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Chris’ Cactus Rose recap

Chris’ Cactus Rose recap

Sat morning was gorgeous. My car thermostat was showing 41 degrees when I got to Crossroads around 745a. The sunrise was incredible. Felt weird wearing a jacket.

– While Sat morning was gorgeous…Saturday afternoon was plain hot. The high may have only hit 80 but the sun was very intense and it was a 40 degree temperature rise from the morning.

– I have come to the conclusion that most female runners are tougher than guys. When I was at Nachos in the afternoon….waiting on Sheila there were a lot of runners in bad shape. They ran too fast in the cool morning weather and then were cooked by afternoon sun.  Quite a few male runners were at Nachos for an extended period of time trying to recover. The ones that were doing a 100 almost all dropped after 50. Rebecca Gartrell came into Nachos. She ran out of water 40 minutes prior and spent a lot of time at Nachos throwing up. However, she ended up finishing 3d female in the 100.

– Finishing rate for the 100 was 45%. 42 runners started….19 finish. I think the big temperature swing was a big reason for low finishing rate.

– Rabbers is convinced that more and more rocks get thrown onto Bandera trails every year. He won’t touch the 100…which is funny coming from a guy who has done many mountain 100s.

– Some young girl was leading the 100 through mile 55. I talked to her then and she was commenting how the rocks weren’t as bad as she expected. She dropped at mile 70 and signed in the book that she was “tired of this place and she was done” (paraphrase). I guess the rocks eventually got to her.

– Times were way slower across the board. The new course is a little bit longer. 50 miler is a solid 51 miles and 100 miler is a solid 102 miles.


100 miler


Julie Koepke – 24:23. 1st female. Julie is amazing. She had very little time degradation from 1st 50 miles to 2d 50 miles. That is phenomenal because Bandera is not an easy place to run at night. Soon she will break 24.

Cara Bass – 29:25. 2d female. Cara had some struggles at times but she hung tough. Hearing mountain lion growls gave her an adrenaline boost.

Sheila Pinkson – 33:24. This was Sheila’s first 100. She was very determined the entire time which made my job as crew much easier. Not once did I have to try and talk her into continuing on.

Jean Perez – 33:32. Huge day for Jean! She got her 400 mile buckle AND earned her Cactus 500 mile jacket. Only 2d Rockhopper to do so!!!

Lisa Keough – 35:18. Really proud of Lisa. She had a really rough start to the race and was pretty discouraged after 1st loop but she stayed with it and got the finish.

Michelle Green – 65 miles of fun. I felt bad for Michelle. She really wanted this but severe nausea (couldn’t keep in any fluids/Calories) derailed her.

Monica Egner – 50 miles of fun. I also felt bad for Monica. She also really wanted this but her previously injured foot started hurting her during the race so medical convinced her to quit before the Bandera rocks made it worse.

Rich Mihalik – 50 miles of fun. Rich set a PR the first loop but the intense afternoon sun did him in. still Rich notched another 50  miles and puts him that much closer to get 500 miles out there.


50 miler


Lorenzo Sanchez – 9:08 2d male. Renzo tried to bromance with Rabbers but Rabbers 2d loop pace was even to slow for Renzo. Renzo did get close enough to 1st place runner to spook him at the end.

Rabbers – 3d male. 4th time is aa charm. After 3 DNFs here…Scott gets it done!!!!!

Adam Mendoza – 11:38. 1st Masters and smart enough not to beat Fumi’s best time at Cactus

Ed Brown – 11:56. It was great to see Ed! I haven’t seen him in awhile. Ed may have the best positive split of the day. A sizzling 4:45 first loop followed by a leisurely 7:11 enjoying the afternoon sun.

Daniel Cadena – 12:53. Daniel is a good friend of Tony’s. He looked great all day.

Tom Bowling & Ash Kabra – 13:35. They were strong first 42 miles but then ‘bonk bromanced” it the final 8 miles.

Larry Kocian – 13:51. It was also great to see Larry. Been awhile. The heat also got to Larry some the 2d loop (plus there are no rocks or hills in Houston) but he held on long enough to finish just ahead of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Gonazalez – 13:57. Typical Elizabeth race. Her 2d loop was about the same pace as 1st loop and steadily moved up all day. She flew that last mile dropping an 8:30 pace

Katherine Fuglaar – 14:11 Great race by Katherine! She ran with Elizabeth the whole time until Elizabeth’s burst of energy at the end.

Carrie Knapp – 14:15 Carrie ran most the of the first 50 miles with Jean and Lisa. She also looked very storn at the finish. As I said…women do a better job pacing themselves.

Kay Perry & Delaine Garcia – 17:04 Kay and Delaine had a great time.  they enjoyed themselves more than anyone!

Texas Trail Championship Spring Season Results!

Texas Trail Championship Spring Season Results!

Hey Gang, I wanted to share a few of the proud moments the Rockhoppers enjoyed at the awards ceremony for the Spring season. This occurred last night prior to the Fossil Valley Night Race up near Dallas.  For the team awards, the Rockhoppers took first place in the Ultra category and second in the Trail category.  We have given the award to the top point getter on our team, so Scott Rabb was given the Ultra award and Joe Schmal was given the Trail award.
We really had a number of stars on our team who ran multiple races in both categories &/or more than the maximum 4 races in one category. This included Scott & Joe, as well as Julie Koepke, MJ Redman, and Nate Smith.  Nate finished fourth in his age group in both categories, but was a top ten point getter for our team in both categories.
I picked up age group awards for the Rockhoppers who did not make the trip, so we need to find a way to get the awards to these deserving folks.  One of the things we are doing for the Texas Trail Championship Facebook page is to ask age group winners to get a picture of themselves on the trail (preferably their favorite trail).  I included some pictures of the age group award (front & back).
Chris posted results earlier this week, but I am going to share them again. I was at the front collecting these awards and the Rockhoppers took a majority of these awards: I carried 10 awards home for team members, not including those for Julie, Scott, & Joe!
30-39 F Julie Koepke – 1st
40-49 F Anabel Pearson – 3rd

29 & Under M Aash Kabra – 1st
40-49  M  Scott Rabb – 1st
50-59  M  Thomas Bowling – 1st
John Davidson – 2nd
60-69  M  Rich Mahilik – 2nd

19-29  F  Alicia Stoll – 3rd
40-49  F  MJ Redman – 1st
50-59  F  Michele Genereux – 3rd

19-29  M  Thor Kooda – 2nd
Nathaniel Guidotti – 3rd
30-39  M  Joe Schmal – 2nd
40-49  M  Scott Rabb – 1st
Ulises Marrufo – 3rd
60-69  M  Don Flynn – 2nd

Congratulations to all and let’s get it rolling for the Fall Season.



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Syllamo! March18-21, 2016

Syllamo! March18-21, 2016

Syllamo was a 3 day race. Friday was a 50K, Saturday was a 50 miler and Sunday was a 20+K. Brian, Rachel, Tanya and Jason Espalin (i.e. the Spleens), Ash and myself did the stage race together.


Great race setting – All of the races originate from the Blanchard Springs Campground in the Ozarks of Arkansas. Blanchard Springs Campground is nestled in a valley and has immediate access to a gazillion miles of trails.. It is very secluded and low key. In many ways it reminds me of the Lodge area at Hill Country State Park except more water (Sylamore River runs right through it) and bigger hills. There is a really nice pavilion area and a big grassy area that is great for relaxing post race. There is also the very cold Sylamore River readily available for a post race ice bath. Even though all races originate from the same area….the RD did a great job of making the course for each race feel quite a bit different than the others and emphasize different scenic aspects of the Ozarks. Most of the routes were single track with some jeep road mixed in.


Old school style race – After Sunday’s 20K, I made the comment to Steve (the RD) that it was an old school style race and he said that was his intent. What I meant by old school style race is that the race was low key (not a lot of fan fare) and non elitist. That is probably why the Legend didn’t come. While there were some very fast runners….there wasn’t a lot of fuss over them and the RD did a great job on congratulating everyone on their finish. There also weren’t a ton of runners…less than 200 for each race. By the first A/S the field was generally pretty well spread out. Even the markings were old school. When I first started doing trail races in 2005…most races were marked with flagging ribbon and flour (on the turns).  There were never arrows or wrong way signs (yes Tejas Trails has spoiled us). At Syllamo the RD just used flagging ribbons at major turns (sometimes flour) with the occasional confidence ribbon. Honestly, the trails were well marked but one had to pay attention. Brian, Rachel, Tanya, Jason and Ash all missed one or two turns in the 50 miler. Ash was a funny story. I was about 50 yards behind him around mile 19 and we were running up a jeep road. I was alone in my thoughts (i.e. thinking about how miserable I was feeling) and heard some runners about 20 yards ahead of me yell ahead at a runner that he missed the turn. I looked up and it was Ash they were yelling at! The problem was Ash had his earbuds in and couldn’t hear them. Time to crank up the Chris Russell voice and it overpowered Ash’s earbuds and we got him back on track. Funny thing is the exact same thing happened about 10 minutes later. Ash learned his lesson and didn’t get off course after that. I was feeling smug about not being the only who didn’t get off course in the 50 miler but that was inviting too much bad karma from the Trail Gods. Tanya and I got way off course in the 20K and may have costs us close to 30 minutes. The flagging was clear (it was a sharp 90 degree turn) but I wasn’t paying attention.


