Flagline: USATF 50K Trail Champs

“I wonder how many times a year the average American uses a port-a-john.”

This was the question that entered my head as I sat using the portable bathroom at the foot of Mt. Bachelor thirty minutes before the US 50K trail championships. For me using a port-a-john is nearly a daily affair. One of the things people rarely tell you about competitive running is that one’s life becomes weirdly oriented around a twofold process of consumption and excretion.  Couple this with the fact that running events often occur in places without plumbing infrastructure and over the years you will eventually accumulate an incredible number of hours sitting in plastic cubicles designed for bowel movements. 

A landscape of portability. Boston, 2014.

“Surely, this is not a normal experience for most people,” I thought, contemplating the neon blue color of the john and the curved aesthetic of the portable toilet’s door. (Why do manufacturers bother putting sculpting detail into the mold of a plastic port-a-john-door?)  I think most of my non-running friends hardly ever use a port-a-john. Perhaps for them such an experience is incredibly rare, gross, and contemptuously blue-collar. Unless you spend a fantastic amount of time outdoors, jostling around the contents of your intestines, why else would you voluntarily choose to void yourself into a portable repository?

 The inevitable pre-race queue. 

Anyway, after I finished musing about portable toilets I ran a 50K

Photo credit Richard Bolt.

I had been eyeing the USATF 50K trail champs since my lackluster run at Boston this spring. Wanting a change of pace (har har), I decided to spend the summer and fall running off-road, focusing on improving my climbing abilities and lengthening my longer runs. I’ve always run well in Oregon, so I figured the Flagline 50K in Bend would be a nice place to get a good result.

The race went out fast. Obligatory comment about trail running ‘paradigm shift’ or ‘new road fast people’ or ‘I hope the culture doesn’t change,’ etc.  In any event, the race went out super quick with tangible aggression. This was spearheaded by the incredible David Roche, who in his first run over twenty miles led a lead pack of Tim Tollefson , Ryan Bak, and Zachary Ornelas at a blazing pace. Tollefson would go on for an incredible win and CR, leading Bak by mere seconds. You can see a bit of data from his incredible effort on Strava here and David Roche’s debut here. David Laney would move through the front echelons to claim a well fought third.

For my part, I decided to play the role of the ‘wily veteran’ who would overcome these fast guys with my vicious accelerations over the last ten miles. At least, this is what I told myself at mile seven, as I sat in eighth place four minutes off the lead. With so much firepower in front of me, I was realistic that there was no chance for a win, but perhaps there would be enough carnage so that I could slip into the top three or four. Alas, it was not to be.

I ran a splendid race to mile 25, steadily moving up into 5th.  “Aha!” thought the wily veteran. “Now I shall reap carnage over the bodies of my opponents! I will destroy their expectations of victory and glory as I gallop up the trail! I shall consume their hopes and dreams with great anger and furious vengeance!”   

 "Where's my BAMF?"

Instead my calves started cramping.

So, as everyone in front of me started to slow, I did to an even greater degree. Interestingly, my left adductor muscle also gave out around mile 26 making descending and the slight lateral movements along the single track feel like agony. Instead of looking up the trail for more bodies I moved into damage control mode, trying to hold my pace somewhere between amputee turtle and sea snail. Having been channeling my inner Samuel Jackson, I switched into a more contemplative mode, comparing my current plight to late medieval self-flagellant mysticism.

It's pretty much the same thing as ultrarunning.

I survived and arrived at the finish line with battered legs, but without being in severe distress. I was glad to place near such fast folks in the race, but was a little peeved I was 0.5 seconds away from breaking 3:40, my time goal for the race. 

Thanks so much to the race directors, volunteers, and the USATF / US Mountain running folks who were on hand. The aid stations were great as volunteers were incredibly responsive as runners arrived. I’d like to thank one volunteer in particular at the (I think) mile 17 station who scrambled to get me a salt capsule. The course was well marked and I look forward to one day actually enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Flagline trail. Thanks to Richard Bolt of the US Mountain Running team for taking great shots of the day with his Minority Report techno Google glasses.

 Photo credit Richard Bolt

It was great sharing an AirBnb space with Richie, Magda, and Owen Lewy-Boulet as we had a great pre-race meal the night before. Sixteen years ago when I started running in Concord, North Carolina, I would have never thought I’d be breaking bread before a race with such amazing and talented people. 

 Photo credit Richard Bolt.

Biggest thanks however goes to the indefatigable CaitlinSmith who made the trip up to Bend and cheered me on to the finish. She also took the lion’s share of the drive home later that day in a car with an engine so small it struggles to run the AC in the Central Valley. 

Photo credit Richard Bolt.

All the race gear I used can be purchased at Transports in Oakland and Berkeley, California.

Nike Terra Kigers 2
Nike Tempo Shorts
Ultra Aspire Isomeric Pocket
Gu Lemonade Roctane


  1. Solid debut bud! I like your clever Turtle & Sea Snail analogy.

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kJ1wYpzQek

    Great writer, runner, and guy. But it looks like there are some folks whose whole lives revolve around port-a-potty.

  3. Awesome write up. You still finished really well even if it felt like carnage.

  4. I'm planning on doing Flagline for the first time in September and just happened onto your report. Thanks! Great writing, really enjoyed it. And that picture of the medieval self-flagellants, with the caption, could be marketed as a t-shirt. If you do it, I want one.


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