Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A new perspective

A serious Q&A with elite ultra marathon crew chief, Gaby Duran-Gorman, that definitely will not- under any circumstances- make the pages of UltraRunning or Trail Runner Magazine.

Tails & Trails: What do you like most about crewing ultra marathons?
Gaby: The aid stations.  The food is really good.

Tails & Trails: Wait, isn't the food at aid stations for runners?
Gaby: Yes, but don't tell anyone.  People might copy me.  Seeing all the runners at Aid Stations is a lot of fun, too.  They look so bad, especially after night fall.  I like to tell the runners just how bad they look and ask them if they're ok.  Like, if they're seriously ok to continue.  It really motivates them.  And that, for me, besides the food, is what I like best about crewing at ultra marathons.

Tails & Trails: I see.  Well, how many 100 mile ultra races have you crewed?
Gaby: Eight.  Pretty amazing, huh?  But if you count the number of races I should have crewed it would be several dozen or in the hundreds.

Tails & Trails: What do you mean, races that you "should have crewed"?
Gaby: Well, I crew really well.  Ask anyone.  I should have crewed for a lot of runners at past races that came in 2nd or 3rd place.  If I would have crewed for them they probably would have won.

Tails & Trails: So, you're kind of like an elite crew person then?
Gaby: Duh.  And I prefer to be labeled a 'crewer'.  Crewing a race is sometimes harder than actually running a race.  It is so mental.

Tails & Trails: Really?  How is crewing a 100 mile race harder than running a 100 mile race?
Gaby: For starters I almost never have cell reception at 100 mile races.  And that sucks.  Second, it gets cold at night.  I like hot weather and wearing gloves and a hat in August is hard.  Period.

Tails & Trails: Tell me about your preparation for crewing a 100 mile race?
Gaby: Usually I prepare by getting very little sleep the week before a race.  My feeling is to crew well you have to understand what a runner goes through during the race.  So, that means being really tired along with the runner out on the course.  I also throw up a lot while crewing.  I see other runners do it sometimes and it looks cool.  I admit, I do come to a race with a crew plan but you know how it goes... it is a 100 mile race and anything can go wrong.  It is easy to fall off the plan and hard to get back on.  Another thing I do sometimes before a race is take a few cold showers the week before- but only for a minute or two.  I do this to mimic night time conditions out on the course.

Tails & Trails: Those are unusual practices.  How do you combat fatigue and hunger while you're attending to your runner?
Gaby: It goes back to what we were talking about before: the aid station food.  Being the competitive person that I am I usually get to aid stations before other crewers and runners.  That way I know everything on the food tables is hardly touched.  And for that reason I don't mind taking a few pulls from Coke 2-liters.  The caffeine keeps me alert.  Then I usually flip through the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and find the one that looks the prettiest.  I don't like crust so I eat around it and then put it back on the plate.  I am not down with wasting food.  So, as long as I get a little caffeine and a few carbs in my system I am good to go.

Tails & Trails: Have you ever considered resting more the week before a race and bringing your own food to the actual event?
Gaby: Can you repeat the question?

Tails & Trails: Never mind.  What sort of advice do you have for other crewers out there who say crewing a 100 mile race is simply too much.  That they don't think they could finish.
Gaby: I like to quote what the Leadville 100 tells us crewers: 'You're better than you think you are but you're not better than me'.  Wait, that's wrong.  I would tell them 'you're better than you think you are but you can't do more than me'.  Hold on, that's still not right...

Tails & Trails: You know what, forget it.  Let's move on.  What sort of electrolytes do you provide your runners?
Gaby: Sodium intake is kind of overblown in my opinion.  In fact, I am determined to prove the whole thing a myth.  Sometimes I even give my runner placebo-type salt pills.  Doesn't seem to make a difference to me.

Tails & Trails: I would disagree with you but I don't have the energy for that right now.  Let's wrap this up.  Real quick, what about calories?  What do you like to feed runners?
Gaby: Runners always like high-calorie, fast digesting carbs, fat, protein blah, blah, blah.  Something about needing the energy to keep going.  I think being an athlete means watching what you eat.  I sometimes empty out my runner's drop bags, usually filled with carb blocks and gels, and fill them with more sensible foods like celery sticks and cucumbers.

Tails & Trails: Gosh, um, thanks.  Uh, it was great speaking with you and learning a bit about your style of crewing.  I am sure many crewers out there and their runners will gain a great deal knowledge from your feedback.
Gaby: You're totally welcome!  Thank you.
Gaby.  The day after crewing her 8th 100 miler.  So much wisdom.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


#1. A quick read on the Grand Slam:

#2. A few Wasatch pictures:

Getting through Francis Peak quickly.

