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Monthly Archives - November 2019

Western States 100 Lottery

By Larry Carroll

Its history dates all the way back to the Native Americans; the first runner to successfully conquer it did so in 1974. By 1977, the Western States Endurance Run was official – and the first installment featured 14 men who were monitored at “veterinary stops” intended for horses. These days, the Endurance Run follows the middle part of the beloved Western States Trail, and is considered one of the most arduous organized running events in all of America.

And if you want to be a part of this epic history, the time is now, fill out your information online. But before you do, a few notes: You must be able to submit the results of a qualifying run whose results are available online – if your qualifier is deemed invalid, your application will be rejected. 

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to sit back and hope. On Saturday, December 7th, entrants will be selected via lottery system. All results will be posted on the WS website, and a fee charged to those folks. If your name isn’t announced on December 7, don’t despair: You may also be selected as one of the 50 applicants whose names will be placed on the ordered wait list, which would then be used to fill in for drop-outs, etc.

Of course, there are two other groups of people who will also get to strap on their running shoes. First are runners wishing to exercise their one-time lottery bye, a unique luxury the race affords those who have accrued lottery tickets but had an “unexpected life event” interfere. If you haven’t already used it, a one-time lottery bye will get you past the lottery – just be sure to declare your intention to use it during the application period.

Second are automatic entrants. These are folks who have qualified for special consideration, typically based on past achievements. They include the top 10 male and female runners from last year’s race, winners of the Golden Ticket Races (such as the Hoka One One Bandera), elite athletes in the Ultra-Trail World Tour, members of the Board of Trustees and more. Perhaps the most endearing one might be the “Silver Legend Entry,” created in the memory of longtime WS Race Director Greg Sunderlund and awarded to one qualifying runner who will be 60 years old or older on race day.

What can all these entrants expect, come race day? Assembling in Squaw Valley, California next June 27, they will begin the day at 5am with a few hundred of their closest friends. Any runner hoping to be eligible for an award has to reach the finish line in Auburn, California by 10:59:59 am the next day. 

From Squaw Valley, the trail ascends 2550 vertical feet – and that’s just the first four-and-a-half miles. After that, runners follow the original trails used by gold and silver miners in the 1850s, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching Auburn. Running predominantly through rough and remote territory, runners are encouraged to bring two LED flashlights – and are encouraged not to try and find their way in the dark should they fail.

In case of emergency, much of the trail territory is only available via foot, horse or helicopter. At 78 miles, runners will come to the American River, where a guide rope (or in high-water years, a river raft) will help them get across. A message on the event’s official website reads: “The remoteness of the trail can lead to disaster for anyone not experienced in the backwoods.” So, as you can see, this race in not for the faint of heart.

If you still want to try and take your turn at the next Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, now is the time to jump in on the lottery. As 3-time Western States champion Jim King said: “There are three types of runners at Western States: The Survivors, The Runners and the Racers.” Which will you be?

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America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon

JFK 50 Mile honors its legacy as ‘America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon’

By Larry Carroll

Billed as “America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon,” the JFK 50 stands out from the pack. Inspired by one of the most beloved American Presidents, it dates all the way back to the spring of 1963 – long before ultra-marathoning broke through among mainstream sports. It is a “military race,” meaning that it was designed to challenge officers to cover 50 miles on foot in 20 hours or less, much as Teddy Roosevelt required of his troops in the early 20th century. As such, the race is open to the pubic – yet its tone, sense of honor and discipline are set by the military personnel among its ranks.

This year’s JFK 50 is scheduled to kick-off on November 23rd with a “Dual Start” format, meaning that the entire field begins racing at 6:30 a.m. and has 13 hours to complete the course. Everyone who finishes receives a unique medallion bearing the face of John F. Kennedy. An awards ceremony will recognize the top 10 men and women, as well as “Team Championship Awards” for the top teams (3-5 runners) of men and women; a “Military Team Competition” awards the top five finishers of the same military branch (Base or Academy), meanwhile, awarding the coveted “Kennedy Cup” and substantial bragging rights to the team with the lowest time-score.

