Monday, March 13, 2017

5 Easy Steps Guaranteed To WIN Your Next Marathon

I used to struggle with anything beyond mediocre finishes at marathons. When I wanted to find my name in the race results, I just needed to scroll toward the bottom. But that was then. This is NOW!

I'd like to teach you my 5 Easy Steps Guaranteed To Help You Win Your Next Marathon. I have used these tips time after time, and I have won 100% of the races I have used these tools. I used them most recently the Sand Mountain Marathon last week.

1) Find a 26.2 mile run and don't invite a single soul. If you consistently run with a training partner, lie and tell them you have the flu, then go run your own 26.2. Inviting anyone else significantly decreases your odds of winning. It's no accident why this tip is ranked #1. I chose to run on some trails around Sand Mountain in southern Utah.

Follow tip #1 and you should win the marathon. The following 4 items are bonus tips to help you have more fun as you crush your (non-existent) competition and earn a podium finish:

2) Your aid station can have anything you want, so make it good! I had snacks and water in my car, then came back every 8-10 miles to restock my pack. No more of the traditional nasty Gatorade and brown bananas you typically find at marathon aid stations!

3) Don't obsess over your pace. Stop and smell the roses. This is a marathon. It's supposed to be fun for crying out loud. You should probably stop and take a jumping picture. And then when you stop in the same place a few hours later, take another one. (I'm terrified of heights. There is a ledge right to the side of me so I'm not right on the edge of a cliff like it may appear.)


4) Choose a cool route. The views at the top of the mountain are absolutely INCREDIBLE. Take, for example, THIS video by The Piano Guys which has nearly 60 MILLION views. They filmed it up here.

I made a few trips up and down the mountain taking some different trails. Cool rocks like this were strewn around.

Near the end of the marathon I ran on some trails at the base of the mountain. This is what the cliffs look like from the bottom:


5) Don't forget to tip the race photographer. (I hear he accepts Zingers and will probably just set the camera on the ground to take a staged running picture.)

Not only are the costs of race registrations like this highly economical, but you can hold your head high in victory as you stop at the gas station on the way home to buy a Dr. Pepper. Now go for it! Go run, and WIN your next marathon!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Jackpot Ultra Running Festival Race Report - 2017

My wife Mel has a love/hate relationship with running. Approximately 3% is love. And the other 97% is hate. So you can imagine my surprise when she said "Maybe I'll do the 48 hour race with you!"

Months ago I was talking with her about the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival in Las Vegas. I told her I was planning to run the 48 hour race and asked if she wanted to run too. (Jackpot has 12 hour, 24 hour, marathon, and 100 mile distances as well.) She said she wanted to come along. And she set a goal to reach 50 miles in those 48 hours. With timed races like this, you just go as many miles as you can within your time limit. No cut-offs, no DNFs, you just do what you can do.

We rented this sweet rig from Escape Camper Vans for the race because Mel said she wasn't going to run during the nights, so this would be a cozy spot to sleep. Plus, it gave people an easy opportunity to say "If this van is a rockin', don't come a knockin'." Because the stink of runners in the middle of an ultramarathon is a huge turn-on.

Jackpot is a 2.38 mile loop around Cornerstone Park, a wildlife reserve area with a 31 acre lake. There is a mix of pavement and smooth dirt trails that make it a fast course. A loop race has its challenges mentally, and some people get bored doing loops. But for me personally, I think they're pretty fun. I like getting to know fellow runners, and you're never too far away from an aid station. Given the choice, I still love trail races, but I certainly don't mind loop courses.

I spent many loops running with my friend Ed "The Jester" Ettinghausen. Ed is one of my running heroes and has always been an inspiration to challenge my limits. He has been a source of encouragement and support ever since I started running ultras.

Ed holds the World Record for the most 100+ mile races in a year (40!!). I had the pleasure of running many of those races with him. Any race where I get to share miles with Ed is a good race.

