Sean O’Brien 50

Photo: Jayme Burtis. Early miles with Josh Arthur

It’s no secret that I love SoCal.  My streak of racing successes in the area is as mysterious to me as it is to anyone else.  I’m fully aware that my good fortune will run out at some point, but I’m sure it won’t deter me from continuing to return to race on the beautiful trails that exist in the greater Los Angeles area. (more…)

North Face 50

Photo: Galen Burrell

It was a dark but clear and cold morning that greeted us in the Marin Headlands on Saturday.  Given last year’s weather conditions and the fluctuating forecast in the days leading up to this year’s edition, we all agreed that it was pretty much a perfect day for the annual bloodbath that is The North Face 50 Mile Championship.  Though hype was at an all time high, the pace felt downright civilized for the first several miles.  Predictably, Cam Clayton went off the front with a long string of us chasing from a safe distance in the pre-dawn darkness.  I ran with Mike Wolfe and Jorge Maravilla up the serpentining Heather Cutoff Trail until we caught the chase group halfway up the longest climb of the day. (more…)


Since the last time I posted, life has been a whirlwind.  I mean that in the best way possible.  My time in Aspen came to a close the way it started – with a raucous party and a glaring absence of moderation.  With a heavy heart and an intense enthusiasm, I travelled to New York City to begin the next chapter of my professional career with Hypoxico Altitude Training Systems.  The three day training that ensued was a pleasure on all fronts.  The employees were eager to teach and accommodated my ignorance with patience and competence.  For them, it was probably an exercise in endurance but, for me, it was stimulating and inspiring.  I left with a renewed fervor to work and am very excited to be associated with such a pioneering and innovative company. (more…)

Change is Good

I’ve been a Colorado boy my entire life.  One year ago, if you would have told me I would ever leave Aspen, I would have said you were crazy.  If you told me I would leave to chase a girl to a major metropolitan area, I would have laughed in your face.  It’s amazing how quickly things can change.

I’m moving to the Bay Area next month, not only to chase girl, but also to chase a dream.  For the last three years I’ve been a proud employee of The Little Nell Hotel and the Aspen Skiing Company.  The opportunities, experiences, and friendships I’ve gained during my tenure are truly invaluable and will survive long after my final day at the office.  Last Thursday I quit my job in order to focus full time on running.  I realize I only have one chance to make this work, so I intend to take full advantage of the opportunity. (more…)

Ray Miller 50

Photo: Jack Rosenfeld

The sun seems to shine on me in Southern California.  Although we had cloud cover all day, it certainly felt like last Saturday was no different.  The Ray Miller 50 had been on my radar since last year when I heard about the inaugural event via various internet outlets.  Unfortunately, I was unable to make the trip last year and instead opted to race Leona Divide (another Keira Henninger production) a couple months later.  Obviously, that race turned out to be a major success for me so I was eager to get back to SoCal for some more racing at my next opportunity.  My schedule somehow opened up just a few weeks ago, just as this year’s Ray Miller sold out online.  Luckily Keira let me in the back door and work let me off the hook during an especially busy time.  Just like that, flights were booked and the 2013 racing stoke returned with a vengence. (more…)


 Coming off Hidden Peak the first time. Photo: Harmony Teitsworth

Ouch.  I’d never met Karl before, but still felt it was appropriate to call him an asshole as soon as I crossed the finish line at Snowbird last weekend.  That is one mean course and definitely lives up to its reputation as a “Meltzer designed nightmare.”  The mountainous nature of the course was incredibly engaging throughout and a welcome departure from the relatively flat, exceptionally runnable courses I’ve raced on this year.  I definitely want to improve certain areas of my training in order to compete better in these types of environments.  Luckily I live in a place that provides such an opportunity.

I went into the race with very low expectations due to lingering malaise and fatigue from my Western States fiasco some five weeks earlier.  My body just hasn’t felt right since which led me to withdraw from Angeles Crest, and instead opt for the “easier” 50k distance a little closer to home.  The hope was simply to gain useful experience running against legendary figures of our sport and spend a weekend away with my girl, amid the therapeutic energies of the mountain running community.