Hardcore Runners – I was very impressed by the quality of runners at the race. A lot of the runners were older but it was evident they had been doing this for many years (including stage races) and I would often hear them talk about races they had done. I thought it was impressive that a good number of starters did finish the 50 miler within the tight 14 hour cutoff despite doing the 50K the day before. They were very smart in their pacing and recovery. Many do Syllamo every year. Even in the 20K on Sunday most of them were running right away and it took me about 4 miles before I found anything resembling running legs. To give an example of the type of runner there….I ran with a gentleman the first half of the 50K. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1988 which was same year I graduated from the Air Force Academy. So we had a bit of a bond. He told me that when he retired in 2012 he celebrated it by running across America. I asked him what route he took.? My assumption was he would tell me in general terms (went through such and such states in Northern Part of US). Instead he started off by saying, “well on Day 1 we did28 miles and we took such and such trail for 8 miles before we had to run on road for 15 miles, blah, blah, blah and then on Day 2 we went 35 miles etc……..”. I got the full blow by blow! It was great. Kept me entertained for a long time and I was amazed by his memory. For those curious he was able to heavily utilize a lot of the rails to trails projects in Northern part of US.


VRBO is the way to go – We stayed at a Vacation Rental By Owner which comfortably slept all of us. It was perfect for a stage race format. We each had our own bed but had a nice central living area to congregate in and hang out. Really made the event a lot more fun. Although actually getting into the house was a bit of a scavenger hunt. The directions for getting the key were a bit cryptic (open the gate by the back stairwell and the key will be on top of such and such). The gate wasn’t obvious (and a bit camouflaged)  and once we finally figured it out it took several more minutes to find the door the key worked in. Felt like I was playing one of those old graphic adventures. The other good part of the VRBO was it made it a lot easier to get up in the morning for each race knowing that the others were doing the same thing (despite being sore and tired). Both Saturday and Sunday morning I looked at Tanya and said…”This is the dumbest idea ever”. A stage race would be tough to do solo.


Experiencing local culture part 1 – One of the best things about ultra running is it often takes us to places that otherwise we would never go. Gives us a chance to absorb local culture and get out of our respective bubbles. We were staying in Mountain View, Arkansas which bills itself as the Folk Music Capital of the World. Unfortunately the big folk music festival they had was a week prior but the evidence of its folk music heritage was all over. It is also the heart of Bible Belt (my people!:)). Consequently, one sees advertisements for things like a Bluegrass Gospel service (let’s blend some folk music with some bible belt). Being in the heart of Bible Belt meant we were in a dry county. This led to one of my favorite stories. Thursday night we decided to eat at Angler’s which is a catfish place. They had very good catfish (as evidenced by the 6 fillets I ate). However, in order to get around the dry county rules, they were technically a private club. So in order to eat there… at least one member of our party had to be a member of Angler’s (fortunately membership was free). So next time you see Brian congratulate him on his membership at Angler’s! We had a lot of fun the rest of the trip asking Brian about his Angler’s perks and privileges.


Experiencing local culture part 2 – Another favorite local culture story also involved Angler’s. Ash decided to get some salad to go with his catfish. They asked him what kind of dressing he wanted. Before I could warn him he asked for vinaigrette. Actually he was going to ask for balsamic vinaigrette but thought they might not have it so he ask for vinaigrette. Now when I was a growing up in Ok….there were 3 types of Salad Dressing offered….French, Thousand Island and Italian. Italian was the fancy one. After they invented Ranch they started to offer that. Well Ark isn’t much different than Ok. The very nice waitress informed Ash (and his elitis taste buds) that they didn’t have vinaigrette. He could have either Italian or Ranch (somehow French and Thousand Island have fallen to the wayside). After she left, Tanya told Ash that was why she brought her own balsamic vinaigrette and Tanya proceeds to show him a small glass container containing balsamic vinaigrette. Obviously Tanya has been to Arkansas.


Spleens and their “tricks of the trade” – Lodging with the Spleens is very intimidating as one gets to see all their “tricks of the trade”. They had 2 foam rollers, 3 rolling sticks, stretching bands, massage balls etc. etc, etc. After every race Tanya and Jason would lounge around in their “recovery” tights. Well actually Tanya did. Jason wouldn’t allow us to see him in his recovery tights and he would put those on when he went to bed. The pair of shorts I was sleeping in seemed woefully inadequate. But the kicker was the Himalayan Rock Salt. Having known the Spleens over the years I am aware of them always looking for any type of pharmaceutical or natural product that will give them an edge. A few years ago at Jemez they were taking some type of Nitro powder (or pill) pre race. This year it was the Himalayan Rock Salt that would give them the edge. I guess they mixed it with water and drank it. It couldn’t be any rock salt but apparently had to come from Mt Everest or K2 or one of those mystical places. So next time you see the Spleens…see if they can hook you up before it eventually gets banned


Hypothermic Ash – I don’t know if I have ever met anyone who dislikes cold more than Ash. The temps were usually in the 30s at race start and Ash is dressed like he is an Inuit Indian ready to go on a Polar Bear hunt. He did all of Sunday’s 20K in a puffy jacket and other layers. I had on a T-shirt. After Friday’s 50K we tried to get him into the river to reduce inflammation in his legs and he stayed safely on the banks. Probably a good thing to. As cold as that water was it was probably a wise move. He might have gone into hypothermic shock.

Ash’s man crush – Veteran Hardrock Runner Billy Simpson was there volunteering. Billy has finished Hardrock a bunch. He is 61 years old and can still run it in under 40 hours. Ash though he was pretty much the coolest dude ever and kept talking about how cool he was. The man has a presence. At one of the pre race briefings the RD is trying to get us to be quiet…not working…finally Billy yells…”Hey, Listen Up!”. Immediate silence. Brian agrees with Ash on Billy’s coolness. I honestly can’t argue with either of them. Likely is the coolest dude in ultrarunning.


Speedo dudes – By now you have all seen the horrific photos of Tanya frolicking with the guys in the tiny speedos. Here is the background. There is a group of guys who call themselves the “Panty Boys” for whatever reason. Every year they work an aid station…Friday and Saturday wearing some typo of crazy costume. This year it was red, white and blue speedos. Even in cold weather they wore them. I had forgotten about them at the 50K on Friday (we were warned prior) until I hit their A/S and I honestly didn’t know what to say. I was stunned. I was trying to get water and some food while avoiding looking at them. Even more unnerving was one of them looked like Rolando’s twin. Seeing Rolando in a speedo is not a sight I want to see. Another one of them told me, “Can you believe we still can’t get girls?”


Credit; Chris Russell

Trail Champs for 2015! and 2016 Bandera 100K highlites

Trail Champs for 2015! and 2016 Bandera 100K highlites

The gang at the last race of 2015, they put us over the top to claim the Texas Trail Championship
The gang at the last race of 2015, they put us over the top to claim the Texas Trail Championship
Tom accepting our awards.
Tom accepting our awards.
Rich places in both the Ultra and sub ultra categories!
Rich places in both the Ultra and sub ultra categories!
Rockhoppers hosting the Crossroads aid station
Rockhoppers hosting the Crossroads aid station

The Rockhoppers claimed the Texas Trail Ultra championship for 2015! We also took the Sub Ultra Championship for the first time. Congratulations all.

We also do a great job at Volunteering. The Crossroads aid station at the Bandera 100K, 50K and 25K races was our responsibility this year.  Thanks to all that came out to help throughout the day, and night!

Below are Chris Russell’s highlights of the day,

I had a multifaceted day at Bandera on Saturday/Sun Morning. I watched Dakota and Zach do the 25K, volunteered at Crossroads and then paced Sheila at the 100K. Below are my top 11 memories from the day.

1. The warmup brothers – While staying in the warm vehicle before the race, Sheila and I entertained ourselves by watching a couple of young guys (they looked like brothers) go through an elaborate warmup series in the back lot. According to  Sheila (who use to be a college hurdler) they were doing A-Skip, B-Skip, and C-Skip. Whatever it was….they were quite impressive and did it in unison. Unusual to see people warming up like that before a trail race. I tried to talk Sheila into joining them but she preferred the warm truck. I did see them in the 25K and they were among the leaders but not sure how the finished up.

