With the lead up to the 2017 Western States 100 Endurance Run reaching a fever pitch, the timing of the release of Lighting the Fire: Wrong Turns, by 9MindAsylum, about current ultrarunning star Jim Walmsley couldn’t be better. Walmsley, of course, is famous for his wrong turn at mile 92—while on a blistering course-record pace—of the 2016 Western States 100 (see also “The Legend That Could Have Been”). Walmsley is gunning to avenge that wrong turn in this year’s Western States, June 24-25, 2017.
The powerful, emotional Lighting the Fire tracks Walmsley’s exciting, now-historic 2106 race, and backtracks through his life in the Air Force as a nuclear “missilier,” a questionable DUI, discharge from the military, subsequent depression and rejuvenation through ultrarunning after moving to Flagstaff, Arizona.
The Trail Runner Trophy Series, presented by Altra Running, is a points-based race series, with 186 events of all distances, all around the country. The series begins in March and culminates in September. Grand prizes are awarded to the runner who logs the most miles, and the runner who runs the most races. The “Mile Mogul” wins a Run the Alps trail-running tour through the French and Swiss alps, around Chamonix, France, while the “Trail Fiend” wins a coveted spot on the cover of Trail Runner magazine.
The Trophy Series is well under way for the season. Here are some updates and stories from the last few weeks. Dale Reicheneder, the 2016 Trophy Series “Trail Fiend” Champion, is currently in first place for winning the cover shot, while Donna Loparois the lead for the trail-running tour in the Alps.
McDonald Forest 50K: May 13, Corvallis, Oregon
Perhaps it is the homemade soup and baked goods at the finish, the reggae aid station or the pull of the Pacific Northwest Rainforest, but the McDonald Forest 50K has drawn athletes back year after year.
Pottery awards were given to the returning 50K racers, Steve Loitz, Kathie Lang, Eric Martin, Larry Stephens, Jim Susman and Anita Schultz. Loitz, 60, of Ellensburg, won a 20-year urn, an award given to those who have completed 1,000 kilometers at this event. Kathie Lang of Klamath Falls, Oregon, won a 15-year bowl and Martin 40 of Corvallis, Oregon; Stephens 60 of Portland, Oregon; Susman 53 of Portland and Schultz 52 of Seattle, Washington, were awarded 10-year plates.
Despite a wet course, course records fell for the 20-29 age group, for both the men and the women—Jeff Mogavero, 23, and Rachel Drake, 25, both of Oregon, hold the new records in 3:58:53 and 4:33:58.
“I had a blast playing in the mud,” says Mogavero. “A good bit of rain […] just made things more exciting!” Mogavero is no stranger to ultrarunning. He has won 7 races ranging from 25K to 60K.
Meanwhile, Drake got some extra motivation from a Golden Retriever puppy she met on the course. “Seeing that little guy certainly put a spring in my step.”
Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon, Half Marathon and Marathon Relay: June 4, Deadwood, South Dakota
The Deadwood mickelson Trail half marathon also saw its course record broken. Jennifer De Hueck, 27, of South Dakota, ran the race in 1:19:17, a record by 1 minute and 20 seconds. .
De Hueck was among 2,800 other racers who came from far and wide to run from Rochford, South Dakota, to the historical town of Deadwood. Runners came from 46 states, Bolivia, Germany, Switzerland and Canada.
World’s End Ultramarathon 50K, 100K: June 3, 2017, Forksville, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s World’s End Ultramarathon was a race of close calls this year. The event began with a bear lingering at the start/finish line (the bear wandered off before the race started) and ended with its youngest-ever 50K finisher, a near-course record in the 50K and a one-second gap between first and second place in the 100K.
Jacob Kascsak, 15, running on home turf, finished the 50K with a time of 6:46:29. Also in the 50K, Michael Daigeaun, 37, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, missed a course record by a mere 77 seconds, clocking 5:12:47.
In the 100K, David Lantz, 28, of Leola, Pennsylvania, took home the win. Lantz finished in fourth place last year, and beat out second-place finisher Adam Russell, 38, of Rome Pennsylvania, by less than one second. Kristina Folcik, 39 of Tamworth, Pennsylvania, was the first woman to cross the line, followed one hour later by Deserae Clarke, 36 of Danville, Pennsylvania, who was racing her first 100K.
Current Trophy Series Standings
Run Most Races First: Dale Reicheneder, Malibu, CA, 198.5 miles, 18 races Second: Samantha Weaver, Jersey Shore, PA, 202.7 miles, 16 races Third: Gerald Bailey, Glencoe, KY, 242.8 miles, 13 races
Run Most Miles First: Donna Loparo, Winter Springs, FL, 320 miles, 2 races Second: John Dufour, Carrollton, GA, 286 miles, 2 races Third: James Barnard, Clinton, TN, 264 miles, 1 race
Male First: James Barnard, Clinton, TN, 1056 points, 1 race Second: Jeremy Reed, Pikeville, TN, 630 points, 1 race Third: John Dufour, Carrollton, GA, 472 points, 2 races Female First: Donna Loparo, Winter Springs, FL, 1080 points, 2 races Second: Greta Reed, Pikeville, TN, 576 points, 1 race Third (TIE): Jess Mullen, Seattle, WA, 400 points, 1 race Van Phan, Maple Valley, WA, 400 points, 2 races Elaine Stypula, St Clair Shores, MI, 400 points, 1 race Caroline Boller, Solvang, CA, 400 Points, 1 race Rebeca Wilson, Eagleville, TN, 400 points, 1 race Stacy Dittmer, Brandon, MB, 400 points, 1 race
Male 10-19 Port Habalar, Williamsport, PA, 222.8 points, 4 races 20-29 Matt Lipsey, Kersey, PA, 222.8 points, 4 races 30-39 Azarya Weldemariam, Colorado Springs, CO, 121.5 points, 2 races 40-49 Steve Templin, Muncy, PA, 176.3 points, 4 races 50-59 Dale Reicheneder, Malibu, CA, 684.6 points, 18 races 60+ Gerald Bailey, Glencoe, KY, 340.2 points, 13 races
Female 10-19 Elizabeth Shaffer, Jersey Shore, PA, 251.4 points, 5 races 20-29 Johanna Ohm, State College, PA, 245.8 points, 5 races 30-39 Brianna Bair, State College, PA, 276.1 points, 5 races 40-49 Samantha Weaver, Jersey Shore, PA, 350.2 points, 16 races 50-59 Carole Dudukovich, Port Matilda, PA, 385.2 points, 8 races 60+ Jane Kone, Howard, PA, 294.1 points, 6 races
The Western States 100—the oldest and most competitive 100-miler in the U.S.— looms just a few days away, June 24-25, 2017. The race routinely attracts a deep field full of talented elite runners, but, this year, one runner in particular will have everyone’s attention: Jim Walmsley.
