2012 American River 50

I finished the American River 50 on Saturday in 9 hours, 31 minutes.  The race was well organized and a joy to run.  It’s a fast, accommodating course.  Everything went right for me, and I hammered it.

The start was very chill.  Even though roughly 800 people toed up to the line, there was no crush or anxious energy in the air.  They sounded the horn at 6am, and we were off.  I jogged the first quarter mile with my coach before picking it up a bit.

The first half of the race is essentially flat, on paved roads, which go along the American River.  The sun was out, but it wasn’t hot.  I kept reminding myself to take it easy.  Take. It. Easy.  I was running around a 9:20 pace.

I chatted up a number of people along the way during the first half.  Some of them were running way too fast.  I could hear it in their breathing.  One guy said that last year it took him 7 hours to do the second half, so his plan was to run the first half even faster this year.  His logic was deeply flawed.

The first aid station was after around 8 miles.  After that, the aid stations came very 4 miles or so.

I made it to bear point, at 26.5 miles, in 4 hours, 18 minutes.  I felt strong.  Popped through the aid station and hit the single track trails which comprise the race’s 2nd half.

The general consensus was that the 2nd half was brutal.  In my opinion, the 2nd half wasn’t bad.  Sure, it was single track, rolling trail, but that trail was extremely tame.  There were no lurking rocks or tree roots.  The inclines weren’t soul crushing.

I saw some wildlife along the trails.  I saw several wild turkeys, and I leapt over a California Kingsnake that was slithering across the trail.

As the miles ticked by, I certainly had low energy points and high energy points.  It wasn’t easy.  But my IT band wasn’t barking at me, and I just kept on trucking.  I made sure to mix in some walking, and I tried to keep my heart rate in check.

The final 3 miles are up a big hill.  At this point, I essentially mailed it in.  I walked at about 16 minutes per mile, jogging on any flats, including the last half mile to the finish.

I felt fantastic at the finish.  Grabbed my Patagonia finishers jacket, a Coke, and a cheeseburger.  My coach (who dropped at Bear point) swung by to pick me up, and life was good.

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2011 Leadville Trail 100 Run

On Sunday morning I finished the Leadville Trail 100 Run in 29 hours, 44 minutes, just 16 minutes under the cutoff.  The race was incredibly difficult but earning the buckle was tremendously rewarding.

I thought I would writeup my top tips, based on my experience this weekend.

Tough Love

The race is extraordinarily tough.  The distance, altitude, and rough course leave little room for mistakes.  I guarantee that you will need to dig deep — probably deeper than you’ve ever done before.

What’s more, it’s not enough to be tough and fit.  You also need to be well prepared and strategic.  Furthermore, you’ll need support from friends.

General Preparation

Before you run the race, do yourself a favor and get some running experience at the altitude.  A good rule of thumb is that you’ll run 20% slower up in that thin air.  Think about running a 4 hour marathon near your home.  Sure, it’s not torture, but it’s a solid workout.  In Leadville, on smooth roads, you’ll run nearly an hour slower.  Add in single track trails with hills, and take off more time.

I talked to a guy on the plane who had to drop out at mile 40.  He said he recently ran a 100 mile race at sea level in 29 hours.  Without knowing anything, I could guarantee he had no hope of finishing LT 100.


Let’s assume you’re sufficiently physically fit and mentally tough to finish the race.  That’s worthless unless you have a tested nutrition plan.  You need to consume a serious amount of calories and water (but not too much water) during the race.  Dr. John Hill jokes that the race is “an eating contest with some running mixed in,” and he’s right.

When you train, go for some long runs while using your nutrition plan.  Also, consider two scenarios:  1) What’s the most optimal form of nutrition that you can consume, regardless of how nasty it tastes (think gels, etc)?  2) When you feel like you’re at death’s door, what can you still eat and drink?  You’ll want to start with the first scenario, and you’ll likely be forced to switch to the second one.


You’ll be running with stretches of roughly 3 hours between aid stations.  You must be totally comfortable carrying water, food, and extra clothing over that distance.  You also need to be experienced running at night.

The course goes through extremes.  On even the most peaceful race day you’ll run both in dry, blazing heat and damp, near-freezing temperatures.  You’ll be crossing water before and after Hope Pass.  What’s more, the weather can turn on a dime.  You could easily be hit with hail or heavy rain.

Be prepared for the worse.  Hypothermia is a severe threat.  If you don’t have the right clothing at the right time, you will break (or worse).