2. The gorgeous weather – After several Bandera and Cactus Rose races with crummy weather (thanks to Brian taunting the Bandera Gods a few years ago) I figured we were due for some great weather and it finally happened. Cool temps…nice breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Plus the rain early in the week kept the trails firm and dust down. Made me wish I was racing. Dakota said the sunrise was quite impressive. In fact she said it was so impressive that it was blinding (literally). She said during the 25K she was having to shield her eyes because they were running right into the sun on one stretch and it was very hard to see. During the cold night (more on that later) the stars were as bright as I have seen them out there. Honestly I don’t know if Bandera has ever had a better day for running.

3. Working the big guns at Boyles – I was following my daughter, Dakota, and her boyfriend, Zach, during their 25K race. After seeing them come through Last Chance 2 miles into the 25K, Cory Torkelson and I walked to Boyles. Boyles was an interesting setup. It has always been water only but in previous years they had a table, gallon water jugs and it was manned. When Cory and I got there, it was a bunch of 5 gallon jugs and some cups. No table and no one was there. Runners were already coming through and most weren’t stopping to break into the 5 gallon jugs. Cory and I decided to help out by opening some 5 gallon jugs and pouring directly into the runners’ water bottles. Turned out to be quite a workout. Later on when I was pacing I was surprised my arms were sore. At first I thought it was from the water bottles (and I felt rather wimpy) but then I remembered it was likely from picking up those 5 gallon water jugs.

4. Retro Zach’s first trail race – This was the first trail race for Dakota’s boyfriend Zach. He had some speed but had never ran this far before so I was curious to see how he would do. One could tell it was Zach’s first trail trace by the gear he was wearing. Cotton T-shirt and gym shorts. He at least had trail shoes though. When I saw him come through Boyles he was sporting some healthy blood coming from the knee. I smiled and thought, “He has been properly christened”. Zach had a  great race. He struggled a little at the end (he went a little fast) but still ran a very fast 2:42. I look forward to see what he can do in the future and if he decides to keep the retro look.

5. The Son of Jurek – The first time I saw the lead runner….I thought, “that looks like a younger Scott Jurek”. He had Jurek’s crazy curly hair and was relatively tall for a trail runner. Around 6 feet but very thin and long legs. When he came in the first loop at 3:47 I expected him to finish between 8 and 8:30 since there tends to be anywhere from a 30 minute to an hour time degradation on the 2d loop even among the top runners. He still managed to run the 2d loop in just under 4 hours and shattered the previous course record. I’m sure the cool dry weather all day really helped. The Son of Jurek’s name is Jim Walmsley and he is a budding star. He had won JFK 50 the last 2 years but it was impressive to see his speed translate to more challenging trails. He graduated from the Air Force Academy (although he is now out of AF) and was 12th in NCAA Outdoor Steeplechase final. Has also run a 4:06 mile. Cory and I got a chance to briefly talk to him post race. He liked the course although he said the first 5 miles (Sky and Ice Cream) were nasty. He was happy most of the rest of the course wasn’t like that. He even asked Cory and I how our races went (he assumed we had raced). Super nice guy.

6. Wrong Way Cassie – The women’s leader, Cassie Scallon, can thank the Rockhoppers for saving her race. When she came into Crossroads the first time on the 2d loop she turned around and started walking towards the road. This is the opposite way of the course. Well Brian, Crockett and either Rabbers or Porter saw her do that and followed along. They weren’t sure if she going the wrong way or just went to get something. She then broke out into a run on the road. They hollered at her and got her going the right way. Good job by the Rockhoppers in saving her race.

7. The Birders – During the day (at Crossroads) I found myself talking to Mariana and MJ. They had both done the 25K. Knowing how much Marianna likes birds…I asked her if she had seen any birds during the race. She replied that she had and her and MJ got to talking about the birds they had seen at Bandera that day and previous runs. MJ commented that there were a lot of unique birds here. Listening to them was peering into a different world. I have run at Bandera well over 100 times and the only birds I ever paid attention to were some that insisted on sitting on a trail one morning during a run Tony and I did a few years ago. It was quite interesting listening to them. There is a whole other world out there.

8. 3 for 1 (Take that Tony!) – I was committed to pacing Sheila the last 20-25 miles. Around 450p  I headed up trail 7 towards Nachos in hopes of running into Sheila. When I was almost to Nachos…I not only ran into Sheila but also Jean Perez and Carrie Knapp. Sheila and Jean had been running together all race and Carrie decided to upgrade from the 50K to the 100K (after completing her 50K). So I had the pleasure of pacing these 3 lovely ladies for most of the rest of the race. They did great…I pushed them through the flatter sections and they really dug deep and would run (the R word as Carrie calls it) when I asked them to (although Carrie was very good at perceiving walkable inclines in the dark). When we got into Crossroads I made sure to let Tony know I was pacing 3 lovely ladies. Score one for the Cactus Kid!:)

9. Brian’s crappy headlamp – I pulled an Anabel and left my headlamp at home. I did set it out but forgot to grab it. Brian said he had an extra one that he had somehow acquired (he wasn’t even sure if it was his). Turned out to be an old Petzl. It wasn’t long before I noticed that everyone’s headlamp was so much brighter than mine. In fact there were times I wasn’t sure if mine was working. Carrie’s Energizer headlamp dwarfed mine. When she was running behind me her light totally absorbed my light. I tried to change batteries but still the same crappy light output. To make matters worse…the case had a hard time staying shut so every time I touched the headlamp the case would break open. Oh well beggars can’t be choosers. Still it was a better situation than the Legend. His headlamp went out on the Sisters which resulted in an up close inspection of the rocks and a busted bloody knee.

10. The Cold Night – It got darn cold at night!! One had to layer up pretty good. The biggest impact of the cold is how much longer A/S stops take. Often times a runner would have to get more layers from the drop bag (assuming they had layers in their drop bag) or spend some time eating hot food. The cold definitely makes one hungrier and the food taste better. The quesadillas and ramen with mash potatoes were incredible! At the Lodge Sandy gave me Sausage wrapped in tortilla. Heavenly. Another impact of the cold is once a runner sits down by one of those heaters there is a good probability they may not go back out. Definitely don’t want to get too comfortable!  The coldest I got was in the initial section between Crossroads and Last Chance. I was wearing gloves but hands were cold. My body warms up well but hands not so much. My fingers felt frozen but Jean came through with some hand warmers that did wonders. Thanks Jean!!

11. Sheila’s amazing finish!!! – When we left Crossroads and headed towards Last Chance all 3 ladies were struggling a bit. Jean had fallen and hurt her back. Carrie’s knee was really bothering her and Sheila had muscle cramps. It looked like we would be walking the last 9 miles in. About a mile before Lucky, Sheila was in the lead of our train and we noticed that she was starting to trot and pull away. Jean told me to run ahead with Sheila and tell Sheila not to worry about her and Carrie. They would be fine. Soon Sheila’s trot started to resemble more of a run. Before I knew it we were at Last Chance. Sheila made a very quick stop at Last Chance (Sharpie was there and hanging out with Roger) and we were soon headed towards Cairns. Sheila was definitely smelling the hay!! Except for the uphills she was running everything!! I was having to work! We kept passing runner after runner. By the time we hit the bottom of Boyles she was almost in a full out sprint. I later figured it out and Sheila moved up 13 places in those last 5 miles. That is a lot of people to pass in the last 5 miles of a 100K with spread out runners. It was great to see her finish so strong (she said her cramps finally went away) and on such a positive note. It was a big highlight for me!

There are many other great stories…the awesome job the Rockhoppers did at Crossroads and some of the folks that were there all day, the great job Jazzy and Sandy did at the Lodge, joking around with Chris Porter’s son Joe and Brian’s XC kids telling Joe how the varsity XC guys get all the girls (I don’t think Joe believed them), and it was great seeing so many Rockhoppers do their first Bandera race (Aash, Susan and others) and it was also really nice to see Claudette and Mariana out there running again after extended breaks.

Rockhoppers at the “WILD HARE” trail races. Warda,TX. Nov. 21, 2015

Rockhoppers at the “WILD HARE” trail races. Warda,TX. Nov. 21, 2015

Anabel 3rd Female 50 miler
Anabel (left) 3rd Female 50 miler
Hanging out post race_Sandy&Tony
Sandy and Tony hanging out after their 25K
Julie, First female 50 miler
Matt, First Male 50 miler!
Tom (first Master 50M) behind M.J. on her first ever 50 miler
Wimpy Rich! 50 mile finisher.
Sandy, 25K finisher
Sheila, 50K finisher
Stefan, second male 25K
Tom “Maffetone” Bowling, First Master-50 miler
Rockhopper Women Dominate at Pedernales 60K!!

Rockhopper Women Dominate at Pedernales 60K!!

The Rockhopper 60K women showed up in a big way at Pedernales Falls this past weekend taking 3 of the top 4 spots‼! Other notable performances included the Assassin (Matt Smith) winning the 60K and getting some redemption after the Bighorn DNF. Tempo Tom was 1st Masters and Stefan was 2d in the 30K. Petra Gerber, who is brand new to the list was 3d in the 30K. Not to brag but I think it is notable that I completed the race in an old beat up pair of Nike Frees after forgetting my trail shoes. And no I will not be wearing them at Bandera anytime soon. My feet are still a little sore.


