November 3, 2007

Going For Broke at the Helen Klein 50 Mile

(I "went for broke" in the early miles of the HK50. But could I maintain the blistering pace without falling apart? Complete photos at Flickr.)

Last Saturday at around 6:30 A.M. my Dad and I arrived at Cavitt Junior High, the start of the Helen Klein 50 Mile, just in time to scope out the field before race director Norm Klein sent us on our way. A large field of 149 would be testing their limits in the 50 mile, and even more were to run in the 50K and 30K. Among the familiar faces were Benjamin Muradyn, doing the 30K as a speed workout (18.6 miles for speedwork...ha!) in preparation for an attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon, last years winner Carol Rewick, the indefatigable Eldrith Gosney, and, of course, Peter Lubbers and Scott Dunlap about to duel for the final time in the 2007 Race Series.

In making a strategy for the pancake-flat 50 miler, I had entertained some thoughts that I had a very slim chance of winning the race, as the top 3 runners of the 2006 race were not participating this year. Then I noticed Jean Pommier at the start, who not only finished 4th last year but recently finished in 1:10:23 and 38th/18,751 at the International 20K of Paris not long ago. That's quite a combination of raw speed and endurance...

...and, seeing as I don't have any race photos with a Kenyan behind me, I knew 1st place would have to wait for another time. Sure enough, when the race started, Jean took off like a shot. I did too, but only in the sense that I was starting out way too fast. At around five miles, I got in a nice running rhythm with 47 year old middle school math teacher Bob Mersereau ("I've got a billion tests to correct before Monday!" "Oh, that's too bad. And I've got a lot of homework to do tomorrow!") and Chris Pope, from Utah, doing the 50K. We talked, laughed, and questioned our intelligence in deciding to run ultras as we ran down the bike path. Our humorous conversation made the miles go by effortlessly, despite our continued sub-8/mile pace. At one point we discussed the power of working together, as we were doing in a group of three. "Yes, but if you combine our level of intelligence, you get about 1.5 people." We reached mile 12.5 in exactly 1:40:00, which translates to a 6:40 50 miler. I asked Bob what his goal was. "Oh, maybe 9:20." What?!! Why are you going this fast, then? He explained that he was 'sandbagging' so as to have a big cushion of time for after the turnaround. I told him that if he continued to sandbag at that rate, he'd soon have a beach.

(From left: Chris, Bob, and some weird guy utilize the power of working together)

Chris turned around at the 15.5 mile mark and would eventually finish the 50K in 6th. Bob and I kept going. I started to feel the pace around mile 18, but then found an outhouse and emerged feeling fine again. We began to close in on the turnaround when the first 50 mile runners passed us going the other way. Predictably, Jean was in 1st, looking great, and Scott was in 3rd. Bob and I reached the 25 mile mark in 3:23, where I was in 8th place. Bob was slowing down, so he let me go and I proceeded to chase down 7th place and 1st woman Carol Rewick. I caught her and reached the marathon mark in 3:35 or so, and although I have yet to run a road marathon, it was a PR.

I was cruising, and just like at the Firetrails 50 Mile, was having a great day. Also like Firetrails was the advantage in the next section of cheering on the rest of the field as they neared the turnaround. Peter was about a mile behind me but looked good and seemed to be pacing himself well. But finally, at around mile 30, I began to slow. Then things got really tough at around mile 35. I was trying desperately to maintain a steady pace that would get at least below 8:00 and sub-7:30, this race's BHAG, if possible. It was also getting warm, maybe 80 degrees or so. Carol, who, unlike a certain bone-headed teenager, knows how to pace herself, passed me in this section, and kindly encouraged me on before disappearing in the distance.

I reached Fish Hatchery, the mile 40.1 aid station, in about 5:45, 9th place, and terribly thrashed. At this point I reminded myself to simply practice CFM, continuous forward motion, and I would reach the end. I then made a goal to protect 9th place. This would be challenged by "Mike", a super nice guy who I recognized from previous races. We came into the mile 42.9 aid together, but by then I felt a little bit better, and increased the pace. Mike fell behind. I continued towards my goal, struggling but managing to keep a good pace and stave off the warmth and lack of shade. I reached mile 47 in 7:07, with another runner right on my tail. Still determined to hold on to 9th, I sped up, soon reaching the levees of Folsom Lake. "10th place man" didn't fall behind completely, but never came within 50 meters of me. Finally, I came to the last stretch of lake before descending towards the school, sprinting and crossing the finish line in 7:35:20.

