One of the many beautiful vistas we were privileged to take in from the trail.  Photo by Paul Nelson.
I ran a race this past week  affectionately known as "the Rumble."  After 40+ miles of beautiful trails and vistas, I was fortunate to pull out the win.  To be honest, I wasn't thinking a lot about the Peterson Ridge Rumble this week or the weeks leading up to it, but rather another rumble that led me to the sport of running and where I am today. 

When I was an eighth grader, I went out for cross country to get in shape for basketball .  It didn't hurt that my neighbor, Mary Reynolds, was doing it.  She was nice, cute, and wholesome - the  type of person my parents hoped I would hang out with.  When I wasn't with her or the other runners, I was usually trying to prove myself to the other guys in my class who played basketball. 

A year earlier my family moved to Oregon from New Mexico.  As a diminutive point guard I was having a hard time working my way onto the basketball team.  When we weren't playing basketball, my teammates and I began doing the type of things that teenagers do to pass the time in a small town.  Some got arrested.  Some got addicted.  I guess you could say that I got lucky and rarely got caught.

One day, however, as school was ending another new kid, who was also trying to establish himself, began making derogatory remarks about my last name.  This was not the first nor would it be the last time I would hear these same insults.  I told him that if he had a problem with me or my name to do something about it.  He pushed me.  I stood there.  He didn't look like he was going to do anything so I turned around and began to walk away.  He tackled me and we both hit the floor.  I don't remember much else from that rumble other than getting pulled off of him. 

We were brought to the all-too-familiar principal's office and suspended for three days.  That was pretty standard for me at the time, but then the assistant principal told me I couldn't go to cross country practice or any other school related activities on the days I was suspended.  For some reason, that bothered me.  I hadn't realized it before, but I realized then that I actually liked cross country and not simply because it was a co-ed sport.

 I petitioned that since I didn't start it - I merely finished it - and since my suspension didn't technically start until the following Monday, perhaps I could still compete in the big invitational over the weekend.  My goal all season had been to finish the entire 2 mile course without walking and I finally felt like I could do it.  I really didn't want to miss that meet .  For some reason the assistant principal agreed and let me go. 

Little did I know that I would meet someone that day who would forever shape my future.  Our team set up camp near the high school team and I was introduced to the high school coach, Brandt Lind.  I was obviously nervous, but he eased my nerves by telling me that my middle school coach had spoken highly of me and that he looked forward to working with me the following year.  At the time, I was  the fifth guy on the team, well behind the top two guys in my class.  He really had no reason to say nice things about me, but then he said something that I will never forget.  "So I hear you're a fighter."  Sheepishly, I looked up, wanting to explain.  Before I could come up with an excuse, he simply stated.  "We're going to need to be able to count on you next year and if you're getting into trouble we won't be able to.  Do you think you can stay out of trouble so that you can run for the high school team next year?"

Well, that was that.  By the time I got to high school my weekly detentions and suspensions were a thing of the past.  And while the high school cross country coach and team hardly needed me the following season (after running all summer I ended the season as the last guy on JV - #14) my coach instilled in me a desire to be dependable and respectable.  I'm not going to say that my teammates and I were completely innocent - we had a lot of fun - but I was never again summoned to the principal's office for negative behavior.  I did get in trouble once by the athletic director who was also the head basketball coach because I insisted on running in the mornings during basketball season, but I'd say that was better than any of the infractions for which I had previously been disciplined before that fateful day. 

Mr. Lind became my best friend, mentor, confidante and second father figure.  If you wanted to find me before or after school or in between classes you could find me in his classroom like a needy puppy looking for his approval.  Even during college, I'd call Mr. Lind with my calling card to ask for guidance and reassurance.

When I began volunteering at the local high school near the college I attended in Hawaii, I called Mr. Lind for advice about training middle schoolers and high schoolers.  A few years later, he called me and asked if my wife and I would be willing to move back to Oregon and take over the cross country program that he had been coaching for 18 years. 

I had such great respect and admiration for him that I really didn't even give it any thought.  Sure, I would.  I didn't give much thought to the fact that I didn't have a teaching degree or license or that there weren't any graduate schools nearby either.  The only thing I heard was that the man who had changed my life was asking if I wanted to be like him.  Absolutely. 

Jen & I doing what we love together.
So we moved back to my home town, with our new born son in tow, and we began pouring every minute of every spare hour into being coaches.  We loved it.  It was how Jen and I met in college and it was how we liked to spend our time together.  It didn't feel like work.  It was fun!  The kids and community responded well.  Despite a few growing pains (some people still remembered me as the not so upstanding youth and had a hard time taking me seriously), the athletes continued to run well and most of them were happy.  Only a few of the guys had a problem, and it was simply that they didn't like that their female coach ( my wife, Jen) could beat them.

Fartlek training on our home cross country course.  Photo by Hermiston Herald.

This has been our life - bus rides, road trips, summer camps, team dinners, late night phone calls, early morning runs, fundraisers, shoe runs, etc. - for the past eight years.  Last year, when our second child was born, that all changed.  What was once the time we spent together, soon became time we spent apart.  The needs and schedules of two children at very different ages made it impossible for us to both commit the same amount of time as we had before to coaching.  To further complicate things, our son, who until recently had zero interest in any sort of organized sports, decided this year that he wanted to play three.  So over the past year as I've been on the road, away from my family, I began to actually count the time I was away and determined that at this time in my life, with the family responsibilities that I have, it is no longer feasible to dedicate as much time to coaching high school cross country and track.

My boys fearlessly leading the state cross country meet en route to the school's first state team title.

