Race Report: Gulch Countdown 2019

On Saturday January 5th, 2019 I did not finish the Gulch Countdown race, getting disqualified after ~27 miles. This is the race report.


I really didn’t have goals for this race, I was just out there to have fun. Part of me wanted to see how far I could run untrained though to see if it was going to be a good idea to attempt to go on a 93 mile run this summer.

  1. Make it to 6 laps (13.1 miles) – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Make it to 12 laps (26.2 miles)  – ACCOMPLISHED
  3. Make it past 50k -Not Accomplished
  4. Be the last man standing – Not Accomplished


What am I proud of from race day?

  • Somehow ran the farthest I had ever run in a day, despite low training
  • Did a great job implementing my pacing strategy
  • Had a lot of fun meeting other runners and talking on the trail


What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Got lost in lap 1 and had to sprint to finish in time
  • Didn’t push it hard enough during the middle section of lap 12


What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • Abram for organizing & facilitating the race
  • The family that hosted the race in their driveway
  • All of the effort that volunteers put into making this first time, small scale race one of the best I’ve been a part of


What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Can’t really think of anything, this was a great race that I had low expectations for

Race Recap

This race stands unique as being the longest race I have ever run, the first race (of hundreds) where I did not finish and also the race I was least trained for, ever. I loved every minute of it.

First, I should set context, the format of the race was unique – it consisted of 2.2 mile long laps on a muddy, hilly single-track trail that started at fixed times of decreasing duration. Anyone who finished the last lap before the cutoff was allowed to start the next one. Finishing a lap early just meant you had to wait around for the next one to start. The pace of the first lap was ~15 minute miles, by the time I got eliminated the pace was closer to 9 minute miles.

Pre Race Day

Going into the race I had been running 4 miles once or twice a week, so I wasn’t sure how long I would last. I don’t think I’d cleared double-digits on an easy run in over six months. I had recently logged a few miles sub-six, so I knew speed wouldn’t be my limiting factor, it would be endurance – how long would I last before I simply ran out of energy. With that in mind, my strategy was to go as slow as possible and eat a lot early, so that I had every chance to still have glycogen reserves late in the day. I figured I could make it to 13 miles or so on guts and the slow pace cutoff. After that was a question mark. Going past 26.2 was a goal I had in mind as it would make this the longest I had ever run.

Because the race was a loop, and we had to wait after finishing a lap for the next one to start, having a self-provided aid station was perfectly possible. I had brought along a cooler full of clothing, food & gear to help me survive the day. Layers, braces, gels, and extra everything, just in case. In the end, it was a bit overkill.

The Start

There were perfect racing conditions when the race started at 8:30am – 40 and cloudy. I started off in three layers of clothes – including a fleece jacket. I took off on the first lap in the very back of the 50 runners. In fact, my GPS was having trouble getting calibrated, so I walked across the start line 15 seconds after the gun went off. You can see me looking at my watch in the picture below.

The first lap demonstrated one of the best aspects of this format. I had no motivation to run fast, so instead I ran with other people I might not normally have run with in a race. I spent most of that lap talking to my friend (and wife of the race director) Kristin. We were running slow enough that the main pack separated a bit and unfortunately, neither of us was paying attention to the course very well. During a place where the loop intersected itself, we accidentally doubled back on our tracks, putting us on a course to run an extra mile. We had been going pretty slow and so by the time I realized how far behind we were, there were only 10 minutes left to finish over a mile of the course. You can see me in the picture below way on the other side of the course from everyone else.

I took off running and logged one of the fastest times of the day on the back half in order to finish just before the cutoff. I went from an easy 130 bmp to over 170 and was thoroughly sweating in my fleece jacket. Kristin didn’t survive the lap, but I think she only planned to run one lap anyhow.

That first lap was a huge setback in terms of energy conservation. It would mean that I had not only run an extra mile compared to everyone else, but also that I had burned a lot of extra energy going top speed.

After that first lap things returned to plan for the most part. The next 5 laps were basically a nice slow group run where I got a chance to talk with a bunch of different folks. I slowly stripped off layers and ate food in the breaks between laps. I usually had 2-4 minutes to spare. I don’t think I ran two laps in the same outfit actually, I’d strip off a top one lap and a bottom the next – trying to keep as warm as possible without overheating.

Half Marathon

The end of lap 6 marked the half marathon was a marker in my mind at which point we’d start doing some real running. I planned a big reset and finished with a few extra minutes so that I could change socks, strip off my tights and hit the porta-potty. Once I was in shorts, it was time for business.

