my worries and troubles go down the drain. I emerged cleaned and happy and entered life with the rest of my colleagues though the door that morning with a spring in my step. Because I had conquered the mountain this morning. And they never knew what they missed…

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Race Report: Annadel Half Marathon 2015

2015 is the sixth year that the Annadel Half Marathon has been in existence. Born out of a desire to showcase the park and raise funds for park improvements, it has become a running community rally point. The funds raised from the race have been directed to a number of projects, the most visible of which are trail improvements performed by the Sonoma County Trails Council. A boardwalk to protect a boggy area trail crossing, rock causeways in erosion prone areas, trails routed for better visibility and weather resistance, all are the result of funding from the race which has raised between 18 and 20 thousand dollars annually.

My connection to the race started in 2009 with my participation in the Fleet Feet Santa Rosa training group. I have been in the group, and entered the race every year since. In that time I’ve seen a range of finish times, with my Personal PR of 2:14:00 in 2013.


Ridge run

Training run in March. Photo by Marc Strozyk.

ridge group

Hanging out with a squad of my fellow Training group runners. Photo by Marc Strozyk

This year I was coming off of a six month lay off from running. In that time span I’d lost nearly all my fitness, and gained body mass in the process. Restarting the training runs in December was a daunting task, as I struggled to regain the frequency and distance of training I remembered from years prior. I found routes that in my memory were “easy runs” pushed my limits when I restarted the training process. As a result, I toned down my distances during my midweek runs, and my pace during long trail runs. Even then the motivation was hard to find when winter colds made running miserable. As a result my training mileage, from December thru race day, was a fraction of years prior. Looking at the numbers it was 25% less than I ran in 2014, and 70% less than 2013 when I had my Personal Record. With that in mind, I adopted my mantra of “Better Performance Through Lowered Expectations”.


A February training run over South Burma. Photo by Marc Strozyk

As per my usual Annadel Race day procedure I arrived early to setup my 12×12 wall tent to serve as a first aid station.  While the majority of the injuries treated are scrapes and sprains, it provides a place for privacy if needed.  The activity of setting up the tent keeps my mind off of the upcoming race and  butterflies to a minimum.

After opening remarks, the race began under clear skies and mid 40’s temperatures.  I already had my race plan of walking all significant uphills.  The trails were well packed from the rain the week earlier, and the 260 plus runners spread out as we climbed the first hill a mile into the race at Rough Go Trail.  My race was uneventful from a running perspective.  I made it a point to drink in the beauty of the park that I so often overlooked while negotiating the rocky trails in pursuit of a race pace.  A sleek blacktail doe watched our multicolored line of runners ascend Rough Go as turkey gobbles echoed off the oak trees in the valley.  I began seeing friends manning the course monitor positions and aid stations.  Each one shouted encouragement and called me by name.  After about the fourth one, the runners immediately in front of me commented about how everyone knew me by name, and I demurred saying that they were all people I had trained with.

Early in the race, it was nice seeing friends along the trail.  Photo by Susan Kelleher

Early in the race, it was nice seeing friends along the trail. Photo by Susan Kelleher

We continued past the Live Oak aid station where I refilled about 12 oz. of water in my handheld, and followed a rolling trail for the next two miles through open meadows, and into a north facing shaded section before turning up North Burma and hitting the Richardson Fire road and the Third Aid Station.  After a quarter mile we turned back onto the singletrack and began the mile and a half climb up the South Burma Trail crest.   There I was greeted by our training group coach, Marc Strozyk as he shouted, encouraged, and cajoled runners with platitudes like “It’s all downhill from here!”, “Less than 5 and a half to the finish!”, “if you were a woman, you would be in 14th place!” etc….

Top of Burma

At the High point of the Course 7.6 miles in, at the “Top of Burma”. Photo by Marc Strozyk.


At this point, I’d made a conscious effort to conserve my energy on the 1300 feet of climbing so far.  In previous years, I would have turned on the jets and bombed the downhills.  This year I found myself stiff and cautiously passing a few runners before the Buick Meadow Aid station.  As we descended Marsh trail, and the ground became less technical, some of those cautious runners were able to gain ground.  What years prior had been a stretch where I picked off other runners, I felt my endurance slipping.  My stride was stiffer and shorter.  Here was where I was going to pay the debit created by lack of deposits in my training miles account.

When the aid station attendant shouted “Just two and a half more miles!” when I turned onto the Canyon trail, I felt my inner motivation drain.  I knew it was just under 3 miles.  The last 2 miles we refer to as the “Fire Road of Despair”.  After three and a half downhill miles on the twisty singletrack with ever changing visual horizons, the flat wide exposed stretch seems to drag by. This is where strong mental fortitude makes a difference for the runners who are racing for age group and over all placings.  I was running against the demons in my mind telling me I wasn’t worthy of a good time, the demons in my stomach telling me I’d taken in too much water, and the very stark reality that I was writing the final chapter in what would be my slowest race in six years.


Free download of the Finish line photo. More races should offer this perk.