As always want to thank Rich and Jeannie for setting up Rockhopper Central. Sometimes we take it for granted but it is very much appreciated and enjoyed. The changing tent is a stroke of genius.


Overall I thought Brad did a good job with the race. Well marked and except for one A/S there was plenty of ice. Personally I’m not a fan of the new trails and prefer the old course but I know several folks liked the new course. But the new course is much slower than the old one.


 Here are the full results (if I overlooked anyone then speak up):




Matt  5:39 (1st Male The Assassin is back!)

Anabel 6:49 (Tied for 1st female despite falling 10 times and not taking gels)

Ed Brown 7:03:45 (always impresses)

Julie 7:18 (3d female and cheeriest runner out there. Seriously Julie had a great race and even split it again)

Kate 7:44 (4th female and newer Rockhopper. We need to get her signed up for USATF).

Tom 8:08 (Another 1st Masters trophy)

Orlando 10:20 (good start to his Cactus 100 training)

Elizabeth 11:18 (She did a great job keeping Rich company)

Rich 11:18 (I was worried about him after the first loop…the humidity was really affecting him but he got it done!)


We also had a few runners that decided they had 60K worth of fun after 30K so elected not to go back out there for a 2d loop. Their 30K times were:


Legend 3:48 (He was crowing about his old and crippled body beating my 30K time by 4 minutes but he had 15 more minutes of daylight to work in and I was wearing my Nike Frees

MJ 4:39

Jean 4:53 (Both MJ and Jean sure seemed happy not to go back out for another long humid loop. Jean was curled up under a blanket with a very happy look on her face).



Stefan 2:32 (2d Male…the king of the 30K series returns.)

Cory T 3:20 (Great effort from a new father)

Thor 3:22 (Another solid result and well positioned to finish high in sub ultra trail series)

Petra 3:35 (3d female and brand new to the list. We need to sign her up for USATF)

Rick S. 3:42 (This man is Mr Consistency. I forgot to see where he placed among Masters).

Chris R. 3:52 (Finished in top 30% overall…sounds better than saying 42d place)

Mariana 4:35 (It was weird to see her finish without either Rich or Sugar Bear there with her).

Alicia 4:36 (Solid result considering this was her longest run in a long time)

Kay 5:09 (I somehow missed getting to see Kay finished…this may have been her first night race but not sure).



Dakota – 1:22 (A 10 minute “medical” stop derailed her a bit)

Claudia Torkelson – (I didn’t write down her time but I think this was only her 2d trail race ever. Pretty good after just having a baby).

–Chris Russell

Mark Thompson’s RR50 Race Report

Mark Thompson’s RR50 Race Report


Thank you Rockhoppers! This race was an amazing intro to ultra and your hospitality. The report below is published on my blog,



This is the first 50 miler of the season for me. Wait… that’s true. More accurately, however, this is the first 50 miler in my LIFE! I am not an endurance neophyte, nor would I consider myself a savvy veteran. Having completed two seasons of triathlon training that included two 70.3 Ironman races and one 140.6, a series of factors led me to focus my energy on a season of ultra races.

An ultra is defined as any race longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). Prior to the RR50, I “competed” in two marathons (one coming as part of the Ironman), several half marathons, and a 30k. The 30k bears most of the fault for diving headfirst into the ultra community in 2014. Back in October, I flew to London for work and added a weekend trip to Lake Garda in Italy to the back end of the trip. I traveled with a group of South Africans living in London, with whom Liezz connected me. That run was completely magical and changed my view of running completely.

We traveled the Italian countryside from Venice to Garda, eating family-style meals of baguettes, prosciutto and mozzarella. At night, we dined on pasta and carafes of red wine. The entire group trained for the race, but approached it as an excuse to visit a beautiful corner of the globe and spend time with good people. I believe it was this approach that allowed me to completely relax and enjoy each moment of the race.


The race began around 9:30 am and our group scattered gradually at different paces. I never settled into one group, rather choosing to converse with several, increasing my pace by a few ticks to join the next person in queue. By the time there were only 5k left, I realized I had so much left in the tank that I completely went for broke. My Garmin was acting up on me, so in the absence of a true indicator of pace, I ran like I did back when I was 10 years old – with pure joy and abandon. As I ran through the chute, Europe’s “Final Countdown” was blaring (I was looking for GOB on a segway), and no kidding, I began to cry.

This moment is forever crystallized in my memory and taught me a truth that was previously hidden – those crazy people who just run might be on to something. There is paradoxical simplicity (most people are capable of running in some capacity) and complexity (what is that enigmatic runners’ high and where can I get one?). The run in Garda evoked a simple joy that was missing in my own competitive sports since my last NCAA wrestling match.

With this experience, along with the requisite reading of Born to Run, I resolved to spend the next year chasing distances I’d never dreamed of. The A-race on this season’s calendar is the Leadville 100, with several learning experiences along the way.

Friday, February 7th:

Team Thompson drove into Huntsville State Park around 6pm for packet pick up and headed to our B&B 4 miles away. We had seen a 5 Guys on the way in and decided we’d grab a quick burger and head to bed early. Not knowing exactly where it was located, I called upon Siri for advice. After a shouting match with Siri, which clearly hurt his/her feelings, he drove us past Sam Houston’s statue five times before dropping us in the middle of a cornfield, like a UFO in Roswell.

We acquiesced and found a Subway at a gas station. Lily and Nina caught the drama bug and decided to showcase our parenting skills to the youth group of 30 high school students that had arrived seconds before we got in line. I have never been so grateful for a Subway sandwich when it was all said and done. Fittingly, we ended up at 5 Guys the following night to celebrate two victories – finding it and completing a 50 mile race!


Left to right – Liezz, Nina and Lily – the best race crew a guy could ask for! They were unbelievably patient and encouraging as they stood around waiting for me to complete each 16.7 mile loop of the RR50. The aim of a crew is to be more encouraging than sympathetic – which they pulled off perfectly. They thought for me when my mind was going loopy, made sure I had nutrition and hydration squared away, and gave me a kick in the pants to get back out on the trail.

Saturday, February 8th: RACE DAY!

Race morning came quickly. Sleeping in a B&B meant that we were much more comfortable than had we camped in the park with the majority of racers. It inevitably meant, however, that our sick princesses alternated waking up throughout the night, and what little sleep there was to be had by Liezz was eaten up attending to the girls before they woke me completely. I slept relatively well and was all systems go when the alarm went off at 4am.

The drive to Huntsville State Park and getting my drop bag situated was surprisingly simple. Liezz and the girls dropped me off at the starting tent around 530am, wished me luck, and there I stood for 30 minutes. I waited around in the starting tent wish other racers. We were all shivering, partly because the temperature was in the mid-30’s and partly due to nerves. It was reassuring to catch up with Josh Johnson, a running buddy I met on an early morning McAllister Park run back in San Antonio, just before the gun went off and we shuffled off into the mines like Snow White’s 300 Dwarves.

Below: I’m getting my iPhone situated. I rarely run with music, but decided I would plug in some Explosions In The Sky and Sigur Ros for ambience while I ran in the dark. I expected to naturally fall in line with other runners at a similar pace, at which point, the plan was to unplug and make some friends.


Above: All of the miners with the requisite reflective clothing, hydrations packs and headlamps, ready for another day. With a 92% finish rate at RR50, there are fewer canaries on this course than typical ultras.

My race plan was the following:

– Loop 1 – run 20 minutes, walk 1 minute, consume approximately 270 calories/hour of solid food, drink water with Nuun tablet whenever thirsty (usually a sip every ten minutes), avoid gels if at all possible, take 1 SaltStick every hour, scope out aid stations for goodies (jelly beans, chips, soda, quesadillas, potatoes, BACON!, Akaushi filet – maybe there is a niche for the 1% of the 1% who like doing obscure suffering-based events that I could host where Akaushi will be available – I will even let Zuck slaughter it himself in keeping with his commitment to learning animal husbandry)

– Loop 2 – continue with the run 20, walk 1 or 2 , while also briskly walking any incline, keep tabs on nutrition and hydration situation, adjust where calories come from (add gels if necessary), make sure calories are consumed at ~20 minute intervals, see above for snack inventory (BACON!)

– Loop 3 – stick to what worked on Loop 2 and hang out for dear life, definitely grab Coke at each aid station, eat a can of Pringles for good measure (once you pop…)

Loop #1:

2014-02-07 13.10.46

A race starting at 6am in February means running for about an hour in the dark. Beginning in the dark adds an element of excitement, palpable anticipation, and DANGER! The course isn’t considered especially challenging compared to more technical or higher elevation races. What Huntsville State Park does have, however, are seemingly innocuous roots sprawled across the entire course. I have gradually adapted my stride as a runner toward a more efficient “shuffle,” leaving little clearance between my feet and the ground even during the first several miles of any run when my legs are fresh.