America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon

All of this began some 57 years ago, when then-president Kennedy challenged the country to embrace physical fitness, inspiring numerous 50-mile events around the country. When the president was assassinated later that year, many of the other races were never held again – but the JFK 50 Mile Challenge renamed itself the JFK 50 Mile Memorial and carried on. To this day, it is the only original JFK 50 Mile Challenge event that is still ongoing. 

As the years have gone by, civilians and military personnel have continued to run side-by-side, taking up the challenge. The official race website even has an amazing archive of race programs (https://www.jfk50mile.org/history/archived-race-programs/) dating all the way back to 1966 – a legacy most ultra-marathon races cannot begin to approach. As such, the JFK 50 offers runners a unique opportunity to not only get their workout in, but also measure themselves against history itself. 

The fastest men’s time is held by Jim Walmsley (5:21:29), set in 2016; the fastest women’s time belongs to Ellie Greenwood (6:12:00), set in 2012. Looking over the top 50 in each list of performers, however, it is hard to not notice that the vast majority of times are post-2000, even though the race was over 30 years old at the turn of the century. Sure, there are a handful of 1998’s and 1982’s here and there – but do such numbers indicate that today’s athletes are simply better trained, better conditioned and faster?

America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon

It’s also fascinating how the long-established race is able to present other, more broad historical observations. Tony Cerminaro set the “Octogenarian Men (80-89)” record at 12:05:42 in 2016 (and is also the oldest person to ever finish the race), while Karsten Schultz set the 19-and-under men’s record (6:16:25) way back in 1977. Two different women (Carolyn Showalter and Elizabeth Wood) share the record for most consecutive women’s finishes (22), but the men’s streak is far ahead at 38 – held by Duane Rosenberg, who has finished every JFK 50 dating back to 1981. 

For many, the race has become an annual tradition on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Lining the main street of Boonsboro, Maryland, the course begins with 5.5 miles of road blending into the Appalachian Trail, gaining 1,172 feet in elevation. The next 13 miles or so is a rocky section of the trail rolling across a mountain ridge – followed quickly by steep switchbacks that drop the course over 1,000 feet. Next comes the “canal” section – 26.3 miles of flat, unpaved dirt and gravel. It all wraps up with about 8 miles of paved country roads to the finish line.

With the military angle, don’t be surprised if the JFK proceedings elicit tears in your eyes for more reasons than simple pain and exhaustion. Last year, veteran Adam Popp became the talk of the JFK when he finished the race in snowy, wet conditions despite having lost a leg while serving in Afghanistan. Popp was honored at the annual “Legends Dinner,”  an annual tradition tied to the JFK for race veterans with 10-or-more official finishes, former winners, age-group and geographic record holders. This year’s Legends Dinner is scheduled to take place on November 22.

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The North Face 50 San Francisco

The North Face 50 San Francisco makes its comeback

By Larry Carroll

When an ultra-marathoner is considering his or her next race, there are certain criteria they typically take into consideration. Questions like: How challenging will it be, and does that level of challenge align with my training trajectory? Is the race regarded well enough that it would benefit my racing resume?

But if you’re among those who put scenic views and drastic elevation change among your top criteria, there’s a good chance that you’ve considered the annual North Face 50 in San Francisco.

The North Face 50 San Francisco

Part of the company’s Endurance Challenge Series (founded in 2007), San Francisco is the culminating race following earlier events in Bear Mountain NY, Washington DC, Princeton MA and Madison WI. This year’s event is set for November 16-17 with the starting line in Sausalito.