Last year, Walmsley took a wrong turn at mile 93 of Western States, costing him what looked to be a record-setting victory. This year he has earned another Golden Ticket (the top two finishers in a series of six races earn a spot outside the competitive Western States lottery), and is returning for redemption.
Now based in Flagstaff, Arizona, Walmsley is beginning his final days of training. When Trail Runner caught up with him, he had just finished a routine training run—a “three-hour loop” that measures 21 miles with 5,100 feet of vertical gain.
“That run’s been kind of a staple of my training,” he says. “It’s an hour and a half from Flagstaff, so it makes for about a half day.”
With training done for the day, Walmsley spoke with us about vegetarianism, his Western States nutrition plan and his goals for Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), which he tackles later this summer.
How has being a vegetarian affected your training as an ultrarunner?
The short answer is that I don’t feel it affects my training at all. I don’t think I’d be vegetarian if it did.
I don’t like the way we process meat in America, and there are plenty of other options. It’s personal preference. It comes down to: does [a lack of meat] affect my running? If not, then I don’t mind cutting it out. I do take whey protein recovery drinks, which seems to be more absorbable than soy or egg proteins.
What’s in your fridge right now?
There is probably more of a lack of stuff in my fridge. I’ve got almond milk in there, and I’ve accumulated a lot of spices. But it’s pretty bare. I’ve been traveling so much that I haven’t been stocking up.
What are your favorite things to cook?
When I do cook, it’s pretty simple. I make fajitas a lot, and my roommate knows how to roll her own pasta, so we do that every now and then. I like salads, and I do granola for breakfast pretty regularly. Then I snack a lot throughout the day. I’m a big procrastinator, and you can’t have a big meal right before you run, so it’s important to just snack.
What’s your nutrition strategy for Western States?
I eat kind of like a hummingbird, just fueling on simple sugars. [For Western States] I’ll use a mix of gels and drink-mix hydration, anywhere from 350 to 500 calories of sugar per hour. You have to look at aid stations and predict your time between them, and then plan your calories accordingly.
I’m probably not going to eat more than 550 calories at a time, because that gets pretty tough. Less than 350 calories can mean I’m not getting enough fuel. I’ve found the ability to slam a bunch of calories can really save your race in an ultra, because you can skip [fuel] and not realize you’re hurting [until its too late].
What will you eat before the race?
I’m likely going to stick to granola and almond milk, just a light bowl with maybe some blueberries. And I’ll probably drink a Red Bull. The race starts at 5 a.m., so I’ll eat that around 3 a.m.
You can avoid a lot of gastrointestinal distress if you start that way, eating well before racing. Some people think the Red Bull is just a stomachache waiting to happen, but it works better for me than coffee, to get my body to wake up.
Will your nutrition for UTMB look different from Western States?
The UTMB course record is 20 hours 11 minutes. That’s significantly longer than Western States, where I’m planning to be hopefully in the low-14-hour range, maybe on a really good day under 14 hours. For UTMB I’ll probably mix in a bar here and there, especially at night or if a section is significantly slower.
It changes things up to be chewing something. Even though I’m getting a significant number of calories [from hydration mix and gels], it doesn’t mean I’m not hungry. But you’re not just going to stop and eat a sandwich. You have to be OK with that discomfort. In a race like [UTMB], even a candy bar can be OK, or a slice of pizza—something that’s satisfying but wont hurt your stomach.
What’s the first thing you’ll eat (or drink) after Western States?
I don’t know yet. I would love pizza. I’ll probably have had pizza the night before. I’m pretty religious about having my recovery drink within 30 minutes of finishing [a long run or race], but, after that, pizza. And I’m sure someone will give me a beer.
Last weekend, June 10-11, 2017, Boulder, Colorado-based ultrarunner Darcy Piceu set a new supported fastest-known time (FKT) on Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash circuit. Nestled in west-central Peru, the Huayhuash is a sub-range of the Andes, 30 miles in length. The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, which circumnavigates the entire range, runs 85 miles with more than 25,000 feet of climbing. There are few access points for crews to hike in (or injured runners to bail out).
It was a natural choice for Piceu, 42, who has won Colorado’s punishing Hardrock 100 three times (among other impressive ultra wins, dating back to 2002). Piceu first learned about the Huayhuash through a film, which featured a group of bikers attempting the circuit.
“They were doing a lot of hiking with bikes, which made me realize it would be even better for running,” says Piceu. She learned that a few other people had fastpacked the route over multiple days, but only one person—Jared Vilhauer, 35, of Ridgeway, Colorado—had run the circuit, in 30 hours straight.
“It seemed like exactly the kind of trails I love to run,” she says. “Mountainous and technical.”
Piceu enlisted the help of Vilhauer and a few of his friends to crew and pace—the region is not only remote, but also has some history of violence, and she didn’t feel comfortable running alone.