Finally, consider trekking poles.  I could not have finished the race without them.


You truly have to pace yourself.  Most people go out too fast.  The race starts down hill, which tends to suck runners in to a faster pace, and they burn up.  Do not start fast.

On the other hand, it’s easy to go too slow!  The earlier cutoff times are not true cutoff times.  If you were to reach May Queen just under the cutoff, then you would have no hope of finishing.  Similarly, the cutoff at Winfield is 14 hours.  If you get there in 14 hours, you’re toast.  Even 13 hours is cutting it very close.

You also cannot waste time in aid stations.  There are 13 stops (including the minor stops of Elbert and Half Pipe).  Every minute spent there is 13 minutes.  If you only spend 4 minutes at each one, that adds up to nearly an hour!  It’s easy to waste time if you’re not extremely organized with your crew and your drop bags.

Help From Friends

You can’t do this race alone.  I don’t care how tough you are.  To finish, you need a solid crew and you also need pacers.  The pacer will not only help you work through doldrums, but he or she can also mule gear.  As you get tired, it’s unbelievably helpful to have your crew carry your food and water.

What’s more, the entire town of Leadville wants you to finish.  The volunteers at the race want you to finish.  If you need something, ask for it.  Just shout out.  Need a coat?  Ask.  Pacer?  Ask.  Need to dispose of some food trash?  Hand it to somebody.  You cannot believe the level of support and empathy that you’ll receive.


Most importantly, do not quit.  I was close to missing some cutoffs, and I felt like absolute hell at times, but I never considered quitting.  Without burning out, I pushed hard.  I figured either the clock would reap me or I’d finish.  Fortunately for me, and thanks to tremendous support, I finished.  And it felt great.

Good luck to you.

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2011 Leadville Silver Rush 50 Run

This past Sunday I finished the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Run. Before the race I couldn’t find many writeups about it, so I thought I would contribute a brief summary.

At 6am, the starter blasted a shotgun into the air, and we started up an extremely steep and rocky hill. The first up received a prize, but I walked, along with nearly everybody else. At the top, I caught my breath and started jogging. The first 5 or 6 miles were generally flat and rolling. I averaged about 12 min/mile. We passed a mini-aid station that had some bottled water, but it seemed that most people skipped it.

The next 4 miles were a fairly strenuous climb. The trail was rocky and there were a few minor streams to hop across. I walked and jogged this segment, averaging roughly 15.5 min/mile. When I finally reached the top, around mile 11.5, I remember thinking “wow, this is pretty though, and we have 38 miles to go.” The day was just starting.

The next 3.5 miles was down a long dirt road. It felt great to be going down hill. I ran the whole way until coming upon the first major aid station. My water bottles had just emptied, so I was happy to see it. There was a nice crowd of people there watching and cheering.

Next I ran downhill through the woods for a mile before starting the ascent up Bald Mountain. I walked this, averaging 18 min/mile. After 3 miles into the ascent, we came upon another aid station where I ate some oranges and topped off my water bottles. I then continued the ascent for another 2 miles before reaching the top. Near the top we had to cross a bit of snow.

From the top of bald mountain, I ran 3 miles down a tricky, rocky trail. I averaged roughly 12 min/mile over this segment. It was tiring and treacherous, but I wanted to make some good time. After another 0.5 miles, we reached the aid station at the half-way point. My watch read 23.5 miles and people confirmed that the total distance was only 47 miles. I wasn’t complaining — I was feeling pretty tired, and I was only half way there.

I ran 0.5 miles back and then began the ascent back up Bald Mountain. The trail was very steep and rocky. I labored up. It took me 23 minutes to finish the last mile of the ascent.

After reaching the top of Bald Mountain, I ran and walked to the next aid station. After the aid station, I mostly ran the next 3 miles down, averaging roughly 10.5 min/mile. I then worked up the next mile to reach the aid station.

At the aid station I was told “You’re going to run down this hill, and then you’ll go up a road that never ends. Just keep staring at Mt. Sherman and you’ll eventually reach the top. Then it’s down hill the entire way from there.”

That did sum it up, but I need to emphasize how hard it was climbing that road. It was epic, and it did seem to go on forever. It was 3.5 miles, and I averaged 18.5 min/mile.

After reaching the top of that dirt road, I ran and walked 3.5 miles down to the next aid station. I averaged roughly 14 min/mile on this segment. I was getting tired, and it was becoming hard to run.