On the men’s side, top contenders include Jared Hazen (winner of this year’s Western States 100 and Lake Sonoma 50 Mile), Matt Daniels (winner of the 2019 Black Canyon 100k), Sebastien Spehler (second place winner at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile), Thibaut Garrivier (a French runner known for winning the Transvulcania Ultra-marathon), Dylan Bowman (a top 10 runner at the North Face 50 multiple times, most recently finishing second in 2015) and Scotland’s Robbie Simpson. Other promising names include Tyler Wolfe, Bobby Peavey and Benjamin Stout.

For some of these racers, 2019 is a chance to recapture some momentum. Many have raced in the North Face 50 previously, but were left out in the cold in 2018 when the race was unfortunately canceled due to the California wildfires; this year, wildfires have also been an issue – so, here’s hoping that the air-quality remains well enough for the race to resume.

The North Face 50 San Francisco

Over on the women’s side, the narrative is every bit as compelling. From Clare Gallagher (Western States 100 and Way Too Cool 50k winner, as well as second place winner at the North Face 50 in 2017) to Keely Henninger (winner at Lake Sonoma and the Chuckanut 50k) to Brittany Peterson (fifth place winner at the North Face 50 in 2017, second at Western States this year), and YiOu Wang (such a toughie that she has been known to dress like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill at times) to Anna Mae Flynn (winner of the Speedgoat 50k in 2017 and 2019), there are lots of talented women who’ve signed up to run the race. 

Of course, both the men’s and women’s races have lots of other talented competitors as well – and names are subject to change as people join or drop out between now and race day. But what we do know is that the North Face 50 will go from Sausalito to San Francisco via the Marin Headlands – a hilly peninsula that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The highlight, of course, is running across the Golden Gate Bridge. But another major attraction for the runners is the 10,600 feet of climbing from start to finish – a solid challenge for any athlete.

The last time the North Face 50 was run, it was nothing short of historic. Tim Freriks led the men’s field and Ida Nilsson led the women – and both set new course records. Will any of the above listed athletes be able to break Freriks’ 6:02:26 or Nilsson’s 7:07:56? With the level of talent soon to assemble in northern California, it wouldn’t seem smart to bet against it.

The North Face 50 San Francisco

As part of the North Face Endurance Challenge Series, the 50 Mile is a “Clean Sport” race. All participants in Endurance Challenge Series events must sign a Code of Conduct that bans any runner currently serving a penalty from the world’s leading anti-doping agencies – and disqualifies any athlete who has ever served a ban from receiving prize money and awards or being a part of the elite field. 

The Clean Sport initiative exemplifies not only the high visibility that the North Face 50 has achieved but also its high stakes. On the race’s official course guide, there’s a section called “What to Bring” that lists some of the usual suspects: sunscreen, headlamp, hydration pack and the like. It also lists one more tongue-in-cheek, but no less mandatory running accessory: Game Face.

Which isn’t to say that the North Face 50 is all serious business – the Finish Line Festival in Crissy Field is sure to be a popular event as runners celebrate with music, food, and refreshments. There’s also a 1k Kids Race, which will allow the family festivities to continue as children race alongside SpongeBob SquarePants, Buzz Lightyear, the minions and more.

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World Mountain Running Championships in Argentina promise sights, sounds and sweat

By Larry Carroll

The eighth-largest country in the world, Argentina is home to 44 million people. Since 2003, it has also been home to the K42 Adventure Marathon – and in 2019 will play host to the World Mountain Running Championships. 

If you want to get an idea of how seriously the residents of Patagonia take the Salomon K42, check out this video “Salomon K42 Adventure Marathon anfitriona del Mundial de Montaña 2019“. While hyping up the 2019 installment, footage is shown of deep blue waters and pristine mountains – as well as blinding snow and hellacious downslopes. “Do you want to show who you are?” the clip teases as if daring participants to sign up. “Do you want to honor your country, your people?”

Of course you do. The only problem is, so do athletes from Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and too many other homelands to count. So the end result is an annual race that has dozens upon dozens of runners out of the starting gate, but precious few at the finish line. 

