Thursday, March 23, 2017

Backbone Trail 68 & 100 Postscript

"A man alone with his thoughts lives in a crowded house"
–Dr Sevende Sandia, obscure Mexican mystic, as quoted in
"Westwards The Flow Of Empirical", 1968, Coprolite Press, p 666
The BBT68 is a low-elevation Wasatch, a course that mocks the smugness of "Cali Carpet-Trails" jibes heard periodically.  BBT68 winner Jeff Browning ran it as if it was paved. His 11:36 FKT is refreshing because a disinterested 3rd party was running the timer. Also note that the BBT100 only had 5 finishers, as the cutoffs were mega-serious. RD's Howard Cohen and Mike Epler threw down a challenge, and many weren't up to it. This is a reminder of what a tough 100 has to offer, in a time when many buckle-chasers drawl "I'm gonna do a hun-doe..."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Backbone Trail 68, Plus One

The numbers find me.
I was well and truly back in UltraLandia when halfway up Sandstone Peak at 53mi, I'm taking a desperation nap on a sandy flat spot, under a full moon. 

Minutes earlier I’d been lurching from side to side, falling asleep on my feet. I had one more cut-off to meet by 0630, and I gambled I’d be better with a nap than to stagger on and lose an ankle in a chuckhole.


The BBT68 is really a 100 in sheep’s clothing. With over 12,000’ of elevation gain in 68 miles, you won’t go home hungry for vert, and you’ll definitely be running your own race. It was a long day-n-night-n-day; showing that my endurance training was basically correct. After the finish I was walking, rather than stumping. My vain regret was that it took 25hrs. But that beats a DNF. I’ll spend the summer digging a deeper base, and trying for more speed.


The Backbone Trail 68 runs the entire length of the Backbone Trail—from Will Rogers State Historical Park in Los Angeles west to the Ray Miller Trail Head at Pt Mugu SP in Ventura Co. It took over 40 years of hard work and expensive real-estate buys to make this happen. Arnold Schwarzenegger was instrumental in securing the last easement at the Etz Moloy road segment in Ventura Co, spring of 2016. Thank you!


  • Mile 0-25: Feeling bloated from Carbo-Loading on the Jim O’Brien 3-day plan. Its a body-blow that leaves me in Jabba the Hutt Torpor Mode. By Day 3 I’m wanting it to be over. So I started with a lingering headache to boot.
  • Mile 25-43: At Mile 25 I told Jeanne to go, I was holding her back. It had been a relatively fun 25 until then, but I was concerned with my own shallow base. Now its getting up and over Saddle Peak and to Piuma in one piece in the gathering warm.
  • Mile 25-43: Maintaining momentum, husbanding resources. This was my longest race in 18 years.
  • Mile 43-52: After a long climb up to Etz Moloy Road, a steady pace to the base of Sandstone Peak
  • Mile 52-68: Sandstone Peak, then the long, non-giveaway Chamberlin & Blue Canyon Trails. Due to pounding storms this past February, these trails now had deep irregular channels trenched into them, and kind-of filled with rocks and scree. Trouble lurked at every footfall. By contrast the road up, out and to the finish were like runways.


    It just happened to be Heat Day 1 of the season. Had it been really hot like it can get out in the Santa Monicas, there would’ve been fewer finishers. Two weeks earlier it was cold, rainy and miserable. In the Midwest they call it “weather”. Snicker at will, cold n wet states, we’ll try not to laugh too hard when you get the heat.

    By day you are solar-pounded hard, with minimal cover. I noticed that many who’d gone out all in black and/or hatless weren’t visible later on. The night running introduces you to what happens when things aren’t so easy anymore. Most of us instinctively slow down.

    At night there was an inversion—the higher elevations stayed warm.  Low elevation Mile 61 Danielson Ranch was foggy and cold. Climbing up warmed up, then the drop to sea-level finish line was cold, foggy and damp.


    68mi winner Jeff Browning ran the course like it was paved.

    There were only five 100mi finishers. The 100 Contestants got to run the full 61, then tacked on 3 unequal loops out of Danielson Ranch, before doing the final kick to the finish. These loops alone counted for about 5,000’ more, in the last 40 miles. Cutoffs were tight. Several dropped down when they saw how their numbers were trending.


    68 MILE:

    1    Jeff Browning, 45, 11:36:43  
    2    Darcy Piceu, 42, 13:44:05

    100 MILE: 

    1 Tomokazu Ihara, 39, 21:47:13 


Pace and elevation chart. The dips show where I flopped. Nap-time was the deepest.

The map reads from right to left—like the Talmud or Quran.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Why Not Buckles for Beer Miles?