(The final sprint to a new PR)

Overall, I was extremely pleased with the race. Since I hadn't run a flat 50 miler since last year, the extent of my current abilities in the distance had been a mystery to me. Beforehand, I had figured that it was reasonable that I could run sub-8:00 and, if I had a major breakout race, sub-7:30. We came really close to that, and perhaps if it had been a little cooler and the course had featured, ironically, slightly more elevation change, we would have reached that goal. What? More hills? The problem with completely flat courses is that you use the same set of leg muscles the whole time, whereas in hillier routes the muscles which normally just hang along for the ride get to do some work too and even the load. For this reason I was more exhausted at the end of the 300 ft. elevation change Helen Klein then at the 15,600 ft. elevation change Firetrails, despite giving it my all in both. But no matter; I am super happy with the race and had lots of fun. 7:35, which is a pace of 9:06/mile, was a PR by 41 minutes (as one of my cross-country friends once told me, "Ultramarathons must be the only sport where you can PR by nearly an hour. In XC it's great if you can take a few seconds off your time.") and 9th/149 was my highest place in terms of place versus size of field. Last year I finished in 9:25 and 66th. I am always looking forward, seeking every advantage possible to improve my ability, and this dedication has continued to manifest into great performances on race days. In terms of improvement, we are certainly on the right trajectory!

Many others proved they are as well. Jean, although he didn't quite win, ran a 6:22 for 2nd place and a 30 minute PR. Whoa! The winner, Nicholas Bingham, whom I'd never heard of, was apparently a former marathoner who decided to step up to ultras and literally ran away with it in a debut time of 6:17. Scott gave it his all to turn in a PR of 6:59, just barely breaking 7 hours and taking 4th. He was very pleased. "Perhaps I've even got a 6:40 in me somewhere!" he mused. Carol took 1st woman and 6th overall in 7:23. Peter finished just 34 seconds behind me to take 11th. He did an exemplary job of pacing himself, and, if we had been running the Helen Klein 51 Mile, would have certainly beaten me. Bob took 19th in 8:09, so apparently the sandbagging technique worked quite well for him. But I am most impressed by the performances of three other runners who I never even met. The results have just been posted and I was very surprised to find out that there were three other teenagers in the race! Although I never saw any of them, a big congratulations goes out to 19 year old Jonathan Heinz (8:36), 17 year old Brook Stevens (10:03), and 19 year old Marissa Licon (12:42). It's rare to see even one teenager in an ultra, so to have four in one race probably sets some kind of record and I'm pleased not to have won my age group by default, as generally occurs. Jonathan, Brook, and Marissa, I hope to see you all in the future.

As for "Lubbers vs. Dunlap", the 2007 race series champion is...Peter Lubbers! With a total of 282.06 points to Scott's 280.56, he just barely took the title and mattress in the closest finish in the history of the series. Congratulations to Peter on the win and to both for doing their best in what was a great year of ultrarunning for both of them.


(Peter wins the race series!)

Thanks goes out to my Dad, who once again made the 3 hour drive to take me to the race and spent most of the day driving to the aid stations and cheering me on. I promise one of these days to give him a break! Thanks to all the volunteers for filling my bottles, letting me steal all the food from the aid stations, and being encouraging and awesome. Thanks to all the cyclists, most of whom were very courteous in dealing with us crazy runners on their bike path all day. Thanks to race director Norm Klein for flawlessly organizing the race. Norm said to me afterwards, "you're becoming a real man now!", and for those of you who know Norm, you'll understand why I was so flattered to hear that coming from him.

Congratulations to all who ran yesterday! Next up is the Woodside 50K on 12/1. Perhaps there I can make an attempt on my first ultra win...but for now, I plan on resting a couple days before devising such plans. I am confident, however, that I'll be back for the 2008 Helen Klein 50 Mile to experiment the limits of my abilities once more.