This year’s festivities take place November 12-17, with a flower ceremony in beautiful San Martin Square awaiting those who earn medals. Organizers are expecting some 2000 runners (a substantial increase over the 345 they attracted in their 2003 inaugural race), with about 60 percent running the 42km and the rest selecting the shorter but no less important 15km. 

 “You will travel to the bottom of South America, to walk in the footprints that the greatest athletes of the world have already left,” touts the video, showing clips of entrants splashing across streams and hesitantly navigating steep terrain. “A footprint that knows about sufferings and feats. A footprint that will remain in history.”

Sure enough, over the years such elite runners as Kilian Jornet, Miguel Heras, Luis Alberto Hernando, Oihana Kortazar and Zaid Ait Malek have left their footprint in Argentina. Perhaps the most beloved K42 athlete (locally speaking, at least) is Cristian Mohamed from Mendoza, Argentina – who won the 2009 and 2011 K42 Adventure Marathons, then returned for last year’s edition to triumphantly take the title back to its country of origin (after six years of foreign winners including Heras, Francisco Pino and Marco de Gasperi). 

“I ran the first six kilometers with the Italian,” Mohamed said after the race of Bernard Dematteis, another K42 favorite. “But it was going at a pace that we would not be able to sustain. I knew that the race begins in the climb to Bayo, in the Raizal and I took care until there.”

Echoing that sentiment was 2018 women’s champion Ragna Debats, a formidable Spanish Dutch runner who similarly conserved her energy for the latter part of the race. “It’s a very demanding race,” she said of the K42. “[I had to be] conservative because I knew that the second part was demanding.”

So, what can this year’s runners expect? A good road map is provided by Sarah Lavender Smith, a long-distance runner, mom and author who wrote extensively about her 2009 run on her blog “An Adventure Marathon” in Argentina’s Lake District Lives Up to the Hype“, calling it “epic” and “unforgettable.”

“The Salomon K42 calls itself an ‘Adventure Marathon,’ but I didn’t expect its course or my experience on it to go to such extremes,” she writes, citing her marathon resume. “Suffice to say I was reminded that it’s best to expect the unexpected and prepare for any and everything that the course might deliver.”

While fondly describing “that magical, crazy day when I traversed a peak in the Andes overlooking lakes and ski towns,” Smith bluntly recalls the dangers of mountain running.

“I was grasping at branches of shrubs that lined a narrow chute of mud and snow on a stretch of trail that seemed as steep and slippery as a wet playground slide,” she recalls. “At one point I had to scramble to the side to avoid being toppled by a guy who lost his grip and came skidding butt-first toward me.”

Beginning in the town, racers are given a powerful push-off via shouts of encouragement from the supportive community. Within moments, however, the Patagonian primeval forest blankets participants in near silence – broken only, no doubt, by the rhythm of their breathing. After a loop of going up and down throughout the forest, on single trails that seem to weave between untouched natural beauty, runners begin making their way up to the base of Cerro Bayo ski station – the point where the contenders are often separated from the pretenders.

Check points offer food and drink, while icy rivers reward those who splash through them with enough cold water to revitalize the legs. Then comes the vertical path named RAIZAL II, as forest turns to snow and the threats evolve along with it. At some point, you view La Angostura down below, then begin the downhill descent, back into the forest and through curves and countercurves that would offer a fun rollercoaster ride – if your muscles weren’t on fire by this point. It all ends back in the town, with cheers on the main avenue.

Who will survive this year to see that celebration? Who will enjoy the hot stew and celebratory party with a medal on their chest? Once again, the time has come for the hype to fade away – and the athletes to start moving their feet. 

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Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them

By Larry Carroll

When you’re an elite athlete, the only thing that approaches your workout in terms of importance is what you put into your body. Like any human being, food nourishes, sustains and on some occasions delights you. But more so than most people, you depend on food to build muscle, stave off injury and allow you to perform at peak capacity. 