3 Pass Loop

Snowmass Creek – Buckskin Pass – Willow Pass – East Snowmass Pass – East Snowmass Creek.

Any self respecting runner living in the Roaring Fork Valley has at least heard of the famed Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop.  Anyone who has done it, knows that it’s quite a kick in the pants.  The kind that can lay you out for a day or two.  Luckily, there’s a similar, yet less aggressive, local alternative when one doesn’t have the time or energy necessary to complete the classic loop.  The little known and under appreciated Three Pass Loop was brought to my attention last year in an online post by long time Aspenite, Ted Mahon.  Ted’s adventures always inspire my own recreation and his recent race at Hardrock motivated me to link up these trails which I’d run individually many times.

You can give his post a read for a more detailed account of the route but suffice it to say, it is a great run.  Like the Four Pass, the Three Pass can be done in either direction and can be extended into a multi day backpacking trip if that’s more your cup of tea.  One thing worth mentioning is that, unlike the Four Pass, all the climbing is pretty much packed into the middle third of the run.  Its pretty much a long, very gradual climb to Snowmass Lake, followed by 3 consecutive ascents and descents of beautiful 12,500′ mountain passes, before a long, very gradual downhill back to the car.  Great day in the big backyard. (more…)

Western States 2012

Photo: Brett Rivers

The Beginning

We found ourselves off course just five miles into a long day and alternated frustrated obscenities all the way through the Lyon Ridge aid station.  Though I knew our error was minor, I was the most guilty of immediate panic.  My goal going into Western was simple.  Run at the front until I could no longer run.  Make it hurt, fight like hell, and finish no matter what the circumstances.  In this sense, I succeeded.

It has been two weeks since the battle and I am still struggling to generate intelligent thoughts about the race.  Things spiraled out of control so fast and so intensely late in the day that I’m still picking up the pieces of my collapse.  Each new experience brings new lessons.  If I’ve taken one lesson in a fortnight of obsessively second guessing my race, it is simply to ALWAYS RESPECT THE DISTANCE.  Powerful and painful lesson learned. (more…)

Vision Quest 2012

Aspen – Moab – Fruita – San Francisco – Big Sur – SoCal – Las Vegas – Flagstaff – Telluride – Aspen

Photo by Dominic Grossman

Fifteen days and 3,175.7 miles after it started, Vision Quest 2012 came to a close on Friday when the Jeep and I pulled back in into Aspen on a typically glorious spring day.   Though I’m still a bit road weary, I could not be happier with the entire experience.  Zero car troubles, zero speeding tickets, millions of good memories, and many new friends.  It was a really special two weeks that I’ll remember fondly for many years.

Obviously, I had a major breakthrough at the Leona Divide 50 last Saturday.  My race report was published over at iRunFar last week, so please give it a read if you’re at all interested.  In thinking about the race over the past week, a couple things come to mind that I think are worth mentioning here.  For starters, Leona was definitely the first ultra I’ve raced where I have legitimately run every single step of the course.  Secondly, when I passed Jason Wolfe around mile 32, it was the first time that I’ve made a deliberate move in a race.  I took a risk with eighteen miles still to run, and luckily it worked out.  I’ve written before about my lack of a “killer instinct” in racing and I’ve been consciously trying to develop confidence in my ability to win.  As such, I think Leona was a quantum leap in my personal growth as a runner.  So much of what we do is mental and I think both these points will allow me to think differently about how I’ll approach future races.  Particularly, a little race I’ll be running back out in California in late June. (more…)

The Good News and The Bad News

The good news is I think I’m finally out of the woods on a nagging IT issue that has plagued me for over a month.  Knock on wood.  The pain originally surfaced during the tail end of Bandera training, when I started incorporating fast running into my routine with characteristic immoderation.  The thought of not racing Bandera, though smart, never entered my mind.  The emotional and financial investment I had already made to that run was far more real than the dull leg ache that dogged me.  I took a couple Ibuprofen before the race and didn’t think about my knee once throughout the day.