The results, as friends who have run with me can attest, is a strange combination of clumsiness and athleticism. I have taken some tumbles on completely flat stretches and done the angry stare back at the leaf that tripped me. I have many “grassy knoll” conspiracy theories. I catch myself more often than not, however, and have even thrown my shoulder out in some spastic, desperate contraction to avoid serious damage. My only fall on this day was from one of the roots while running in the dark when I was completely fresh. And from the yelping I heard amidst bobbing headlights, I was not the only one.

The highlight of Loop 1 was, without a doubt, running (unintentional pun) across Jason & Jeff (from These guys were an amazing inspiration and super fun. I’m glad I didn’t know Jason was the author of a food/training blog advocating a plant-based lifestyle at the time, because the hilarity that ensued while we ran together dealt mainly with taking shots at Cross-Fit, paleo eating, and really any athletic sub-culture that devolves from the athletics that started it. It was self-reflective , genuine, aimed at everyone and most importantly, lasted nearly 8 miles. Just as we were inventing the next endurance craze, Hog Hunting, Loop 1 came to a close. As we jogged in at approx. 2:40, our spirits could not been higher.

2014-02-08 08.44.42

Loop #2:

This is the part of the race where I knew that I would hit uncertainty. The farthest I ran in training was 32 miles. That run, however was broken into 14, 5 and 13 mile chunks to accommodate training partners. The longest I had ever run at a single time was 26.2. Since one of those was after the Ironman, I knew I could do it, but I also trained to avoid the inevitability of suffering – maybe not in the actual race, but during the recovery phase. The extent of the suffering, however, is part of the “why” that goes into choosing ultra. I will never know how much my body can endure unless I keep pushing – and there’s something about my “central governor” that suggests I am incapable of truly pushing to a fatal limit. So yeah… uncertainty shows up on Loop 2.

I took my time getting out of transition, making a full costume change of shirt, socks and shoes. Within a few miles, I felt my hip flexors tightening up and kept pushing expectations of what the next 30 miles would bring out of my head as quickly as they came. The first race of any distance I’ve undertaken has always been devoid of true expectations. I had tentative goals for my first marathon, 1/2 Ironman and full Ironman races, as a means to train effectively, but qualitative goals kept a freshness to these events. For RR50 in particular, I was determined to soak in every bit of this experience, hopefully completing it under 10 hours.

I caught up with Jason, Jeff and a woman named Gail around mile 21 and kept pace until about mile 28 when nature called me in for a pit stop just past the DamNation aid station. I thought about trying to catch up, but resolved to save any reserve I had until Loop 3, assuming I would need it badly.

I felt pretty awful about halfway through Loop 2. I could tell from my Garmin that I was losing time compared to my first loop (which was to be expected).  The temperature never climbed into the 50’s as expected, hydration and nutrition felt fine, but there was this drifting feeling of being in no-man’s land. I wasn’t close to finishing, but I was as fatigued and gone as far as I ever had on any run previously. I never actually felt any more fatigued than I did at mile 30, and as for Loop 3, my disposition and speed improved considerably.

2014-02-08 11.39.59 2014-02-09 22.53.01

Above: I finished Loop 2 and changed shirt and socks again. Liezz was a trooper and did my thinking for me. She made sure I had the calories I needed in the correct pockets of my hydration pack,  made me confirm what I had been eating and shoved a Larabar in my face as I headed out for Loop 3. I spent several miles missing my girls before the turnaround for Loop 3. It’s funny, but unexpected emotions like that are part of what draws me to keep pushing distance. Thoughts that arise from stillness become indelibly stamped on my brain when mixed with the endorphins activated in endurance sports – my memory becomes sharper the more senses are involved.

Loop #3:

This is where the story gets interesting. I left the aid station telling Liezz “I don’t feel so great. This is getting hard.” As I shuffled forward, I kept thinking back to Gracie’s advice when we signed up for Leadville. “It’s all about ‘relentless forward progress.'” You may as well as have put that on repeat in my brain, because each step I took, I felt as though I was trying to convince myself that’s all it took, relentless forward progress.

Unfortunately, there aren’t very many stories that took place on Loop 3. I began by fighting out the dark thoughts that were creeping into my head. Volunteers at the aid stations, as always, were unbelievably encouraging and selfless. I tried to converse and keep playful banter going at each aid station, but at some points, my lucidity failed me and I was flat out punch drunk. At DamNation on Loop 2, I refused Endurolytes because I had SaltStick and believe it to be a superior product. Somehow I decided to joke about mine being amphetamine salts and that I knew a way to beat the drug test at the end. …Awkward pauses followed because they were talking to a guy in the middle of the pack, but replied back “it’s your race man!” I am also grateful that my demands for “COKE!” as my tact abated were responded to with multiple shots lined up for immediate consumption with smiles behind the service.

As I arrived at mile ~40 at the DamNation aid station, I felt like I was having a repeat of Loop 2 where I started to slow and had stomach distress. I was really excited to catch up with Jason and Jeff, knowing that if I could keep up with them, the time would pass a lot more quickly. I told them I was going to run ahead so I could duck into the woods and take care of business without them dropping me like on the last loop. My hope was that we could support each of finishing, but based on the last loop, it was up to me to get out in front so I didn’t fall behind.

The craziest thing happened.

I ran ahead scouting out a spot in the woods to read the paper, but settled into my new pace. Before I knew it, I wasn’t looking for a place to stop, but was a few miles into an accelerated clip. I ran along the lake and passed another racer who encouraged me saying “great pace – keep it up!” Then I started doing math (poorly as usual) and took stock physically.

I’d kept with my pacing, nutrition and hydration goals within reason. Nothing was hurting more than it had for the last 20 miles. I wasn’t cramping, hungry or thirsty. So I thought… “let’s go for it!” I ran the last 8 miles about a minute faster than my average, securing the moral victory of a negative lap split between Loops 2 and 3.

After 50 miles of suffering, I finally crossed the line at 8:34:43 and officially completed my first ultra marathon. The Rockhoppers welcomed me with open arms, then sat me down in a camping chair with a cup of Ramen and a gooey cheese quesadilla. Liezz, Lily and Nina were an incredible crew and support team – and I can’t wait to return the favor at Liezz’s next race!

Thank you to all!


Doise’ experience at the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. 02/08/2014

Doise’ experience at the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. 02/08/2014

I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am for all of you.  You’ve adopted this Austinite into such an amazing, warm family prior to this weekend, and that was just the beginning.  This weekend really drove home how kind, encouraging, and supportive you all are.  Where do I even begin?

First Stefan who was the key to me finishing and making the cutoff.  I was really feeling low by the time I got to Damnation my second loop and had slowed quite a bit.  My sister, Charlotte, was going to meet me at Park Road the third loop but I knew the state I was in, I needed someone to make me move my whole third loop or I wasn’t going to make the cutoffs.  Stefan graciously offered to go with me from Damnation out until we got back.  That only left me about 4 miles in the dark by myself and that was mostly jeep road.  Stefan made all the difference in my finishing and I’m so grateful!  Plus we had a lot of fun and enjoyed the comments about his hat and height.
Brian, thank you for finding me an extra layer.  I expected it to warm up and ended up getting colder my second loop.  Borrowing a long sleeve from someone 1.5 feet taller than you is the best layer ever!  Thank you so much!
Damnation was so well run, thanks for the laughs, encouragement and warm food.   Y’all did a fantastic job!  I never used the Dogwood station because Jeanie and Helena had me all taken care of at the Rockhoppers tent but the hugs and champagne at the finish were great!  Tony, thanks for getting some pics and evidence of my clumsiness.
Liza, you just amaze me.  You did a great job of race directing this weekend and I know your encouraging spirit and funny “don’t poop on the trail!” warnings helped us all.
The finish of course was the best part, not only because I was done but because of the crazy finish line crowd who had stayed to see all the runners through.  I felt very special having such a loud cheering section.  I know all of you had worked hard all day long volunteering, running or both and that just shows the kind of people you are, staying around to cheer on the last runners when you could be enjoying a warm hotel room or sleeping bag.  Dave, you ran a great race and it was an honor to get my DFL award from you.
So a few funny things from the day:
Dakota’s reaction to my bloody knees, “Wow!  That is so cool. Hold on, I have to get a picture of this!”
I had many looks of painful winces and “ouch!” from runners coming towards me when they saw my knees.  It was pretty fun to see all the reactions.
But, the funniest thing was the comments on Stefan’s height.  He decided that with me next to him, the height difference looked exaggerated, plus that green hat made him over 7′.  But, two different guys stopped dead in the middle of the trail, craned their necks to look up at him like he was one of the pine trees and said, “wow, you’re really tall!”  I thought Stefan knew the first guy and it was a running joke or something because it was such a bold, dumbfounded reaction.  But, then another person did this too.  I was laughing the rest of the day.
I know I’ve missed some thank you’s in this but I will chalk that up to my glycogen deprivation.  Thank you all for the love and support this weekend!
Chris Russell’s Thoughts from the other side (Bandera 2014)

Chris Russell’s Thoughts from the other side (Bandera 2014)

For the first time…I was at Bandera, not as a runner, but as a volunteer and pacer. Below are my thoughts and observations of the day, first as a volunteer and then as a pacer.