Cornerstone Park is home to many different kinds of birds. It was funny to listen to geese honking incessantly throughout the day and night. One person writing about Cornerstone Park on Yelp said "It's difficult to enjoy the scenery here when you're being swarmed by 10 pound hell beasts. Almost lost fingers." Mainly, I just wanted to add her comment because the phrase "10 pound hell beast" is really funny. I didn't 1) Get swarmed by any hell beasts, or 2) almost loose any fingers. (Disclaimer - the following picture is NOT a hell beast.)

Now let's talk about Mel for a minute. The fact that she was even out there is pretty awesome. She hasn't had the greatest experiences while running. (Take, for example, a year we ran the St. George Marathon together. The pre-race lines at the porta-potties were gigantic so many runners headed for the hills in the dark right before the race for a quick bathroom break. Mel did the same. Remember, it was dark. Well, she stepped in someone's poop. And then I won the Husband Of The Year Award for running with her for the next five hours while she smelled like poo.) She did so good at Jackpot. She didn't go fast, but she maintained a steady pace hour after hour.

I ran the Jackpot 100 miler back in 2014 and set my 100 mile PR of 22 hours, 24 minutes. I truly still can't believe that happened. But this year, knowing I'd be running for 48 hours I knew I needed to be more conservative. I just kept a manageable, steady pace, mixing in some running, some power walking, and some jumping.

The evening of the first day we got pounded with a storm more fierce than most I've ever seen. The storm system had just come across California causing some mass destruction and massive flooding. When the storm arrived over Nevada, it just parked. It relentlessly dumped rain hour after hour after hour. The storm had a name...I'm not even making this up...it was called Lucifer. LUCIFER!! It was nice to have the camper van during those times with the flooding was the worst. Strong wind actually caused the van to be "a rockin'."

While most people stayed under cover during the worst of the storm, I was so inspired by the few runners who were still out covering miles in the downpour. I was so thankful that the storm mostly broke up mid-morning on the second day. It was great to get some miles with my friend Clair Coleman whose race started Saturday. Clair was one of my crew members when I ran Badwater last year. He has seen me through some very dark times in races and I love him for it.

Sharing some soggy miles with Clair...

Saturday night something AMAZING happened. Melanie, my wife, the one who stepped in poo and isn't a huge fan of running.....hit 50 MILES!!! I am so, so proud of her. It wasn't long ago that an achievement like this would have been absolutely unfathomable for her. To celebrate, she went to get some non-aid station food. She went to a place called Raising Cane's. HOLY WOW. If eating 2,000 calories worth of friend chicken and fries in the middle of an ultramarathon is wrong, I don't want to be right.

I slept for a while on the second night, then hit the course again at 4am to take advantage of the last four hours of the race. My left knee was being a little bit of a hell beast so I wasn't running much but could keep a steady walking pace. The sunrise after 46 hours was beautiful.

After 48 hours the race was over. I made it to 111 miles which I was very happy with.  And I'm so thankful for my amazing sponsors St. George Running Center, Tailwind Nutrition, Altra, and UltrAspire. I feel very blessed.

Ken and Stephanie Rubeli with Beyond Limits Running who put on this race are exceptional. They've created such a fun running environment. I can't recommend Jackpot highly enough. It was so awesome to see Mel set a crazy goal...and then go tackle it! Really, that's what ultramarathons are all about. There is a finish line so far in the distance that you can't wrap your head around it. You're not sure how you're going to get to the finish line, except to just keep moving forward one step at a time. A crazy thing happens when you do that mile after mile, hour after hour. You find yourself standing somewhere you weren't sure you'd get to - a finish line! And it feels so, so good.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Trek Across Red Mountain, Snow Canyon, and Red Cliffs Desert Reserve

I'm going to be straight up honest with you. I considered the possibility that I was being set up to be murdered. Leading up to this adventure, these two guys were saying things like "The trail is around 30 miles. It's in the middle of nowhere. I'm not sure someone has done this exact route before. We probably won't see another person the whole time."

After I made sure my life insurance policy was up to date, I agreed to join in on the fun. The two guys I mentioned were Matt Anderson with Ultra Adventures and Derrick Lytle. I knew both of them beforehand and I was at least 84% sure they weren't involved in cult torture killing.