I slogged the final stretch conserving my energy to shout thank you’s to the Girls on the run group manning the aid station a mile from the finish.  As runners passed me I remembered when it was I doing the passing in previous years.  Nevertheless, as I rounded the final turn to make the last stretch across the grass to the finish chute I managed to smile, thankful that I was able to continue my 6 year streak of training for, and finishing the Annadel Half Marathon.

After the race I was greeted by my friends with smiles and hugs.   I soon found my way to the refreshment area and recovered with a complimentary finishers meal consisting of Lagunitas IPA,  a plate of pasta, bread and salad.   We recounted our races and enjoyed the sun and 70 degree temperatures as the final runners trickled across the finish.  I was reminded of my ultimate running goal of a lifetime of being active as I got to watch my 74 year-old training mate Jerry Kibler win his age group , and local runner of reknown, 78 year old,  Darryl Beardall cross the finish.  At that point I reassured myself that if  could just outlive my competition I too may see some age group awards…


If you want to read a story of pure toughness from this race, check out the Press Democrat coverage that mentions Al and Anna Myers.  Anna finished the full course under her own power 10 weeks after sustaining  a broken ankle.  They are a couple I truly enjoy knowing and epitomize what is great about the running community in Sonoma County.







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Western States Crew Report 2013


When my running mentor, 52 year old Lori Barekman, was selected to run the Western States 100 mile Endurance Run, I immediately volunteered to do whatever she needed to assist in her successful completion. Our mutual friend Liana Hibbard served as the chairman of our crewing committee, while 28 year old Ericka Jennison took on the pacing duties. She and Liana had successfully paced/crewed Lori to her 50 mile qualifying race at Firetrails in the previous October.

In the months preceding, Lori had lined up a training plan and included us in many of the training races. Lori and I both ran the Grizzly Peak 50k, where she took 2nd in her Age group, and was 2nd woman overall. At the Miwok 100 K Liana and I crewed Lori. I was honored to pace her the final 12 miles from Tennessee Valley through Muir Beach, up to Cardiac Aid Station and into Stinson Beach. The course was shortened to 60 K due to fire concerns. Once again Lori won her age group. However, she had planned on a 60 mile race to determine her endurance over 50 miles. Without time to schedule another 50 mile plus race, Lori forged ahead with her training plans.

Between races I would meet with Lori and some other ultra-runners for a Thursday night run in our local state park. In the early Spring, we could run by headlamp over technical trails for a 4-7 mile distance to prepare for the running in the dark the race would require. As summer increased the day length, our evening runs soon did not require headlamps anymore and it became just another run.

Soon Lori had outgrown my pace and distance ability. Her weekends became 30/20’s, 30 miles on Saturday, and 20 miles on Sunday. Thursday night runs got to be longer distances in shorter time periods. In April, she checked the Annadel Half Marathon race course markings before the race, and then lined up with a race number to run it a second time. Memorial Day Weekend she and Ericka ran back to back runs from Robinson Flat to Foresthill on the WS100 course, and From Foresthill to Rucky Chucky the next day. We knew she was constantly improving in condition, despite the inky unknown of the mileage above 50.

Soon we all met to discuss our Crewing Strategy. We determined we would meet Lori at 5 points along the course that were crew accessible. Lori and Ericka made up drop bags for aid stations we would not be attending and coordinated fueling strategies. Lori’s friends and family made plans to meet along the way to cheer Lori on.

Runner and Crew: Lori in front of Myself, Liana, and Ericka.  Friday afternoon before the race.

Runner and Crew: Lori in front of Myself, Liana, and Ericka. Friday afternoon before the race. photo by J. Barekman

Race Day -1
I met Erica, Lori and Lori’s mother, in Squaw Valley the Evening of June 27th . The next morning Lori and Ericka checked in and delivered drop bags while I participated in the Montrail Uphill Challenge that goes from the base of Squaw Valley to the High Camp Tram station near the top of the Squaw Valley Property. It took me an Hour to cover the 6 kilometers and 2500 vertical feet. Speedy ultra-runner Chandra Farnam was there to greet me at the top with a hug and photo op. After catching my breath, she suggested we run back down, so we descended in less than half the time it took to climb, chatting along the way.

Hanging out with Chandra On the Montrail Uphill Challenge

Hanging out with Chandra during the Montrail Uphill Challenge. Selfie by Chandra

That afternoon I picked Liana up from Auburn where we had positioned her car close to the finish. We did not want to be driving an extra 120 miles to retrieve it after 30 hours on our feet. We all enjoyed pizza that night and prepared for a 3:00 am wake up before the 5:00 am start. Liana and I both had difficulty sleeping with a next door neighbor noisily Skype-ing in the middle of the night. After the second request she quieted down, but morning still came with a vengeance

Race Start

Just Before the Start at 5:00 am.  This smile was on Lori's and Ericka's faces 95% of the time.

Just Before the Start at 5:00 am. This smile was on Lori’s and Ericka’s faces 95% of the time. Photo by J. Barekman

The Start line of Western States is similar to most ultras that start before daylight, with the exception of people (runners and non-runners alike) getting their photos taken under the start line, and the volume of the crowd, the excitement in the air is electric. Flashes are going off, with the Eastern horizon turning grey. What is particularly impressive is that the starting gun is a shotgun.  After the runners have stretched out along the trail, discussion turns to whether to go back to bed for a couple hours or get a coffee and stay up.