I’m still happy I ran Bandera, and I don’t think the IT issue affected my performance, but it clearly worsened and exacerbated the injury.  When I started running again a couple days later, it was clear that something was wrong.  As a result, I was basically forced to hang up the running shoes for close to four weeks.  This was my first real injury of any significance in nearly 20 years of athletic competition which, I realize, is pretty lucky.  Forced time off is a terrible mind game.  I’m so happy to have this issue for the most part behind me.

The stubbornness of this particular injury means that I have unfortunately ruled myself out for the Moab Red Hot 55k next weekend.  This, of course, is the bad news.  I’m bummed to miss this gem of a race but, as with most dark clouds, mine has a silver lining.  Instead of racing in Moab I’ll be traveling to Costa Rica at the end of March to race the Jungleman Marathon 60k.  This new development has supplied ample stoke to extinguish any lingering self pity relating to my knee.  My participation in the race came about thanks to my friend (and consummate badass) Ashley Arnold at TrailRunner.  She put me in touch with a gentleman named Matt Nelson, the President and Founder of Endurance Trust, who in turn put me in contact with the RD.  Needless to say, I was so happy to accept this opportunity. (more…)

2011 Reflections

When looking back at 2011, a few things stand out as memorable lessons that I’ll carry into the future.  Here are a few thoughts:

SportsmanshipLast February, the Leadville 100 closed registration in what was an unprecedented early sell out of the event.  Since I hadn’t had the opportunity to put my name in the hat, I was immediately struck with panic that I would not be allowed in.  I expressed my anxiety to pretty much anyone who would listen and was pretty resigned to the fact that I’d have to find a different late summer race to aim towards.  Just as I was beginning to accept that I would not run Leadville 2011, I got copied on an email string between Duncan Callahan and LT100 Registration Manager, Shannon Gibson.  Without my asking, the defending champion had reached out to the race organizers to secure me a special consideration entry into the race.  Duncan knew I’d be one of his main contenders and still made the unsolicited effort to get me in.  I was floored by this exhibition of class and sportsmanship.

Of course, I did run Leadville 2011 and managed to have what was probably the greatest race of my life.  Before the shotgun sounded though – when we were all nervously clustered at the start line – I had another very special exchange with Duncan that is one of my greatest memories from my short career in ultramarathon racing.  Wearing the #1 and #3 bibs respectively, Duncan and I hugged and he encouraged me to believe that I could win in a short but honest and deliberate pep talk.   As simple as it was, coming from the defending champion and a fellow favored competitor, it was quite memorable for me.  At the end of the day, these two examples are the perfect encapsulation of our running community as a whole.  Supportive, helpful, gracious, and beautiful.

HeartI never ran competitively growing up.  Since I’ve never been coached, my evolution as an athlete has been an intensely personal learning experience.  Everyday I run by feel and everyday I get to know myself a little more acutely.  One thing that has recently caught my full attention is the feeling of strength or weakness in my physical heart.  In ultra racing, muscle fatigue is all too familiar.  In the hours and days that follow a race, you often hear endless complaints about painful quads, hammies, feet, etc. without much mention of  deeper, more internal fatigue.  I’ve found that my heart is an incredible indicator of my body’s relative health during training, racing, and recovery.  I’ve never worn a pulse monitor or even measured my resting heart rate, but I feel I’ve developed a vivid awareness of my heart and what it’s prepared to handle.  I’ve come to allow this awareness to become the coach I’ve never had, and use it to guide my training everyday.  Of course, one’s heart rate is intimately correlated with breathing, so I’ve also been experimenting with my breathing when the perceived effort of my heart seems to be at an imbalance with my pace.  Training with awareness to those small details has brought my body and mind into an unprecedented mutual understanding. (more…)

Leadville 100 – 2011

Hundred milers are completely ridiculous. The challenges they offer are uniquely painful and profoundly humbling. My experience at the Leadville 100 last Saturday was very special. The distance whittled me to my core and left me genuinely appreciative of my existence, and the people I share it with. Ironically, there is nothing more life affirming than crossing the finish line of a 100 miler feeling like a dead body. It is incredible.