Leaving Big Mountain with Evan.

Entering Brighton.

Prepping for the final 25 with Jason.


Silly cats.

The winner: Nick Clark.  One too many cookies at the awards ceremony, Nick?

Grand Slam paperweight.


Goodbye, Summer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wasatch pt. III. Final installment: Race Report

Ah, my second year in a row at Wasatch.  I love this race.  A low key vibe.  Incredible, craggy mountains.  Blue skies.  Great competition.   Funny and helpful volunteers and race directors.  Wasatch is an ultra runners dream.

Leading up to the race I knew my Wasatch goal was aggressive.  Leadville was only 20 days prior and I wanted to hammer a punctilious nail in the Grand Slam record coffin, which left me no choice but to run a sub 21:30.  That’s right.  A sub 21:30.  At Wasatch.  Not an easy task.  Plus, the thought alone of chasing Joe Kulak’s ghost was all too intimidating.

I decided after Leadville to complete all of my race prep work and worrying over running a sub 21:30 as soon as possible so I could attempt to relax and put all thoughts of the race out of my mind.  Fortunately, in many ways that simple strategy worked.

Late Wednesday afternoon I drove from Vail, Colorado, where I have enjoyed summer since Aug 1 dividing my time between a laptop and cell phone, my toolbox and the mountains, to Salt Lake City airport.  Vail is one hell of a place to spend summer.  I live in Washington D.C.  So, summer spoiled I am not.  I scooped up Gaby and Mom at the airport- the essential ingredients to a successful 100 crew- and bolted to the hotel for, first, a round of Mom’s cookies and, second, a night’s sleep.

Friday morning came in a flash and I found myself huddled amongst a hungry pack of runners staring down a dark, formidable trail.  Within moments the race began at a pace I instantly realized was a bit brisk.  I held back and focused on my pace and the trail.  I knew running up the first big climb, beginning within just a few miles, would weed out the hares leaving only a few runners to grunt as loud as they liked rounding over a lonesome Chinscrapper summit.

Up to this point I ran a lot with Matt Hart and Kevin Schilling.  I let them go as I re-grouped after Chinscrapper and soon became reacquainted with Erik Storheim as he appeared from behind.  I enjoyed running with Erik last year at Wasatch and figured I would share many miles of trail with him on this day as well.  I made my way to the first aid station at Francis Peak, mile 18.7, a few minutes under my preferred goal time.  First success of the day and I was pleased.  Gaby and Mom made the hairpin drive through fog up to Francis Peak in order to process my aid stations in the true NASCAR fashion we had delicately planned.  I was in and out of Francis Peak in what felt like seconds.  Success again.

At this point there was a stretch of several minutes between myself, Erik, Matt, Kevin, Jared Campbell and a small pack of front guys including the “Two Nicks” -Nick Clark and Nick Pedatella-, Luke Nelson, Anthony Culpeper and maybe one or two other guys.  I figured I was in the top ten at that point, or somewhere thereabouts, but didn’t really care much.  Mile 19 at Wasatch is no place to benchmark placement.  Besides, my biggest competitor was the clock.  Other than having a fun day and a happy finish, sub 21:30 was all I cared about.  Moreover, based on historical race finish time trends, a sub 21:30 would deliver a top three finish anyway and I knew it.

The next several miles were uneventful, less their scenic beauty and relentless climbs.  The trail was overgrown but the weather was nice and cool.  The trail was muddy but the lack of heat made for exceptional conditions.  Things were clicking; stars aligning.  I saw Jason Koop volunteering at Sessions aid station, mile 28.2.  A quick water re-fill and fist-bumb later and I was back on the trail.  “Brighton” I exclaimed to Jason.  He nodded and smiled.  Jason would pick me up later as a pacer at Brighton.  After sessions came more and more climbing.  The sun cleared from behind the clouds and fortunately the weather remained cool.  It was a glorious day.  Finally, after more miles and a final speedy, curvy descent the trail delivered me to Big Mountain aid station, mile 39.4.  I weighed in, Gaby re-loaded what felt like my Bat-belt and Evan Cestari hitched on for the first of many quality pacing miles.  Evan’s mission was simple: keep me moving quickly all the way to Brighton and get me there in one piece.  Evan’s intuitive nature took hold and we immediately settled in to a chatty, comfortable pace behind Erik Storheim (who else?).  Erik had clearly eaten his Wheaties that morning and it made no sense to push past him.