We chose to get another 2 hours of sleep before we packed the car and headed to Robinson Flat for the first of our Crew Accessible Aid Stations. In the Trailblazer SUV, we had Ericka, Lori’s Mom (Hereafter referred to as “MOM”), Liana and I along with all our luggage, and crewing supplies that included 27 pounds of Ice. The day had already begun to heat up as the sun stretched across Squaw Valley.

Our guide to reaching the Crew accessible aid stations.

Our guide to reaching the Crew accessible aid stations.

Robinson Flat
We made our way down the highway and turned off on to Foresthill Road that narrowed down to a narrow undivided paved mountain road for the last 18 miles. Near the end we encountered the volume of crew traffic lined up to park at the Forest service trailhead that served as an aid station. Not wanting to miss Lori, I went ahead with a pack containing the essentials and a chair, while Liana parked the car, and followed after. At the aid station I met up with Alan Marshall and Becky Wells who were already ready and waiting. Shortly after, Lori’s husband Wade, and his family arrived on scene.

Next to us were the family and crew for another renowned local ultra-running veteran, #51 Kelly Ridgeway. When Kelly came in I watched them as they tended to her with an efficiency and speed I admired. It was clear they had done this before. I asked them a couple questions and they were very helpful in quieting my anxiety about crewing a 100 mile runner.

We discussed the check point updated that we had received via and expected Lori in the time period that reflected a 27-28 hour pace. She was on schedule and pretty jubilant as she passed through the medical check. Lori even stopped to take pictures of her family before she came far enough down the line for us to tend to her. It was clear she was having fun in her first Western States Race.

When Lori arrived a little after noon, we packed her bottle with Ice, changed out her Hydration pack with ice and Tailwind solution. Her seven year old daughter, Mariana, sprayed her arms and legs with ice water, and reapplied sunscreen. As a final step we gave her a chocolate Ensure, and a frozen Ensure in her run vest for further along the trail. Lori left, snapping photos of us, 29.7 miles down with 26 miles before we would see her again.


A frozen bottle of Ensure to go at Robinson Flat. Photo by Shawn Wallace.

Liana got Mom Barekman transferred into Wade’s vehicle for the remainder of the trip, and the three of us made our way down the hill towards Michigan Bluff, where we expected Lori between 6:30 and 7:30 in the evening.

Michigan Bluff

Since it was mid-day we headed into Foresthill for lunch. The most popular place other than the School which served as the checkpoint and aid station was Worton’s Market. The coffee and deli counter fueled us up as we looked over the Canyon carved by the Middle Fork of the American River. From there we made our way to a side road near the Michigan Bluff Checkpoint where we connected with Shawn Sullivan. Shawn is another local trail runner who had made the trek up in the morning. He had been inspired during Memorial Day weekend training runs and hoped to pace a runner along the course. Ericka Shawn and I pulled up sleeping pads in the shade for an afternoon siesta, while Liana checked in with Wade and the rest of the clan who had also stopped to eat in Foresthill. Liana collected us at 6:00 pm to hike down the ½ mile long, steep road to the aid station. Mom Barekman stepped lively along with 7 year old Mariana and the rest of the family.

Now Liana had collected check-in times while we were napping and Lori’s pace looked especially fast going into Millers Defeat at mile 34.4 and Last Chance at mile 43.8. These downhill sections are followed by a steep climb up to Devil’s Thumb with 1500 feet of gain followed by another deep canyon known as El Dorado. Michigan Bluff is at the top of the 1800 foot climb out of the hole that can be as hot as 110 degrees F. Lori had mentioned that this hot section could be her toughest stretch, and expressed concern about the heat.


We arrived in Michigan Bluff and surveyed the runners coming in. None of the runners we saw ahead of Lori looked “good”. We even saw one we thought was close to getting pulled from the course. Volunteers were dousing runners with water and few were running in or out of the aid station. Crews were spending 20-30 minutes getting their runners cooled off, and fed. As Lori’s early arrival time passed, I found myself getting nervous. My mind began manufacturing disturbing scenarios. Shadows began growing long when Lori came walking into Michigan Bluff at 7:02 pm.

Mariana giving us instructions on what Lori needs.  Photo by J. Barekman

Mariana giving us instructions on what Lori needs. Photo by J. Barekman

No longer did she have a goofy smile or joke with us. I could tell she was perturbed that she had gained weight in some of the aid stations and made us remove her hydration reservoir that held the Tailwind solution. She even ditched her tiny mp3 player “because it was too heavy”. She sipped on a cup of chicken broth as we applied insect repellant. Even Chandra our friend encouraged Lori to eat before the next aid station. We shooed Lori out of the aid station with two Ensures, and began the long hike back up to the car.

Lori had left her drop bag for this section with us, and in our hurry to attend to her, we neglected to give her the headlamp intended for this section. Granted there was enough light to make it to the next checkpoint, but the fact we had slipped up caused me some consternation and Liana chided me on my outburst. On the 20 minute drive to Foresthill I stewed about not sticking to the plan. Luckily we found a parking spot close to the aid station, and Liana kept my mind and hands occupied as she sent me to change into running gear to accompany Lori from the Bath Road aid station 1.4 miles away.

