Thursday, April 28, 2011


Being around kids for my entire life has, I think, allowed me to take life a little less seriously than most. However, from time to time, the fact that kids are so much a part of my life allows wisdom and understanding to emerge in places I would have never expected.

In my job as Head of a small private school in Idaho I am, like many school administrators, consumed with details and administrivia most of the time. But, in spite of that, I remain determined to keep in touch with the kids.

And, that is why I coach track.

We have four to seven kids on the team (depending on the day). We have two practices a week (if we're lucky) and five meets a season. Yet, in spite of all that we do pretty well.

Last year, one of our girls, Ellie Swanson, a 9th grader, qualified for the State Meet in the 100 and the 200. She didn't make it out of the first round but it was a start.

On to this year. The conversation goes something like this:

AJW: I think you could do well at the 400
Ellie: No way, that is way too long.
AJW: Just try it. Kind of like an experiment.
Ellie: You're just doing this because you're a crazy ultrarunner.
AJW: Just try it.

So, she tries it. And yesterday, in a conference meet Ellie ran the 4th fastest time in the District this year on her first try. Afterward, she says to me:

"That was actually kind of fun!"

And, her friend, the 1600 and 3200 meter runner chimes in,

"You have a good pain face!"

Maybe longer is better. Perhaps it's all about perspective.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Getting in Shape

Over the past couple years in my run up to Western States I have often thought about Michaelangelo. Reason is, as all of us know, Michaelangelo believed that that work of art was within the stone and it was his job to expose the beauty within the rock. So it has been with my fitness over these past few years.

I have come to know that, deep in the recesses of my body, fitness lies. However, given the vagaries of life and living at different times and at different contexts it can lie buried, dormant, sometimes for months at a time.

However, with the right blow of the hammer, the correct cut of the chisel, the art that is the Western States fitness can emerge. And, for me, that sharp cut happened today.

It started innocently enough. My plan was to run up and down Carbonate Mountain four times. Three miles and 1500 feet up and then three miles back down. Lather, rinse, repeat...

Lucky for me I had Brad Mitchell along with me so we were not going to be lazy on this day. We did the first lap in 30/18, the second lap in 29/17 and the third lap in 31/18. Then, Brad met up with his wife and daughter and headed to the coffee shop. I was left to do the last lap alone.

I'll be honest, the first five minutes of the climb sucked and I fought the urge to turn around and head back to the car several times. By the time I got to the 7 minute mark I was reduced to a walk and I told myself, "Just get it done."

Then, as if on cue, around 10 minutes into the climb I began to feel It. I began to roll into the hill with a slight bit of energy and I began to feel moderately good. The negative voices in my head quieted and were replaced by voices of hope and joy and positivism.

I got to the top in 33 minutes and floated the descent. It was clear, the art was emerging.

The beauty of rolling into shape had reared it's head.

And, I smiled all the way home.

Friday, April 15, 2011


I was talking to a guy at my school today who grew up in Squaw Valley and whose parents still live there. According to them, the current snowpack in Squaw is as high as it's been since 1952! Wow! Now, I know we have global warming and all these days but that's alot of snow. Thinking back to the "Fire and Ice" Year has gotten me thinking that this could be a very interesting year at the Dance.

From what I've heard along the grapevine, as of today, there are basically three options:

1. The original course to Lyon Ridge, Cougar Rock, Red Star, etc...(I am guessing 30% chance)

2. Last year's course which cut south a mile before Lyon Ridge and rejoined the original course about a mile below the Duncan Canyon Aid Station. (45%)

3. A new "snow course" that would follow last year's snow course and also bypass Robinson Flat to the southwest (if it's inaccessible) and, using a bunch of supposedly sweet trails that exist on that south side of the ridge, rejoin the course at or near Miller's Defeat Aid Station. (25%)

I am intrigued by all of this and, of course, there is still time for it all to change. But, one thing's for sure, the excitement is building going into this year's Dance and the intrigue about the snow is making it that much more interesting.

That, and the fact that a pastor in Oakland has predicted 130 degree temps in El Dorado Canyon on June 25th:)

Monday, April 11, 2011


There are many things that I love about ultrarunning but for me the best part of the sport are the friends I have made over 18 years of running. And, of all my running relationships the one that means the most to me is my friendship with Craig Thornley. Sure, we give each other a fair share of grief but in the end the friendship we have forged through a decade together on the trails is very much like brotherhood. So, before I get any more sappy let me tell you a bit about this past weekend.

You see, I fully intended to go down to AR50 to run a training run. Honestly and truthfully I simply wanted to have a good day running on Saturday, getting time on my feet and then following it up with another long run on Sunday. Well, I did the follow-up run on Sunday (30 miles rather than 40:) but I failed in my effort to run the Saturday race as a training run. And that was for one reason and one reason only, Craig Thornley.

I'll skip over the first 30 miles of the race because nothing really interesting happened until after Granite Bay (Mile 31). Someone in an aid station told me that Thornley was only 7 minutes ahead. I thought, "Hmmm." The gels were going down easy and I was moving pretty well so I notched the pace up a bit. At Mile 35 Matt Keyes told me the gap was 5 minutes. I ratcheted up the pace a bit more. Mile 40, they told me it was 3 minutes. The smell of blood wafted down the trail. I put my head down and ran.

