The endorphins have finally faded, the big toenail has come off, and the poison oak is starting to appear around my knees – it must be time to sit down and write my 2018 Canyons 100k race report.

January 1st saw the beginning of this training block after an extended period of time off at the end of last year.  The first two months went as smooth as could be – I was piling on both miles and vert and feeling stronger than ever while doing it.  My first tune-up was the Marin Ultra Challenge 50k in March, and while I rocketed to one of my fastest finishes ever for a course with a good chunk of vert, I came out injured – my IT band was so inflamed that it was pulling my knee and gait out of line.  It hurt to walk uphill or downhill and I was initially devastated that my entire Canyons training plan needed to be flushed down the toilet.

I felt good about my initial buildup in 2018

After a few days of thinking that I had to give up on my season, I rallied and got creative.  I poured through a Feldenchrist gait-training podcast that had me re-examine my core activity and if I was running in the most efficient manner (I definitely wasn’t!).  I embarked on a backcountry through-hike of Joshua Tree hoping it would be the perfect tonic of strength-building without inflammation (it seemed to do the trick!).  I hit a large circuit of Mount Diablo with 14 days to go, hoping to find my mental edge (it was located behind a Snickers bar in the mini-fridge at the summit visitor’s center!).  I ran a final tune-up through Tilden and the East Bay Hills at T minus 7 hoping for a confidence boost heading into the 100k (grabbing a PR on Side-O definitely helped).  Despite all of this, I really didn’t know what to expect.  What would my fitness be like after this splotchy build-up?  Would my IT band issue creep back in and derail my whole effort?  Could I keep my head together from sunrise to sunset?

My spiritual advisor gave me the best advice that I could have asked for; he told me to take it super easy the first half of the race and not worry about who was passing me or whom I was passing.  To be fair, this is basically the same advice he gives me before every race, but for some reason this time it finally resonated – especially with so many question marks around my fitness, injury, and preparation, I was determined to run this race just for myself and not worry about the positioning that was happening on the trail.

No caption necessary

I pushed it a bit out of Foresthill and down Bath Road, knowing that it would be valuable to get across Volcano Creek before the potential 399 runner pile-up.  This effort seemed like it had a good cost-benefit and I crossed the creek trouble free.  I immediately started power-hiking the climb up to Michigan Bluff, even as folks passed me, seemingly in a hurry to get down the trail.  Relax, I told myself.  Run your own race and no one else’s.

It wasn’t until the long, 4 mile effort up to The Pump out of El Dorado Canyon that I was really able to settle into my mindset and start reaping the benefits.  I have practiced competitive sports my entire life – soccer, baseball, cycling, and running – and have always been focused on how I was doing in relationship to my competitors.  And yet, on the long ascent up to The Pump, I was able to let that all go for perhaps the first time in my life.  I wasn’t chasing any of the runners ahead of me, and I wasn’t peering over my shoulder worried about who was encroaching.  I was dialed into my own pace, conversing with folks going about the same rate, until they weren’t any more.  I was calm and relaxed – emotions I was not used to expressing during an ultramarathon.

I hit the first turn-around at Swinging Bridge with the excitement of a little kid – Ann Trason was there handing out the Hoka bracelets, along with an older gentleman.  They were alternating the hand-off as runners came in, and when I got there, it was my turn to grab the bracelet from the gentleman.  I couldn’t let this happen and politely said “No offense, but I’d really like to get one from the Greatest of All Time if that’s okay”.  Ann erupted in laughter and gave me an awkward one-armed hug while handing me the wristband.  Mission accomplished.

The trip back to Foresthill was predictably smooth and stress-free.  I had found the mental edge and was enjoying riding the waves of relaxation and calm.  I hooked up with a good international crew of power-hikers at the bottom of El Dorado for the climb back into Michigan Bluff, where I was so far in the pain cave in 2017 that I briefly considered dropping out at the aid station.  Instead, this year we talked about world politics, the last-minute ban on trekking poles in the race, changes in visa restrictions, and living and working in the Bay Area.  It was so far from my feeling of depression and defeat the previous year that I knew I must have been doing something right.  It was also the first time that I began to get a feel for my time out there on the course – it appeared that I was going to roll into the halfway point about 15 minutes earlier than last year and in considerably better shape.

I made steady progress all day while never aggressively chasing anyone down

I sprinted down Main Street to the cheers of my wife and kids, who had just arrived minutes before to support my short pit stop.  I grabbed someone’s hot pink chair and immediately started fishing for my dry socks, while my wife grabbed me a burrito (yuck, too soon) and my kids updated me on what they ate for breakfast.  My wife described how calm I looked, and I told her I felt it.  I thought about describing the magic that I had been able to tap into out there but thought I would save it for when we got home later.  I left Foresthill for Cal Street a full 20 minutes ahead of my 2017 pace, still in the company of a runner from Germany, a fascinating physical chemist working at the Berkeley Labs that was describing her recent exploration into obtaining a pilot’s license.

And as tends to happen at some point in a successful ultra-marathon, time turned elastic and began to vanish away.  I ran but all the steepest up-hills, alternating eating half a Payday bar or a Gu energy gel every 30 minutes, and just kept on trucking down one of my favorite stretches of trail anywhere in the world.  It felt especially quiet on the Western States trail that day – much more so than the hotter 2017 year – and I enjoyed being able to tune into the sound of the birds chirping and the rushing of the river rapids below.  Occasionally someone would pass me, but more often I would start gaining on someone in front of me and then maybe eventually pass them effortlessly, because that’s not at all what I was concerned about.  I knew I was on pace for a PR and my only thought was to enjoy the moment and the day in the mountains.

Photo credit to #164

There were some familiar faces waiting for me at Rucky Chucky, folks I knew from previous races and the Red Antler Running Club.  They got me fueled and turned around in a matter of minutes and I left the good company of the Berkeley scientist while she wanted to sit down and take a load off for a few minutes.  Again in stark contrast from 2017, I had a decent amount left in the tank.  I wasn’t dreading the trip back up to Foresthill – in fact I was embracing it.  As I wound my way back along the river, heading upstream this time, I occasionally looked up and was so overwhelmed by the beauty of it all that I had tears in my eyes.  The combination of endorphins and natural beauty was just too much and I felt blessed for being there in that particular moment.

I knew that if I made it smoothly through the long stretch back to Cal 2 I could really start to ratchet up the effort and head back for the barn.  My time in 2017 was 14:17, and I had planted a small seed in my head that I wanted to beat 14:00 this year.  I kept resisting the urge to add up the miles in my head, again in favor of staying present and running the best pace that I could right at that moment.  I vowed to run every section that was not going straight up, and I did, even jogging up many of the final climbs heading back to the road.  When I hit Main Street I gassed it for good watching the timer count up and knowing that I was about to crush my performance last year and thus my 100k PR – I crossed the line with a time of 13:18, knowing that I had absolutely run the best race I could have on that course on that day.

You can see 100% of my free Garmin 310XTs in this picture

I’m coming up on the 3 year anniversary of my first 50k, and I feel like I just honed in on some of the magic of ultra-running in this race.  The ability to truly let everything go – expectations, position, and jostling to pass my other comrades had freed me to perform to the highest of my capabilities.  It was a paradigm shift, and instead of stressing and being anxious for a large portion of the race, I had one of the most enjoyable days of my entire life.  Running, from sunrise to sunset, one foot in front of the other, one mile at a time, through pristine mountain scenery, with the most enjoyable people along the way – and a PR to boot.

Does it really get any better than that?

TFW you negative split a 100k can grab a PR along the way!

Relive my Canyons 100k run here!


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