This has been a difficult conclusion to come to because we have a tight knit team and I love the athletes like they are my own family.  However, it has been even harder trying to explain to my son why I won't be at his games because I'll be at other kids' races.  It doesn't make sense to his first grade mind and, quite frankly, doesn't make sense to mine. 

The past eight years back in my home town have been both challenging and fulfilling.  We were able to experience the great generosity of countless community members and fellow runners from throughout the country.  As a result of such generosity, every school record from 800m - 5,000m has been broken and the top ten lists in each event have been re-written.  Dozens of kids accepted scholarship offers to fund their educations with their feet.  But most importantly,  hundreds of kids had the opportunity to set and achieve goals they never thought they could achieve.   Hopefully, they learned that there is more to life than running, but that they can use the lessons they learned through running and apply them to the other challenges they face in life. 

Through heavy tears, I notified my team of my decision to step down as a high school coach about a week ago, shortly after long-standing records went down.  There's a part of me that feels guilty about abandoning them when the season ends, but there is a part of me that is at peace knowing that it will ultimately be the best thing for my family.  I'm confident that if they continue doing what they are doing they will continue to succeed.  I hope that they will find the same sort of satisfaction I have through the sport and can continue to do it for the rest of their lives.  I also hope that when the time comes, my own son will have someone as accepting and inspiring as the coach that I had. 

Playing catch-up, but enjoying every minute of it!  Photo by Paul Nelson.

As I ran along this past weekend with some of my buddies at the Peterson Ridge Rumble, I was comforted by the fact that some of those whom I admire most had to make similar decisions as their family responsibilities changed.   I was grateful for the opportunity to run with and share such beautiful trails and scenery with them.  I couldn't think of another place I'd rather be. 

After getting off course for a bit and losing about 10 minutes on the early leaders, Gerad Dean, Jeremy Tollman, Robert Julian Jr., and I rallied back and tried to run down Brandon Drake, Scott Wolfe, Jace Ives, and Gordon Freeman

Fueling up, ready to start closing in.  Photo by Paul Nelson.
We didn't really begin seeing them until about 25 miles in, but fortunately for me we were on an open dirt road when they came into sight.  I'd been fueling well all day with a tube of Trail Butter before the race and First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot every 30 minutes so I felt good.  I started rolling and dropped a couple sub 6:00 miles.  Up to that point we had been chatting and scrambling, but when we could finally see the leaders it began to feel like a race. 

I felt better as the day went on.  The weather was perfect.  My feet felt amazing in my Altra Olympus and Swiftwick Compression Socks.  I finally caught Brandon Drake after the 30 mile mark.  He kept the pace honest in his first ultra ever and should be commended for his gutsy effort.  By the time we got back to the track I was finally feeling like my fitness was coming back.  I thought of the kids I coach who raced so fearlessly the day before despite having to get up at 4:00am to drive to the valley in a cramped yellow school bus.  

Finishing on the track.  Inspired by my athletes.  Photo by Animal Athletics.
When I hit the track I was reminded that I had been training with them and they finish on empty so I did my best to leave it all out there on the track.   I was honestly surprised I had so much left and hope that I can stay healthy so that I can complete some longer races this summer and fall.    

I was greeted by so many friends who I have met through this sport.  I am always overcome with the great sense of community that this sport embodies.  I hope to continue to strengthen these bonds with so many inspiring people and I'm grateful that the rumble nearly twenty years ago ultimately led me to the Peterson Ridge Rumble which not coincidentally serves as a fundraiser for the Sisters Cross Country Program.  I'm grateful to Sean Meissner and Josh Nordell who put on such a great race for a great cause.

While there were plenty of other competitions throughout the country last weekend, this one brought in some top talent (lots of Olympians and Olympic Trials Qualifiers in the 20 miler), fit with my family and coaching schedule, and supports a great cause - youth running.  If my story is any indication, there are few causes in this world that can have a more lasting effect on the development of young people than cross country.         

You (Only Faster)

On Friday, two of the high school athletes I coach, JoseMacias and Alejandro Cisneros, ran exceptionally well.  So well that they set new personal records and broke meet and school records in the first race of the season for the two of them.  They now each have the top times in the state of Oregon for all classifications for the 1500m and 3,000m.

Ahmed Ibrahim and Alejandro Cisneros duking it out over 3,000m.
Alejandro won with a 16 second PR, new meet record, and new school record of 8:32.
Photo by Gary Lind

Jose Macias setting a PR & new meet record of 4:01 for 1500m
Photo by Gary Lind
Since then I have received a number of compliments and congratulations and several inquiries as to what we are doing that enables them to do what they did.  While I'm certainly grateful for the respect of my friends and colleagues, I must confess that I am simply fortunate to work with such coachable and hard-working young people.  They've obviously done the requisite work to get fit.  The challenge will be keeping  them healthy and ready to perform well when it really counts in a few months. 

But the fact of the matter is, these guys did not just wake up last week and decide that they wanted to be good runners.  They woke up sometime in sixth grade and decided that and have awoken each morning since with the same desire. 

Just as they had hoped to start running in middle school, the recession caused the middle school cross country programs to be cut. Fortunately, generous volunteers and community members stepped up and helped them begin chasing their dreams.  Attending different middle schools but training together, they each set their middle school's respective 1500m records in the 8th grade.

When they arrived in high school they were ready to work and they had a slew of upperclassmen both willing to show them how and unwilling to forsake their hard-earned varsity position.  Thanks to this winning combination,  the seven young men that eventually represented the school as a varsity team perfect scored the meet (placing 1-2-3-4-5 for a total score of 15) at the Columbia River Conference Cross Country Championships and went on to win the school's first state team title in a fall sport by putting four guys in the top ten. 
First Oregon State Team Cross Country Title in Hermiston High School History
That was 2010.  Since that time, the two freshmen now seniors - Alejandro Cisneros and Jose Macias - have placed top ten at the Oregon State Cross Country Championships every  year and have helped their teams go undefeated in league competitions, earning four consecutive state team trophies.  Each season they've gradually increased their workloads and weekly mileage so that they are now running between 50-60 miles going into their senior track seasons. 