More and more these days, athletes are coming forward with revelations of embracing a plant-based lifestyle. And with many of them, it’s hard to argue that any other sort of diet could make them better at their respective sports: tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, Olympian weightlifter (and holder of the U.S. record in the clean and jerk) Kendrick Farris, NBA all-star Kyrie Irving, world champion surfer Tia Blanco and more. 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

Then there’s Scott Jurek. Considered one of the greatest runners of all time, the 46-year-old Minnesota native has won the Hardrock Hundred, the Badwater (twice), the Western States 100 (7 straight years) and more – and has been on a plant-based diet since 1999. In 2012, Jurek published “Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultra-Marathon Greatness,” an autobiography which concludes each chapter with one of his favorite vegan recipes.

Anecdotally speaking, athletes quickly notice a difference in their bodies after switching over to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle – and most of what they notice appears to be good. 

“I wasn’t feeling as inflamed, creaky or sore, or just kind of blah in the morning,” Olympic medal cyclist Dotsie Bausch told US News recently (Athletes Can Thrive on Plant-Based Diets), looking back on her switch. “I was bouncing out of bed – I felt ready to go. I was more energized.” 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

“I think it’s a great lifestyle for long-term stability,” Venus Williams, who credits veganism with overcoming the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s Syndrome, told Shape magazine ( A Venus Williams Interview That’s Not About Tennis ). “You also have to look at everything else in your regimen, what you’re putting into your body, like supplements. I’m always learning and I’m hoping to perfect my system.”

Accordingly, Venus made headlines earlier this year (Venus Williams said her raw vegan diet was unsustainable, so she now eats potatoes and lentils too) when she revealed that her raw food-diet aspirations had proven difficult to sustain over long periods of time, leading to an amended diet that includes such foods as  potatoes, rice and lentils. “Sometimes you just need something more substantial — some rice, some potatoes — after a workout,” she reasoned. 

According to a series of studies published in the journal Nutrients ( Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports )

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

“The effect of plant-based diets on cardiovascular risk factors, particularly plasma lipid concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure, and, as part of a healthful lifestyle, reversing existing atherosclerotic lesions, may provide a substantial measure of cardiovascular protection. In addition, plant-based diets may offer performance advantages. They have consistently been shown to reduce body fat, leading to a leaner body composition. Because plants are typically high in carbohydrate, they foster effective glycogen storage. By reducing blood viscosity and improving arterial flexibility and endothelial function, they may be expected to improve vascular flow and tissue oxygenation. Because many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress. Diets emphasizing plant foods have also been shown to reduce indicators of inflammation. These features of plant-based diets may present safety and performance advantages for endurance athletes.” 

Bausch, for her part, certainly agrees with the recovery advantages. “When you recover faster, you can handle more load … You can handle more damage, more training. The more training you can do, the faster you’re going to become. People can’t train 24 hours a day, because you have to recover. So if you recover fast, you can train again.”

So, where do you start? According to “Forks Over Knives” ( Top Tips for Plant-Based Athletes ), you need to train yourself much like in athletics – but to avoid all animal products, processed foods, oils and refined carbohydrates. Many athletes worry about where they’ll get their protein, but the human body only requires 5 to 10 percent of its caloric intake to be protein, so simply maintaining adequate caloric intake will often satisfy that need. You’re also likely to get all your essential amino acids. 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

In a gradual manner, a plant-based athlete needs to transition to a diet of calorically-dense whole plant foods, starchy vegetables and fruits for fuel. Rather than large meals, it is wiser to eat many smaller ones per day. It’s also crucial to keep close tabs on weight, looking to the Harris-Benedict calculator “Calculate Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) online (Harris Benedict Equation) ” to determine caloric needs and  BMR (basal metabolic rate). 

Naturally, you want to consult with your physician before embracing any radical change to your diet. But the keyword here is exactly that: naturally. Athletes who embrace the plant-based lifestyle and are able to make it work to report all kinds of benefits from putting all-natural foods into their bodies. Ultimately, it’s a matter of having an open mind, a compliant palate, and training appropriately. 

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