Lake Hodges Trail 5K -- Race Report

Sharlie, running the Lake Hodges 5K
This is a picture I have been wanting to take for a long time. It's of my sister, Sharlie, running on a trail at the Lake Hodges Trail 5K. Eight months ago Sharlie was on an operating table receiving new lungs and a new heart.

This isn't going to be one of my normal race reports, I didn't suffer, I wasn't concerned about my time or my place, and I wasn't nervous at the start; I was simply grateful.

For the first time ever, I was able to run alongside my sister, who after a lifetime of not being able to run without stopping to catch a breath, is now able to run a 5K. Sharlie was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and we have watched as her lung function has deteriorated over the years, severely limiting any physical activity. Before her double lung and heart transplant, she was forced to be on supplemental oxygen and would have trouble taking walks, or climbing stairs, having to stop to catch her breath every few steps.

Before Sharlie went into her transplant surgery, she looked at me and said, "I'll see you on the trails." At that point, we were all just hoping that Sharlie would make it through the surgery without complications and that her frail body would accept the donor's organs. Our family had been through this before. I lost my youngest sister after her body rejected her donor's lungs in a similar surgery, so my greatest wish was that Sharlie would just make it through and that these new lungs would extend her life. I wasn't allowing myself to even dream that we would soon be running on the trails together.

Sharlie's surgery and recovery went amazingly well. In the months since her surgery, she has been to Paris, rode in a 36 mile charity bike race, and when I asked her if she wanted to run the Lake Hodges Trail 5k with me, she didn't hesitate. I gladly switched my entry from the 50K to the 5K, my wife signed up for the 15K, and my daughter signed up for the 1 mile kids' run.

I got to the race early to see off some friends who were running the 50K. Paul Jesse, the race director, did a great job organizing four different race distances and courses. The day was beautiful and the atmosphere surrounding this race was amazing. The Lake Hodges 50K was my first ultra race back in 2007, and I have spent some good miles on the trails around the lake.

As the 5K started, Sharlie, Ryan, and I started at the back of the pack. We jogged over the single track trail, crossed a small bridge, passed the Chelsea King memorial, hiked up some steep switchbacks and jogged downhill toward the turnaround point. We were near the back, and it really gave me an appreciation for how hard people work at these races, no matter how short the distance, or how slow the pace, everyone shares the pain and the triumph in overcoming.

Everyone, from the elite racers to the people who drop out because they can't take the suffering anymore, hurts at these races. We are lucky, we pick our struggle. We set goals, and endure the pain of training and racing. And we overcome, because the feeling of conquering doubt and pain is such a great feeling that even those people who bleed and cry as they cover miles on the trail, cursing this stupid activity, questioning why they choose to do this, even those people smile and keep coming back because that feeling at the finish is addictive.

For some, their struggle is not a choice, but is thrust upon them, leaving no choice but to fight and survive, or to give in. I can't really describe how it felt to see Sharlie running, probably asking herself why she was out there, maybe feeling like she could have trained more, but overcoming so much to be there in the first place. Watching Sharlie fight to cover 3 miles on a trail seemed trivial and amazing at the same time because it was a battle of her choosing.

As we neared the finish line, I could hear my wife and kids, and my nephew, Sharlie's son, cheering. We turned the corner and as they recognized us, they all came running toward us, and Sharlie raised her hands and ran with the kids to the finish line of this particular challenge. This is the image that I'll remember, Sharlie running to the finish, beautiful, and inspiring as her family cheers her on.

The whole day defined what I love about trail running, and racing. I was able to spend time with my family, watch my wife throw down a solid 15K, and my daughter run the mile fun run. I was able to watch and cheer on some friends who turned in some amazing 50K performances. It was great seeing everyone enjoying the trails together. Thanks to Paul and Off Road Pursuits for putting on such a great, well organized event (anyone that can corral 100 kids for a mile fun run and make sure that none of them get lost deserves major race director props).

Richard, taking 2nd

Cameron, congratulating James (who is from the future) on his first ultra

Sharlie and her husband, Ryan

Sharlie and Sophie running to the finish

I think Sharlie has the bug now. We were just talking yesterday about how she wants to get faster and run longer, and I have no doubt she will do both. It's kind of fun to choose your own struggle.

Thanks for reading.