In response to the questions from my fellow coaches' inquiries I've simply replied,  "They have consistently worked hard and consistently rested from hard work."

What did they do this winter?
  • 1 hilly long run per week (20-25% of total weekly mileage) 10-16 miles
  • 1 threshold run or workout per week
  • combination of hill sprints, farleks, & strides 
  • replace shoes every 300 miles
  • regular core
  • regular circuit
  • regular sleep
  • 1 rest day per week
  • recovery day(s) between quality days

This is what they did, but now that we are into the season we will probably have to modify a few things.  Why?  If it is not broke, don't fix it?

Well, although these guys have run nearly identical times since they were middle schoolers they both have very different strengths and weaknesses.  One of them has more raw speed and gets better with more speed work and racing.  The other has super-human stamina and can grind out long runs and long tempos like they are nothing, but if he races too much or does too much speed work he breaks down over time.  One needs more recovery after long runs and tempo runs while the other needs more recovery after races and anaerobic work.  

The key to their success this season will be balancing their desires to race and train together with their needs to recover and rest up in preparation for important meets.  Throw in the stresses of a challenging class load, 10 hours a week on a bus to and from meets, preparing for college, eating a balanced diet, and helping the family at home and with the family business (which requires all-day on the feet at a flea market on the weekends), and there is plenty to worry about. 

One thing that has really helped me as I prepared for this time in the progression of these two athletes (because I knew when I met them as freshmen that they were serious I didn't want to screw things up) is a book by one of the best coaches and students and of the sport, Greg McMillan.   I've been reading Greg's columns and anything else he's written about training since I first started coaching nearly a decade ago.  His new book, You (Only Faster) is a must-read for any coach or athlete wanting to take their performance to the next level. 

Unlike most books written about training which prescribe cookie-cutter template for all athletes, McMIllan's book gets to the art and science required to be an effective coach ultimately teaching You (the athlete or the coach) to tailor a training plan to the specific needs, strengths, weaknesses and life demands of each athlete.

For athletes looking to have this type of individualized attention given to their own training, Coach McMillan offers online coaching services by tried and true coaches who have been in the trenches and have helped countless athletes achieve their goals at distances from 800m to 100 miles at McMillanRunning Company

I recently met with the staff at McMillan Running Company and have been working specifically with ultra coaches Ian Torrence and EmilyHarrison.  It is inspiring how much attention to detail they put into the tailoring of each training program to the specific needs and life demands of the athletes they coach. 
They have really helped me to understand that no two athletes are alike.

I plan to apply what I have learned from Greg McMillan in his book You - Only Faster and Ian and Emily as I continue to develop training programs for my high school athletes as well as my wife, myself, and the other private clients with whom I work to assure that we train and recover adequately to perform optimally.  

Off road mile and Badger Mountain Challenge

Just as my fitness is beginning to come back, my family and I were able to travel to Flagstaff, AZ and enjoy the sun, trails, and companionship of some of the best in the sport.  Despite the challenges of being a lowlander at high altitude, we were able to really enjoy ourselves and get to know some really good people.  For four consecutive days we were able to meet with different people and run on endless trails.  Talk about a runner’s paradise!   

It didn’t come as much of a surprise that we weren’t the only ones thinking it would be a good idea to train in Flagstaff this Spring.  In addition to the large contingent of local elites, visiting Olympic development programs from the USA. Canada, and Germany were staying in the same place and enjoying the same trails we were. 

The night before driving down for the visit, Jen found an off-road mile race in Las Vegas.  We had planned to drive to Vegas to visit family before continuing on down the road to Flagstaff so she signed us both up.  This all sounded like a good idea, until I realized that I hadn’t run a competitive mile for about a decade and even then it was never my forte.  Were there any off road half marathons instead?  Actually there was, but it was in Arizona and we weren’t sure we’d be able to get down there in time for it.    

The Las Vegas Running Project Off-Road Mile was a nice idea in theory.  As a means of raising money for the local running club, the LVRP put on the first year event at Las Vegas Cyclery.  The course ran around the perimeter of the bike shop and adjoining parking lot on a cinder trail designed for testing out running shoes and mountain bikes.  With 6+ loops to the mile and about ten turns per loop, the single track course proved to be quite a challenge.  I wore the Altra Torin 1.5s because they were the most responsive shoe I had with me and I figured they’d hold up well on both the cinder and the pavement crossings each time we’d complete a loop. 

While the first year race really wasn’t too big, I’d hate to see it get any bigger on the same course with the same format.  Hopefully if it grows there will be more heats based on ability.  The tight turns and trail made it pretty difficult to pass and by the time we started lapping other runners it made for some interesting twists. 

By the first turn I was sitting about fifth, gradually working my way up to third by the half way mark three laps in.  The early leader was beginning to fade, but the guy in second looked like he planned to just sit on his shoulder.  Knowing that I hadn’t been doing any sort of anaerobic work other than a few strides and hills each week, I leapt to the front in hopes of giving myself a chance to win.  I led for the next two laps, but was overtaken by an eager and capable triathlete with about a lap to go.  I managed to hang on for second, earning a certificate for a massage which Jen was happy to receive.

After the men’s finish the women began.  Jen was a bit more prepared than I because she has been doing consistent threshold training for the last few months.  One mile is a little more in her wheelhouse given that she ran the 800m in high school.  But a mile race is never comfortable especially when one has been training for longer events. 