Taken by Paul Charteris

September 24, 2007

Running The Rio Del Lago 100 Mile

The Rio Del Lago 100 Mile began at 6:00 A.M. on Saturday, and when the hour struck, race director Norm Klein said "go" and sent 98 of us on a really, really, really long run. It would end in a hard-fought finish for most but only after what would be for some one of the most monumental struggles of our lives. I was one of the 98 determined to pit raw determination and stamina against hills, sleep deprivation, blisters, queasy stomachs, mental low points, and the unforgiving length of a run equivalent to the distance from San Francisco to San Jose and back.

(Off we go!)

Although seemingly bursting with the bottled-up energy of not having run for three days, I ran the first few miles very slowly, having learned the hard way several times about starting out too fast. The first few miles were in the dark, but the light from other people's headlamps allowed those of us who forgot ours to see the non-technical trail. The sun came up soon enough behind a layer of clouds and illumined Folsom Lake, of which we were running along the west edge. It was perfect running weather; overcast, and in the 60's, and would stay this way for most of the run. I ran and talked with various other runners in the early miles, some of which were doing the Sierra Nevada Double Marathon held in conjunction with RDL, and came into the first couple aid stations feeling great. My Dad, who was my crew for the entire day and night of the race, was at Rattlesnake Bar, the aid station at mile 12. I told him that I was feeling really good, like a shaken up soda with the cap just barely opened, and I was letting all the energy be released slowly instead of all at once by sprinting down the trail. I picked up an iPod and proceeded to run down the beautiful, rolling single-track trail listening to U2, the David Crowder Band, and some other stuff.

Things were going really well at that point, and I ran the 9 mile section from Rattlesnake Bar to Maidu aid station easily. Apparently that stretch is normally really hard, since temperatures in the foothills can soar in September, but it was not a problem for this run. The stretch also involved the 1,500 foot "Cardiac hill", but it was a nice trail and not really a problem so early in the race. It had begun to sprinkle at that point, but the rain wouldn't last more than an hour and was actually conducive to running well.


(Coming in to Maidu aid with Charles Lundell-complete photo album at Flickr)

I mowed down a stack of Pringles and left Maidu feeling great, and caught up to ultra running legend Gordie Ainsleigh at Auburn Dam Overlook, mile 22.7. One could write a book about the man, but, long story short, Gordie is the father of the modern trail ultramarathon. Back in 1974, he decided to run the Western States Trail Ride, a 100 mile horse race, on foot when his horse went lame. This feat led to the inception of the famous Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and the birth of the ultramarathon as a sport.

The course had left Folsom Lake and now followed the American River upstream. The stretch from Auburn Dam Overlook to No Hands Bridge (26.7) was a steep downhill. I was still feeling pretty good, certainly better than I had ever felt after running a marathon. Scott Dunlap was also there, which was surprising because I thought he would be going for the win in the Sierra Nevada Double Marathon. Apparently he had been directed the wrong way and added 7 miles, which cost him the lead and probably the win. He took it well, though, and would finish out the race. Peter Lubbers would end up winning in 8:54.

(One marathon down at No Hands Bridge)

After No Hands Bridge was the second of the three major climbs of the race, K2. It was quite steep, but I power walked it and got to the top feeling okay. At Cool Fire Station, mile 30, I met with my pacer for the race, Buddy Pohl. Buddy and I had met at the Helen Klein 50 Mile last year and he had agreed to pace me for RDL this year. We would end up running together from mile 30 to 67. An experienced ultrarunner, Buddy's presence would prove to be invaluable for me in finishing the race.

We ran together, talking and sharing ultra stories. That and the beautiful scenery helped the miles go by fast; it was like our equivalent of friends going on an all-day hike together. Some people wonder if one ever gets bored from running for such a long time. I was anything but bored; I was having a blast and we would probably agree that there wasn't anything else we'd rather be doing. The thought of pizza crossed my mind on the 6-mile Cool loop (the name "Cool" is a small town in the foothills) and Buddy suggested that we ask my Dad to get some for when we met at the next aid station. We did this at Cool Fire Station, mile 36 and now on our way back on the 67 mile out and back. Dad was awesome and produced pizza at No Hands Bridge (40.3). We took some heat for this though; one of the aid station volunteers called me "spoiled". Fortunately, aid station volunteers are some of the coolest people in the world and he still filled my water bottle for me.