I walked/jogged about a mile and a quarter and met Lori flanked by Becky and Alan hiking with authority up the hill out of the Bath aid station. Lori was chattering excitedly and both Becky and Alan were all smiles. I immediately realized my worries had been unfounded. Lori was BACK! We ran the last half mile into Foresthill at 8:39 pm as passing crews shouted encouragement and commented on how good she looked. The evening was cooling and Lori was certainly perked up despite not having her headlamp. I peeled off as she entered the aid station and met up with the rest of the Crew where Ericka waited at the pacer pick up point. We rigged Lori with light and she said good night to her daughter and husband before jogging off into the sunset with Ericka alongside.

Liana applies bug dope while I rig the headlamp that Lori wore around her waist.  photo by J. Barekman

Liana applies bug dope while I rig the headlamp that Lori wore around her waist. photo by J. Barekman

At this point we sent the family off to dinner in Auburn. It was before 9:00 pm. Just then a race official called out asking for volunteer pacers. Our friend Shawn stepped up and accepted. We then spent the next 30 minutes getting Shawn ready to pace. Liana took charge of his car, and dead cell phone, and sent me ahead to dinner. Liana then made contact with the runner’s crew, the wife and son of Gregg Holst, a 54 year old from Pennsylvania. After she got Shawn matched up with his runner, she met me in Auburn, along with another couple (Ryan and Kim) that knew Lori and came to watch the race on a whim. We four ate a late dinner at the Auburn Alehouse and convoyed to the Green Gate Aid Station shortly before midnight.

Green Gate
I was warned by another past crew member that Green gate was where “things happen”. The combination of a long hot day, and the late hour make normally rational people forget things. Keys get lost, supplies get dropped, exhaustion sets into the crew.

Despite the late hour the parking along the road above Green Gate was crowded. It was 1.7 miles to the Aid station from the end of the road, and I had to park nearly a mile from there. We fumbled in the dark with supplies, and I worried we might miss our runners. (I had mistakenly thought they would arrive an hour earlier). I ran down ahead to Green Gate, leaving the three behind and found they had not come through yet. So I sat down in the dark to wait.

Somehow, Liana and I missed one another in the dark and crowd at the Green Gate Aid Station. While I waited there, she hiked all the way down to Rucky Chucky (another 1.7 miles down the canyon). Cell service was spotty at best, and we had no good means of communicating. After Lori and Ericka came through I hiked out, while she waited there for Shawn and his runner until 4:00 am (another 2:25 hours). Behind the headlamps they looked good. The aid station had topped off their water, and I changed our Lori’s Ensure once more. They trotted off into the darkness with 20 miles to go to the finish and 13 miles before I caught them at Highway 49.

Here is where it got crappy. Liana hiked out 3.2 miles of steep uphill to return to a Shawn’s car with a dead battery. Now after 24 hours with no sleep something like that really upsets people.  Once Liana got a jump start she rallied and continued on to No Hands Bridge four miles from the finish.  I had been waiting in Cool where the shuttle was taking people to Highway 49.

Highway 49 Crossing and Robie Point

Highway 49 crossing is an Oasis of Light after a long dark night.

Highway 49 crossing is an Oasis of Light after a long dark night.

The Highway 49 aid station is a work of art. It has more amenities than some race finish lines I’ve been to. Pancakes, smoothies, eggs, hashbrowns, coffee, and hot chocolate. They announce the runners before they cross the highway over a PA, so sleepy crews can shuffle to tend to their runner. These volunteers from Shadowchase Running club from Modesto know their stuff!.

When Ericka and Lori came into Highway 49 they both were smiling and chipper. Ericka remarked that the aid station volunteers would look at Lori and come alive. I suppose it was a welcome relief from cranky runners. One other crew member for another runner said “My husband has been an absolute a-hole since mile 60. Your runner is in a better mood than I am!” Lori drank 2 smoothies and some Coca Cola, and I gave Ericka her Starbucks Frappaccino for the final push. The crowd of Crew and Volunteers roared as they trotted out of the aid station where others had plodded.

I hustled to get back to the car and then to Auburn. As I walked to the Robie Point aid station I found myself welling up with emotion when Liana texted from No Hands, two miles away: “They’re out!”

The Finish

Forty minutes later Ericka and Lori strode into view around the corner and barely broke stride through the aid station. I joined them hiking the final uphill section and nearly broke down in tears as Lori’s family joined in the last quarter mile before the stadium. Ericka and I joined hands with Lori and her daughter Mariana before we ducked off to the side to let Lori and her daughter finish together as the clock hit 26:59:15. A moment I will remember forever…

Mariana and Lori cross the finish together.  photo by Chandra Farnham

Mariana and Lori cross the finish together. Photo by Chandra Farnham

The rest of the morning was kind of a blur. Liana and I tried to find Shawn and his runner and missed them by seven minutes at No Hands Bridge. During the night we were sure he was going to DNF, he had come alive in the morning hours. I rushed back to Robie Point and accompanied Shawn and Gregg the last 1.3 miles, and Gregg’s first WS100 finish in 29:42:22.