A talented local lady took the early lead and led for the first few laps, but struggled on a few of the technical sections, particularly jumping over the sand bags meant to cover a metal ground covering.  Jen knew that her best chance of winning would be to get around her right before the technical section in the only spot where the course opened up.  She got around and began to kick.  The early leader seemed surprised that anyone – particularly a mother in a t-shirt – had passed her. 

They both seemed to be of equal ability.  It would have been fun to see them duke it out on the roads or track where they wouldn’t be limited by space to pass and compete.  Each time they hit the tight turn and sand bags Jen would pull ahead, only to be reeled back in on the gradual descent on the other side of the building.  With about a lap to go, the former leader tried to pass on the inside as they were going around a 90 degree turn.  As an experienced mid-distance runner, Jen held her position going around the turn not conceding her position on the inside.  However, in the process there was apparently some contact. And when I say a some, I mean I was ten feet away cheering and didn’t see anything, but after Jen finished first the other gal made a scene and accused Jen of intentionally elbowing her to secure the win.      

Had I not been the husband or coach of the winner I would have just thought the drama was sad and sophomoric, but it was troubling to see how it affected Jen to be accused of doing something unethical to gain a win in an event that meant nothing to either of us other than an excuse to stretch our legs after being on the road for 15 hours.  Anyone who knows Jen knows that she is as honest and honorable as they come.  Fortunately the director of the race is an experienced competitive runner and knows that it is the responsibility of the one who wants to win a race to get to the front and hang on (as Jen had to do), and not the leader’s responsibility to concede the win to the local favorite simply because she is not used to being challenged. 

We enjoyed the opportunity to run in the sun before getting back in the car and continuing on our way to Flagstaff.  Jen ended up winning enough money to cover her race entry and purchase a new pair of shoes.  This helped since she was not able to renew her shoe contract this year after sparse race results last year due to pregnancy.

When we arrived in Flagstaff, we ate at the only restaurant I knew of – Diablo Burger.  As we sat down I noticed a couple of guys who looked familiar.  We kept making eye contact with one another, but I couldn’t remember how I knew them.  Finally, when they got up to leave I realized that they were Nicholas Arciniaga and Adam Vess, both accomplished athletes and friends and training partners of my brother, Thomas Rivers Puzey.  I followed them out and introduced myself.  They invited me to join them on a long run the following morning. 

That night, I had a hard time sleeping due to a scratchy throat and tight hamstrings. Tight hamstrings and miler’s hack are two of my least favorite things.  I was reminded why I hadn't raced a mile for so long, but hoped that the effort would provide adequate stimulus to my body and help me begin to transition into more strenuous training.  Fortunately, I felt good enough in the morning to join Nick and Adam and what ended up being about ten other guys for 14-20 miles.  It was nice running with so many people all chasing their dreams and trying to figure out how to reach their potential as athletes.  Adam Vess, Nick Arcianaga, Andrew Lemoncello and I ran together up front while several of the other guys were recovering from a recent track meet. 

Nick recently won the US Marathon championships and will be one of America’s greatest hopes in a few weeks at the Boston Marathon.  Andrew Lemoncello is a former Olympian training for Rio in 2016, and Adam is a 1500m – 5000m specialist preparing for track season.  Many of the guys in the group will be running at Stanford this weekend. Nick’s wife and Adam’s fiancĂ©e joined us, driving along in a Jeep stopping every four miles for us to fuel up.  Talk about dedication!  I couldn’t imagine a more ideal setting to train and chase one’s dreams. 

After the not so positive experience the day before at the LVRP Off-Road mile with some unduly inflated egos, it was a breath a fresh air being with truly accomplished athletes who weren’t wary of outsiders or concerned that our presence was a threat to their superiority.  Running with these guys and the other great athletes and coaches we met throughout the week was a reminder of why I love the sport and the majority of the people in it who run as an extension of themselves, not because their entire sense of self worth is tied up in the outcome of a race. 

The following morning Nick, Jen, and I ran from the trails near the place we were staying.  I have to admit to being a bit intimidated at first to be running with a guy who actually has a shot at being the top American at the Boston Marathon in a few weeks,.  Who knows?  If everything goes right Nick could be the first American to win Boston in our lifetime.  And the coolest part, if you were to meet Nick on the street (or stalk him like I did at Diablo Burger) he’d probably not even mention he was a runner unless you, like I did, mention that you are looking to run at which point he’d invite you along like it was no big deal.  And that is why he is a BIG deal!   

After a couple of days at altitude I thought it would be best to take it easy so I decided that rather than show up to the workout on Tuesday I’d just do an easy run on my own.  I ended up bumping into some German steeplechasers and finishing up with them.  So much for an easy run.  I enjoyed the company and the freedom to wake up and run from my doorstep for hours without having to clock in before daybreak.

The next day Jen and I joined some of the top trail and ultra runners in the country up Mt. Elden.  When we arrived, Ultra Runner of the Year, RobKrar, was outside his car methodically stretching on a yoga mat.  Eventually, adiultra team members BrianTinder, Ian Torrence, and Emily Harrison showed up and we made our way up to the summit at 9,300 feet.  I thought the climb itself was challenge enough, but apparently I didn’t get the memo that this was supposed to be a time trial.  After about a mile of admiring Rob’s beard he dropped us all with the same speed he used to win UROC and The North Face Endurance Challenge in 2013.  Fresh off a win at the local XTERRA Half Marathon, Emily followed suit.  Tinder gave chase, leaving Ian, Jen, me and the dogs in their wake. 

Fortunately, they were kind enough to wait for us at the top.  Well, all but Rob.  He had already made his way part way down, but was kind enough to double back so that we could feel like we ran with him for a bit.  I was pleased to join Tinder on the descent.  He and his wife just welcomed a new daughter into the world and I know what a blessing and challenge having little ones can be.  It was good to get to spend some time with him on the mountain before he had to rush back to tend to his family.