“So much of the planning has to do with […] getting pacers and donkeys to the right spots,” she says. “Just to get to the start of the trail, you have to travel five hours from Huaraz to get to the town of Llamac.”
With one “aid” stop in the middle of the route, Piceu ultimately finished in 29 hours 15 minutes. Trail Runner caught up with Piceu to learn about what she carried during her run, the route’s biggest challenges and her plans for Hardrock later this summer.
Had you ever been to this region before? I had never been to this area, but I hiked the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu 20 years ago.
What did you take with you for the FKT attempt? [My pacer, Domingo Elias, and I] had to carry a fairly large pack, since we only had one point, at about 50K, where we had people meet us with extra food and clothing.
There, I resupplied and left with a full pack for the remaining 50 miles. The night was very cold and long (sunset at 6 p.m. and sunrise at 6 a.m.), so we had to carry a lot of clothing and food.
I treated water along the way with Katadyn soft-flask, filter water bottles, and carried a rain jacket, tights, a lightweight down jacket, long sleeve, a hat and gloves. For the second half of the route, I carried enough food for approximately 15 hours.
What was your strategy for the run, and did things go as planned? The strategy was to run a conservative pace, because of the altitude, and to save my energy for the later miles. Since it was such a remote route, I took special precautions with running safely and not recklessly.
Do you run through any villages along the route? Running in Peru is so different than anywhere in the U.S. In these remote mountains, you can be running through people’s farms filled with cows, sheep and dogs. There are also several points where you have to pay a camp fee even when you are just running through. The people manning these permit stations were in no rush, so sometimes we would wait for a while to pay.
Did you take breaks? Normally I never stop for naps, but I got very tired during the long night section and slept twice for about 10 to15 minutes each. That was helpful. Once the sun came up, I felt rejuvenated.
What were some of the best moments of the run? At Lake Carhuacocha, after about nine hours and 30 miles, it was uplifting [to meet with our friends].
One of the other incredible moments was reaching the high point, Cuyoc Pass, at 16,500 feet. It was dark at that point, but was exciting to have gotten that high.
What were the toughest moments? After Lake Carhuacocha, the weather started to turn. We got rained on and then snowed on. The clouds looked pretty ominous; it was cold and I started to get concerned about staying warm through the night.
Mentally, it was tough, because I knew this was also the point of no return. There were no more bail-out points.
What did the locals think of your attempt? Locals thought we were “loco” for attempting the Huayuash circuit in a day. In fact, when we told people, I don’t think they believed us.
What are your goals and strategies for Hardrock this year? I feel lucky to still be toeing the line at Hardrock. It’s my favorite race. I love the people and the San Juans, and it feels like coming home.
I am getting to a place of accepting that I have nothing to prove there anymore, after winning three years in a row. I’d like to show up, have fun and have a good day. If I can share miles with the other ladies out there, that would be a bonus.
What will you do between now and Hardrock? I’m still recovering from Peru. I’m eating a lot, resting, biking, doing yoga and getting in some short runs. My hope is that I can recover well and simply maintain fitness until Hardrock. I will try to focus on getting in some shorter, higher-intensity runs at altitude over the next few weeks.
[Editor’s note: the July issue of Trail Runner magazine includes a feature story about a two-day fastpacking trip on the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit]
Fifteen minutes after crossing the finish line of the 2016 Leona Divide 50 in Lake Hughes, California, Alison Chavez is standing on the side of the road spilling gallon jugs of water over her head. She has taken off her finisher’s medal, “F*ck Cancer” trucker hat and hot-pink tank top, and aims the water strategically at her arms, face and neck. Her finishing time of 11 hours 48 minutes 7 seconds was a personal record, but her day is far from over.
Toweling dry her reddish-brown pixie cut, she scoots into the back seat of her car, where she exchanges sopping polypropylene for a rented evening gown, black and floor-length. In an hour she is due at a charity benefit dinner on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, a facet of her job as a TV production attorney. She checks her face in the rear-view mirror, adding earrings and a quick smear of lipstick, and then wiggles her feet into a pair of heels.
It’s hard to tell that just three years ago, Chavez was in the midst of one of the toughest battles anyone faces in their lifetime. She was 36 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Despite surgeries and chemo treatments that left her too weak to walk up a flight of stairs, she refused to give up running. Now two years cancer free, she has earned two 100-mile finishes and hopes to prove that endurance sports are attainable even for those who are facing, or who have faced, serious illness.
“Running and cancer are so intertwined for me,” she says. “Without running, I don’t know how I would have made it through cancer treatment. Without cancer, I don’t know if I would have had the drive to do all of these 100-mile races, to do the impossible.”
Growing up in southern California, Chavez was never the outdoorsy type. She swam competitively through high school, but according to her mother, Beth, “She was the little girl who didn’t even want to get dirty.” A straight-A student, Chavez attended Whittier College, and then moved to New York City to earn her graduate degree from NYU Law School. Her ambition was all consuming. She became an attorney in 2001, and stayed in New York to work for a large corporate firm, where she specialized in finance law.
“Going through law school, and working as an attorney in New York City, taught me a lot about how to endure,” she says. She worked long hours, sometimes through the night. “If I went to the gym once a week, I thought I was being so healthy.”
Then, in 2005, seeking a more relaxed lifestyle, she moved back to southern California, and put her corporate finance experience to work as an attorney in the Hollywood television and film industries. To make friends, she joined Team In Training, a marathon and triathlon team that raises money for Leukemia and lymphoma. She finished her first half-marathon in the spring of 2005, and, over the course of the next five years, went on to complete 15 half-marathons, nine marathons, two Ironman races and five Half-Ironman races.
By 2010, Chavez’s growing interest in endurance sports led her to the SoCal Coyotes, a local trail-running club. Chavez immediately clicked with the down-to-earth atmosphere of the group runs. Many of the Coyote club members were ultra veterans, and she found herself in awe of what seemed like a virtually impossible feat: running 100 miles.