Laps 7-9 felt like a real run. I noticed it got a lot quieter. The number of people running had thinned a good bit and instead of rambunctious conversations on the trail, most of us were keeping pretty quiet. I started having less, if any, time between the laps and was more in need of support during those breaks. I took a bottle with me for one lap and probably should have had it with me for others. With all of the mud on the course, I wanted to keep my hands free though, in case I fell. It was about at this point that I noticed more people falling. Tired legs and a sloppy course that had been trampled 7+ times made it much easier to take a dive.

It was lap 10 where my mind shifted from, ‘I can do this all day’, to “I’m not sure how many more of these I have in me”. The cutoff time had now dropped from 32 minutes to 23 minutes, and we now all had 22 miles under our legs, meaning we were past the point of a run when people usually hit the wall. I made notes of a few milestones on the course to see how long it took me to get between them. I figured it would be good to know how close I was to finishing one of the coming laps on time. Lap 10 took a good bit of work.

Lap 11 was my fastest of the day. The group was getting thin and I was starting to hurt. I locked behind another runner and held on for dear life. We kept hitting the milestones on the course perfectly, so I just hung on. It felt like real work. We pushed the flats and downhills and power hiked the uphills. We finished with maybe 20 seconds to spare and the next lap would have a cutoff one minute faster, meaning we needed to run 40 seconds faster to finish on time.

Lap 12

Once I cleared lap 11, I knew my total would be at least 27 miles, even if I walked that last lap. Only 9 of us started that lap. I doubted I could finish on time, but there was no harm in trying. I thought I might be able to do it if I found the right runners to hold on to. After-all, I only had to go 40 seconds faster than my previous lap.

I started off hanging onto the main group at all costs. Surprisingly I crossed my 9:00 checkpoint on time. Just 12 minutes more and I would finish. As I hit the long steady uphill section, things started to fall apart. I let a runner in front of me go, and that ended up being a critical mistake. I caught another runner, but he was limping along and in no place to push the pace. I pushed him to dig deep and then took off, hoping to beat the clock. At the mark where I knew I could finish in 6 minutes, I checked my watch and only had 5 minutes left. This was going to be an all out sprint. I cleared the 3 minute marker with 2:40 left, I was making progress, but not enough.

My (Did Not) Finish

The cutoff whistle blew with me in eyeshot of the finish, I was probably 30 seconds away. I walked it in and crossed the line a few minutes later. I didn’t finish that lap within the time, so I was eliminated from participating in the next one.

It turns out only 2 runners went on to run lap 13 and they both ran another 10 miles before hitting a lap that neither of them could make the time cutoff for. Both of them could clearly put in the distance, the guy that won finished 19th in the Western States 100 last year, but the pace eventually got too fast for the trail. So even if I had finished, I would definitely have ended up in 3rd place and likely only finished one other lap before getting cutoff. My plan was actually to walk the next lap with some pizza and relax, but alas I was 30 seconds too slow.

Here is the race organizer, Abram, on the left with a few of us that DNFd on lap 12.


Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this race.

First, here are some overall stats to set context for the day. My GPS logged me at 27.79 miles and 2,817ft of climbing at an average pace of 11:24. Interestingly, I spent 40% of the day climbing. Of the 5.25 hours I was moving for 4.75 hours, so I had a total of about 30 minutes of downtime.

It wasn’t until after the first lap that I realized I should turn off auto-lap on my watch so that I could see the cumulative time for each lap and better measure out my progress over the day. The times below are a bit wonky because some laps include the rest time at either end of them while others include none.

The heart rate charts shows how well I executed my planned strategy of saving energy till the end. Other than miles 2-3 where I had to sprint and maxed out my heart rate, I kept it pretty conservative, even up the big hills. My last lap was my hardest effort of the day, which is all you can ask for.

Despite putting in a lot of work, my heart rate primarily stayed in zones 2-4, with a good bit of time in zone 1. For reference, in a marathon, I would primarily be in zone 4 and anything shorter than an hour would be almost exclusively in zones 5 & 6.

What is Next?

I’m hoping Abram will run this race again and that maybe I can put a tiny bit more training into it before next time so that I can get closer to 50k. I actually think with my speed that if the race finished around 35 miles again next time, I’d have a decent shot at winning it. Unlike a 100 mile race where I needed to have crazy endurance, this race favors being well balanced.

As a result of this race, running nearly 30 miles off of almost no training, I’ve decided to try and push what I can accomplish without training. I don’t have much time to train these days but that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun. This summer I plan to try and tackle the 93 mile Wonderland Trail off of about this much of a base. I suspect that run would be challenging no matter how much I prepared, so I might as well save some time in the process. Wish me luck.