It was also nice spending time with Ian and Emily.  Emily is taking the trail and ultra world by storm and doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.  Ian, her coach, boyfriend and accomplished ultra runner himself, was taking the week relatively easy in preparation for his 180th ultra and 52nd ultra victory that weekend. 

Jen and I had hoped to run the Badger Mountain Challenge at the end of the week if we were able to make it back home in time.  Though driving through Idaho and Nevada was scenic, by the end of our vacation we were all ready to get out of the car.  A white-out between Idaho and Nevada slowed our progress, but we were ultimately able to make it home in time to drop our kids off with my parents so that Jen and I could drive to Richland, WA and race.  We arrived to the start of the 50K about 6:40 am.  Just enough time to get my number on, take off my sweats, and greet a few of my friends who were either putting on the race or participating in it. 

Course map and elevation profile of the Badger Mountain Challenge 50K course.  It looks so simple on the map it is hard to imagine where or how one could get off course.  Leave it to me to find all of the side trails.

It had been raining throughout the week and the wind picked up the morning of the race.  The wind would prove a hearty challenge – especially along the ridges – but the rain may have actually helped considering the amount of deep sand in a couple of sections.  The water kept the dust down while the wind kept us cool until the sun came out.

Final descent off Badger Mountain
Just before the start I got reacquainted with Ben Bucklin with whom I ran the first part of the 50K race last year.  I quickly learned that he was fitter than before and that he planned to run with me.  Unfortunately, I got a bit excited and took a series of wrong turns leading him off course as well.  At one point we overshot a turn, bypassing an aid-station by about a mile on the way out.  When we finally found the correct trail and realized we had gone off course we backtracked to check in at the aid station.  The turn around was a bit different than last year as well so we scrambled around a bit trying to find the way. 

Ben carried a hand-held water bottle while I wore a hydration vest.  Last year I didn’t carry much aid with me because my wife, mother, and son crewed for me.  This year Jen was running the 15K and my mom had our kids so I just packed everything I would need (2 liters of First EnduranceEFS Drink, 3 flasks of EFS Liquid Shot, a tube of Trail Butter, and a couple salt caps).  I also wore two different watches this time as well so that I could keep track of how far we had gone and also have a separate timer to remind me to fuel a minimum of every thirty minutes.  I tried the Tim Noakes approach in my previous two races and wasn't really interested in cramping and bonking again.

Finishing strong thanks to the Altra Olympus
When we’d reach the aid stations, Ben stopped to refill his water bottle.  I’d usually pull ahead a bit but never made a great effort to break away.  It is pretty barren country out there and with the wind and the orienteering element this race brings, I’d rather have some company.  Besides, I felt pretty bad for leading Ben off course so many times before the turnaround.  On our way back, Ben was kind enough to call me back from yet another missed turn as I started smelling the barn and wanted to hurry back.  We ran/hiked much of the second half together as well.  

Note:  The course is actually marked quite well, there are just a lot of side trails that all ultimately lead to the same place and when you know the general route of up and over the next climb sometimes you forget to look down and just try and run toward the horizon.  This is my third time running in the area (twice in competition and once in training) and hope to be able to do it again.  The terrain is surprisingly challenging and charmingly scenic. It's reasonably priced and all goes toward improving the trails and the community.  I'm really grateful to the local organizers who put the race together, usually under challenging weather conditions, and make it such a fun event for the Columbia River Basin. 

Finally, as we approached the final aid station I was more familiar with the return route and began to pull away.  Ben stopped to refill while I just dropped my pack, gloves, beanie, and jacket and picked up a handheld bottle full of water and a visor that Jen had awaiting me.  After winning the 15K in course record time, Jen rushed around the mountain only to wait almost an hour longer than I told her I would be.  Fortunately, this wasn’t her first rodeo and she brought enough food to eat and recover while she waited. 

Thanking Ben for letting me run with him.
While my time was not as fast as last year, I was pleased with the result.   My body held up well and is beginning to round into form.  My nutrition was better this time around (compared to Hagg Lake and the Red 2 Red XC MTB Race) because I had what I needed and was methodical about when to take it in.    

I felt pretty good on the final ascent and descent of Badger Mountain.  The out-and-back course runs up and over three mountains and then turns around and runs up and over them again.  I’ve been wearing the Altra Olympus almost everyday since I got them and I couldn’t think of a better shoe for the varied terrain (sand, scree, shale, sagebrush, shotgun shells, etc.).  Between the extra cushioning and versatile tread and merino wool Swiftwick Socks my feet were feeling pretty pampered. 

I've been biking, swimming at the Columbia Court Club, stretching, lifting and doing some light running since Saturday.  I’m recovering quickly and looking forward to meeting up with more friends at the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 Mile Trail Run in about a week.

The winning team!  Jen has raced three times since giving birth to our daughter nearly a year ago.  She has won each race from 1 mile to Half Marathon.  While I love running & winning, I get just as much pleasure seeing her reach her goals because I know how hard she works to achieve them.  At Badger Mountain she was the top female by several minutes, fourth overall in a competitive men's field, and several minutes faster than the previous course record. 

Remembering my running Roots

I ran the Hagg Lake 50K for the fourth consecutive year this weekend.  Some people ask why I keep going back to the same race year after year.  Here are my top five reasons:

1). It is where I ran my first ultra, so it is a way of returning to my roots.

2). The people that put the race on are second to none and there is always a solid field.

3). Despite being the same course year-in-and-year-out, the conditions are never the same so you never know what you are going to get.