– I didn’t have to be there until 730 so I didn’t show up until 730. Very odd to drive in on race day and encounter no other cars.

– It was a gorgeous sunrise. While one couldn’t see the sunrise from Nachos it was cool to watch the changing light on the nearby hills.

– We had a few of the newer folks helping out. It was great getting to know Jessica (Dunn), Kerri and Thor.

– Thor Kooda could be the best name in ultrarunning. Seriously, how can the rest of us even compete?

– There was a Tim and Ellen Smith sighting.

– The ladies quickly took charge. Helena with the snacks and Kerri with the drinks. Later… when Cindy and Claudette showed up they took charge of the grill. All us guys did was pour ice and water and hold top level strategic planning meetings.

– Claudette brought some killer tamales to grill but  NO SALSA!!! What’s up with that??? She tried to blame Jason saying he is in charge of the salsa. Last time I checked Jason isn’t from Mexico. I told Claudette she was going to have to give up the Mexico side of her dual citizenship.

– It was fun seeing the Rockhoppers coming through the first time looking fresh and enthusiastic. Knowing that it was going to get hot later on I was curious to see the contrast the 2d time through.

– I wore Nike Frees while volunteering at the A/S. Not recommended. My feet were already sore before I even started pacing.

– Speaking of footwear, we saw a couple of runners in sandals. I will never understand why someone wears sandals on that terrain. Nothing about it seems appealing.

– I don’t know if it was from the sotol or rocks but sure saw a lot of blood!

– The strangest sight I saw were these two guys running together and wearing matching (yes matching) ugly green singlets over t-shirts. One had to visually see it to fully understand.
– I have some embarrasing stuff to say about Sandy but I will save that for the Rockhopper awards.

– I must’ve told Tom 20 times that I felt bad for Brian in this heat. It was hot just standing around the A/S. I can only imagine how it must’ve felt running in it.

– One person came in wearing all black (long sleeves). I likely didn’t help matters when I said, “Dude you must be burning up in that”

– There was a definite contrast in state of runners 2d time through. It seem just about everyone was really hurting. Including the leaders (the 17 year old kid Ford Smith was in pretty bad shape).

– Speaking of leaders…the sales job Tom did on Matt Smith the 2d time through Nachos was shameless. Poor Matt is hurting and just trying to get some fluids down and cool off a bit and he has to endure listening to Tom explain the benefits of representing the Rockhoppers in the USATF championship. Classic moment.

– But Kim Brown should feel vindicated. As you recall, Kim almost gave Matt a hug after Pedernales thinking he was Dave. Well Chris Porter kept calling Matt, Dave. He thought Matt was Dave Brown. All the skinny, white, bald runners look alike I guess.

– I got big kick out of Ghost’s fan club. Shelley (his wife) and company come walking into Nachos with their fold up chairs. They find a good spot for their chairs. Chat while waiting for Renzo. Renzo comes in. Mad cheering ensues. Renzo leaves. Pack up chairs and head to Chapas. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

– I think the stretch from the Lodge to Nachos on 2d loop is hardest part of the race. First…it is exposed and getting hot. Second…runners have recently completed Lucky, Cairns, and Boyles and now they have to deal with the rugged terrain of Sky Island and Ice Cream with over 30 miles on their legs. Plus there is the mental factor of knowing that after that section you still have 25 miles to go. Considering that runners are coming into Nachos at their lowest point mentally and physically it can seem a bit daunting.

–  Most of the Rockhoppers I saw were definitely hurting second time through. Liza, Brian, and Joe T. had come close to dropping but were still battling. Rachel was running really well but her side was cramping badly. Edward Sousa had developed some knee problems and was afraid he would have to walk the next 25 miles. Fumi and Michelle were battling nausea badly.

–  I was really proud of Joe T. He was fried when he came in and was “done”. He was reduced to walking at that point and Joe disdains walking in a race (the anti-Larry). I know it took a lot of effort for him to start up again.

–  Ironically the runner that looked the best was the Larry ” the Sandbagger” Legend (Julie looked pretty fresh as well). Sure he was doing his typical complaining about his knee and pogoing on one leg blah, blah,blah…but no one else seem to be in better spirits and fresher.

– Maybe the key to the Legend’s success lies in all the stuff he was carrying. The man was carrying a hydration pack full of stuff. He was carrying a 2 bottle waist pack also full of stuff. I’m firmly convinced he was ready to bivouac for the night if necessary.

– One thing I have learned at Bandera over the years is on a hot day the key is making it to 5p. Once 5p hits the temps start to drop pretty fast and a runner will typically feel much, much better. I was really proud of how the Rockhoppers fought through that bad stretch and most of the runners really rallied to some strong finishes and others just gutted it out and got it done anyway. Couldn’t have been more proud to be associated with such great folks. After the Cactus Rose debacle (a day that will live in Rockhopper infamy) it was nice to see the Rockhoppers bounce back strong!



– Several weeks ago I had committed to pacing Michelle the last 15-25 miles of Bandera just depending on what she needed. However the weekend before Bandera she could barely walk. Her knee was so swollen. Fortunately airrosti worked its magic and she was able to tow the starting line.

– When she came into Nachos 2d time she wasn’t doing that great. She was feeling really nauseated and had to stop and sit some from the Lodge to Nachos. Consequently that section took her over 2 hours. Fortunately, while her knee was a bit gimpy it was holding up. We gave her some stuff for her nausea at Nachos and I told her I would meet her at Bar -O.

– When I saw her at Bar-O she said Fumi was walking and feeling sick so she asked me to pace Fumi to Chapas where the A/S folks there might be able to help.

– I headed up trail 7 and met Fumi. I felt bad for Fumi because her legs wanted to run but her stomach wouldn’t cooperated. She repeatedly would stop to see if she could throw up.

– It was still warm so I squirted cold water on her neck and on top of her hair. I don’t think she liked getting her hair wet. Something about the race photos.

– About a mile from Chapas, Jean comes flying past us. Jean was another one who really rallied. Jean said her first 20 miles were so bad that she thought it was her last ultra. But she got a 2d wind and she was running well. Sometimes I forget how fast Jean is when she is feeling good.

– I left Fumi at Chapas. Claudette was there and told me Michelle had come through Chapas not that long ago. I took a couple of shortcuts and was waiting for Michelle on one of the 9s.

– Michelle definitely wasn’t 100 percent but she was moving along as efficiently as she could. Fortunately the temperatures were starting to cool at this point.

– One of my favorite sections of the race is the Field at sunset. I feel bad for the faster runners that miss this. Something about running through the grassland as the sun is going down is very calming.

– Before we got to the Field, Michelle had told me that the Field during loop 1 didn’t seem bad and that it was shorter than she had remembered in the training runs. At the time I chalked it up to first loop excitement.

– However, she was right! It was shorter! Joe had cut about a mile from it. Poor Michelle had to listen to me the rest of the run constantly trying to come up with theories on why Joe cut the field and why did he do it the year I didn’t run? I’m sure she got tired of it.

– After leaving crossroads, Michelle got very cold and was shivering. She commented that she wished she had brought her gloves. So I quickly ran back to Crossroads and got them out of her bag. While I was catching back up to Michelle on trail 1 my schizophrenic headlamp went out (despite new batteries). I noticed that the moonlight was so bright that I didn’t need the headlamp for the wide trail 1. It was a lot of fun just cruising by moonlight solo. Simply a really cool experience.

– Speaking of cold, Bandera has very bizarre cold and and warm pockets. Several times he would transition from a cold to warm pocket or vice versa and it instantly felt like the temp changed by 10 degrees.

– During the sisters loop and all the way up to Last Chance we played leap frog with Jeremy Day and a guy named Phil from TN. In fact Michelle had been leap frogging them much of the race. I know Jeremy but didn’t recognize him at first because he had gone the Full Ricketts. Big beard with a Ricketts Race T. He use to wear a yellow shirt all the time but he was trying something new. He really liked the Ricketts Race T.

– I got to talk to Phil as we were on the sisters. He had really helped Michelle during her bad nausea stretch and actually stopped to sit with her when she had to take a break. Really nice guy.

– One of my favorite things is to get” out of staters” impression of Bandera since it often doesn’t fit their stereotype of Tx. I asked Phil how he liked the scenery. He said he hadn’t seen any scenery since he was looking at his feet the whole time (rocks).

– Phil was telling me about some of the 100s he had done including Leadville. I told him they had a 100 miler on these same trails in October and he should do it. He immediately said “@%$# that!”

