"It just requires a change of attitude," he explained to me. Be willing to walk up hills, and be willing to take walk breaks down hills.
Well, I wasn't quite ready to make the leap to 50 km, let alone 30 km. But for the 20 km I had planned, I did follow his advice about walking up (if not down) the hills. To my amazement, not only did I not lose much time on the climb this way, I was actually passing people who were "running". In fact, the difference between me and them was they were bouncing up and down a lot more. I was able to shuffle-step by, listening to their labored breathing.
Finally I made the leap to 30 km and after, to the marathon distance at Skyline to the Sea. I know there's a 50 km in my future. But as I said, 50 km races aren't inspiring to Don. His goal is the Western States 100.
I was shocked when Don first described his training for the race: one run per week plus maybe a few visits to the gym for strength work. Okay, I figured.... he probably does some Pete Pensyres-like mega-fest each week. Hardly. His weekly runs were typically 50 km. One weekend, he said, he did a double run, running both Saturday and Sunday, neither of them particularly long.
So I was really interested to see how Don managed at the race, which ends this morning at 11 am. I was tracked him on the UltraLive webcast. Deep down, I still didn't believe he could do it.
True to his own advice, he started slowly. There's some nasty climbing from the start in Squaw Valley, California, over Emigrant Pass. I imagined him trudging up the hills, the altitude adding to the difficulty. But then he started passing people. Steadily his progress continued.
Here's a plot of his placings at checkpoints reporting data on-line (some checkpoints were out of communication range):
Steadily Don moved up through the field, passing close to 100 runners in the final 75 miles of the race. I was pleased to catch him finishing on the live video feed: he ran across the line, looking good. Super-inspiring.
The human body is an amazing thing, and confidence and strict adherence to a sustainable pace goes a long way to helping success in distance events. Good stuff to keep in mind, not just in running but in all pursuits.
If you're even near California Ave in Palo Alto, instead of stopping at nearby Starbucks, check out Zombie Runner if you want a good coffee in the morning. It's a bit more expensive and a bit slower, but worth it. And you get a chance to ask Don for some of his valuable running advice.