Yearly Focus – v1.6 Release Notes

Each year I focus my attention on a few named goals as a way to be more intentional about the pursuits I direct my energy towards. The way in which I do this has evolved over time and these release notes serve to document the current state of the process and changes I’ve made recently.

Review Of v1.5

For v1.5 I made only a few minor tweaks. The yearly focus remained centered around the idea of focusing on single topic, which the challenge, habit & exemplar would all relate to. The full details of v1.5 are located here but the main three adjustments were:

  1. Introduced the concept of a Sabbath Cycle Vision item
  2. Specified difficulty progression by quarter for the habit
  3. Added details to the description about each item in the release notes

I set my newest Sabbath Cycle Vision but don’t yet have feedback on it.

The main item I have feedback on is the adjustment to how I structured the measurement of the habit over the year in order to progress the difficulty. Having different goals for each quarter, with some flexibility to change mid-year based on learnings was extremely helpful. It meant success was achievable early in the year, but progress was possible throughout the year.

Changes for v1.6

This year, for the first time, I got wind of someone else following my yearly focus format and applying it to their own theme. I love that and am inspired by it.

I can’t really take that much credit for this format of setting a yearly focus, though. Plenty of other people have set yearly goals for themselves or studied the habits of successful people. I’ve just had a few years to hammer on the process unify it a bit and make adjustments so that things go smoothly. I did recently hear about some great ideas that come from research about how to make goals and measurements that stick, so I’ve brought into the fold for this version, which should help refine this process even more.

I’m also adding a new category, emphasizing something I’ve often neglected and making a few tweaks to the wording to make it more consumable.

  1. (re)Introduction of the Bucket List Item
  2. Adding celebration
  3. More emphasis on focusing on the process
  4. Rewording the descriptions to make them less about me and more consumable by others


Sabbath Cycle Vision – A guiding vision for the the six years between sabbath years. This broader theme will help guide many aspects of life during this period, including big life decisions, the selection of themes for individual years and prioritization decisions when taking on new projects.

Example Sabbath Cycle Vision: ‘expand your horizons & do new things’ or ‘settle down and establish roots’ or ‘fight the destruction of the planet’.

Due to the longer period, this item can be much larger in scope. This will help in thinking about priorities that are larger than what can be accomplished in a single year. Due to the longer period, there will also be less certainty about specifics, and so it needs to be appropriately broad.

Theme – A central topic for the year that is important enough to focus a large amount of energy on. A single word can suffice or perhaps a few are needed. It is something to spend time thinking about and take a few concrete efforts towards. Because this exercise is designed to help grow as a person, the theme will likely not be something you are awesome at today. Instead chose something you would like to explore for the first time or something that is holding you back from getting to where you want to be.

Example Theme: ‘living within community’, ‘healthy’ or ‘defending freedom’

Challenge – Something related to the theme that you have never done before, but that you would like to attempt. This is a chance to stretch yourself, step outside of your comfort zone and grow your experience of the world.

Example Challenge: ‘run a marathon’ or ‘play an original song at an open mic night’

These challenges might often be something that you feel is important, but the act of doing new things is important in itself. Attempting new things forces us to learn, which keeps our brains sharp, and it forces us to stretch our comfort zones, which gives us a larger area we can operate in the future. It also helps us become more comfortable with the idea of being out of our comfort zone, which makes future uncomfortable things less uncomfortable.

The challenge is setup so that accomplishing it is binary, but you can also add stretch goals for an extra challenge after you achieve the initial success.

I’ve found it helpful to pre-negotiate artificial limiters, such as budget or time commitment, to ensure that I don’t strain other priorities to accomplish this.

Habit – A behavior to improve or adjust that is related to the theme. Usually something you have done before but that you want to focus on in order to do it more frequently, less frequently or with better results.

These habits are a way to focus on the process and make adjustments to who you will be in the long run. They might be things that make you look more like the person you want to be or those that you believe will make you capable of achieving the things you want to achieve. By measuring the habit for a single year and making small improvements it is possible to make changes that will stick. A lot of this comes from the hard work during that year of overcoming the challenges that pop and making lifestyle adjustments. Once you have done those, you are much more likely to last beyond the year, instead of reverting back to the old ways once the year concludes.

The habit should be something that is repeatable somewhat regularly and measurable.

Example Habit: ‘exercise X times per week’ or ‘decrease sugar consumption to <X grams per day’.