Along the way to Alexander Ridge Nick Clark appeared out of nowhere from the rear.  The poor guy went off trail.  It didn’t appear to faze him that much as he blew by me and Evan.  We wouldn’t see him again until the finish.  We continued on our pace, navigating the technical trail down to Alexander Ridge aid station, arriving five or six minutes behind on my goal time estimates.  We hurried through the aid station, leaving Erik behind.  We made our way up a long, gradual climb from there, then down to Lambs Canyon aid station with incredible velocity.  We gained back the lost time and picked up an additional 6 or 7 minutes.  We were pumped.  Especially since the trail to Lambs Canyon enjoys a long history of ruining successful Wasatch aspirations.  The ups, the downs, the midday sun, the long stretch without aid, rocks, etc. combine forces and can instantly turn the freshest legs into a situation of destitute, race-ending proportions.

Not long after Lambs we passed Kevin Schilling.  Back spasms forced him out of the race I believe.  A few miles after we passed Kevin we passed Luke Nelson just before entering Millcreek aid station, mile 61.68.  Our transition here, like the others, was flawless.  Gaby and Mom processed us through like a revolving door.  We climbed our way up to Desolation Lake and the summit ridgeline above it.  Evan’s patience equaled his energy as he politely walked most of the way behind me up the climbs.  They.  Never.  Ended.  I reminded myself not to worry, I was on goal pace- I was on Grand Slam record breaking pace- and that I needed to conserve energy as much as possible and not give it away on the climbs.  We reached the ridgeline very happy runners.  We were happy that the big climb was over (for the moment).  That the most beautiful section of daylight trail we had seen all day was upon us.  And that we could soon see Brighton ski lifts down valley.  I blew through Scotts Pass aid station without breaking stride.  Evan re-filled his bottle, caught back up and we descended our way to Brighton.
Sun had all but set as we made our way into the Brighton aid station, mile 75.61.  After a few minutes of Dance Revolution with a finicky digital scale Gaby, Mom, Evan, Rebecca (Evan’s girlfriend) and my new pacer, Jason, got me fed, layered up and back out the door.  It was cold all of the sudden.  The sun had set and the temperature plummeted.   The climb up Catherine’s Pass was the same as last year: harder than I could handle.  I gasped for air as we neared the summit and prayed for secure foot purchase with each step. I learned the next day it was also on the climb up Catherine’s that I had passed Nick Padetella. He went off trail temporarily as I understand it and I must have slipped by him.

After summiting Catherine’s the first of many long, steep, vicious descents was presented.  Ant Knolls aid station was another in-er and out-er- less than a minute.  The nasty climb out of Ant Knolls once again left me compromised.  It is just so hard.  And running this section at night no less.  Jason kept us going at a great pace as my energy levels picked up more and more once we hit flat to rolling ground.  We powered the climbs ahead and bombed the down hills.  All I could think about was sub 21:30 and Jason assured me our pace was on target.
We blew by Anthony Culpeper on a steep descent on the way to Pot Bottom, mile 93, and I almost felt bad since I figured we kicked up a tremendous dust screen in our wake.  Pot Bottom seemed to take forever to reach.  As moments ticked by and we did not reach Pot Bottom I began to seriously wonder if Joe’s Grand Slam record was slipping away.  Jason pushed the pace hard during these miles and my legs responded in kind.  I slurped on vanilla and chocolate Gu’s like a happy baby and trusted in his selfless pacing.  He wanted to make it as much as I did.  We finally reached Pot Bottom and hauled ass in and out of the tent as quickly as we could.  We had one hour and 35 minutes to cover the remaining 6.87 miles.  Only problem was one final climb remained in our way.

We moved quickly up the climb and began strategizing each stretch ahead of us.  All I remember saying was “yeah, we need to hammer that.”  And all I remember doing was just that, hammering them.  I had absolutely no business descending to Midway, the site of The Homestead and the finish, as quickly as I did.  The technical trail didn’t bother my quads, feet or knees, as I was a stone faced killer on a mission.  “Gorman…c’mon Gorman” Jason instigated.  It worked.  I kept on.  We finally hit the pavement, broke into a 7:30 pace and held it all of the way to the finish line.  21:19:11 was my final time.  A 2nd place finish was mine.  A Grand Slam finish was mine.  The Grand Slam record was mine.  The fastest Wasatch time by a Grand Slam finisher was mine.  What a haul!  It felt great.  Mom, Gaby, Evan, Rebecca, Jason and I celebrated in laughter.  Nick Clark re-appeared to the finish, after his fine 1st place finish in 20:21, to congratulate me.  Nick is such a strong runner, and a very nice and funny guy.