Vi Endurance Gel Giveaway Winner

I want to thank everyone who took the time to leave a comment for the VFuel gel giveaway. There were 43 comments, and the random winner was comment #16, Ralph Havens. I'm glad these are going to Ralph because I've been lost in the Cuyamaca mountains with Ralph and these gels might help him survive any future navigational issues. Congratulations, Ralph.

I also want to thank VFuel for letting me run this contest and for providing a sweet discount for the readers (enter the code A-DirtyRunning at for a 20% discount). I'm a big fan of these gels (in case you didn't read the review), and everyone that I have shared them with has really liked them.

VFuel Gel Discount Code

Update: The giveaway has ended, but to receive a 20% discount on all VFuel orders, use the code DirtyRunning20% at

Instead of the big build-up, I'm going to give you the payoff at the beginning. VFuel is offering readers of this blog 20% off of VFuel Endurance gels (go to and use the code "DirtyRunning20%").

I first heard of VFuel Endurance gels from Tim Long's blog. He is a great writer and I enjoy reading his race reports. I remember him writing about VFuel and how he would take one every 20-30 minutes with no stomach issues; I was intrigued. I have a history with gels. At times I have loved them, and when I say "them," I'm talking about one particular brand...I'm not going to name names, but come on, you know who you are. But recently, I have had stomach issues when I try to use gels. I'll spare you the technicolor details, but stomach issues, for me, does not simply mean a slightly upset stomach. Recently, I switched to real food for longer training days, but carrying rice cakes around a race course is not very convenient, and unless you are hiking, they are hard to get down.

When Michael Hodges, the co-founder of VFuel emailed me and asked if I would review his product, it was like all the planets were aligning. I was stressed about nutrition for the 100K, I had just read about VFuel on Tim's blog and heard about the gels from Nick Pedatella, and I would most likely have placed an order for VFuel without any prompting on Michael's part, but that's just how the world works sometimes, so lucky me (and lucky you because you get a fat discount and a chance to win $100 worth of VFuel). I was honest with Michael, and I told him about my troubles with gels, and that I was trying to switch to solid food, but I also realized that in the later stages of a long race, it's harder to digest real foods. I told him I was planning on doing the Cuyamaca 100K and I would love to try the VFuel Endurance gels for the race (and on some longer training runs before the race to see if they would work for me). Michael came through with several boxes of gels, enough that I was able to share some with some of my running friends (spoiler alert: they really liked it).

I tried the VFuel gels on a couple of training runs, and I loved the taste (especially the peach cobbler flavor...I'm not sure where they get their supply of unicorn tears, and how they can keep the price so low), and they seemed to work, but the real test would come during the Cuyamaca 100K. I started the race with a handful of gels and a couple rice cakes. I tried to load up on calories early in the race, but really had to slow down to eat the rice cakes. It's really hard for me to get solid food down when I'm running, so I slowed to a hike. I didn't have a problem with slowing down, because I was planning to take the day real easy, but it would have been a problem if I was pushing for a certain time. I took a gel about every 30 minutes during the race, and after about the halfway point, I switched exclusively to gels (except for the luxury of warm chicken noodle soup that I allowed myself at the last two aid stations). The gels worked great for my race. I didn't have the stomach issues that I experienced at the San Diego 100 that forced me out of the race. I felt like I had sustained energy for the entire day, and I felt like I could have kept going. Really, the only thing that tasted better than the VFuel was the carne asada waiting at the finish line (hint, hint...carne asada flavored gels).

The VFuel gels taste great, but there is also some science stuff going on that makes them effective, and while I'm not a scientist (although, occasionally, I do like to add Mentos to Diet Coke), this info may be why the VFuel works.

  • They use dextrose instead of fructose, so the gels are easier to digest.
  • The flavoring is natural and organic. In the chocolate flavor, they only use organic, non alkalized, real cocoa powder and a hint of pure, real vanilla. In vanilla, just pure and real vanilla is used. In the fruit flavors, they use organic natural flavors to get them as close to the real thing as possible.
  • The VFuel is designed with recovery in mind...every single ingredient has benefits towards recovery.
  • The amount of caffeine in the gel is enough to act as a digestive aid, not as a stimulant. 
  • The same goes for the electrolytes. The magnesium and potassium contained in the gel are there for ammonia scavenging (recovery) benefits and not as an electrolyte supplement. They feel the electrolyte needs vary greatly between people and weather conditions to be able to get an accurate amount of electrolytes in any one formula for a given outing.
  • The MCT oil is a new concept in gels. It is coconut oil that has had all of the 'bad' stuff removed and what is left is a very pure, clean fatty oil. They are the only gel to offer any sort of fat, a crucial component 70 miles into a 100 mile run, or 13.1 miles into the marathon during an Iron Man.  This oil is treated and metabolized more as a carb rather than a fat. It goes straight to the liver and used immediately as a quick energy source. This is another reason why VFuel is so easily digested.