There was two hours between Shawn and his runner finishing and awards. At this point the adrenaline and emotion of the moment are mixed with the 30 hours of no sleep. You find your patience thin, and thought processes jumpy. As a crew member I felt an obligation to tend to Lori but the family had her completely taken care of. Our pacers Shawn and Ericka accepted our services though. Ericka’s parents were kind enough to leave a cooler with some Lagunitas as they retrieved Ericka’s car from Squaw Valley. Even though it was still morning, 38 miles and 95 degrees made a cold IPA appropriate.


Shawn cools off after pacing Gregg to his first Western States Finish.

We lounged under the canopy on the Placer High school Football field, eating popsicles and ice cream passed out by volunteers until the awards ceremony. It seemed to drag on forever until Lori’s name was called and we hooted and hollered and generally made a fuss before we made our way back to our cars to drive back to our lives, and a long nap. (I managed 12 hours straight when I got home)


Lori gets her Finishers Buckle. Photo By Chandra Farnam


Crew, Friends and Family.
Photo by Chandra Farnham

168 hours after that weekend, I’ve had plenty of time to digest what I was so honored to be a part of. It is still hard to convey the emotion you feel when “your runner” crosses that finish line. We were lucky to have such an upbeat and positive runner who ran a smart and strong race. I can only imagine the heartbreak of the 106 runners, and their pacers and crews who didn’t make it to the finish. That said, I will crew again if the opportunity presents itself. Despite the long hot hours, it is just too rewarding.

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Day 3- Western States Training Run

After spending 2 days traipsing the Hills of Tejon Ranch at the California State Broadhead Championship, I drove to Gold Country to take part in the Third Day of The Western States Training Camp. I would be joining my training partner Shawn Sullivan, who had completed the first two days of 32 and 19 miles. Saturday was Robinson Flat to Foresthill and Sunday was from Foresthill to White oak Flat. Our WS qualifier, Lori had done the first two days along with another trail running friend, Ericka. She wished us well in a text from Starbucks before she returned home.

Monday Morning we met at Placer High school (the site of the Western States Finish line), where we caught school buses to a couple miles above Greengate.

The Road down to Greengate was designated a NO PEE zone, and signs every few yards reminded us. When the Sign said “Bathroom OPEN,” I felt obliged, as did nearly half the group. It was amusing to hear the conversations and comments the next quarter mile.

The Trail was mostly downhill for the mile after Greengate.

along this stretch we cruised pretty well. the single track was smooth and fast.

We were counting on the First aid station to be at Mile 15 where the trail crossed highway 49. We were surprised when we came to it at Browns bar, mile 12 of the day’s run ..

After the Aid at Browns Bar we ran along the Quarry Road along the river. At this point I started feeling fatigued. It was to be expected since the most long run mileage I’d done in the last 6 weeks was 13 miles.

The Wide open Road and Valley made it feel like I was not making progress as opposed to zipping through the single track. After, a mile along the river a single track trail climbed up to Highway 49. I struggled mightily at this point.

After Highway 49 we hit some more downhill and I caught my stride once more.

It had been overcast all day with very scattered misty rain. I was grateful that I didn’t have to endure the heat that this trail is known for during to run.

We had some Coke, and Brownies, and Oreos and conversation at the No Hands Aid Station The wide flattish road was good running for a half mile then turned up the canyon wall for a steep hike to Robie Point.

I trudged uphill thinking about how hard this would be with 78 more miles on my legs and felt a huge amount of respect for the folks who made it to this point in the race. At Robie, Shawn found a gear, even with having run the two days prior, and left me in the dust. He sprinted into Auburn on the last two miles of pavement, while I walked the slightest hill.

As the Road turned downhill I was able to shuffle into a run and arrive at the High school where the volunteers cut off my bracelet to confirm I’d returned.

I immediately went to the buffet line where volunteers were serving eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, sausage and bacon. Along with a couple of cups of Orange Juice, I began to feel back to normal. After a change of clothes, Shawn and I re connected, and made our way downtown to talk about our day. We sat on the patio of the Auburn Alehouse and sampled the local Brews.


Shawn has the Western States bug BAD now. His opportunity to qualify will come in October at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50. I am sure as long as he stays healthy, he will do well.


Now I know more about the trail, and I hope I will be able to be more effective as a crew member for our 100 mile runner, Lori. I really understand the romance of the trail and the distance. While I never want to run the race, I am considering doing the 3 days of training run next year. The camraderie of the runners exceeded anything I’d experienced anywhere else.

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2013 Annadel Half Marathon Race Report.

After crossing the finish line at Grizzly Peak, my thoughts turned to my next event, in six days, the 4th annual Annadel Half Marathon. I took a couple days off from running, and did an easy 3 miles on Wednesday night. That felt good and the run loosened me up so I did a 6 mile trail run the next night. That run was nearly 6 minutes faster than my previous times on that course. I pronounced myself “recovered” and rested the Friday night before the race.

Now the 6 mile trail run and the 50k less than a week before is not a recommended taper strategy. I had resigned myself to the possibility that when the race day came, I might not feel totally rested. When Lori, my training partner and mentor told me she was checking the course markings before the race and then re-running the race as training for the upcoming Miwok 100k, I knew I needed to “Cowboy Up” and give my best effort on Saturday.