Chavez’s weekly trail runs with the SoCal Coyotes quickly morphed into a full-on trail-running obsession. She embraced the challenge of tackling harder, longer distances, completing her first 50K in 2010 and her first 50-miler in 2012. Soon, she found herself ready to attempt the impossible, the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run (TRT 100), slated for July 20, 2013.
On a Friday evening in late June 2013, Chavez was getting ready to leave work when she discovered a lump on the side of her left breast. It was no bigger than a pea—so small she wouldn’t have noticed had it not been for the stinging sensation that had been nagging at her armpit for several hours. Panicked, she made a doctor’s appointment for the following Monday.
“First I had a mammogram, then an ultrasound, then a biopsy,” she says. “I knew something was seriously wrong, because the doctors kept going to the next step.” On July 8, she received her diagnosis: triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma.
Treatment for her cancer would entail surgery and chemotherapy. “I didn’t know what an oncologist even did,” says Chavez. “I didn’t know what chemo was—you could have told me it was like a suntan booth.”
Oncologist Dr. Maurice Berkowitz assured Chavez that her cancer was treatable, but they would have to act fast.
“This type of cancer is very aggressive,” says Dr. Berkowitz. “It requires much stronger chemotherapy than other kinds of breast cancer, and tends to relapse more quickly. That said, it also has a high survival rate.” The plan was to shrink the tumor using chemotherapy, followed by a mastectomy and then several more rounds of chemotherapy.
Then doctors made a treatment-altering discovery: Chavez tested positive for BRAC-one, a gene famously known for giving its female carriers a predisposition to cancer. Chances were good that her other breast would get cancer within three years, as would her reproductive organs. To minimize that risk, Chavez opted to schedule a double mastectomy as well as surgery to remove her uterus, ovaries, cervix and fallopian tubes.
Just two weeks later, the start of the TRT 100 loomed. But a determined Chavez decided to go head and toe the start line (with Dr. Berkowitz’s approval).
The tumor had already grown to the size of a hardboiled egg. “You could actually see [the tumor] poking out of my chest,” she says.
Inexperience in dealing with the low points of a 100-miler, coupled with the emotional weight of her diagnosis, says Chavez, led her to drop at 2 a.m., at mile 67.7.
“She didn’t want to quit,” says Chavez’s coach and running partner Andy Noise. “But she knew she needed to quit.”
Four days later she received her first dose of chemotherapy.
Beth Chavez sums her daughter up in one word: Sunshine. “It’s her real, given middle name,” she says. “How could I ever have known it would be so fitting?” Asked to describe Chavez, friends all come up with a combination of the same words: bubbly, positive, genuine, smiling and friendly.
“Alison is one of those A-list people,” says Chimera 100 race director Steve Harvey. “She’s got one of those smiles that lights up the room. People are attracted to her. If Alison is signed up to be at your race, it’s good day.”
After fully embracing trail running, Chavez was at a race almost every weekend, and, if she wasn’t racing, she was crewing or volunteering. She would often show up in costume, sometimes with party favors to hand out at the aid stations and always with a smile on her face.
Naturally tough and stubborn, Chavez took the same positive approach to cancer treatment that she did for trail running. During chemo appointments, she danced around her intravenous pole, took funny pictures and posted them to social media. As much as possible, she ran.
“I had worked for three years to [be able to run] ultra distances,” she says. “I didn’t want to end up after cancer treatment having to start from ground zero.” For the first several months of treatment, Chavez maintained a running volume of 25 to 40 miles a week. As surgery and chemo began to take their toll, she defaulted to simply running whenever she was able to.
Chavez also continued to volunteer at aid stations. When she was too weak to volunteer, she simply pulled up a chair and cheered for her friends. One March morning at the mile-15 aid station of the 2014 Coyote Cohorts Backbone Trail Ultra, coach Noise recalls catching Chavez carting whole watermelons from her car. “I practically yelled at her to sit down,” he says.
Despite appearances, the chemo side effects were brutal. From December 2013 through January 2014, Chavez endured eight rounds of Dose Dense Adjuvant Chemo, a treatment known more colloquially as “The Red Devil.” The Devil came every two weeks, in a plastic syringe filled with bright red liquid.
“I was like a walking corpse,” she says. “I was still running, but, in my head, I looked really sick and pale.”
In between crippling nausea, vomiting, depression and panic attacks induced by the Devil, Chavez also attended hot-yoga and spin classes. A December 13 entry from her journal, which she regularly posted on Facebook, reads, “I still feel nauseous [after today’s chemo]; however my doctor said most people don’t start to feel really awful (bone pain, nausea, hot flashes) for a few more hours. Maybe I can sneak in a run […] before I start to feel really bad.”
Afraid that taking too much sick time would hurt her career, Chavez chose to continue to work throughout her cancer treatment. “I didn’t want to appear weak or sick,” she says. She took off every Wednesday to receive her chemo infusions, often lugging a purse full of chargers and extension cords so she could answer emails while the chemicals dripped into her veins.
The rest of the week, she worked 10 to 12 hours a day. As a TV-production attorney, says Chavez, “You are answering emails and drafting documents as fast as humanly possible, from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave.”She timed the chemo treatments so that the worst symptoms would hit over the weekend. Still, she spent many mornings throwing up into a plastic grocery bag while her mom drove her to work, and often locked her office door midday to nap on the floor.
From February through July 2014 she endured five surgeries, as the incisions from her breast implants kept opening up and getting infected. The result was a mounting pile of medical debt that her insurance wouldn’t cover.
“A single chemo treatment costs $4,000,” says Chavez. “Hospital stays were $8,000 to $10,000 per night.”
By the end of treatment, Chavez’ personal debt was close to $100,000.