The stretch from mile 40 to 44 was the first rough stretch of the race. I was having, um, internal problems and felt like I had a pocket of air in my stomach. It took more than an hour to cover the four miles from No Hands to Auburn Dam Overlook, which was frustrating because my legs weren't all that sore and it was taking longer than it should have. At this point, I remembered Tom Rosebrock, whose name I had written on my arm. We never met, but, as Norm told the story at the pre-race briefing, Tom was probably the youngest person ever to finish a 100 mile race, which he did in 2003 at age 16. He was mentored by Norm and his wife Helen, who trained with him and did some of the toughest ultras out there. He eventually attempted RDL and had a terrible day. Apparently it was hot and he was struggling at just 25 miles. He was doing awful at mile 35. But he persisted, refusing to give up. He got to Cavitt at mile 67. He was behind the cutoffs but they let him keep going. Finally he got to mile 97, where he proceeded to run the last 3 miles in 24 minutes, and finish the race.

(Tom Rosebrock)

Tom died less than a year later in a motorcycle accident, but his spirit lives on. I reminded myself at that point, when things were getting tough, I would remember Tom. If he could push through the pain like that day in 2003, I sure as hell could drag my sorry butt across the finish line eventually. Thank you Tom, for being such an inspiration. I wish I could have known you, but R.I.P., man. Run in peace.

Finally we got to the Dam Overlook, which had an outhouse where I worked on the problem. I emerged feeling mostly better, and when we left to go to Maidu and down Cardiac hill, I was revived. We passed halfway somewhere between Maidu (45.8) and Rattlesnake Bar (55.1). My legs were feeling way better than they ever had at 50 miles, and my mental levels were very high. Buddy and I continued to pass and be passed by the awesome Linda McFadden. An accomplished ultrarunner, Linda was upbeat and talked with us as we meandered through the golden grass of the single track trail. Buddy told me later that he had met her several years ago but only found out from someone else after many years that she had run Badwater, one of the toughest ultras in the world. What wonderful humility! Linda, of course, dusted us eventually and finished in 25:56.


We arrived at Rattlesnake Bar (55.1). There was a dog there who looked quite a bit like the dog who beat me at the Quicksilver 50K last May, but I never found out if they were the same "ultradogs". The next rough section was after this aid station. My legs were feeling pretty swollen and my stride was stiff. It was difficult mentally because I was tired and still had 45 miles to go. Buddy noticed my stride had become a shuffle and recommended I take ibuprofen. He explained that products like Asprin were purely painkillers but didn't address the problem, while ibuprofen was an anti-inflammatory product. I took one, and its effect was incredible. Since at that point my problem had been more of swelling and inflammation than muscle damage, ibuprofen helped immensely. I came into Twin Rocks (62.9) feeling capable of sprinting down the trail. At that point, my grandpa (Opa) had arrived and joined Dad for my crew. Dad didn't seem sure how Buddy had revived me, but thanked him for it. I was quite thankful as well. It was now dark and, feeling great, we pounded out 10 minute miles until we got to Cavitt Junior High, the start/finish which was also mile 67. Buddy would leave here, having covered 37 miles with me. Thank you so much, Buddy; I think having you there saved my race. I owe you big time.

I headed off into the night to complete the final 33 miles. I wondered if I would see the leaders in their final miles, but didn't see anyone for quite a while. I would find out later that Jon Olson won in an are-you-joking-me time of 15:31, breaking his own course record by 59 minutes and winning the third year in a row. Mark Tanaka hadn't been too far behind, but apparently he had gotten lost toward the end, though he still managed to take second in 18:22. Coming out of Cavitt, I passed Chihping Fu coming out of Cavitt, and we encouraged each other to keep it up. I would see Chihping later in the run and he looked awful. RDL was to be his fifth 100 miler in two months, and he was not having a good race. I doubted he would make it. But the man was tough as nails, and he did in just over 29 hours. Passing 68 miles, my previous farthest run was motivating, but I declined rapidly and was reduced to a walk at Negro Bar (72.8). I took another ibuprofen and Opa began to run with me. It helped some, but not as much as before. My problem now was becoming less and less of swelling and more and more of tissue damage, i.e. soreness. I ran out of Negro Bar with Opa and we ran all the way to Willow Creek (80.8), where I was forced to walk. I was at that point unable to run faster than I could walk. I had told myself before the race that if I made it to mile 80 running, I could walk to the finish if I had to. I was also way ahead of the 30 hour cutoff and didn't have to worry about getting pulled. But things were getting pretty darn tough.