Buckles in ultras used to be seen mostly in 100-mile races. Occasionally they’d be seen at the 50-mile events. Here in California they were given out in some capacity at the long-gone San Juan Trail 50-Mile and Nugget 50-Mile. In recent years they’ve surfaced at some 50ks and marathons. Now they’ve appeared at the Austin TX 1/2 marathon
Half-marathon buckle, Austin TX Marathon

You’ve gotta be fucking kidding. First, a little history.

Finisher buckles in 100-milers originated at the Western States 100, as a direct lineage from the Tevis Cup Endurance Ride. Not all 100s had buckles for the post-24 hour to final cut-off finishers. Angeles Crest didn’t offer them to the 24-33hr finishers until 1996, after 1995’s winner Fred Shuffelbarger leaned on RD Ken Hamada, hard.

Wasatch had at last count three: sub 24hr, 24-30hr, 30-33hr. I am lucky to have earned the latter two. Because Wasatch is fucking difficult.


The buckle was a compelling marker that the wearer presumably earned it by hard work. When fewer than 1000 people had finished a 100-miler in 1996, you could keep track via UltraRunning Magazine’s year-end roster etc. Twenty years later, the numbers are very different.

Everybody wants that magic token, and if it appears at their distance, all the better. At this rate, I fully expect buckles for Beer-Miles. There are enough Brand Ambassadorks out there to make it happen. 

I've got a buckle from the Nugget 50 in '92. Once I got it, I never wore it. Why? Because I’d finished 100-milers. The end. 


I asked Shannon Yewell Weil, former Tevis Endurance Rider, WS100 founding member,  if the Tevis Cup Riders had any beef with runners swiping their idea:
No, they never have. All of us who started WS100, including the aid station volunteers were endurance riders. Every one loved the idea and supported it wholeheartedly. That was the first generation of volunteers and they established the attitude. However, later the horse people showed some jealousy over how popular the Run had become overshadowing the Ride (TEVIS). I saw that coming very early on and just smiled when it happened.

Potential buckles ready for ironic repurposing, Ventura College Swap Meet, Ventura CA

Friday, January 20, 2017

Whole Lotto Love, Again

Lotteries are a reality in 100-mile ultras.'s Gary Wang summarized that "The sport has grown more than 10x in last 20 years. In 1996, there were 973 runners finished an 100 miler, and there were only 18 100m events."
Several images swiped from

In late 2016, Hard Rock 100 was accused by Aaron Denberg; alleging fraud in the raffle system, insider favoritism, and financial hardship by runners who’ve spent $17,000 to get to the starting line. Where he got that $17k number is beyond me. But it seems to fuel a lawsuit animus.

Denberg also alleges misconduct in the trail-work process, scree spillage etc. All this is chickenshit compared to what the USFS deals with on a daily basis; especially in light of a savage incoming Trump Administration and its blazing love for all things logging, mining, fracking and drilling.

Western States has had a lottery since 1981. The draw is public, and you’re welcome to sit in the Placer Co HS auditorium and watch your name not get pulled. There's an abundance of qualified applicants, a capped number of entrants due to the grandfathered easement through the Granite Chief Wilderness, and a complex system of figuring out who gets in.

This year HRH has their draw in Blake Wood’s living room, and responding to this criticism, invited three observers: Ian Torrence, Emily Harrison, and Ultrarunning’s Heather Sackett to view. Full disclosure: I’ve known Ian since the late ‘90s, and he is unimpeachably honest, period. That said, HRH may want to open it up to a more public venue. People want to see names pulled. They'd probably love to see the original applicant list as well. 

Denberg also takes HRH to task for outing Leadville as hypocrisy. By contrast I was thrilled. Leadville was always a civic moneymaker, and when it was bought by LifeCycle, the applicants jumped from 500+ to over 1200. It was a complete clusterfuck, which seems to have been dialed way back since. HRH outing LT100 did ultras a favor.The unmentionable was finally aired.

And Angeles Crest? its all Ken’s Picks. Crickets and tumbleweeds

Despite promises of a “random computer program” in a 2016 email, the entry process remains the same. The same post-apocalyptic Day After Gold Rush scramble, where runners without a single ultra to their name will be signed up.  

There will always be surprise adds just before the race, which prompts WTF yelps from whichever puzzled out-of-state runner who didn't get in.

The 2016 Race saw the late addition of Amy Palmiero-Winters, an amputee runner who'd completed Western in 2010, with Badwater and others later on. She hadn't raced a 100 since Vermont 100 in 2013, but Kenny needed a celeb. There was a flurry of "OMG! CNN is gonna come out and cover the Race!", resulting in a 1:17 segment.

And there is still no waiting list, no pre-qualifieds, no explanations. One fine day somebody with time and money will gin up a suit, and it will be interesting. In contrast to other 100s, this image seems to sum up the AC100 entry process:
Butt wait, there's more!