“I went from being a very successful attorney to a very broke attorney,” she says. Continuing to work was no longer just a matter of career advancement—it was the only way she could manage to pay back her medical debt. To save money, she gave up her apartment and bounced between her parents’ house and friends’ guest rooms.
Chavez’s final procedure, on July 14, 2014, was an eight-hour, multi-surgeon affair to insert a final set of permanent breast implants and remove her uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix. That week several of her friends were running California’s Angeles Crest 100 (AC100), a notoriously difficult and technical race. Too weak to cheer them on in person, Chavez went online and signed herself up for the 2015 race.
Within four months of her final surgery, Chavez was back to trail racing, and quickly worked her way up from 16K to 30K to 50K. In December 2014, she ran 100 miles at the Across the Years 48 hour race. In February she finished the Sean O’Brien 50-miler in 12 hours, a personal best by one and a half hours.
“That was a huge breakthrough race,” says Noise. “At that point, I thought, ‘Oh, my, it’s on.’”
Chavez began spending large amounts of time on the AC 100 course, and, on August 1, 2015, lined up for the race start.
“A lot of people warned me that it was too much, too soon,” she says. “Nine months of training might have been plenty to get a healthy runner ready for AC100, but not a runner whose body had been through the trauma mine had.” Chavez felt strong, but lacked speed. She dropped at mile 75.
“She trained for it well,” says Noise. “But she had only been training for about six months. She was like a great car that ran out of gas.”
But redemption came quickly. On November 14, 2015, she finished California’s Chimera 100, her first official 100-mile race.
“I went into Chimera a bit calmer,” she says. Having already been through the toughest part of a 100-miler—the nighttime—she knew that if she could make it to daylight, she could finish. Temperatures dropped so low that she ran in a fur-collared ski suit. “Every piece of ground looked like an inviting bed,” she says. But she resisted, and kept moving to the finish line.
“When she crossed the finish line, she ran straight at me, gave me a hug, then broke down and started crying,” says race director Steve Harvey. “Those of us who knew Alison were crying, too.”
With a Western States qualifier under her belt, Chavez figured she would enter the lottery, and wait a few years until her turn came up. Then, at a friend’s urging, she entered herself in a Strava contest to win a free Western States bib. “I felt like I had already been blessed with so much support,” she says. “I almost didn’t enter the contest, because I didn’t feel like I needed to win to be happy.” She got an email a few weeks later, informing her she had been selected.
“I was in shock,” she says. “I just kept thinking, ‘Pinch me, I’m dreaming.’ [Western States] is like our Olympics. I was just chosen to be in the Olympics, which is insane because I’m not a pro.” Already signed up for a second shot at that summer’s Angeles Crest 100, she simply increased her training, with a focus on speed and stamina. When Western weekend rolled around, she treated herself and her crew to the nicest hotel in Squaw Valley.
From the start, her only goal was to finish. She raced smoothly until around mile 40, when intestinal troubles began to set in. A comfortable two-hour cushion against the cutoff quickly shrank to one hour, then a half hour and then 15 minutes. By the time she reached Michigan Bluff aid station at mile 55.7 she was just under the aid-station cutoff, and well behind the overall 30-hour race cutoff.
“She scared the hell out of us,” says Harvey, who crewed for Chavez. “But looking at her, you would never know she was toying with cutoffs the whole way. She was all business, and all smiles.” When she and her pacer Chris Jones arrived at the mile-75 river crossing, Chavez still had enough energy left to laugh and sing along with volunteers as they strapped on her life vest.
“I’m freezing my balls off,” Jones griped as they dipped in to cross the river.
“I would say I’m freezing my ovaries off,” Chavez responded. “But I have no ovaries!”
By mile 85, though, Chavez admits she was starting to panic. “I was so nervous that I was going to get to the track, and they were going to ring the cutoff bell before I made it to the finish line,” she says.
“She was practically sleep walking,” says Jones. They reached Highway 49, the 93.5-mile marker, four minutes before the aid-station cutoff, and pushed to gain 10 minutes on the clock by No Hands Bridge. But 10 minutes wasn’t necessarily enough of a cushion to get through the final climb up to Robie Point at mile 98.5.
“I knew we had a shot of getting in under the cutoff,” said Jones. “But I also knew that the last steep part was coming, it was getting hotter and Alison was getting more dehydrated by the minute.” She was sweating profusely, and had stopped eating. Jones fed her sips of water every 15 seconds.
As the trail steepened, she summoned the energy to run for a few hundred feet. Then she walked. Then she ran some more. “That was the difference maker,” says Jones. When Chavez got to Robie Point, she had gained a 30-minute cushion for the last 1.4 miles. Jones predicted that she would make it to the track with 12 or 13 minutes to spare. “Estimate three minutes to enjoy your victory lap around the track” says Jones. “You’ll finish with time to spare.”
Too delirious and panicked to be convinced, Chavez simply burst into tears. “Only three minutes to run the track? I need four minutes,” she pleaded. “Can I please have four minutes?” She only needed two.
Ariella Gintzler is the assistant editor at Trail Runner.
Trail running has a funny way of making us feel like a five-year-old one moment and a 95-year-old the next. That ability to stuff all of life’s experiences into bite-sized morsels is part of what makes the sport so great. But sometimes, the balance gets out of whack.
We all know the feeling. Your legs ache, stairs are impossible, the smallest tasks take monumental effort and you start looking up apartment listings in the closest nursing home. That fatigue could be a normal part of training, especially if you had a hard effort in the last 48 hours. But, if fatigue persists for more than a couple days, something is wrong.
A little bout of fatigue can develop into a training overreach, which can blossom into full-blown overtraining syndrome (OTS). Be on the lookout for abnormal fatigue, loss of motivation, extreme hunger, reduced libido or reduced mental clarity lasting two or more days. If symptoms mount and don’t resolve, follow these steps.