– The mashed potatoes and gravy at Crossroads were killer.

– About halfway between Crossroads and Last Chance, Michelle really started to smell the hay and her pace picked way up! Her nausea wasn’t as bad and it really seemed to dawn on her that she was going to finish. I was having to work to keep up with her.

– As we were running into Last Chance, Michelle started to hobble pretty good from a blister. She was worried about being able to effectively run the last 5 miles with a blister. Fortunately Troy was at Last Chance. Troy was waiting for the Legend. I told Troy the Legend was likely finished already but would he mind taking care of Michelle’s blister?

– Troy had it patched up in no time. As we were leaving Last Chance I asked a guy what the time was and he said around 9:15. I was happy to hear this because I knew it meant Michelle had a shot to break 15 hours despite the issues she had been dealing with. I had no idea how accurate he was but I figured we were close enough that if Michelle put the hammer down she could break 15.

– Once Michelle heard she could break 15 she really pushed it after she got to the top of Cairns. I worked up a big sweat just trying to keep up. She flew across and down Cairns and ran up parts of Boyles. She passed several runners during this section.

– The thing I don’t like about the finish at Bandera is how much longer Boyles is than Cairns. Cairns is 1.6 miles and Boyles is 2.4 miles. That .8 miles difference feels much longer. Michelle is running the entire ridge of Boyles but after awhile she says, “Is this ever going to end???!!!”

– I could sense her relief once we started going down Boyles. She flew down Boyles and on into the finish. As we got close to the race clock she asked me what it said. My night vision isn’t the best so it took me awhile but I finally saw a 14. I knew she had it. She finished in 14:53.

– My feet were extremely sore at the end. Combination of standing around in the Nike Frees at Nachos and then doing 20 plus miles of pacing was not a recipe for comfy feet.

– It was great seeing the other Rockhoppers immediately afterward. Brian, Tanya, Jean, Cara etc were there and all had strong finishes. It was terrific to see them in such good spirits.

– I was really impressed with how Michelle handled her race attitude. Even though she was battling nausea, blisters and her knee she never threw a pity party and just had a “It is what it is and all I can do is my best” attitude. Inspired me.
– On the drive home I noticed a lot of cops in Helotes. I guess Brian met one personally.




I did talk to Joe about the Field reroute. He said the new Supt told him no ” bushwacking” so he had to cut out the sections that entail “bushwacking”. He didn’t have time to come up with alternatives. Naturally, I have been spinning my wheels since then to try and figure out where Joe can get a mile back without “bushwacking”.

Rio del Lago 100: A Tale of Two Races

Rio del Lago 100: A Tale of Two Races


Rio del Lago 100 mile has been held since 2000. Prior to this year, it was directed by Norm and Helen Klein. Norm is known for directing other races as well, namely Western States 100. Helen carries her own weight in the ultra world, having run the Ultra Grand Slam at 65+ years of age. The race takes place in the Sierra Nevada foothills, about 30 miles east of Sacramento, and shares some trail with the last section of Western States 100. Terrain is mostly rolling hills with a handful of significant climbs before the midway point in the race, with a total elevation change of around 11,000 feet. The surface is largely smooth dirt and a little jeep road. I’d say around 70% of the course is runnable, albeit some runnable sections require careful footing.

I started training the week I got back from Ellen and my honeymoon, with this being my only goal race this year. Peak mileage was around 60 miles a week, and that seems to have worked well for me. Training wasn’t perfect, but I did get in most of my runs and worked hard on my long runs to simulate race day. However, none of those things were going to happen at Rio del Lago. And that’s where I tell you about the first half of the race.

Miles 1 – 47: Rookie Mistakes and Weight Shakes

rio del lago start
Race Start at 5am

I began the race well-rested and, therefore, focused on the task at hand. As the final minutes ticked off the count-down clock, I played through the aid station splits in my head, and what I’d take from each out, and how I’d feel. Somewhere around my mental image of the mile 30 aid station, the buzz of the race start sounded. Many “good lucks” and “have funs” later, the runners were a couple hundred feet away from Beal’s Point (race start) and on to a man-made dam. Three of these comprised the first mile of the race, before hitting some jeep road rollers and getting in to some single track. These miles passed as quickly as any do early in a run.

The scene of the first aid station really set the tone for all the remaining ones, and shed light on the spectacular coordination Julie Fingar has with these races. Runners arrived to a bustling aid station, playing music we could hear half a mile away (at 6am!), decked out with a tropical theme and volunteers sporting hula gear. It was amazing. This vibe was to continue, for the most part, the rest of the 27 hours I would be out there.

The next 12 miles were pretty relaxed, on a nice single track. I made one brief wrong turn for no more than 100 yards. After getting back on track, I came upon the scene of about 6 lead runners who had all also gone off track some where, but for much longer than I had. One of the guys in that pack decided not to pass, and he would end up running behind me for the next six miles more or less. Every minute or so, he had something really positive to say about the race. “Beautiful!” “Amazing!” and even one “I’m gonna get a buckle today!” It was like having my own personal motivator. The time came when we eventually got stuck in a conga line and he moved ahead, out of earshot. That was the last I saw of him for a while.

rio del lago - dowdins post
Dowdin’s Post Area

Just after you take in some of the beautiful canyon overlooks, Cardiac Hill rears its head. This is a very nasty climb, the likes of which we just don’t have down here in Texas. It’s a good three times longer than anything I have trained on. It was going up this climb, I started making my first big mistakes. Not taking in calories the entire climb would hurt me greatly in a bit.

Mile 24 was Auburn Dam Overlook. This is a notable aid station, as it’s the last large one before crossing the American River (Western States territory) and heading to Cool. I was surprised to see Ellen at another aid station! She had been successfully tracking me the whole morning, and it was great to have her support again. I had observed my energy depleting more and more after Cardiac, so I took in some calories here. Not nearly enough. I also made the other rookie mistake of switching from some form of liquid nutrition to purely water. At the time I was worried about my stomach, but I’ve now realized my stomach will briefly sour at some point anyways, and just to keep taking in calories whatever the cost. I waved at Ellen, she snapped some pics, and I was off.


The trail here started a long downhill section. I was pretty pumped for this, until I started feeling some knee issues creeping in. This surprised me, as my IT band hadn’t bothered me all year. However, I really neglected foam rolling on race week, and as the next few miles crept on, the knee started flaring up incredibly. The pain became so relentless around 3 miles later that I could not put much pressure on my right leg. I was defeated. I sat on a rock to yell at myself for not foam rolling, when I found some pain relief ointment that had been in my drop back and snuck its way to my pack. Immediately after applying it, I was like:

The stuff was pure voodoo. Fixed me right up. So I picked up some slack and made my way across No Hands Bridge and toward the long, long climb out of Auburn, toward Cool.

The pain reliever started wearing off just a bit before the aid station in Cool. I was in for two 8 mile loops (washing machine), before getting to start my return route back to the finish, so a sense of concern starting weighing on me quite a bit. I was hoping that my challenges would be mental rather than physical. The thought of 70 more miles on a bum knee was horrific.

Arriving at Cool to an epic aid station, more fit for a king’s banquet than a trail race, I tried to eat what I could and got a couple Tylenol from Ellen. I still was far behind on calories, and for no good reason I rushed back on to the trail after only eating a handful. The ensuing loop and counter loop would be my own personal pity party. Energy was draining with each step, the sun was out in force on our exposed trail, and I was running out of water. Chris Russell has mentioned in the past that most people find themselves at one time or another wondering why the hell they’re out there, and that it just feels dumb. That was this 16 mile stretch for me.

I eventually finished the washing machine loop, barely having enough energy to run the incredibly easy road portion before the aid station. I’d already come to terms with the idea of quitting. I felt like I was destroying my knees, and my pee had been getting very dark. Thoughts of Rhabdo were taunting me to drop, and I was getting suckered right in. My only problem is I didn’t know how to tell Ellen, who was waiting for me at the aid station. One of the reasons I wanted to run this race was to prove I could be strong for us, for our family. How could I go against that and drop? I sat and sat and used the restroom twice. I even embellished my pain a bit to the medical staff, but I think they saw through it (thankfully). Ultimately, I couldn’t bring myself to tell Ellen how badly I wanted to stop, so I decided to try and collect myself and make it to the next aid station. Before heading out, I made sure to stuff my face with everything I could from the aid station, and I switched back to liquid nutrition (Gu Brew) in one of my handhelds. I also noticed a bottle of Ensure – the weight loss shake. I knew I could use the protein and electrolytes, so I guzzled it and got moving. Slowly.

Miles 48 – 100: The Tough Get Going

Leaving Cool, which I designated as the half way point, I set out for the 5 mile trek to my first pacer, Scott Warr. I had started feeling more energetic now, thanks to the delicious Ensure and feast I’d just eaten. The Gu Brew was also tasting decent. Just as I was coming to terms with 52 more miles out there, I stopped to pee, and…black urine.