And I thought they worked just because they tasted good.

I had some questions for the co-founder of VFuel, and he was nice enough to respond. I really just expected one or two sentence answers, but man this guy is thorough. There is a lot of good information here, but if you've read enough and want to try VFuel, skip to the bottom and enter to win $100 worth of VFuel (that's a box of each flavor...chocolate, peach cobbler, and vanilla).

Why would someone choose VFuel over another option like Gu or Clif?

Know that we are very proud of what we have created here at VFuel. We wouldn't have come out with another gel if it wasn't quite different from what is out there currently. As a company created by active endurance athletes who have used any and every gel, bar, drink, etc... out there, we have personal experience with the drawbacks of each and hear the complaints that most people have with gels. "They make me bloated." "They 'back me up.'" "They make me nauseated." And it goes on and on in the same fashion. We began making our own gel as we experienced many of the same issues with everything else out there. As we began the creation of VFuel, the main goal was to create a gel that was easily digestible. We wanted a gel that wouldn't make you nauseous. In addition, ever single ingredient is in the gel for a very specific purpose, including aiding in digestion. The biggest change in this regard is that we do not use fructose, we use dextrose. Dextrose goes directly to muscle glycogen not relying on the liver to break it down, as fructose does. It doesn't take much fructose to back your system up, which causes all of the issues that most people associate with gels. We even had a beta tester with Crohn's disease that was able to use VFuel with zero stomach issues, and it now able to train for endurance events again. Prior to VFuel, she simply couldn't fuel for longer runs and certainly couldn't handle any gel, due to the high amounts of fructose.

We also feel that our blend of maltodextrin and dextrose provided extremely consistent energy levels. Most of the feedback we get includes statements that runners are experiencing very consistent energy levels and are not getting the spikes in energy that they get from other gels. Running 100 miles is a roller coaster of emotion as it is. There is no need to expect a roller coaster of energy from your fueling and nutrition plan. This takes an element of the unknown out of ultra distance running and lets one focus on the task at hand instead of managing their 'gut issues.'

Another major aspect that makes VFuel different is our VFuel Endurance Formula. Every ingredient in this formula is there to do one of four things: aid in digestion, reduce muscle fatigue, promote recovery, and/or provide consistent energy. We are also the only gel to have a clean, true fat in the formula. It is in the form of a fractionated coconut oil, and is seen as a carb to your body, so gets used very quickly and cleanly. This offers an additional metabolic pathway that can be used for energy creation. There is really only one other gel out there that even comes close to providing these performance and recovery benefits, but they charge $2.50 per packet, and we have set our price at $1.35 per packet. We want people to be able to use this day in, day out, for training AND on race day.

Overall, we truly believe that VFuel tastes great, uses quality and well purposed ingredients, and helps improve performance and recovery. We want to stand out from the rest, and there is no gel out there that can offer it all.

I've been sick a few times while consuming gels as my sole source of nutrition, and other times I've been fine. Can you explain some of the variables that can cause stomach distress?

There are definitely a few factors that come into play here. The biggest factor is the use of fructose in most gels. Ones metabolic pathway is very limited when fructose is involved. It's a short chained carb so your body wants to use it quickly, which it does. However, it takes some work to turn it into energy. It first has to be broken down in the liver after which it moves on to your muscles in the form of glycogen. This takes some time and requires certain enzymes, which your body has a limited number of at any given time, to break down. If you keep piling more fructose on top of itself, things back up and this process slows down or stops. This causes you to get bloated, nauseated, and show other symptoms of gastric distress.