1. Put your training plan on hold.
The goal of hard training is to perform close to your maximum capacity to spur adaptations in power output, oxygen-processing capacity, aerobic efficiency and other variables. However, it is a misconception that fatigue should be ever-present during a training cycle. In most instances, unless you have a specific plan of back-to-back workouts or long runs, running moderate or hard through fatigue is not physiologically productive. Train at less than your best, and you’ll eventually adapt to become less than your best.
If everyday runs become excessively tiresome, take a break.
2. Rest completely until energy returns, then “yog” it out.
The most important moment in stopping the progression of OTS is to rest completely so that your body can reach stress equilibrium. Wait to run again until the fire of motivation returns. I recommend that athletes don’t think like a runner at all in this time—no cross training, no stretching … nothing. Instead, live like a normal, active person. Walk 30 to 90 minutes a day (but not hiking), eat well (but not perfectly). In most instances, one to three days does the trick.
Once you get over the hump, don’t hop right back into your training plan. Arthur Lydiard, the father of running training, advised his runners to ease back in by running at a pace so slow that someone pushing a shopping cart would pass them going up a hill. I call this a “yog”–so slow it doesn’t even amount to a jog. You’re ready to resume training when you finish a yog feeling like a racehorse at the starting gate, chomping to be set free.
3. Get a blood test.
The most frustrating fueling-related quip I hear constantly from athletes is, “I get everything I need from my diet.” Unless you get a blood test, you have no idea.
Runners put a lot of strain on their physiological systems, and that strain can cause insufficiencies in biomarkers that non-runners might not share. Most commonly: iron. Runners lose iron in a number of ways, mainly through sweat, foot-strike hemolysis (blood iron degrades due to the impact forces of foot on ground) and menstrual cycles. Studies indicate that performance suffers before an athlete is officially classified as anemic. So for many runners—especially female runners—an iron supplement is essential.
And what is the main symptom of iron deficiency? You guessed it—fatigue. Getting blood tests can set up a baseline that lets you track your health over time, and make healthy decisions about diet and supplementation. You can get your blood tested through a doctor or a company like Inside Tracker, which provides athlete-catered testing services.
4. Schedule extra sleep.
The best way to attack the fatigue monster is with sleep. Sleep is basically an evolutionary stress- and anxiety-coping mechanism, a caveman’s Xanax. So prioritize sleep in any way you can, including taking away running time temporarily. One of the athletes I coach even reserves his office conference room for important meetings occasionally, where he shuts the door, closes the blinds and naps for 15 to 30 minutes. While that isn’t possible for most people, you should respect his sleep swag and try to adopt it as much as you can with your own sleep decisions.
5. Eat enough.
Combine chronic underfueling with hard training and physical disaster won’t be far off. So when abnormal fatigue first appears, ask yourself about your nutrition in recent days and weeks. Were you eating enough? Did you wake up starving? Are you being overly restrictive, or demonstrating disordered eating thoughts?
Those questions can have really complicated answers. But if you’re worried you’re underfueling, simply reverse the trend for a couple days by eating more than enough—the initial rest or yog period is an ideal time. All of my athletes practice “Burger Sunday” (or the vegan equivalent), where they eat their favorite, greasiest food to cap off a big training week. The goal isn’t to be gluttonous, but to de-stigmatize food, since it takes a lot of food to build a strong trail runner.
Hard training can be a dangerous game, involving self-inflicted pain that ultimately leads to the pleasure of great runs and races. But sometimes, the game can get out of hand. Employ these tips and you’ll have a “safe word” that you can use to prevent yourself from getting hurt.
David Roche runs for HOKA One One and NATHAN, and works with runners of all abilities through his coaching service,Some Work, All Play.
Many eyes will be on Jim Walmsley during the Western States Endurance Run on June 24, as he guns for the course record he fell short of last year.
But the truly exciting race will unfold among the women.
While Walmsley will at least attempt to dominate the men’s race early on, all bets are off on the women’s side. Past champions, first-order speedsters, experienced top-10 finishers and up-and-comers eager for a breakout performance will face off on the 100-mile course.
It’s a field that one Western States hopeful—Clare Gallagher, the 2016 Leadville Trail 100 winner—calls “outrageous” and “ridiculous.”
Here’s a quick look at this year’s big names—and the less-known challengers waiting in the wings.
The Heavy Hitters
Last year’s winner, Kaci Lickteig, 30, will attempt to defend her title. The Omaha-based runner has the experience on the course—three total finishes, including second place in 2015—and had a fine spring season, most notably tying for second at the competitive Lake Sonoma 50.
She’ll be challenged by former Western States champions Magdalena Lewy-Boulet and Stephanie Howe Violett. Lewy-Boulet, 43, tied with Lickteig at the Lake Sonoma 50 and won Western in 2015 but dropped out of the 2016 race early with a stomach bug.
Howe Violett, 33, won Western in 2014 and came in third in 2015. A long struggle with injury consumed large parts of her 2015 and 2016 seasons, but she returned to win outright the Bandera 100K—the U.S. Trail 100K Championship—in January.
Another runer to watch is YiOu Wang. Since 2014, Wang, 32, has cleaned up at 50Ks and 50-milers. The two-time Lake Sonoma winner could also run near the front, though her 100-mile experience is limited to her 13th-place finish at Western States last year.
Camille Herron, 35, an international ultrarunning champion on roads who jumped into trail racing just last year, will make her 100-mile debut at Western. She certainly has the speed to contend for a top spot. Whether she’ll be rested enough after her big win at the 56-mile Comrades Marathon on June 6 remains to be seen.
If any of the favorites has a bad day, plenty of hungry contenders will be ready to pick up the pieces.
“The one thing we absolutely know to expect at Western States is at least one (and usually two) surprises in the top five,” says Ethan Veneklasen, a co-host of UltraRunnerPodcast.
Amy Sproston, 43, finished second last year in her fourth top-10 showing at Western.