Saturday, as the eastern horizon was becoming a light shade of grey, I was at the gate to Spring Lake Park. As the organizers bustled about, I set up the medical aid tent, also is known as my elk hunting wall tent. A few minutes later, The Fleet Feet Santa Rosa Trail group assembled for a group picture and a short warmup run.


The Fleet Feet Trail training Group. The Shirt motto was “Hills, Spills, and Dirty Thrills!”
Photo by Pete Laskey.


Out for the warmup run with Kim, Al, and the rest of the Fleet feet crew.
Photo by Pete Laskey

As we gathered at the start line Continue reading

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Redemption Race: Grizzly Peak 50k


When I missed my 50 k in March due to a long drawn out Flu, and accompanying respiratory difficulties, I was disappointed but happy with the progression of my training up to that point.  The training was its own reward, giving me a good base for the upcoming trail half marathon in April.  I’d been training on long runs with my friend and ultra mentor, Lori.  She had qualified and entered the Western States 100 miler, with a couple of shorter ultras leading up to it as training races.  I’d promised I’d assist with those events, so I had to get back into her training schedule rather than just slack off to HM distance training.  Coincidentally, she missed the March 50k as well due to an injury so we were both “on the mend” throughout the end of March.

 Lori alerted me to the Grizzly Peak Race. When I was able to knock out a 24 mile trail run as the capper to a 40 mile/three day back to back training session, my confidence was high enough.  I entered the 50k that would be 14 days later, on unfamiliar trails, with more elevation gain than I had experienced in any one run or race to date.  I fully expected that this would be my longest time on my feet in my running career.  The course repeated a 13 mile loop twice and finished after another 6 mile section of that trail.  Three times I would be at the “finish” and the urge to drop at 13, and 26 was going to be immense on this challenging course.

 Saturday evening I made the 50 minute drive to a friend’s house in the Berkeley area.  It was 2.5 miles from the Start at Lake Anza.  After a Beer and a baked potato with chili that night I retired to my sleeping bag on a Thermarest air matress.   I had Nacho the cat keeping me company as I read a few pages of Cormac McCarthy to try to take my mind off the looming race.

 I slept well that night and awoke well rested to a cup of coffee and ate 1.5 packets of instant oatmeal.  Lori picked me up and we arrived at the Start with plenty of time to spare.

Weather was cool and foggy, with winds up to 15 mph, and occasional showers. 61 was the predicted high and I wore an Under Armour compression shirt under my tech singlet with a Smartwool merino wool longsleeve over the top.

 The runners at the start consisted of half marathon, 30k, marathon, and 50k distance.  There were 40 runners in the marathon and 40 runners in the 50k distances.

gp_30_profile gp_course_map

Before we left the start, Wendell of Coastal Trail Runs gave us our pre-race briefing and mentioned that some of the trails were slippery.  A half mile in we hit a logjam of runners as we tried to negotiate a clay slick trail section that had us scrambling to keep our feet.  My NB Leadville 1210’s did outstanding in the slick mud, but it was still treacherous.

 I bypassed the water aid station at mile 1.7 as runners began to spread out.  Along the next few miles I began to take stock of who was around me.  I noticed an older grey  haired gentleman in cutoff jeans with a plastic water bottle, trail shoes and gaiters.  I figured him for an experienced mountain goat and vowed I wouldn’t try to keep up with him if he left me in the dust.   I later learned he was a 61 year old in the half marathon with 74 Trail races completed in UltraSignup.  There also was a pair of young ladies wearing shirts that said they were “Moving for Leukodema”.  They had a strong contingent of fans along the course.  We traded places back and forth throughout the first loop, walking the steep hills that went up the side of Vollmer peak

 The next aid station Big Springs was 600 ft down at the bottom of the Lupine trail that came down off of Vollmer peak  at mile 4.7 where I topped off my water and grabbed  a quarter of a PB&J sandwich.  I would do this throughout the race, and the solid food, along with Clif Shot blocks kept me pretty well fueled.

 We took Arroyo trail up to the Seaview trail and ran along the smooth rolling ridge top where fog pushed by blustery wind rolled by, and turned down the Big Springs and Quarry trail that took us back to the Big Springs aid station 3.7 miles later.  Another quarter of a pb&j and we climbed back up the side of Vollmer Peak and down the Grizzly Peak trail where we met the slippery Selby trail we had come out.

 I turned around at the start line at about 2:50:00 after 13 miles.  I felt pretty good that I was now running a trail I’d been on once.   The hills weren’t any easier, but I knew they would top out and where there were runnable sections.   There was a lot of uphill trudging along the way.  On the second loop I took a wrong turn up a trail that added 2 miles (and 25-30 minutes) to my second loop.  I could tell because the Leukodema Duo I was leading met me on their third loop as I was a mile from the turn around.

 I’ll have to admit it was tough to not get down on myself for getting off course, but I kept my head up and reminded myself I could do the extra mileage.  I focused on the trail ahead of me.  When I was about 1000 yards from the final turnaround, I passed a smiling 71 year young lady headed out for her final 6 miles in the 50k.  She asked if I was finishing and I replied “Nope, I’m right behind you!”  That cemented my resolve.