4). It is at a challenging time of year which motivates me to train through the dark, cold, wet months of winter.
5). Hagg Lake Mud Runs were cool even before mud runs were all the rage. In terms of mud for your buck you get ten times more mud for half the price and you don’t even have to get electrocuted.  Seriously.  Why spend more, run less, and shock yourself?  

My morning began with my son critiquing my race attire.

“Dad, why don’t your pants go to your feet?”

“They aren’t pants, Cairo.  They are called manpris.” 

“They look weird.”

“I wear them so that my knees don’t get cold.”

“They don’t make you look very manly.  They just make you look weird.”

Needless to say, my confidence was a little shaky.

Unlike my first year, I gave myself plenty of time to get to the start, take care of business and mingle rather than get caught in a port-a-pottie when the gun went off.  I wore the best shoes I could find for the conditions - the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 - and I wore several layers, gloves, wool Swiftwick compression socks, and a hooded jacket for most of the race.

While everyone assumed that Zach Gingerich would take it out hard like he usually does, it was Jason Leman who led up the first climb.  I ran with Jeremy Tolman, a sub 4:00 miler & former All-American steeplechaser, as we tried to keep Jason in our sights.

 With the longest legs and greatest body mass, inertia took over and I found myself in the front by the time we descended and reached the single-track.

I knew going in that after a long break from running I wouldn’t be in the kind of shape I had been in the past few years.  Given the recent record snowfalls I wasn’t about to put pressure on myself to best my previous year’s time, but I needed to get in a solid long run and figured at least I would have some company if I showed up at Hagg.

We settled in to a comfortable pace running as a large group that ranged between two and seven or eight runners.  Early on, I was reminded once again that ultrarunners tend to be well-educated, informed people.  Over the course of 50K I found myself running stride for stride with a medical doctor, two engineers, a health care administrator, and an I.T. guy for Nike.  Maybe I should go back to college to extend my running career.

After about eight miles, shirtless Jason Leman took over the pacing duties.  Zach Gingerich and I tried to hang on.  At about this time Zach realized that his trademark baller shorts lacked a draw sting and were getting weighed down by the downpour. Jason and I joked that we had sabotaged Zach’s shorts by removing the drawstring just to keep him within striking distance.  A few miles later Jason took a pit stop and Zach (now with sagging baller shorts) and I gradually pulled away. 

By the end of the first loop an ever patient Neil Olsen joined me and we started rolling.  We came through at about 2:03 which was only two minutes slower than Neil’s pace the previous year under much more runnable conditions.  This both impressed and frightened me.  While the split was significantly slower than my split the year before, I was already hurting.  

After being away from regular training and racing for so long I made some rookie mistakes – like doubling the duration & distance of my long run in muddy conditions and not sticking to a regular fueling plan because I was so cold.  In the past I’ve done some longer training runs in preparation for the race.  After resuming running a few weeks ago, I’ve deliberately tried to gradually increase my volume, including the distance & duration of my long runs.  I hadn’t run for much more than two hours since November.  Due to my lack of training, after about two hours my muscles just wouldn’t fire, especially when we got around to the even sloppier second loop.  Each place a person’s foot had landed the previous loop became a receptacle of water the following lap.  Add fatigue, delirium, and soggy shoes and that makes for some sore hip flexors and epic spills. 

Enjoying ourselves at about mile 17 with one lap to go.  Jacob Puzey, Neil Olsen, Zach Gingerich
On the nutrition side of things, I typically drink about two liters of liquid (electrolyte drink) over the course of a four hour race.  I also prefer to take in calories through gels/liquid shot/trailbutter every 30-45 minutes and additional salt caps at least every hour.  I knew that the course would be slick and I didn’t want to rely entirely on a handheld bottle to fuel me (because I’ve often fallen and spilled the contents of my bottle) so my loving wife and son met me at each aid station with a bottle of my own concentration of electrolytes.  At one point, Jason commented how nice it must be to have a wife to crew for me.  I couldn’t agree more.  I appreciate it even more given that she had to get up early and still cut her long run short so that she & Cairo could be out on the course cheering me on and helping me out.  Unfortunately, due to the cold and rain I just wasn’t thirsty and didn’t consume very much.  By the end of the race I had only consumed about 10 ounces of liquid (First Endurance EFS Drink) and 1.5 flasks of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, but no extra water and no additional salts.  While this may be enough for some, this isn’t enough for me.  It only equates to 800-900 calories and I burned at least 4,000.

While I figured I’d pull away for the win when we hit the dam, Neil asserted himself as a challenger.  I was happy to have some company through my suffering.  I wasn’t feeling as well as I had hoped to at that point in the race. We talked for quite a while about our families and the high school cross country teams we help coach, Crater and Hermiston, which are often some of the top programs in the state and when we line up against each other it is usually a fight to the finish.  Crater is similar to Hermiston, so I knew that despite beating Neil in the past, he wouldn’t just roll over.  They have a four word motto at Crater:  “Work Hard.  Work Harder.”  Neil and the Crater program embody that mantra.

At one point, Neil asked if the long haired child crewing for me was YassineDiboun’s daughter.  People often mistake Yassine and I, but this was the first time that our children have been mistaken for one another.  I tried to explain that my son just insists on growing his hair out until it is as long as Qui-Gon Jin’s.  He thinks it will help him become a Jedi master.  

I began to struggle through some of the slicker climbs and descents and eventually went down hard with about six miles to go.  It took me a while to regain my composure and get back on my feet.  By the time I was upright Neil had already gapped me.  I tried to real him back in but just kept slipping.  I knew that my best chance of regaining the lead would be the next stretch of pavement where I could rely on my youth and longer stride.  Unfortunately, by the time we reached the pavement he had already pulled away so much that I couldn’t see him.  I was struggling just to stay upright and fight through the cramps in my arms and legs.  I was cold, wet, and dehydrated and just needed to get warm.  My only motivation from there on out was the hot soup waiting at the finish. 