So my alarm goes off at 3:30am. We meet and start our day going up Red Mountain. I had never been on this "trail" before but quickly had the air knocked out of me on the half mile / 1,000 foot climb. Derrick is a renowned and downright amazing photographer. (Go follow him on Instagram @derricklytle to see some incredible pictures.) He caught this shot as I neared the top of the climb:

It took a while before we started seeing slivers of daylight, but when it started to lighten up we knew we were in for a good day. As a photographer, the worst thing is a plain blue sky. Clouds help give personality and contrast. The weather on this day would have plenty of personality.

We spent a lot of time bushwhacking across the landscape. There were no trails to speak of, but Matt and Derrick had maps on their phones to make sure we were at least heading the right direction. I loved when we hit these cool pockets of water left over from the last rainstorm.

We reached this area overlooking Snow Canyon that was so remote and isolated and absolutely, spectacularly beautiful. I caught this picture of Derrick doing what we were all doing - standing there soaking in the amazing scenery all around us.



From there we had a bit of scrambling up some slick rock. On my To Do list I want to catch a picture of someone running across the top of a ridge like this.

After a few miles we reached the more well-known view of Snow Canyon from the Red Mountain Trail. This view is one of the coolest in southern Utah.

Later the weather began to turn. It got a bit more cold and windy and there was a storm on the horizon.

We saw dozens of amazing blue birds fly right past us. Their color was so bright. I wish I had been quicker with my camera. I did catch this one as they flew from one tree to another in the distance.

We got a little lost at one point going across the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and even got so desperate as to break out an actual map. (In actuality, these guys had apps with maps and a route, and a hard copy map. I still have no idea where we actually were.)

We were planning on about 30 miles. But at the 30 mile mark we were nowhere near where we were expecting to finish.

It was getting dark and a fierce rain storm was rolling in. Matt and I both bailed at that point getting in 33 miles. Derrick was a beast and kept going alone in the dark downpour finishing with around 43 miles.

I had a blast checking out new trails and being surrounded by jaw-dropping views. This certainly won't be the last time I join these guys for an adventure.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

More Cowbell 100 Race Report - 2016

I have a brilliant strategy that will guarantee a win at your next race:

1) Create your own 100 miler.
2) Be the only person to run the 100 miles.
3) WIN!

(The fine print in this race strategy is that while you finish in first place, you're also last place.)

Recently I ran a 100 miler on the More Cowbell Trail in southern Utah. It's a 3.5ish mile loop in southern Utah. Part of the reason I wanted to run a 100 here is because of the sheer beauty of the trail. I mean....it's basically incredible.

But the other reason I wanted to do a 100 here is because the trail is called the More Cowbell Trail. Seriously. With a name that awesome, this trail NEEDED to be an ultramarathon!

The great thing about the trail is that there is an actual cowbell you pass! If you don't ring the bell when you pass, you invite bad karma. You immediately bonk and your toenails turn black. Please, friends. RING THE BELL WHEN YOU PASS.

A few days before the run, I posted on Facebook that I was going to try to run 100 miles on the trail. I was honored when a bunch of friends came out to join for some miles. My first companion was Tia Astle.

It was SO, SO cold the weekend I chose to run. Temps were in the 30's and low 40's but the kicker was the high wind advisory which said gusts would be up to 50 miles per hour. I'm just going to say it - it was miserable. Miserable. And yet any ultrarunner will attest to the fact that it is possible to be absolutely miserable and be having fun at the same time. This 100 miler was completely miserable and fun at the same time.

This amazing trail is right on the outskirts of Zion National Park. You can see the towering cliffs of Zion on the horizon.

Late in the afternoon I was joined for some miles by Jesse Zitting and renowned photographer and videographer Derrick Lytle.

As a photography nerd, I noticed that there were some cool clouds brewing in the sky. I was hopeful that we would be treated to an awesome sunset.

Much of the More Cowbell Trail runs along the edges of incredibly beautiful mesas. Case in point:

As sunset was nearing, I was still feeling fairly good. I was certainly starting to feel the toll of miles from earlier in the day, but I was able to keep a decent pace. In the last light of day, Gooseberry Mesa glowed like it had been lit on fire.