Around Mile 43 I saw them, Craig and his pacer, Meghan Arbogast, and they were about a minute ahead. The trail was rolling nicely through trees and meadows at this time and I could just feel them coming back to me. Both of us had been passing quite a few of the fast early starters for the past hour or so but, to be honest, as soon as I saw Craig it became a two-person race. Neither of us cared about anyone else. It was one-on-one.

Soon after the 44 mile aid I moved up to their heels and popped a gel. Craig said something like, "hey Jiz, what took you so long" and then immediately slowed to like a 10-minute pace, just tempting me to pass. I asked him if that was all he had and he let me by. I knew what he was doing and he knew what I was doing. This was getting fun. I tried to put a bit of distance on him but I was waiting for the gel to kick in and was feeling a bit crampy. I knew if he saw me reach into my pockets for an S! Cap he would see it as a sign of weakness and try to pounce. But, I couldn't wait any longer so I took one, well, actually, I popped three. Within 20 seconds he was right back on my tail. I had shown weakness and he jumped. Neither of us said a word. We didn't need to.

A mile or so later and about a mile before the final climb started Craig let out some sort of grunt. I thought he was sandbagging but I figured if he wasn't this could be a time to get a gap. Plus, there was another guy coming back to us so I had a target. I ramped it up a bit. I didn't dare look back but I got that feeling that I was getting away. By the time I got to the Last Gap Aid Station I had 30 seconds on him. But, I stupidly blew through the aid without taking care of all my supplies and I killed ten seconds running back to grab a final gel. I saw them enter the aid station right then. I put my head down and ran.

In the end I think I beat him by 75 seconds or so but that really doesn't matter. What does matter, at least to me, is how the experience once again confirmed for me the value of friendship and particularly friendship forged on the trail doing what we love most. On this day, as on many days before, we made each other better, not only better runners but, more importantly, better people.

Thanks LB, for another great race! See you in May at Michigan Bluff!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April Runcation

I am pretty psyched to be heading out for a brief foray into the American River Canyon this weekend. Given that the snow is still flying out here in the Central Idaho Rockies this getaway is especially enticing. I am looking forward to running the American River 50 on Saturday, one of the Spring Classics on the Ultra Circuit, and then following that up with a 40 mile Sunday run on the WS100 course as any trip to the region would not be complete without it.

I am thinking of cruising the AR50 just fast enough to get the legs tired for the 40 the next day. It's an interesting challenge but given that fact that I've been doing these things for over ten years I figure I need to conserve and protect whenever and wherever I can. Furthermore, anytime I can get out onto the hallowed ground of the WS course I feel like I better take advantage of it (kind of like the golfer who goes to St. Andrews in the spring to prepare for The Open in July). As is the case every year, I tend to keep to the same routine rolling into WS while tweaking things a bit as life and age dictate. This weekend's experiment is an example of the evolution of my running. Don't expect to see my name in the top-25 at AR. But, if you ask me what my split was from Highway 49 to the Finish in my Sunday run I'll bet I'll be able to tell you down to the second. And, I might as well put it out there right now, I want that 7th top-10 really, really badly. If I get it, it means I am golden until #10 and then I can sail off into the sunset. But, there's still alot of work to do! Train on!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hardrock 100 Elite Race Announcement

In a shocking development, the Hardrock 100 Race Committee today announced that they will be adding an "elites only" component to their event this year. Citing increased interest in their event from elite runners, the race committee has decided to offer 10 spots to male elite athletes and 5 spots to elite female athletes for their July 7th event.

"It is clear that the elites want to come to Silverton, " said Gale Darland, RD, "we feel that by creating an elites only event we can expose the best runners in the world to our beautiful area." The elites only event will have a few additional components that are interesting to note:

1. Runners are invited to apply for the event and will be notified on July 4th whether or not they will be granted entry.

2. The Elite entry fee will be $1000 as the Race Committee acknowledges that most elite ultramarathon runners are fully sponsored athletes and therefore entry fees would be covered by sponsors.

3. The Elite Start will be at 5am, exactly one hour before the traditional 6am civilian start. In addition, elite runners will need to run the first 24 miles of the race without outside aid. "We believe that the elites can easily handle 24 miles without aid and it will add to the intrigue of the event," said Hardrock Board Chair Wake Blood.

4. In order to maintain the competitive nature of the "elites only" event the race will be cut-off after 24 hours for the men and 28 hours for the women. Several elite runners who were contacted in regard to this announcement acknowledge that a sub-20 hour finish is quite likely given the nature of the course and none of them have any doubt about completing the race under 24 hours.

5. In the event that one of the "civilian" runners passes one of the elite runners after Ouray the passed elite runner must drop out of the race. (AKA; the not-so-elite rule)

6. Any male elite runner who is passed by one of the female elite runners after Ouray must drop out of the race. (AKA the "getting chicked" rule)

7. All elites entered in the race must wear minimalist shoes. Any shoes weighing more than 6oz (size 9) are not allowed.

8. It goes without saying, but no pacers are allowed for the elite runners and crews can only access their runners at the Start and the Finish.

9. All elite runners will be required to run with GPS devices attached to their ankles and will be equipped with video cameras strapped to their heads to document the historic event.

10. The race will be televised on the Outdoor Life Network and the entire event will be streamed live to the gym in Silverton. All elites will participate in a press conference at 4am on race morning.

Obviously, this is a very exciting development for the sport of ultrarunning and provides yet another indicator of the remarkable growth of our sport!