The times that you have been fine while using other gels tells me a couple of things. One is that you may have a high 'constitution.' In other words, you may be able to handle more fructose than others. This issue doesn't effect everyone every time. I have some friends who can fuel a 100 mile run on ding dongs and gummy bears. If i did that, I may make it 10 miles before you'd find me in the fetal position on the side of the trail. Everyone is different. What VFuel does is remove this issue from the equation.

After hours on the trail and after consuming gel after gel, it is hard for me to choke down anything sweet, do you have any advice or alternatives to a sweet gel?

This is definitely a common issue that we hear with gels. And let me be clear, we are not saying that we think everyone should use gels, or VFuel, as their sole source of fuel for anything. This can work for some people, but we understand that we are all different, have different tastes, and different preferences. We just think that if you use gel, you will get the most benefit out of using VFuel, and the more you use, the more you will reap the benefits of the recovery and energy aspects. There are many great options that can be used, in an alternating fashion, in conjunction with gel to change it up and give you some variety. Clean sources of protein can taste great when you've had enough sweet. One of our founders, Alan Smith, used two sources of fuel as he completed the Rocky Mountain Slam this year. He would alternate between beef (frozen the day before and put in drop bags) and VFuel. This worked very well and the beef was a nice way to change it up. He fueled the Bighorn 100, Hardrock, Leadville, and the Bear 100 using only beef and VFuel. And we have no affiliation with Scott Jurek, but if you haven't read his book Eat & Run, I'd recommend it. He has some great vegan options for those of you who won't do the beef. I have used rice and miso balls that have worked pretty well, a variation of some of Scott's suggestions in his book. Salty and, for me, sat well in my stomach. But the key is to experiment and find what works for you. It definitely takes some time to figure out what's going to taste good, sit well, and give you usable energy when you're 65 miles into a 100.

Along those same lines, what do you recommend as far as fueling goes for a 50 mile race? What about a 100 mile race? If there is a difference, why the difference?

There is definitely a difference in fueling for these two very different distances. For a 50, you can get away with a bit more. If you get a bit 'off' on your nutrition plan you can usually push through it and the deficit won't effect you in the middle of the night, when you're at mile 75 of a 100 mile event. In the 100 though, pushing through fueling issues/deficits, without taking the time and effort to address them and fix them, will certainly come back to bite you. I take more of a training approach to my fueling for a 50. I don't find it necessary to stack any fueling early on and, depending on feel, won't be quite as strict on the timing of my calorie (and VFuel) intake. Though I will, and recommend, stick to one gel about every 30 minutes for a 50 mile run. If not for the immediate energy needs, then for the recovery benefits. I'll feel much better the next day.

For a 100 mile run, I recommend eating early and often. I'll still base my VFuel intake to one gel every 30 minutes, but will often take a little more, especially on a climb. On climbs, such as Hope Pass, I'll switch to one gel every 20 minutes. You can't bank time in a 100, but you can, in a way, bank your calories as long as you don't grossly overdo it. And I, personally, will eat more solid food during a 100, though this isn't the case for everyone. I can easily do a 50 mile run on gel alone, but the 2nd half of a 100 is a bit different and I crave solid food. So I alternate. Sometimes chicken or beef, sometimes fruit and veggies. It just depends on how I'm feeling.

This difference in fueling strategy between the two is simply a factor of the difference in distance. 100 miles is drastically different than 50 in every way and your fueling plan needs to adapt accordingly. The more VFuel you can handle early on in a 100, the more you will delay the onset muscle fatigue that is inherent in these types of events, and the better fueled your muscles will be for longer.

What is the shortest distance or time you would suggest going without VFuel?

We highly recommend consuming 1 packet about 15 minutes before your run (training or race). Then one every 30 to 45 minutes depending on terrain and effort level. For example, I'll use one packet every 20 minutes when running a steep climb, and even go as long as an hour between gels if I'm out on a casual hike with family or friends. And we recommend one packet within 10 minutes of the completion of a run (training or race) simply to benefit more from the recovery aspects of our formula.

The peach cobbler was my favorite, and I'd like to know if you are infringing on any trade secrets from Peach Jolly Rancher? Are you planning on introducing any other flavors? Any hints?

Haha! No, I certain we're not infringing on any trade secrets! That was an experiment gone horribly right! We were playing with flavors and I found a peach flavor that is 100% naturally extracted from peaches. The process is amazing and we're so glad we found this flavor! I threw a bit of this flavor in, added a dash of cinnamon then went for a run! I couldn't wait for every 30 minutes to pass until I could eat another packet! You're right, the stuff is great!