I then witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen from a trail. The cold, bitter wind had made the entire day dreadful. But as I watched the sunset, I was yet again reminded that if you persevere and don't give up when times get tough, you will be rewarded. This sunset was my reward for not giving up.

The legend of the More Cowbell Trail is that when the trail was being designed, people found a dead cow in the area with the cowbell still around it's neck. (Not coincidentally, the More Cowbell Trail also connects to a trail called Dead Ringer. So great!)

I was hopeful that after the sun went down, the wind would mellow out. It didn't. Mel must have sensed that my body needed something warm. She drove up to the trailhead and brought a Wendy's Baconator hamburger, fries, and a Coke. They were delicious. And within ten minutes I realized that eating something called a "Baconator" in the middle of a 100 mile run is basically the worst idea ever. Ever.

Mel brought our Great Dane, Little Debbie. The only thing that Little Debbie loves more than stealing food off the counters is trail running. It was so cold that Mel thought she may need a sweatshirt.

Mel joined me for the next 3.5 miles. I kindly asked her to PLEASE ignore me next time I suggest that I would like to eat a mid-run Baconator.

Shortly after Mel left, I was joined for some miles by my brother-in-law Matt Anderson and his friend Jed.

And then I was paid a visit by my friends Jeff and Carol Manwaring. Jeff has been my Trail Savior many times throughout the years. Take, for example, the 2014 Zion 100 where he had a steak and cheese sandwich for me. (And then we hugged. And then we danced. HERE are the photos.) On this night they brought me hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll. Then I ran a bunch of miles with Carol.

The night was a significant challenge for me. It continued to be super windy and temps were below freezing. I was SO cold. At two points during the night when I was frozen solid and sleep walking, I got in the back of my car to sleep and thaw out for 20-30 minutes.

Very early in the morning I was joined for a lap by my friend Dave Stephenson. I was thankful for his company because, despite a few short naps, I was still battling the sleep monster.

Mercifully the wind began to die down. The cold was tolerable without the soul-sucking wind. I was thankful for company on the second day when my legs were sore and tired and my pace had slowed down. I enjoyed some miles with Chris and Maria Bradley.

Then Justin Robins who brought along a cinnamon roll and hot chocolate. (I'm a little embarrassed at how quickly I inhaled that cinnamon roll. Imagine your vacuum cleaner sucking up dust bunnies. It was kind of like that.)

When the wind finally stopped I had 75 miles behind me. I was ecstatic to begin peeling off some of my multiple layers of clothing.

Melissa Young and her son came out to enjoy some beautiful miles from the trail.

And then for a while I was down to shorts and a short-sleeved shirt! For as terrible as the first day was, the weather on the second day of the run was absolutely perfect.

The last 20 miles were tough for me. I assume this won't be much of a shock. The last 20 miles of ANY 100 mile run are always really tough. My legs were sore and stiff and it seemed like the miles were ticking by so slowly.

As I finished the final few loops of the 100 miler I came across a rock that perfectly summarized how I feel about this awesome trail:

I was thankful to share the last few miles with my friend Cherie Santiago. I've shared many adventures with her over the years and she is one of the nicest humans on the planet.

A little more than 33 hours after I started the adventure, I finished the More Cowbell 100! And I won first place! (Okay, and last place.) If my math is right, that was my 25th 100+ mile run. Thanks to the miracle of Amazon, you can purchase a More Cowbell belt buckle!

I've never found anything as humbling, demanding, demoralizing, energizing, and truly, truly rewarding as running. Running is about not curling up on the side of the trail when a Baconator socks you in the stomach. It's about not crying when the wind nearly blows your trucker hat off the mesa for the nine millionth time. It's about laughing with friends. It's about vacuuming up cinnamon rolls. It's about sunsets and hypothermia and mesas that look like they are on fire. It's about taking a jumping picture to try to convince your grumpy legs that you are having fun. Running is about Great Danes in sweaters. And supportive spouses. And it's about not listening to the voices in your head that tell you to quit. Running is about knowing where your limits are. And then pushing past them.