The next few hours were the hardest I have ever been through on any run in my entire life. It took a really long time to get to Mountain Lion Knoll, the turnaround. When we finally did, I collapsed into a lawn chair and tried to stretch out. I stayed for about 5 minutes until getting out of the chair and heading back to Willow Creek (86.5). Dad took over for Opa as pacer there, and it took over an hour to walk that 2.8 mile stretch. I was staggering when we finally got there, my legs in huge amounts of pain. I decided that I was going to give myself a half-hour at Willow Creek to attempt to recuperate; otherwise I was toast. I still had the drive to go on, but for the first time I was seriously questioning if we could finish the race. I ate and massaged and stretched my legs for about 10 minutes before, feeling a little better, getting my sorry butt out of the chair and going on.

I got to Hazel Bluff (89.9) feeling slightly better, and even managed to run again. I knew at that point I was going to make it to the end, and this propelled me on. I didn't know how long it would take, but that didn't matter; the important thing was just to get the job done. I ran with Dad until Negro Bar, with 5.8 miles to go, where I had to walk again. Opa and I walked the 2.7 miles to Folsom Dam Park, the last aid station. It was physically extremely demanding but mentally not so bad because we were so close to the end. Finally, with just 3.1 miles, I ran. I ran with the greatest feeling of joy because we were going to make it. There was no pain in the last mile, but the most wonderful feeling of accomplishment. After months and months of intense training, thousands of miles out on the trail, and the greatest struggle of my life at a 100 mile run, after 27 hours, 47 minutes, and 44 seconds, I sprinted across the finish line, the happiest 15 year old in the world.


The greatest of thanks goes out to so many people. Thank you to all who donated to the American Cancer Society; we are coming closer every day to finding the cure for cancer. We have raised a total of $4,170. We are still accepting donations and you can do so here. Thank you to my Dad who crewed for me at RDL, came to every single aid station, stayed up all day and night, and covered 11 miles with me. Thanks to Opa, who helped me through the tough parts as well. He covered about 18 miles at age 67; he's a pretty awesome grandpa if you ask me. Thanks to Buddy Pohl, for coming out and running with me and saving my race. Thanks to the ultraholics for all your encouragement. And congratulations; I think each one of the ultraholics there finished the race. Thanks to Gordy Ainsliegh who started all this nonsense; thanks to race director Norm Klein for letting me participate in the race; and thanks to all the volunteers at the race for providing your support and being so awesome. Thanks to U2 and the David Crowder Band for producing so many great songs which helped me get through the rough parts of the run; thanks to the late Tom Rosebrock for being so inspiring. I wish I'd met you Tom, and I hope there are some great trails up in heaven. Thanks to my Aunt Jill and Uncle Andres, who never ceased to lend the greatest support in organizing the second Ultra For A Cure; thanks to the Los Altos Town Crier and the Palo Alto Daily News who helped bring attention to the Ultra For A Cure cause. Thanks to Clif Bar who sponsored me and helped promote Ultra For A Cure with an entry on their blog and provided a huge amount of their products. And lastly, thanks to God who guided me every step of the way.


"Going for a run always clears my head, but running 100 miles distills my soul." -Keith Knipling

July 20, 2007

Support the 2nd Ultra For A Cure on 9/22/07!

Thank you for your interest in Ultra For A Cure. Cancer affects millions around the world; I personally have a friend my age who has battled cancer for many years, and know that we can help find the cure. An ultramarathon is any run longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). Although only 15, I run these distances, and hope this gift can help, in a very small way, to help find the cure for cancer.