As far as other flavors, we definitely have some in the works. I don't want to give anything away, but think citrus, think ginger, and even think savory! And, as always, we are very welcoming of suggestions! If any of your readers have any thoughts on flavors, no matter how crazy or wild they may be we encourage their suggestions! We're kind of perfectionists in this way and open to anything, so if they suggest it, we will probably give it a shot to see how it tastes!

That's my review. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you give VFuel a try because it's good stuff and they are a great company run by endurance athletes who know their stuff and care about what goes in your body on long runs.

To order VFuel and take advantage of a 20% discount, go to and enter the code "DirtyRunning20%"

Thanks for reading, and good luck.

Disclaimer: I received VFuel Endurance gels to try out for this review (even though I was going to buy them anyway), but you already knew that.

5 Tips on Balancing Family and Obsessive Running

I don't know if I should be the one writing this article. I should probably hand the duties off to my wife and kids, because they are the ones who allow me to do what I do. Everyone always says that family comes first, but really, it doesn't always come first, and I think that's okay and healthy. The goal is to strike a balance. For some people running is an escape, the time on the trail and family time are kept separate and, like George's worlds colliding, are worlds that are best kept apart. For me, there's not much of a clear cut distinction between family and running, and for better or worse, I try to balance and combine the two as much as possible.

Me and the kids on a short hike

This came up during the Cuyamaca 100K. Paul and I were talking about how lucky we both were to be married to people who understood. Both of our wives have an athletic background and are still very active. So, when I tell my wife that I might take next Saturday and run in the mountains, oh and by the way, I'll probably be useless on Sunday as well because I'll be too tired from Saturday to do anything except maybe watch some football, she understands. Or, when I mention that next year, I'm thinking about taking at least 7 days to run through the Sierras, from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, she doesn't laugh and tell me to stop posing in front of the mirror, she knowingly smiles, and makes sure I'm not doing it alone.

While I will give most of the credit for being able to run so much to my awesome, understanding and patient wife and kids, I have to admit that the successful balancing of obsessive running and a happy home life has taken years of subtle manipulation training. I'm still learning and experimenting with the process of balancing my family life with my running life, but in the process I have discovered a few strategies that help, so here are my 5 tips for being an obsessive runner while still maintaining a healthy family life.

1. Act like a total dick.

For me, this really isn't much of an act. If I don't get some kind of physical activity during the day, at least once, I am not a very pleasant person to be around, and by the second or third day, my wife and kids are practically forcing me to miss soccer games, date nights, long walks on the beach, anything to get me to run. When my daughter holds my running shoes out and gives me the Puss in Boots eyes, I know that I need to get out and run. You can easily work this one into conversations, like when I tell my wife "oh, I'm sorry that I just mistakenly told you that you are acting like your mom...I really need to get a run in." Believe me, she'll be begging you to leave.

Don't go overboard on this one. There is a limit to being a dick (just ask the guy who stole a dog's wheelchair). Also, the only way for this one to truly work, is you have to be pretty damn awesome most of the time, especially after a run or a race. You better come home with a huge smile on your face and ready to dole out hugs and kisses, empty the dishwasher, cook dinner, and be the super wife/dad/parent that you know you are. You know what that means? Ice cream for everyone.

2. Bribe your kids.

Speaking of ice cream for everyone, the kids add another layer of complication to the mix. There will be missed swim meets, missed soccer games, missed episodes of "Good Luck Charlie," but luckily kids are very susceptible to bribery. They're like miniature politicians. My kids are young enough to still love the shiny medals that I bring home and give them after a race, or they really luck out when Jelly Belly sponsors a race and I bring home Sports Beans. I have enough race shirts at this point to clothe a size large, polyester-loving army, so I'll ask for a small shirt or give the large shirt to my kids to sleep in. On the other hand, samples of blister shields, sun screen, and electrolyte pills don't go very far.

I will also have my family meet me after a run, and then we will do something fun. Fortunately, one of the regular runs I do starts and ends at a delicious coffee shop right on the coast, so I'll have my family meet me for a Saturday morning breakfast and then we'll spend the rest of the day at the beach.

Post-run (I'm sitting on a beach chair while my daughter teaches my son to surf).