There are so many people I would like to thank for getting me to this point, not including the names I just mentioned above.  Joe Kulak, obviously, for inspiring me by setting an impossibly high bar during his 2003 Grand Slam record setting year.  Russell Gill, my running coach, has been a big part of my Grand Slam success.  He seemed to know all along I was capable of going after Joe’s record time before I realized I could even recover after each race and make it to the next race in one piece.  Beyond that, there are just so many names, much less people I do not even know from the other races, to mention.  Thank you all.  And thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wasatch pt. II

Wasatch turned out to be a far better, and tougher, experience than I imagined.  2nd place finish in 21:19.  I also came away the proud new owner of the Grand Slam record (for the non-ultra running geeks: overall fastest cumulative time for running the Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100 and Wasatch 100 in one summer).  I'm not sure what this means to me or for me just yet, especially since I haven't even slept since before the race, but for the short term I know it means sore feet and legs.  In all seriousness, I am very proud of the Grand Slam result.  Mostly because of the lifelong memories, lessons and experiences with great people running the Grand Slam has provided.  In addition, I owe this new found success to many, many people who have inspired me to become the happy runner I am.  Going after Joe Kulak's Grand Slam record was never on my running goal list, it sort of just developed as summer went on.  Nonetheless, I will honor it until the next runner comes along and bests my new time standard. 

I will post a Wasatch report and pictures here in the coming days.  Please come back and visit.

Monday, September 06, 2010


Rewind to May 2009. I’m on the heels of a bouncing, backwards white baseball cap on some Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 ridgeline. I catch up to the Hat eventually and we run together, yo-yo style, for a few hours. We run, we chat, we drop each other, we catch back up to one another, we pass through aid stations and, finally, the Hat drops me for good around the 50 mile marker. We both go on to finish in the middle of a stormy night.  Only, the Hat finishes about 40 minutes faster than me. We congratulate each other at the finish. I feel like death and shiver uncontrollably. The next day the Hat, otherwise known as Joe Kulak, was nowhere to be seen. There would be no catching up and no exchanging stories from yesterday’s race.

Fast forward to May 2010 and I show up again to the MMT100 as a spectator. Joe is racing. I see him at a few aid stations throughout the day. Throw up, blood, dehydration- you name it- the guy has it going on. Regardless, Joe goes on to finish only as a die-hard, tough-as-nails competitor would. Does Joe even know the meaning of DNF I thought? I still don’t think so.

In a nutshell, these were my two experiences seeing Joe Kulak in action. I have heard other stories from VHTRC pals about his drive and mental toughness. I have also heard amusing stories about his weak stomach at race aid stations, acting out like an angry child. Combine the stories and look up a few of the guy’s race results and I dare anyone to disregard Joe as anything but an ultra running legend.  As far as ultra running legends go, at least. Much less, an ultra running legend that still runs ultras. And runs them well.

Joe is probably most widely known for his 2003 Grand Slam performance, in which he ran a stellar 18:14:59 Western States, 14:55:26 Vermont, 20:03:25 Leadville and 21:53:10 Wasatch. To date no other Grand Slam finisher had run a faster combined time. To date, no one has still. Very impressive, Joe.

Friday is Wasatch, and my final stop on the 2010 Grand Slam express. I have been fortunate to find mild success in my Grand Slam races this summer and I calmly await Friday’s Wasatch adventure with a careful, yet respectful, eye on Joe’s 2003 Grand Slam 75:07:00 combined time standard. Truly, first and foremost I would like to enjoy a fun day of running and competing in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains of Utah. Second, I want to finish what I started and become a Grand Slam finisher. Will good fortune accompany me at Wasatch? Will I negotiate the clock in such a way to produce a strong finish time and better Joe’s Grand Slam record time? If I am so fortunate to race strong and smartly who knows what will happen. Only time will tell. I hope to make Joe proud.  Tune in.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Taking it slow

Me: "I don’t know if this is going to work."

Blogger: "Why? We’re so good together."

Me: "Yes, and I like you. I do.  Like you."

Blogger: "So then what is the problem?"

Me: "I just can’t be in a relationship right now. I recently broke up with Faceanna Bookner and the last thing I can handle is to be tied down."

Blogger: "Okay…but..."

Me: "Listen, it's not you..."

Blogger: "Puh-lease.  Don't go there."

Me:  "Fine, but I...  Look, let's just take it slow and see what happens."

Blogger:  "Promise?"

Me:  "Promise."

Blogger:  "Don't hurt me."