On September 22, 2007, I will attempt to run 100 miles at the Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run in Granite Bay, California as the second Ultra For A Cure to fund cancer research. Rio Del Lago is a beautiful course almost entirely on trails, with a 67 mile out and back in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and 33 miles along the American River.

You can support Ultra For A Cure through donations to the American Cancer Society, which can be done at the "Donate!" link on the sidebar. Proceeds go directly to the ACS, which funds the most innovative and groundbreaking research to find the cure for the millions alive today who have cancer and so that future generations never get the disease. Your contributions are greatly appreciated!

A report about the first Ultra For A Cure-a 67.7 mile run through the beauty of Marin County, Point Reyes, Bodega Bay, and an agonizingly close Petaluma-can be found here.

If you have any questions or comments, or wish to join me for part of the run on September 22, feel free to email me at Thanks again for your interest in Ultra For A Cure.

Sponsored by:

June 11, 2007

Giving Every Last Effort at the 1st Ultra For A Cure

On Saturday, June 9, at 5:45 A.M., I started running, and the first ever Ultra For A Cure began. I was supported by my Dad and grandpa (Opa). Having already received phenomenal support from so many great people who contributed to the cause of finding a cure for cancer, our own quest to run 75 miles started.

After leaving the little town of Stinson Beach, the first few miles of the route traveled on the edge of a picturesque lagoon. It was good to be running, finally, after having not run for a very antsy three days in preparation for the quest. I let the relief of moving my limbs through nature carry me through the first miles, and it worked well. Generally in the first few miles of super long ultramarathons you have to turn your brain off, because thinking thoughts such as, "Well, great, I just ran 2 miles, and I've got 73 to go." would be fatal to your motivational levels. But no such thoughts came today, and I soaked in the scenery and vibrancy of running instead.

(Cruising through the early miles)

Opa, Dad, and I decided that it would be good if they moved ahead in the car every 3 miles or so. I was moving at a comfortable pace of around 10 or 11 minutes per mile, so we met about every half-hour. They gave me food, drink, and encouragement, and took pictures. They would do this all day, and later both would join me for parts of the run. It was, truly, a team effort.

(Refueling early on)

At mile 14, we passed through the small town of Olema. Meaning "coyote" in the native Miwok language, and probably having fewer than 100 inhabitants, Olema isn't much. But passing through a town on long runs always gives a motivational boost. A few miles further, we arrived at another town, Point Reyes Station. Opa and Dad met me there, to make sure I took the correct turn at a confusing intersection, and then drove ahead. I, too, went ahead, feeling good. There was very little road shoulder on this part of the route, but fortunately there wasn't much traffic either.

(Another pit stop)

At mile 26 we met in Marshall, population 400. The main industry of Marshall is oysters and clams, which was obvious running through it. Stopping there to refuel, I noticed that the first signs of soreness had manifested in my legs. That wasn't good. But then we opened a big bag of chips, and I ate about half the bag. Having gotten plenty of salt back in my body, I felt a lot better as I continued down the road.

The scenery, which began to yield nice views of Tomales Bay, became really nice after Marshall. I decided to focus on getting from town to town, and made my main goal getting to Tomales, mile 33. It worked well; I was in a good rhythm. Then at mile 31 or so, my Aunt Jill came to run with me. She had helped greatly with the Ultra For A Cure project, and we had been emailing each other almost every day prior to the run working together to make plans. I was grateful to have company. The course began to meander inland, and fortunately, the road shoulder widened as well. We soon came to Tomales. I made myself go to the bathroom, and then mowed down a mini pizza with some water before heading down the road again. We passed the cafes, restaurants, and the old city hall before climbing a hill and descending back into fields of grass and rolling hills which extended to the horizon and out of sight.
It was midday, and a little warm, so Opa and Dad now drove ahead every 2 miles so we could stay hydrated. Aunt Jill and I talked as we traveled down the road, which was nice and made the miles go by. Within an hour we came to the intersection of Highway 1 and Valley Ford Road, mile 37.5, which marked the halfway point. Getting to halfway on super long runs never fails to give you a boost, and it didn't fail here either. It was great knowing the miles to run were now less than the miles run.