3. Sacrifice.

Yes, there will be sacrifices. You're not going to make it to every swim meet, parent-teacher conference, or football game. It's important to prioritize, and ask yourself some tough questions before lacing up those running shoes, or allocating an entire weekend to a race. Is the parent teacher conference for the smart kid who always does what the teacher asks, or for the kid who misbehaves and likes to blow shit up in the name of science? Does your 6-year-old daughter have a chance of scoring a goal and winning the soccer game, or is she playing against the stacked team from Cuba where the six-year-olds drive themselves to the game and celebrate with beer afterward? These are the tough questions you have to ask yourself, but birthdays are non-negotiable. You've got to make the birthdays (unless it's the middle child, in which case, you can just buy him a really nice present).

Some things you just can't miss.

4. Trick your family into thinking the vacation is about them and not about running a race.

This one is old, and everyone sees through it, but if you do it right, it never fails. I like to lead with the race. I tell my wife that I'm thinking of doing this race on Catalina Island, or getting a cabin up in Big Bear and doing a long run for my 40th birthday. I wait for her face to drop or her eyes to roll, then I say I was thinking about bringing her and "making a vacation out of it." That's the key, you have to slip in the word vacation, as if getting to Catalina the night before a marathon, eating an event-prepared bland plate of spaghetti, bunking with a bunch of people who need to be asleep by 8 PM and who are up at 4 AM, and being absolutely too tired and sore to do anything after the race except watch re-runs of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" could be considered a vacation.

Hey, let's all go to Zion. I'll just spend a day running across it.

Half of my Hawaii vacation photos are of empty roads.

5. Guilt.

This is the last resort, and must be used sparingly. I grew up in a religious household where guilt played a role in every decision I made before the age of 16. It works, but it can really mess you up. I still worry that if I drink a can of Coke, God is going to zap me with never-ending hiccups or permanent insomnia, and I can already hear my Grandma saying, "see, that's what happens when you drink caffeinated beverages."

My wife is applying to nursing school, and she is currently volunteering at a local hospital, so when I'm planning out my adventures, I try to use this wholly selfless and benevolent choice against her. I always check with her before signing up for a race, saying something like "I really want to train for another 100 next year, and I know that you're going to be starting nursing school next fall and I won't have a lot of time to run once you're in school, so I was hoping to cram in a few races, and maybe some overnight running/camping trips into my schedule before you get started." Note: I hope those races that I signed up for next year offer refunds.

If everything goes as planned, your family will support you by setting up aid stations at grass-roots races...

and make you awesome welcome home signs.

Now, I realize I'm giving up my secrets and that they probably won't work as well going forward (let's be wife has seen through me since day one), but I'm willing to take one for the team. So, for the sake of runners with families everywhere, I hope you use these tips, act like a dick, bribe your kids, and guilt your way into a happy and balanced family life. You're welcome.

Thanks for reading. I'm off to pick the kids up from school, because I told my wife she should go work out. She was acting like a total...

Cuyamaca 100K -- Race Report

I signed up for the Cuyamaca 100K with revenge in my heart. I signed up for the race a week after dropping out of the SD 100 with stomach issues, and I felt like I needed to get back out on some of the same trails and prove, mostly to myself, that I could finish the race.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I felt a rising sense of panic. I have been feeling burnt out for the last couple of months, and my motivation was really low. I knew that I wasn't putting in the necessary training in order to perform well and I started to self-sabotage by eating too much. In the weeks and months leading up to a race, I try to clean up my diet, but in the last couple months, I went the other way, snacking on junk throughout the day, and drinking too much at night. Luckily, I had committed to doing the San Bernardino 9 Peak Traverse, and the Ragnar Ultra; a couple of long runs that I hoped would have me trained enough to complete the 100K. Yep, that was basically my training plan.

I went into the race giving myself an out; I had no time, pace, or placing goals. I knew if I pushed too hard I would be setting myself up for failure. My goal was to simply take it easy while spending a nice day in the hills of Cuyamaca, sampling the best trails that San Diego has to offer.

Some Race Details

Co-race-directors Scott Crellin and Scott Mills did an outstanding job of organizing the race. The course was so much fun, stringing together about 62 miles of beautiful, mostly single-track trails through Cuyamaca State Park. I think I have run over 90% of the course in training and other races, but there is such a vast network of trails out there that even though the trails were somewhat familiar, the layout made them seem new.