 I rolled in to the start area to Lori waiting to kick my ass back out onto the course.  I grabbed my PB&J and topped off my water drank a shot of Coca Cola, and ate as I power walked my way back for the final 6 mile loop.   My goal was to catch the runner ahead of me sometime in the next 6 miles.

 I hit the 1.7 mile water station and no sign of her.  On the latter part of the 1.8 mile climbing section, I would catch a glimpse of her purple shirt above me through the trees.  I kicked it up into a run on the downhill section, and finally caught her a half mile from the finish.  I managed to roll into the finish looking stronger than I felt. The clock read 8:10:xx but I was happy I was able to cover the distance and glad to get my Finisher Coaster with the roaring grizzly emblem.  This one will be on my desk for a while.

 As I drank my recovery beer, and ate some soup I learned Lori had been 2nd woman overall, and 2nd in her age group.  I think she is on track to do well at Miwok in May.

We celebrated with pizza and beer that night and demolished both deep dish and thin crust pizzas. We talked about the Annadel trail half marathon, and how I was going to recover in time to do it.  Right now the elation of finishing a tough race is eclipsing the muscle soreness and time concerns of next week’s race.

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WTC 50k – DNS

If you are looking for a race report there won’t be one. The Flu got me and I did not run the race. I will begin training again once I’m able. We will see where this takes us.

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Lotto Fever

I don’t enter the Lottery as a rule.  I make exceptions for Big Game Tags and now apparently, Trail races…

Monday the 10th I received notice that I have been selected to run the Way Too Cool 50 k March 9th 2013.

So now with a race entry paid for and a race on the horizon, I have a goal.  To prepare myself to the best of my ability over the next 13 weeks.  5 days a week of running.  Two Back to back long runs Sunday/Monday.  An easy 4 mile recovery run on Wednesday, Thursday Tempo- long run, and Friday an easy run.

My training this year is going to focus on hills as much as possible.  I’ll need to keep in mind the long climb out of the American River Canyon, followed by the infamous Goat Hill climb at mile 26.

Below is a elevation chart of the course and a YouTube video of the course.


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Race Report: Coyote Ridge 10 mile Trail Race

Short version. I ran the Coyote ridge 10 mile trail race as a training long run on Saturday December 8th, 2012. I covered 10.7 miles in 2:13:42 for 15th place in the Mens 30-39 AG and 62nd overall out of 136 runners in the 10 mile distance.

The Course and Elevation Profile of the Coyote Ridge 10 miler

The Course and Elevation Profile of the Coyote Ridge 10 miler

The long (rest of the) story.

I am in the early stages of training, (13 weeks out) for a 50k in March. I took a break from training during hunting season and just recently started logging more runs in the last two weeks of November. The run log at, has been instrumental in helping me chart out my plan, and keeps me accountable for my running or lack of.

This weekend called for back to back long runs 10 miles Sunday + 6 miles Monday. My week had been less than stellar, as I was feeling fatigued and twisted my right ankle on Thursday after skipping my Wednesday recovery run. I was rather grouchy and disenchanted with running. When Friday rolled around I hit the snooze button and procrastinated my Friday 2 miler.

Later that day I kicked myself in the butt and went for an easy 2 mile run around the local wetlands. The exercise in the sun changed my outlook incredibly, and when I got back to work I wrangled Saturday off from the boss. At that point I decided my Sunday long run was moving up to Saturday morning and that it would be at the Coyote Ridge Race starting and finishing at Muir Beach, CA. Distances offered were 7, 10, 20 miles, marathon (27miles) and 50k. I signed up for the 10 mile race onsite on Saturday.

Right off the bat I saw running friends from the Fleet Feet store in Santa Rosa. They had a training group training for the 20 and 10 mile distances. I ran in a monsoon with the group last Sunday as they tapered before the event.


Bad weather makes for good training partners. The Taper run before Coyote Ridge, I’m smiling because at this point I didn’t plan to run the race.

The Group the morning of the Race.  Look at all the smiles.  I was glad I entered last minute.

The Group the morning of the Race. Look at all the smiles. I was glad I entered last minute.

The starting corral was a wooden bridge over the creek and after race and course instructions, we were off at a quick jog until the first uphill where traffic jammed up as 300 runners geared down for a long muddy hike up trails beat to snot during last week’s North Face Endurance challenge. It was a 2 mile long conga line as we tried to pick out less slippery lines on the muddy fire road, and once the trail narrowed down to single track there was nowhere to pass and you weren’t going to get far if you did. I stopped a couple times to pick rocks out of my shoes since i neglected to pack my gaiters. The stairs up from Pirates Cove kept most of us hiking and I was able to pass a couple of folks who went out too fast and didn’t have the legs to climb fast.