(Aunt Jill and I pass the halfway point)

At mile 40 we came to Valley Ford, another tiny settlement, which had a gas station, a few restaurants, and a huge flagpole which had an American flag, and, for some reason, a Portuguese flag below it. I was feeling okay, but after the town came a new challenge-hills. They weren't so bad at the part we were on now, going towards Bodega Bay, but I couldn't help thinking they would be a lot harder on the way back. In addition to the hills, there began to be a lot more traffic, and a strong headwind. I did my best to be patient and simply concentrate on whittling away the miles.

Aunt Jill left at around mile 44, having run somewhere between 14-16 miles with me. Opa and Dad took her back to her car, and I focused on closing in on Bodega Bay. I got to the city limits sign sooner than I expected, and began looking for Kent Avenue, the turnaround point. Opa and Dad arrived just before I got there, and they drove ahead a half-mile to meet me there. Although not feeling hungry, I ate some chocolate covered raisins and other high-calorie foods to keep my energy levels up. It was mile 48.4. There was 26.6 miles to go. I was beginning to slow down. I told myself that I was at the starting line of the Bodega Bay to Petaluma Marathon. A marathon was no problem, right?
But the miles were beginning to take their toll on my mind as well. I'd been going for almost 10 hours, and it just seemed like it was going to take all day! Running ultramarathons takes an immense amount of mental strength and patience. You can't do it unless you really love it and have a strong desire to go as far as you possibly can. Many veterans of the sport like this aspect of ultramarathon running because it keeps the sport "pure". Unlike highly publicized sports which make the headlines, all the participants of ultrarunning do it because they love it, rather than for any illusions of fame or fortune.
I sure loved to run, but right now, things were beginning to deteriorate. My stride was shorter, my legs weaker, and my pace slower. Things might not have been good for me psychologically, but fortunately, at mile 50, my relatives Erika and Nick, and their three children Ben, Jo, and Lillian drove by, honking their horn and cheering from the car window. It helped a lot to see such great support. They would join Opa and Dad at the "pit stops", and encouraged me as I refueled. I was thankful for their support. In addition, Opa then joined me on the run. They kept up their support for the next few stops before returning to their home in Sebastopol. By that time, I was feeling a lot better. But there were still plently of miles to go, and then came Round 2 of the hills.

(Opa and I in the later stages of the run)

They sure seemed a lot bigger this time around, I thought, as I made my way up the largest section of the "roller coaster." But I did have Opa with me to get up them, and eventually we got them behind us. We talked a little, but I was fairly tired and didn't talk quite as much as before. Mainly, I directed my efforts to being patient and counting down the miles. We got to Valley Ford. We got to the intersection, mile 58.4, and took Valley Ford Road towards Petaluma. There was a larger road shoulder now, and the sun was going down. I watched our shadows grow longer and longer as we shuffled down the road, which stretched through pastures and passed haybales and sheep.

(Haybales and grassland)