First loop (thanks to Nena Crellin for the photo)

The course consists of three separate loops that all start and end at the same place, but don’t overlap, and I really liked the way they broke the loops up. The first loop was 31.5 miles with 5,500 feet of gain, including a trip to the top of Cuyamaca Peak. This was the longest loop and it was a psychological boost to get it done early in the day.

Loop 1
The second loop was 12.6 miles with 2,800 feet of gain. Although this was the shortest loop, there was a lot of climbing and it was a tough part of the race for me. I had one of those moments where I started to get negative, doing the math in my head and thinking about how far I still had to go, so I put in some music and the time started to go a little faster. I listened to a great podcast from the guys at Ultrarunner Podcast interviewing Sarah Lavender Smith about the Grand to Grand Ultra. Listening to her experiences in this tough stage race got me thinking about next year’s planned traverse of the John Muir Trail. Sometimes it's best not to live in the moment, and to just let the mind wander, especially when the moment sucks.

Loop 2
The third loop was 18.3 miles with 2,600 feet of gain. My friend, Paul, came out to run this one with me and it was great seeing him. My stomach, which had felt pretty good all day, started to give me trouble on this loop, and I slowed to a walk for the first section of the loop. I ate some chicken soup and drank some ginger ale at the first aid station. That helped calm everything down, and I was able to mix in some more running. It's amazing how delicious chicken soup can taste after 50 miles. I'm positive that if someone opened up a restaurant and made the patrons run 50 miles before they could eat anything, people would say it was the best food ever created in the history of food.

Loop 3
We were treated to a beautiful sunset, the kind you only get in the mountains, and I was so happy to be out there. It was a beautiful section of trail, and the view made all the pain of the day worth it. As I approached the last aid station I saw a woman walking towards us and as I got closer I realized it was my wife, who I wasn't expecting to see until the finish. I was so happy to see her smile, and a close second, to see the guy at the aid station who was waiting with another cup of warm chicken soup. The last stretch of the race went by pretty fast for me (although I'm sure Paul would disagree), as it was mostly flat and downhill and I ran as much of it as I could.

Photo:  Nena Crellin

Photo: Paul Jesse

I finished in 13:23 and in 24th place, which I was happy with.

The Mushy Part

Part of why I love long races is that for most of the day, you are out there alone, the distance is so long that people get spread out and hours can go by without seeing another person. It is during these long solo stretches that I always come back to the connections in my life, friends who are on the trail, maybe sitting and recovering in the finishing area, or covering some of the same trails I have already crossed, or helping out in aid stations. These fellow runners have become great friends.

I also thought of my sister, Sharlie, who a little more than six months out from a double lung and heart transplant, was taking part in a 32 mile bike race as I was out on the trails. I talked to her the night before both of our races, we wished each other good luck, and she was talking about her doubts and I was concerned about her. I didn't know if she could finish; I told her she could do it, and I was just impressed that she was attempting the race. I found out later that she had finished, and I am just so proud of her. At this point if she said she was going to finish Ironman, I wouldn't doubt her and I would only hope that she wouldn't drop me in training. I thought of my nephew, Ben, who also lives with Cystic Fibrosis, and just completed a difficult hospital stay, and how hard it must be at such a young age to come to a realization of the struggles that lay before him, and I know that his strength will serve him well, and he will continue to inspire people along the way.

I really want to thank the race directors and volunteers. We are so lucky to have such a strong network of trail runners in San Diego who put on amazing races, and you can tell when they come up to you at the finish line for a handshake and a hug that they are doing this because they love the trails, and want to share them with others. I want to thank Paul who gave up his Saturday night to come run 18 miles very, very slowly. I also want to thank Vi Endurance for setting me up with some great gels (I'll be doing a giveaway later this week), and USANA for keeping me healthy and injury free with a great line of supplements (especially the Omega-3, glucosamine, and digestive enzyme products). I also want to thank my race mustache and Naked Wrist Racing.

Photo: Paul Jesse

It felt great to finish this race, but not in the way revenge or redemption feels. I don't feel like I proved anything to myself or anyone else. I am grateful that I felt good and strong throughout the day, and that my nutrition worked, but all of these races are different. Different days will yield different results and I am learning to accept the day that I am given.

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