Finally finishing with Cairo, Jen, and Todd

When I finished, I was pleased to see so many friends and family.  I wish that I hadn’t been so cold, because normally I like to stick around and share war stories and cheer on others as they finish.  But I couldn’t stop shivering and my body was aching so I figured I needed to take a hot shower and get in some warm clothes. 

I had a rather piercing post-race conversation with my seven year old son on the way home.  One of the hardest things about parenting is when your kids actually listen to you and then use your own words against you:

"Dad, why didn’t you win? Why did you let that guy beat you?"

"He was running better than me in the mud and I was too tired to catch him."

"Why couldn’t you catch him?  He wasn’t even running that fast?"

"He was running fast for as long and as muddy as it was."

"No he wasn’t.  I ran next to you guys on the road (for about a stride).  I’m faster than both of you."

"You might be, but we were running for a long time, so we were trying to save our energy. "

"You still should have won.

"I’m sorry.  I’m just not in as good of shape as I used to be."

"Why not?"

"I took a break and I haven’t been running as much as I usually do.  I’m only running a couple of days a week."

"You should be running everyday if you want to get better.

"I know."

"Then why don’t you?"

"I’ve been working a lot and trying to get healthy.  I’m starting to run more.  I want to be healthy all year so I'm trying to be patient.

"That’s not an excuse.  You should be running everyday so that you win next time."

"Duly noted."
A few other things I learned/remembered from my return to running and racing:

Catching up with Trail Butter founder, Jeff Boggess
  • You can’t fake fitness.  There is no substitute for consistency. 
  • Never underestimate old man strength.
  • Never rely on the spryness of youth.
  • If you consume two boxes of Triscuits after the race there is a pretty high likelihood that you should have consumed more salt during the race.
  • Avoid Girl Scouts after a race.  One box of macaroons quickly becomes the standard serving size.
  • Set & stick to a hydration plan even when it is cold and you aren’t sweating or thirsty. 

Many thanks to Kelly, Eric, Todd, Renee, Trevor and the countless other volunteers who make the event what it is!  Thank you to my sponsors for helping me do what I love.  Thank you to my family for supporting me.  Thank you to my competitors for pushing and inspiring me to become better.  

Stamina Work

Of the five essential components to an effective training plan, Stamina work is where most of us put the bulk of our time and energy.  But if we are not using our time effectively we won’t make as many gains as we potentially could.   So I am starting this series with Stamina work, because even stamina, which we feel we’ve got a pretty good handle on, can be improved.

Most aerobic activities (running, cycling, swimming, hiking, Nordic skiing, etc.) can help in maintaining or increasing stamina, but it is how we place stamina work within our training plan and couple it with other areas that will ultimately determine our progress.

While there are plenty of forms of stamina work, I will break stamina work into three general categories: long runs, threshold runs, and maintenance runs.


Any long distance training program should be founded on the long run.  It should be a regular staple for any distance runner.  Consequently, when developing a training plan for myself of an athlete I coach, I structure most weeks’ training around the long run.  In the base and pre-competition phases of the training plan I make it the top priority, assuring that my athletes go into the long run rested from previous workouts during the week.  After the long run, I plan for adequate recovery before tackling another high intensity or high volume workout.

Long runs can take on a variety of forms.  One coach from whom I have learned a great deal is Greg McMillan.  Greg is not only an accomplished runner himself, but  he has led countless athletes to new heights.  In 2011 he outlined some of the tried and true methods of top marathon coaches in an article entitled, “The Marathon Long Run: Variations on a theme.” I highly recommend this article and the other articles Greg writes in his monthly McMillan’s Performance Page.

In addition to the 16 week sequence of long runs Greg suggests in the article above, two long runs that I have found to be particularly beneficial for ultrarunners are fat-burning/glycogen depletion runs and higher intensity progressive or threshold runs.  Both serve different, but equally important functions.

The longer (2-5 hours) fat-burning run/glycogen depletion run is intended to simulate how the body feels toward the end of a long race while also increasing the body’s capacity to metabolize fat. While not as enjoyable as adventure runs with a picnic in your pack, the objective of these runs is to simulate what is commonly referred to as “the wall” or “bonking” by limiting the consumption of sugars and limiting liquid intake to water. Most people decrease their pace and mentally shut down when they hit the wall in a race, however by training the mind and the body to run through the wall it is possible to more efficiently transition through this phase in the race.  Then, when you are fueling regularly in the race this painful process is delayed considerably and sometimes eliminated.

The shorter (1-3 hours), higher intensity carb-burning run is still a long run, but is generally run at a m
uch faster pace.  Whereas the over-distance run intentionally depletes the glycogen stores, on some of these shorter, higher intensity long runs it is possible to actually practice fueling for an upcoming race.  Whether carrying your fuel along with you or setting bottles out along the course, these runs are perfect opportunities to test out drink mixes, electrolyte caps, and gels.  They are also important ways of gauging one’s fitness and preparing the mind and the body for an upcoming effort - often longer - in a race.

Both of these runs can be done solo, but they are often much easier when you have some company.  Join a group or find a friend to join you on these runs as often as schedules permit.  If you are like me and live miles away from other long distance runners, be willing to drive every once in a while to meet up with a friend or sign up for a race and use that race (1/2 marathon – 100K) as a long run in preparation for your goal race.  Heck, that’s how I got into this crazy sport – jumping into a 50K as part of a buildup for a road marathon – and I’ve been at it ever since.