Then my Uncle Andres drove by in his truck, which helped my motivation. I'd been battling to keep positive. In this stage of the game, it was more crucial than ever to stay positive and keep moving, because now every step was painful and slower than the last. It was good to see him, and he drove ahead to where Dad was to join me in the final stages of the run. When Opa and I got to that point, Uncle Andres joined me and Opa went with Dad, having run about 13 miles. He's also 66 years old! That never fails to impress me when we run that far together.
It was almost dark, so we put reflective stickers on our shirts. I wore a headlamp and Uncle Andres carried a flashlight. He encouraged me and asked about my progress. I did my best to remain spirited, but underneath was an intense concentration on continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Dad drove ahead to the finish line and then drove back to where we were in order to measure the miles left. When he reached us, he informed us that there were 11 miles left. After that, he and Opa drove ahead 1 mile each time. I was now probably at about more than 15 minutes a mile, about the pace of walking, but I didn't let myself stop at each mile fearing that if I did, I wouldn't be able to get going again. But I made myself drink lots of water and Gatorade, as well as other electrolyte-filled drinks, because at this point I wasn't able to get any food down. This is an interesting phenomenon-at the end of super long runs, when your body needs the calories most, you have no desire for food. It's not as though you feel full or that your going to vomit, but there simply isn't any signal to your brain coming from your stomach.
I took it mile to mile at this point, but my legs burned in agony. I'd finally gotten to that point, the true test which took every fiber of my being to keep going when I wanted to stop more than anything else in the world. With 10 miles to go, Dad joined me-he and Uncle Andres were going to trade off every couple of miles. Most of the time, however, he was walking rather than running because I had slowed so much. My legs tightened with every step, burning, thousands of muscle cells feeling like they were being ripped apart in a blender. At 9 miles to go, we passed 66 miles, the furthest I had ever run previously. It was a success which carried me down the road as Opa and Uncle Andres drove ahead. Being extremely stiff, I took short, shuffling steps which barely covered any distance for every step. I may have had strong legs, but what kept me going now was simply bull-headed stubbornness not to quit, to keep moving forward. It was truly an epic, all-out struggle to go as far as possible, one of the most exciting and most painful I had ever experienced. We saw the cars ahead in the distance. Suddenly, with a few hundred meters to go before the next pit stop, my legs just stopped, even though I didn't think about stopping. Pain seared through my entire body, and I groaned. It took every last ounce of energy just to walk the final few hundred feet to the car. I was utterly spent, completely used up. There was nothing left.
"I think this is the end of the road for us today," I managed to grunt after arriving at the cars. Opa, Dad, and Uncle Andres knew I was done, and expressed how proud they were and how impressive the endeavor was. We had exerted every last effort and used up every last bit of energy to cover a total of 67.7 miles. It was truly a powerful moment. Unable to move anymore, I was helped into the car. After saying goodbye to Uncle Andres, I lay down in the backseat, utterly exhausted but happy and fulfilled, knowing that we had succeeded in the effort because we gave it everything we had.

(With Opa and Uncle Andres at the end)


Ultra For A Cure was a success and an amazing experience to be a part of. It was truly an honor to play a small part in helping find the cure for cancer. We raised a total of $2,328. My thanks goes out to all who donated to the cause and helped us come closer to finding a cure. In addition, much thanks goes out to Opa and Dad for taking the entire day just to help some lunatic shuffle down the road, and to my Aunt Jill and Uncle Andres, who worked hard to help organize the event in addition to busy schedules and for coming out and lending their support on race day as well. We will have many more Ultra For A Cure events in the future, and information will be posted when the time comes. Will we be going further than 67.7 miles? Of course. I want to see how far we can go, see some cool places along the way, and if I can engage in some small act of service in doing it, that would be wonderful.
"His IQ drops 50 points every time he laces up a pair of running shoes."- Unknown

May 20, 2007

75 Miles. 1 Cure. Why?

Hello, my name is Michael Kanning, and thank you for your interest in Ultra For A Cure. Cancer is a disease which affects millions around the world. Many of us personally know people and families affected by it. Many, however, don't know how devastating the effects of cancer really are.

Cancer Facts

-More than 10.5 million people in the U.S. alone have cancer.
-1,444,920 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2007.
-159,650 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year; that's over 1,500 people each day.
-The National Institutes of Health estimated the overall costs of cancer in 2006 to be $206.3 billion.
-There is no known cure for cancer.

Source: American Cancer Society

I recently had a family member die from cancer and know a friend my age who has battled cancer for many years. I know that we can do something about it. On June 9, 2007, I will run 75 miles as an "Ultra For A Cure" to fund research to find the cure for cancer.

What is "Ultra For A Cure"?

An ultramarathon is a run of any distance longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). Although only 15, I often run ultramarathons. I'm thankful to have this ability and wish to use it to support a worthy cause. On 6/9/07, I will run 75 miles from Stinson Beach, California to Petaluma to lend support to find the cure, and I am calling the endeavor Ultra For A Cure. You can help out through donations to the cause, which can be done at the "Donate!" link on the sidebar. Your contributions are greatly appreciated.

My family will support me with food, drink, and encouragement on the run. We will be starting in Stinson Beach at 5:30 A.M. and finishing at Oak Hill Park in Petaluma around 9:00 P.M. If you would like to join me for part of the run you are more than welcome to. If you're interested, please contact me at and I can give you more information about exact locations and times.

Questions or comments?

If you have any, feel free to email me at Thank you again for your interest in Ultra For A Cure.