Others returning from the 2016 top 10 are fourth-place Amanda Basham, 26; fifth-place Alissa St Laurent, 31; sixth-place Meghan Arbogast, 55, going for her 10th (!) top-10 finish; and eighth-place Maggie Guterl, 35.
Emily Harrison, 31, placed seventh in 2013, and is a past winner of the Lake Sonoma 50, JFK 50 and Sean O’Brien 100K.
Sarah Keyes, 32, took top honors at last year’s U.S. Skyrunner Ultra series—partly on the strength of her win at the rugged Broken Arrow 54K, held in Squaw Valley, California, where Western States also starts.
Finally, Jacqueline Merritt, 29, could be something of a wild card. The Atlanta-based runner has raced minimally in the high-profile Pacific and Mountain West scenes, but has a string of top finishes east of the Mississippi—including a course-record win at the 2016 Pinhoti 100, second place at the 2017 Georgia Death Race and first overall at last month’s Ice Age Trail 50K.
On Saturday the world’s best trail runners congregated in Tuscany, Italy, for the Trail World Championships. The U.S. men’s team earned bronze while the women’s team ended up in 6th place.
The results on both sides were an improvement over last year, when neither the men’s team nor the women’s team finished in the top 10.
“When I found out we got a bronze medal I was just jumping with joy,” said Mendoza, who finished in 9th pace, the U.S.A.’s top finisher. “Teams like Spain, France and Italy […] work [together] and that’s what I wanted to bring to our team. A sense of camaraderie and [a sense] that we are not running for ourselves now but for our country.”
An Experienced Team
The Trail World Championships is organized by the International Association of Ultrarunning under the umbrella of the International Association of Athletics Foundation (IAAF). The event became an official world championship—and US Track and Field provided funding for athletes to attend—just three years ago.
Yet both the men’s and the women’s teams were well stocked with experience from other world-championship events. Female competitors Ladia Albertson-Junkans, Anita Ortiz, Megan Roche and Caitlin Smith have all represented the U.S. at World Mountain Running Championships in the past. Corrine Malcom was on last year’s Trail World Championships team—she was the only U.S. woman to finish that year. Keely Henninger, 25, of Portland, Oregon was a first-time member of Team U.S.A.
On the men’s side, Mario Mendoza, Andy Wacker and Tyler Sigl have been on past Trail World Championships teams (Wacker is the only U.S. trail runner to have medaled in three separate world-championship events), while both David Roche and Hayden Hawks have represented U.S. at World Mountain Running Championships. Cody Reed had never been in a world championship.
The race took the athletes 48.7 kilometers through the National Park of Foreste Casentinesi passing ancient abandoned buildings, old forests and a monastery that Wacker said was “reminiscent of a scene from Robin Hood.”
Mendoza explains that after a disappointing 14th-place finish last year, the men’s team decided to hone in on a more detailed group strategy. Mendoza started out conservatively to make sure the team had a runner moving in from behind, while Hawks, Reed and Wacker surged ahead in the lead pack.
“The way European races are, you have to be ready to hurt the whole time,” says Mendoza, who had been averaging 100-mile weeks leading into the race, with a focus on vertical gain and some shorter races. “I was ready to suffer this year.”
The plan to hang back while his younger teammates made an early surge “worked out really well,” says Mendoza. “Each time I passed one of our guys I encouraged him and told him he needed to stay strong because we would need him to get on the podium.”
Roughly halfway through the race, however, Hawks and Wacker began to falter. Around 25K, Wacker suffered severe leg cramps, which persisted for the rest of the race. “With team aspirations in mind, I kept walking, pushing and running when possible to get to the finish,” he says. “I accomplished my main goal, which was to help team U.S.A medal.” He ultimately finished 20th overall.
Meanwhile, around mile 20, Hawks began to feel the effects of limited recovery from Spain’s Transvulcania Ultramarathon, which he raced in late April.
“I was able to learn how to battle against the mental demons that try to tear you down,” says Hawks, who ultimately finished 81st. “Most of the issues came from a combination of fatigue and not enough recovery from previous races. I am grateful I learned the lessons I did and will make adjustments in my training and racing.”
At around the 27K mark, while Wacker and Hawks were beginning to struggle, Mendoza pulled into the top 15 and pushed onward, catching up with and ultimately passing Reed.
Mendoza encouraged Reed as he went by, and asked him if he needed anything. “I [decided I] would keep moving up, because the higher I could place it would help the entire team,” says Mendoza. (Team results are based on the accumulative times of each team’s top-three competitors). Mendoza ended up finishing 9th place, with Reed just behind, in 15th.
At the back of the pack, things were going poorly for Roche, who ultimately finished in 6:38 after suffering from debilitating leg cramps. Tyler Sigl did not finish due to extreme asthma triggered by a plant on the course. Even so, Mendoza, Wacker and Reed’s times were strong enough to secure a bronze medal.
Meanwhile, the women all suffered through tough races. Albertson-Junkans endured projectile vomiting to finish in 13th place, in 5:27—the first U.S. woman to cross the finish.
A half hour later, Ortiz crossed the line in 43rd place, followed closely by Malcolm, in 44th. Smith, Roche and Henninger were all beset by various shades of cramping and bonking, and ultimately finished in 48th, 72nd and 75th, respectively. Albertson-Junkans, Ortiz and Malcolm’s times were enough to earn a 6th-place overall finish.
Though all men’s team members were proud of their bronze-medal achievement, they remarked on the unexpectedly technical trails and long, steep ascents. The general consensus is that the course was more difficult than advertised.
“It was definitely more technical and steeper than what they had told us,” says Mendoza. “The course was supposed to only have 7,500 feet of climbing and it was 10,500. It was also supposed to be ‘fast,’ but the second half of the course was pretty technical. I heard after the race they had to alter the course [at the last minute], which definitely affects the U.S.A. squad, which isn’t used to that much climbing and technicality.”