Threshold runs, also known as tempo runs, can take on a variety of forms, but the overriding goal of threshold work is to run at or near your aerobic threshold – the red line – for as long as possible.  Overtime this will not only increase your threshold, but also your capacity to sustain a threshold effort, also known as stamina.

For those making the transition to running longer distances this may simply mean a series of short (400m) bursts at 5k-10K effort/pace followed by a very brief (30-45 sec) recovery interval between each rep.  This workout, known as Georgetown 400s, were a common workout for former Georgetown mid-distance Coach Frank Gagliano’s athletes moving up in distance.  Most of my high school athletes enjoy Georgetown 400s because sustaining 20 minutes + of quality running is not always possible (mentally or physically) for beginning runners.  I have seen the benefit of this simple workout for even more advanced runners training for a half marathon or marathon.

For more experienced runners, threshold work should mean a run between 20 minutes and 2 hours at half marathon to marathon pace.   As Dr. Joe Vigil likes to say, “There are many roads to Rome.”  His elite athletes run multiple threshold runs of varying distances and intensities, but the underlying principle remains - the goal is to increase your body’s capacity to sustain hard efforts.  The key is to work your aerobic threshold regularly - at least weekly.


Some people call these runs easy or recovery runs.  Maintenance runs are what I call all running that does not specifically target speed or strength.  Some people believe that all running should be hard or fast, but maintenance runs are as important as the harder, faster sessions.  They keep us regular - on a routine - and they serve as a means of increasing blood flow to parts of the body that have been taxed through long or hard running.  Maintenance runs are just as important to the development of stamina as are higher intensity and longer runs.

Maintenance runs can also serve as SKILL development runs.  While the emphasis may not necessarily be on skill, if there is a skill to develop, particularly adjusting to terrain (grass, rocks, roots, cinder, mud, pavement, track, singletrack, downhill, etc.), maintenance runs are a great way to allow the body to acclimate to the demands of different terrain without overdoing it in a workout, race, or long run.  Over time, these regular runs allow the body to adapt to the new demands of the foreign terrain and will better prepare the athlete for harder or longer sessions on a similar surface.

STAMINA work should be foundational to any training plan designed for distance running.  If you are missing any one of these elements in your training, LONG RUNS, THRESHOLD RUNS, or MAINTENANCE RUNS, you can make noticeable differences by gradually introducing them into what you already do.

A few years ago, after listening to some interviews of Greg McMillan and his athletes who were having great success, I began placing a greater emphasis on long runs and threshold runs in my own training and in the training of those that I coached.  Over a short time, my marathon PR went from 2:35 to 2:25 simply by adjusting my training schedule to emphasize the long run.  Similarly, I dropped over twenty minutes on the same trail 50K course.  My athletes made even greater gains.  Every school record from 800m to 5,ooom for men and women at my Alma Mater where I coach cross country and track  has been broken and the top ten lists have been rewritten (I'm not even in the top ten on any of the lists anymore:).,,My wife, Jen, went from a 21:30 5K to a 16:40 and a 1:35 half marathon to a 1:18.    All of this can be attributed to a greater emphasis on the long run.

It is certainly possible to make considerable improvements with a greater emphasis on STAMINA training, but over time without some emphasis on STRENGTH, SPEED, SUPPLENESS, and SKILL you will inevitably reach a performance plateau or be sidelined by an injury.

Next time, I’ll discuss the importance of STRENGTH work in a comprehensive long distance training plan.

Jacob Puzey is a competitive endurance athlete and USATF certified endurance coach.  He runs for Altra, First Endurance, Swiftwick, and Trail Butter.  He also blogs for When he's not on the road with his athletes, he’s usually exploring wild places with his family and friends.  For more information about Jacob and the coaching services he provides, please visit his site:

Coach's Corner: Coach Smith's Essential S's to Success

Like most coaches, I have been influenced by the work and philosophies of many others.  Fortunately, most successful coaches recognize that success breeds success and are therefore pretty open about sharing what they do that works.  Consequently, I’ve been fortunate to learn from some of the best in the sport.

Coach Michael Smith of Kansas State University is one of the many coaches that has shaped my approach to endurance training.  In addition to coaching successful collegiate and post collegiate distance runners, Coach Smith is one of the instructors for the USATF Level II Endurance Coaching program.  At the USATF Level II Endurance Academy that I attended a couple of years ago at UNLV, Coach Smith outlined his comprehensive and comprehensible training philosophy. He has since documented his rationale and spoken about it on Coach Jay Johnson’s podcast.

According to Coach Smith, effective training programs must touch upon each of the essential elements of endurance: stamina, strength, speed, suppleness, and skill.  The emphasis placed on each depends upon the athlete and the specific distance and surface for which she is training.

As distance runners, most of us naturally put the majority of our training efforts toward building or maintaining our stamina, often neglecting the other essential elements of speed, strength, suppleness and skill.  Unfortunately, we don’t generally realize that we have neglected a specific area until it is too late.  Injury and under-performance are far too frequent. This should not be the case.  These harrowing experiences can be effective indicators of one’s strengths and weaknesses, but if nothing is done with the new data to alter one’s training program, the passion for training and racing will ultimately wane.

Working with a qualified coach can help you train toward your goal race, avoid injury, and find enjoyment and fulfillment throughout the training cycle. By offering a fresh set of eyes, an experience coach can work together with the athlete to evaluate her strengths and weaknesses and measure them against the goal race distance and terrain to determine how much emphasis to place on each of the five elements of training and ultimately tailor a training plan specific to the individualized goals and needs of the athlete.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss each of the five essential elements of an effective training program and how to incorporate them in a plan tailored to your specific race goals and needs.   In the mean time, please ask questions that you would like address in upcoming articles in the comment area below.