At the aid station they said it was only 5 miles left to the finish. I started off with a 14 minute mile, but then fatigue started to set in. The next mile took me 17 minutes even though it was down hill and flat. I nearly tripped badly at least twice. I did the final two miles in 16 minutes and and 18 minutes, respectively. At one point, about a mile from the finish, I got a fairly strong side stitch.

I toughed it out though, finishing in 11 hours, 35 minutes.

The race was great, but grueling. It’s no joke — if you do this race, it will test your resolve. You’ll be pushed, hard. To give you background, I had never done a 50 mile race before (let alone at this altitude), but I have been doing long training runs, and I’m in excellent shape.

I met wonderful people along the way. The aid station volunteers were tremendously helpful. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

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Over 90 and Loving It

If you want to be inspired, watch the documentary Over 90 and Loving It.   Since I’ve started running marathons and ultra-marathons, I’ve been doing thinking about the limits of human potential.  This great documentary gives a great perspective on that topic.  Certainly human potential is tough to bound.

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Calculated Bets by Steven Skiena

I just finished reading the book Calculated Bets by Steven Skiena.  When I saw the book mentioned on Hacker News I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle and started reading.  I built a pokerbot before, so I figured I’d enjoy the book.

I did enjoy the book, but I’m not sure that I’m the right audience.  I’m also not sure that this should be a book.  The writing style makes me feel it should be a collection of blog posts.

Even though the book is short, it contains a substantial number of detours that should have been edited out.  For example, he spent several pages talking about 1) why programmers dislike Microsoft and, 2) what the Y2K crisis was all about.

Furthermore, I found the author’s professorial tone at times endearing and at times annoying.  I appreciated his descriptions of writing a program to predict football games when he was a teenager, and then convincing his local paper to publish his quotes.  I also enjoyed his recounting of his graduate student years at the University of Illinois.  The book also concludes nicely, with Skiena listing several fun projects that the reader might want to dig into.

On the other hand, for most of the book, the author depicts himself as an outdated Computer Science professor who doesn’t know how to code.  For example, he had to recruit grad students to write programs to fetch and parse simple web pages from the jai alai websites.  The description of that project phase included an awkward description of the Perl programming language.  I found it awkward because he didn’t convey his own love for coding Perl.  Instead, he seemed awe struck that his student could hammer out Perl code that parsed a web page.

Also, the book was ultimately too amateurish on the gambling topics.  Most glaringly, he never touched on risk of ruin.  He deposited $250 with the off track bettor and started making daily bets, as dictated by the program, of around $100 per day.  At one point he nearly went bust, but luckily bounced up.  I would have liked to see him talk about expected variance, including some notion of what his limits were for deciding that a losing streak was more than a bad turn of luck.

Finally, in terms of cold cash, the ultimate results aren’t impressive.  After all of the time spent, both by him and his cheap (free) student labor, I think he made a couple thousand bucks in a year, on an investment of $250.  Then he got spooked about legal issues and also wasn’t able to maintain the code after his students left.  So he shut the whole thing down.  In my opinion, if you’re going to go work so hard to create a winning program, you should have the drive to squeeze some serious money out of it.

Having said all that, I enjoyed the book.  I’m happy that Skiena wrote it, and I appreciate his passion for systematically gambling on jai alai.  Hopefully he’ll write up a summary (without detours) of his efforts on a blog and also provide all of his data and code.  Then maybe some other hackers will dive in and push his system further down the track.

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Get off your phone

I saw this cool site that’s selling a bumper sticker telling you to get off your fucking phone.  During my vacation in San Francisco, two drivers almost hit me while they were chatting away on their cell phones.  I think it should be a serious offense to talk on your phone while driving.  There’s just no excuse.

Then, today while I was walking in DC, I saw this sign in a roundabout advertising a no phone zone.

Anyway, I like the message.  Get off your phone!

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Exit Through the Gift Shop

Last night I saw Banksy’s new film, Exit Through the Gift Shop.  It’s an excellent documentary.  I found it really inspiring.  In fact, today I started an art project which is directly inspired by one of Invader’s pieces.  I’ll post pictures of it when I’m finished.  (I’m enjoying my week off of work before I start my new job).

One question I had when I left the movie was, what if Mr. Brainwash is just one of Banksy’s creations?  After thinking about it more today, I think the odds are pretty good.  I hope that’s the case, because it would be a master stroke.

If you get the chance, definitely check out the film.

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