“I thought I should be near the front, and also planned on a slightly easier and significantly faster race,” says Wacker.
As technical and steep as it was, though, Mendoza noted that the course was “beautiful. The atmosphere was just amazing, with people encouraging you to keep pushing.”
Reed concurs. “One of the things I love about ultras is: because you are running so far and covering so much ground, you can see a lot of different things,” he says. “As I was running, I was wishing that I was on a normal run so that I could stop at some of the ancient and abandoned buildings […] or talk to the monk I saw watching the runners pass by […] or swim in the turquoise water of the reservoir we ran around.”
In July, another group of the country’s top trail runners will be heading back to Italy for the World Mountain Running Championship. This event will be hosted by the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA)—different from the International Association of Ultrarunning, which hosted last weekend’s event.
The men’s U.S. Mountain Running Team will be headed by nine-time veteran Joe Gray, who is the reigning World Mountain Running Champion—the first-ever U.S. runner to win individual gold. Wacker will be joining Team U.S.A. for his second world-championship event of the year, alongisde Brett Hales, 30, of Layton, Utah, and Patrick Smyth, 30, of Salt Lake City, Utah.
On the women’s side, the U.S. will be represented by return competitors Addie Bracy, Allie McLaughin and Kaci Enman, with first-time competitor Caitlin Patterson.
Oatmeal is easy, it’s filling and it makes a quick, healthy breakfast. But with the advent of stylish grains, like amaranth and wheat berries, the humble oat has fallen by the wayside.
As it turns out, plain old oats can be a beneficial fuel for running. Here are three reasons your next run might be the time to show this under-appreciated grain a little extra love.
What are Oats?
Oats are the seed of a grain plant called … you guess it … the Common Oat. The edible part of the oat—called the groat—is hidden within a non-edible hull. Like bulgur and wheat, oats are considered a whole grain.
The list of nutrients packed in oats is long. Aside from familiar nutrients, like complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, oats are one of a small group of grains that also have protein. A half-cup of uncooked oatmeal has almost as much protein as the same volume of quinoa, around 7g compared to 10g in quinoa. (However, oatmeal is not a complete protein like quinoa is. To make a complete protein, combine your oats with dairy or legumes, like milk, cream or peanut butter.)
Oats also contain minerals like manganese, beta-glucan and avenanthramides, a group of antioxidants that help fight free radicals and boost your immune system.
However, different types of oats contain more or less of the groat. Steel cut, rolled or instant oatmeal and even oat flour are all variations on the groat and have similar nutrition profiles, but their fiber contents and cooking times vary. Steel cut oats have more of the groat, and thus more fiber, where instant oats and rolled oats have less.
A Nutritional Punch
Beta-glucan is a type of sugar found in an oat’s cell walls. But it serves a purpose far beyond that of simple carbohydrate fueling. Beta-glucan has been shown to reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) in marathon runners and endurance athletes, who are often at higher risk due to heavy training loads within their aerobic thresholds. (This might be why some runners cough a lot after hard workouts or races).
In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Sport Science and Medicine, subjects—runners competing in the Carlsbad Marathon in Carlsbad, California—who were administered beta-glucan rather than a placebo reported decreased URTI symptoms, as well as a reduction in fatigue and improvements in overall health.
While only present in the body in very small amounts, manganese serves several important functions. It helps promote proper blood clotting and calcium absorption, as well as regulating blood sugar levels. Further, a study in the journal Medicina found that endurance athletes tended to consume less manganese than the recommended daily intake (RDI) by as much as 44 percent.
For runners, low manganese can mean slower recovery and more fatigue. It can also lead to a higher chance of hitting “the wall,” due to less stable blood sugar levels. Fortunately, oats contain one of the highest manganese concentrations of all foods: half a cup of quick-cooking oats contains almost exactly the 2mg of manganese recommended per day, more than quinoa, buckwheat, barley and bulgur.
Flavonoids are natural antioxidants that can help fight free radicals—potentially harmful molecules, which can put you at higher risk of diseases like cancer and Alzheimers. They also play a key role in reducing muscle inflammation, which helps promote post-run recovery. A certain group of flavonoids, called avenanthramides, aren’t found in any grain except oats. They’re particularly helpful in regulating cholesterol levels and promoting heart health.
Flavonoids may be trace ingredients, but they’re vital. They can be a challenge for the body to absorb though, because they aren’t always bioavailable. Many flavonoids are fat-soluble, which means eating them in combination with some fat—like adding milk to your oatmeal—makes it easier for your body to absorb.
An important thing to remember about fueling on oats is the level of fiber they contain (read: potential for lots of trips to the bathroom). To get all the good nutrients without the unpleasant side effects, make sure you eat the right kinds of oats at the right time.
Explore your options
Different types of oats contain different amounts of fiber. The more fiber, the higher the likelihood that you’ll run into mid-run trouble. Steel cut and old-fashioned oats are the hardest to digest, so opt for quick-cooking or instant options, which you can blend into a smoothie or bake into bars to make them easier on your system.
Time it right
Experiment with your nutrition on easy run days. Try different kind of oats in different amounts and different preparations to gauge how your body responds to variations in fuel. Since each runner is unique, it’s good to know what works for you in practice so you can race stress-free.
In 2011, Australian Beau Miles attempted to be the first person to run the entire length of the Australian Alpine Walking Track. Running 655 kilometers through Victoria and New South Wales, culminating in Australian Capital Territory, the Australian Walking Track is the oldest and most famous trail in the country. It is also the most overgrown.
Miles traversed the route over 14 days, supported by family and friends who helped document his journey.
Against the backdrop of Australia’s remote alpine countryside, Miles struggled to balance a fierce sense of independence with the guilt he feels from indulging in the simple pleasure of running—and expecting other people to care.