A mile and a half from Tennessee Valley, the trail turned to graveled fire road and runners quickly sorted themselves out according to speed and endurance. At Tennessee valley there was an aid station about 3.9 miles from the start. I grabbed a handful of potatos and salt and a few shot blox for “second breakfast” (if you eat like a Hobbit). Here the longest grade stood before us. Marincello, a gravel fire road that rises 900 feet in 1.7 miles overlooking Mill Valley. I’d been over this stretch before, and I conserved my energy and power walked nearly the entire uphill section. Here I chatted with other runners I knew running the 20 and the marathon distances. We parted ways at a saddle on the ridge. I continued up to the high point of the run, and down a steep section for a quarter mile, before descending back down into Tennessee Valley. For 2.5 miles it was a gentle downhill that pulled me along like a good running buddy who is just a bit faster than you.

In fact along this stretch I caught two young ladies. One had finished the Nike women’s marathon six weeks earlier, and was wearing a headband with antlers in the Christmas reindeer fashion. She looked like a forkhorn buck in my sights. She might as well have been wearing a target! She was running with a friend who had recently finished some ultra race of 50 or 100 miles. After the aid station on the last big hill of the run I reeled in “Bambi” and later on the last third of the hill I caught and passed the ultra runner friend.

One remarkable thing about this race was the fact that I deliberately walked all the hills, and I ended up passing more people at a walk on the hills than I did bombing down the downhills. I usually consider downhill my strength. I’m glad I am getting stronger on climbing. It is something I have wanted to improve.

Once we crested the last mile long hill, trail markers read 2.1 miles to Muir beack and I could see the parking lot a thousand feet of elevation below us. I pulled out all the stops and let my mass pull me down the hill, careful to avoid the slippery spots we skirted on the way up two hours earlier that morning. I slowly reeled in more cautious runners, and crossed the bridge after 10.7 miles to the finish mat at 2:13:42 for 15th in my age group.

At the Finish line.  One of the nice things about Coastal Trail runs, is the Finishline photo is available free on the Web.  More Races should do this.

At the Finish line.
One of the nice things about Coastal Trail runs, is the Finish line photo is available free on the Web. More Races should do this.

For the first time at a race I felt like I could go on for another mile or five. It was great. I congratulated the speedsters I knew from Fleet feet who had finished ahead of me, grabbed my race shirt and changed into dry clothes, glad I’d paid to do my weekly long run.

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Nex Gen Run For Your Life Twilight 5k 2012

Most of my short training runs are in the evening. During kid’s practices, after dark, after work. I’m more likely to see a sunset than a sunrise on my runs. Evening races are few and far between though. For the third year, Nex Gen, put on a fund raising 5 k in the hills of the Petaluma Golf and Country Club, AKA “Goat Hill” this last Saturday evening. It fit my schedule perfectly.
Nex Gen is a committee of young energetic folks who raise funds and awareness for Petaluma Valley Hospital. Much of the fund raising is done from the Run for your Life event as well as a Poker – Bunco Card party in January.

It was my 3rd year of running the race as I was at the inaugural event in 2010 with a 29:23. In 2011 I ran a 29:59. It is not an “easy” 5k by any means.

I finished up work early in the afternoon on Saturday and arrived early at the starting area at the club house. Race director Kyle Restad already had staff manning the registration table so I signed in and collected my t shirt before changing into running clothes.

Not seeing any familiar faces I struck up a conversation with three ladies from Kaia F.I.T., a women’s only training center location in Santa Rosa. Kirsten, Megan, and Paula were running this race for the first time. We chatted until start time.

At 3:30 we assembled in a rough group at he top of the hill as Kyle gave us our final instructions. He emphasized that the race was 2 loops with many well marked twists and turns. After a “3..2…1…GO!” we were off.

Now I had no intention of having a PR at this race. I’d run a TOTAL of 8 times in the last 30 days. So I made sure to keep a comfortable pace. Midway through the first lap Kirsten took about a 20 yard lead on me and set a pace I was comfortable following. The Leaders disappeared around the first corner and I would occasionally catch a glimpse of them on switchbacks.

On the First lap of the Twilight 5k. Kirsten is behind me at this point.

We climbed the last hill leading to the golf course and I paced my self so I didn’t break down to a walk. I made it over the hump and started around the second loop. I forgot to check the clock so I don’t know what my time was at this point.

Now I started passing people who went out too fast. Kirsten kept her 20 yard lead and started lengthening it out on the final back stretch. We passed the walkers that started after the runners and attacked the final hill. Here I was able to pass two more runners, and as the finishing chute came into view I could see the numbers 27:53..:54..55…

I wanted to be under 28:00 badly and dug my hardest to cross the line. My finish time was officially 28:00.7. I was second in my age group, finishing just over 10 seconds behind the AG winner.

The winner Dave Houts from Cotati had finished in 21:54. Spencer Smead,an eighth grade runner from San Rafael finished second over all with a 22:35

Kirsten, my pace bunny, won the 20-29 year old age division, while her training partner Paula won the 50-59 year old division. We enjoyed lasagna, salad and desserts from Cordoza’s Deli along with a few microbrews as the sun descended on the hills of Petaluma.

Aside from being a new PR for this race, it was enjoyable to get out and meet new people. I hope more races take place in the evening, and take advantage of the post race energy as a social lubricant. I think Nex Gen has tapped into that formula combining good health, community involvement and social events to benefit the Petaluma Valley Hospital.

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