This element is most likely to create lasting results when the targets are difficult but achievable. One way to ensure things remain progressively difficult as you get better is to break the year down into four quarters of three months each and make the target a bit higher each quarter. That way the year starts off pretty easy and gets harder once you’ve built up some success. Since you will be planning before you have much data, it is ok to adjust the target during quarterly reviews based on how things have been going. If you thought exercising five times a week was a good target but have only been doing it two or three times, try dropping your target to four for the next three months to see if having the goal within reach gives you the boost you need to make it happen – you can then increase it back to five the following quarter if doing four went well.

Depending on the habit you’re attempting I’ve found it is important to take into account seasonality when planning – some things are easy to do a lot of in the summer but get harder later in the year which could be discouraging if you didn’t plan for it.

Finally, celebrating success is important, especially with this category as it requires the most continual work. Each quarter as we review the habit, we should think of an appropriate way to celebrate that is proportionate to the results.

Exemplar – A person that exemplifies the values or principles of the theme or who is notable for their relation to it. This will be someone you might spend time reading the writings of or if available, spend time learning from directly.

In studying their lives, you will be able to identify; thought patterns that shaped their worldview, motivations that drove them, behaviors that helped them succeed, and decisions that proved favorable. You can then benefit from that knowledge by applying it to your own life.

I’ve created an exemplar review template that helps me focus on things that will ultimately be actionable as I learn about them.

Example Exemplar: ‘George Washington’ or ‘Martin Luther King Jr’

Bucket List Item – Something you really want to experience before you die. It doesn’t have to be related to the theme, but it is great if it does.

It could consist of a place you want to visit, an activity you want to participate in, or an accomplishments you want to achieve. The idea behind having a bucket list item is twofold.

First, if you, like me, have a long bucket list, you’ve got to get started on it if you want any chance of finishing it before you kick the bucket.

Second, I’ve found that achieving important goals often requires a lot of sacrifice and hard work in the present. I’ve found that if I can doing at least one big, exciting, memory-worthy thing a year – like a bucket list item – it makes the whole year seem pretty good, even if it was actually really difficult. So this is a nice way to have some fun with your yearly focus. Perhaps you can even use the bucket list item as a reward for doing a good job with the habit or challenge, especially if it is a bit of a luxury.

Quarterly Review – In order to have the best chance at succeeding, you should have some form of accountability. I personally blog about my yearly focus. That isn’t the only option though, personal journaling, sharing your focus with those close to you or even a social media post can be equally effective forms of accountability.

At the very least, you need to write it down somewhere though, so you don’t forget the details. You should also review your goal every three months or so, jot down some notes about how things are going and what you can do next to keep progressing. That quarterly review is also a good time to readjust targets as necessary. Sometimes a year throws surprises at you, it is better to adjust and succeed than to fail and lose confidence unnecessarily.

2019 Focus: Long-Suffering

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by being selective about where I direct my energy, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than if I split that energy across many different goals.

More details about the process are in this blog post and you can review the results from past years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 & 2018).

2019 Theme: Long-Suffering

My theme for 2019 is long-suffering.

This is the first full year of my newest sabbath cycle, of which overarching vision is that of preparing for my calling. That means my next six years will involve undertaking a lot of hard work, that might not always be directly rewarding or obviously contributing to the long term work I want to accomplish.

With that in mind it seemed appropriate to start off by focusing my attention on the theme of patience, since I am going to be waiting for at least six years. I liked the word long-suffering a bit better than patience though as it seems both more active and also more appropriate for my current lot.

I find it interesting that long-suffering is closely related to the words patience and passion, from the Latin pati. Though we use those three words in very different ways today, they all have their origins in meaning about bearing a burden, enduring an experience or carrying a weight. Their meanings lie in the idea of caring so deeply about something that you are willing to sacrifice for it. An apt definition for my case.

This year will be centered around learning to extend my horizon of delayed gratification from years to decades.

2019 Challenge: Fasting in the Wilderness

For my challenge this year I’m going to walk into the backcountry, somewhere in the mountains near me, find a comfortable spot and sit there for an extended period of time, on the order of 2-3 days (definitely not 40), without food, any entertainment, company, etc. Just me, my clothing, a tent, some water and a few ‘break glass’ emergency items.

This challenge fits nicely with the theme of long-suffering on a micro level as I will be probably be suffering a good bit as I sit there without comforts for an extended period. It also likely fits with the theme of long-suffering on a macro level as I think it will be a good time to clear my head, think longer term about the future and envision all of the things that are motivating my present.