I had no idea what to do. All I could think of was Liza’s story about peeing coffee and having to go to the hospital right after her race. I thought I was finished here. I did NOT want to wind up in a hospital or having an IV hooked up to me all night. I pouted for the next couple miles and came to terms, for the second time, with dropping. On a positive note, once I was sure I’d drop, I was able to truly enjoy my uphill hike back in to Auburn, and the stars were spectacular. I stopped twice to stare at them and take in the bliss of the night air and open sky as I walked along the American River cliffs.

Soon enough, I arrived to Ellen and my pacer, Scott. They were PUMPED, which made it hard to break them the news. I explained my urine predicament, and Scott went to work calling trail friends with medical backgrounds. Again, I was secretly hoping my race was over. I felt mentally drained and still worried about a hospital visit. Word came back that dark pee wasn’t apparently too huge a deal if I kept taking in liquids efficiently and peeing steadily, and if I had no other bodily discomforts.  Scott looked eager to get moving and I felt bad at keeping them waiting during my leisurely hike the past few miles, so I pushed away dark thoughts of IV fluid, and we moved on toward the next aid station.

When Scott told me that I was only about 20 minutes off my predicted time, I was incredibly surprised. I thought for sure the hiking and pity parties I’ve had put me WAY behind on time. Apparently, I’d been about an hour and a half ahead through mile 30. Wonderful news. So wonderful that I felt a spark ignite, and we were jogging most of the way back to the Cardiac Hill descent. I was waiting for my knees to lock up again on this downhill, but it never happened. Scott got me to agree to start jogging all the flats and we seemed to stick to that plan pretty well.

Soon, we arrived at our next aid station, where I noticed my urine was not black anymore, but more of a pomegranate color. I was a bit shocked, and wondered if I was peeing blood, but the consistency of it wasn’t quite thick like blood. So again, I questioned my health to Scott and the safety of continuing. He made another quick call as we hiked on out of the aid station, this time to a local trail guru – Mark Lantz (17 hr Western States finisher). My next pacer, Don Freeman, sent a text to Scott saying he’d had the same urine issue in a race and it did not impede him or send him to the hospital, so that was some peace of mind. At the same time, Scott had got off the phone with Mark, who advised me to try a combination of water and sprite to clean my system out. Water and Sprite. Remember this combination, friends.


I started consuming the liquids, and all the sudden started feeling an immediate pick-me-up. Not only that, but it was damn tasty. The drink was PERFECT. I was getting in calories easily now and still no knee pains, or any bodily pain whatsoever. I was a new man. Either my body finally stopped trying to tell me to quit or this drink was like cheat codes for ultra running.

Scott, being from the area, was able to tell me about all the trails. I learned the names of all the local landmarks and which routes are his favorites. He even took me on a slight detour (it wasn’t less distance than the normal trail) so I could see a part of the AR50 mile course. Every few miles I would puke randomly, and then trudge on. It didn’t bother me much, and I liked that my stomach was clearing things out. We chatted about mountain lion attacks, future plans for Trail Runner Nation, our jobs and world travel.

In such an odd twist of events from the first half of the race, I just felt stronger as the miles ticked off. The closer we got to mile 78, where I’d get my second pacer, the more focused I was feeling, and the more dialed in I was with my nutrition and consumption. We were walking very minimally, and even jogging many of the small rollers. In what seemed like no time, we hit Beal’s Point.

The race is a little odd, in that you get back to the start, but you’re only at mile 78, so you have to go BACK out for 11 miles, and then return to the start/finish again. I thought it would be tough seeing the finish and have to head back out for 22 more miles, but it wasn’t. I was feeling great at this time, and only stayed minimally to say hi to Ellen and thank Scott, before Don Freeman and I shuffled back out. I was determined and ready to chase some rabbits down.

The last 22 miles were just about execution in my eyes. It was a little after midnight, and I wanted to try my hardest to still finish close to my 26.5 hour finish estimate. I told Don about my race plan: half sprite/water in each handheld, a couple potatoes,  handful of chips and small pbj at each aid station. Jog all the flats, power hike the climbs and recover on the downs. The 22 mile stretch was perfect for this strategy, as there are no significant climbs to thwart the plan.

Somewhere around mile 88 my left ankle started talking to me. I may have been favoring it too much earlier in the day with my knee issues. I knew that I was doing well on liquids and peeing frequently, so I took a couple Ibuprofen to ease the growing pain. Again, saved by modern medicine! The stuff worked wonders, especially after about 15 minutes. Time passed incredibly fast as we started hunting down runners. I think we caught around 15-18 people over the last 30 miles. I was imagining the fight scenes from Highlander, where the victor takes his opponent’s powers, as I passed each runner.

How I felt passing people at mile 80+

In addition, Scott had told me earlier that he and Don have a rule that each time you pass someone, you have to continue jogging hard until you’re out of sight. I stuck to that plan the entire last 22 miles. At times, I was kicking myself for wasting so much time earlier in the race, pouting. However, Don, the sage, reminded me that I might owe my current energy to that time I spent recovering and walking earlier in the race. Another wonderful pacing moment was around mile 93 when I was really feeling strong and I told Don that we should just top off my bottles and go right through the aid station to the finish. He kindly stated that I was probably moving so well at the time due to how well I’d been handling my prior aid station stops, and I should treat this one no different. I humbled myself and admitted he was right, and we did just that. I was impressed at the energy of the final aid station workers, 26.5 hours in to the race, still so polite and enthusiastic. Play this video while you read the remainder of the report, so you can feel the way I was feeling:

I was really smelling the finish line at this point. Five miles to go. We had passed about 4 people in the last handful of miles. Don is fairly popular in the area and was stopped once in a while by Trail Runner Nation fans. I took these opportunities to try and push really hard to make him catch up to me :) I recalled how much I had to work at times to keep up with The Legend when I paced him at Rocky Raccoon a couple years ago, so I was channeling the mojo he must have instilled in me. Just a brief section of about 10 rollers left, followed by some quarter-mile dams and then the finish. We hiked the rollers hard and I pushed really hard on the downhills, not doing any favors to my ankle, but it was still fairly masked by the Ibuprofen. The sun was up by now, and I remember hearing how so many veterans speak of a second wind at this time. In this race, it would be more like my tenth wind, but I did feel it nonetheless. I was sad to no longer have the stars about, but the sun represented a near-close to my journey, and I was thankful for it.

Counting down the final rollers, Don told me there was one left. We pushed hard to knock it out. My energy was fading. My body recognizing that it was about time to call it quits. The rollers were gone, and all that remained were some crushed rock dam sections leading to the finish. The Folsom Lake was on our left, and I could see clear across to the finish. I wanted to dig deep and run the entire last mile and a half stretch, but it was rough ground and my legs were giving way. I set quarter-mile milestones out loud to Don, and we walked briefly in between each one. We were greeted by many non-participant runners out, and they all seemed so encouraging, which aided my push to the finish.

As one man in particular passed and offered a congratulations, Don told me something along the lines of “that’s a guy who is really impressed right now. Maybe he will be out here next year because of you!” It had not dawned on me during the race, until this point, that some of these challenges we set for ourselves can be impacting others. After all, I owe much of my passion for running to efforts I’ve seen others achieve, and stories of triumph they’ve shared. This really resonated with me, and I felt a sudden sense of gratification for the effort I just put out the past 27 hours. It was no longer about me or my personal convictions, but about the chance that I could use this as an opportunity to instill some hope in others wanting to achieve something they didn’t think they could do. I really liked this perspective better than me simply wanting to do something for my own gain. And with that thought still in mind, I came upon Ellen, who was still up and ready to jog in the last 100 feet with me through the finish line, where we’d see a crowd of people cheering and clapping. Many of them having finished hours earlier, but out here still supporting nonetheless, because time doesn’t matter that much in our world of trail running. I was so happy to cross the finish line, because it made it all that much sweeter cheering for the remaining finishers, now that I knew what they’ve been through.

Bonus story

Let me give you an idea how awesome of a person Don Freeman is. When the clock reached the 29:50 mark, they heard that there was a runner only about 2 miles away. She wasn’t moving well and wouldn’t make the cutoff. Don got the crowd to take a vote. “Should we extend the cutoff for Tina?!” Don shouted over the mic. A resounding yes came from the crowd. Don even got a couple of the finishers to “donate” some of their time to Tina. The overall winner donated 4 minutes of his time (so he would still stay under 17 hours), and other runners donated 5, 10, 15 minutes. In the last ten minutes or so waiting for Tina to come in, Don interviewed some of her family. “Where’d you come from, How long has Tina been running, How has crewing her been today” and so on. It was truly awesome. When Tina made her 100 foot trek through the finish area, the crowd was absolutely insane. Tears were pouring down her face. Can you imagine the feeling of an entire race voting to let you finish, sticking around to hear stories about you, and then cheer on your finish? Just surreal. That’s trail running.