The idea of my yearly challenge is to push myself to do something new. To grow myself by introducing new types of stress, seeing how I handle those, then attempting to reflect on the experience and walk away better. I’ve actually done something similar to this previously though, so I will likely push the intensity a bit in order to make it a challenge that stretches my comfort zone.

I intentionally kept this challenge intense but short as I’ve realized that a lot of my previous challenges turned into big projects. Last year’s challenge was essentially creating a new blog from scratch, which would have taken me dozens of hours. I currently don’t have capacity for any more big ongoing projects though, hence the contained nature of this challenge.

2019 Habit: Minimizing Digital Entertainment

I wrote last year about a secret goal I was tracking in case I made it an official focus later. I decided to do that.

I will be attempting to decrease the amount of time I spend digitally entertaining and distracting myself. Last year I watched 52 movies, streamed 5 seasons of TV shows, played 1/4th of a video game and also watched a handful of sporting matches. In total that was probably ~200 hours spent over the course of the year, or ~4 hours per week.

Sure, I learned some things during some of that time. But mostly it was a distraction, a chance to focus my attention on something other than what was in front of me. And though my four hour average pales in comparison to the average American, who logs around 35 hours of TV per week, I think I can bear to decrease it nonetheless. I suspect the cohort I’m aspiring to count myself a part of spends closer to zero hours than 35 entertaining themselves.

This habit fits with the theme of long-suffering as I am looking to spend more of my time patiently investing now towards a future I hope to someday see. Entertainment, in contrast, is often reaping time for enjoyment now. It comes at the cost of being able to spend that time investing in the future. I don’t think it is altogether negative, but it is something I can bare to cut down on.

My goal is to drop to 2 hours per week on average. I am leaving some time in because I do really enjoy movies as a way to relax, especially on airplanes, and have been using video games as a way to help deal with the dark, cold, wet winters of Seattle. However, cutting my digital entertainment time in half from last year would mean I had 100 extra hours to spend on other things over the course of the year which would be immensely valuable. I suspect that at the same time, the 100 hours of entertainment remaining might be even more enjoyable due to its scarcity. I doubt I’ll spend much time on movies below a RottenTomatoes score of 90 with the precious little time I have.

I will keep track of my weekly totals and look at how many weeks I stay under 2 hours and also my average for each quarter. I’ve found that the combination of short term and long term goals is a good way to maintain constant incentive. At the beginning of the week, I’m motivated to try and log another successful week, but even if I miss that mark, I still have a reason to the best I can for the remainder of the week. In this case since the goal is to decrease something, keeping an eye on the long term average will be the way that I stop myself from binging and creating a debt that would takes me months to recover from (like last year when I went to the Boston Marathon and watched 7 movies over the course of 4 days).

2019 Exemplar: Nelson Mandela

Finding exemplars is tough. I’ve yet to find a good way to Google for specific people that fit with the theme of the year, so I tend towards people I know something about that seem somewhat relevant to the theme. Perhaps in the future I’ll find a better way to select people.

This year Nelson Mandela came to mind because of the 27 years he spent in prison and the fact that his greatest accomplishments came after that. He was clearly a driven man and to be able to do so little for so long must have been very difficult for him. I think I will be able to learn something from how he survived that experience, grew from it and accomplished things after it. After learning about him, I’m sure a measly six years un-incarcerated preparation will seem a small undertaking in comparison.

2019 Bucket List Item: Run the Wonderland Trail at Mt. Rainier

When I first started this yearly focus process back in 2014, my challenges were basically items from my bucket list that I wanted to cross off that year. Recently I changed challenges to be more focused on the theme and I’ve felt like I’m missing out on achieving bucket list items. So I’m bringing my bucket list back.

For 2019 I am going to attempt to run the 93 mile Wonderland trail that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier. It happens to be appropriate to the theme. The trail is as beautiful as it is difficult, climbing and descending 22k+ ft as it circumnavigates the 14k ft tall volcano. Most people attempt this hike as a backpacking trip of 7-14 days. I’m going to try and run it in in one shot, lasting about 24-36 hours. It will be two days sleepless, exhausting, physical and mental strain. I’m super excited.

Some people might ask if I’m too busy to be adding a nearly-100 mile run to my plate. I feel like I’m too busy to not have it on there. Having something big and crazy looming on my horizon is more motivating to me than having some relaxing period. What I am too busy for is training for a run like this. So I’m not going to do it. The point isn’t to be well prepared and do the run quickly (relatively speaking), it is to suffering through it and enjoy every moment.