The race started at a casual and conversational pace with a large group of us chatting and catching up in the pre-dawn darkness. We had an awesome group and it was fun conversing with so many guys whom I look up to in the sport. As expected, Mike Arnstein was already way off the front by the time we hit the Turquoise Lake Trail, while our pack hit the bottle neck (more…)

Antelope Island 50 Mile

I had a highly successful mini-vacation this past weekend out in the Salt Lake City area. On what was one of the last busy weekends of the season in Aspen, I managed to sneak away to indulge in a long hard effort on some dry trail. The vacation started for me on Thursday afternoon with Apres beers to celebrate my 25th birthday. I practiced moderation all night and was in bed not long after midnight in anticipation of the weekend’s race.

Courtnee and I hit the road early Friday morning and managed to make it to SLC in one piece after 7 hours and some pretty sketchy driving conditions. After checking into the luxurious La Quinta Inn, Courtnee and I headed out to Antelope Island to check out the course a little bit. After a 20 minute jog we headed home, ordered pizza, and retired early.

The 4am wake up came quickly, and before I knew it, I was chatting with Duncan Callahan at the start line anxiously anticipating the gun. The pace felt very easy to me on the initial climb. I took the lead from the start and immediately opened up a slight gap. I felt super solid and continued motoring past several Buffalo who were roaming around in the pre-dawn darkness. About two miles in, right before the top of the climb, I came to a fork in the road with a cone marking the left turn. Thinking the cone marked the correct trail, I led 5 or 6 of the front guys left. A short time later we reached a view point to find that the trail dead ended. Damnit. I should have paid attention during the pre-race announcements.

I apologized as our lead group turned around to meet the correct trail. In all, we probably lost 7-8 minutes. I was pretty upset with my mistake and immediately turned up the pace to a near uncomfortable level. My goal going into the race was to really go for the victory. I had never run with this mentality before so I was okay with the very real possibility that I would experience a meltdown at some point. I finally caught back up to the new leader, Scott Dickey, on the short loop around mile 7. I jumped right behind him and we started chatting all the way up the mellow switch-backing climb. Right near the top I could feel that I was pushing him harder than he was comfortable with (I later learned Scott is recovering from pneumonia. Jeeze.). I scooted around him here (~mile 9) and never looked back.

I crushed the ensuing Elephant Head out and back before tackling the long gradual descent back to the start area around mile 19. When I got to the aid station I grabbed a full water bottle and EFS Liquid Shot flask from Courtnee and cruised over to the East side of the Island. When I got to the start of the long, mostly flat ~22 mile out and back, I had the chance to get a read on the competition. I was very pleased to see that I already had nearly an 8 minute lead. I still felt like I was running well within myself so I never felt tempted to take my foot off the gas.

The way out to the mile 33 turn around was pretty tough. We had a stiff head wind that also carried a bit of a chill. It was comforting to know that we would have this same wind at our backs for an equal amount of time on the way back though. Courtnee was again waiting for me at the turn and executed another flawless aid station transition. I left totally prepared to suffer the last 17 miles in order to sustain my lead.

I clocked my lead on Duncan at the turn around to be close to 12 minutes. Having first hand knowledge of Duncan’s late race strength, meant that I really never felt comfortable. I just continued to run at a pace that I felt was aggressive yet maintainable. When I got to the end of the monotonously flat out and back, I relished the steep graded single-track that indicated that only 6 miles remained.

From here in I essentially knew that I was going to win, barring a catastrophic failure, and began focusing on knocking a bit of time off the record. I had been very disciplined in my gel and water intake and had really solid energy levels all day long. With a half mile to go I took one last look over my shoulder and was pumped beyond description. I knew I had the win and the course record in the bag but still chose to dump out my bottle, stuff it in my shorts, and hammer the last several hundred meters to the finish. I crossed the line in 6:15 knocking 16 minutes off Ryan Burch’s record set last year. Major stokeage.

After the race I had the pleasure of meeting ultra-celeb’s Bryon Powell and Nick Clark (who had a very strong showing in the 50k) as well as many other awesome competitors. Duncan and I got massages from some volunteering therapists that were both soothing and very unpleasent for my aching legs. It was great sharing time with the Callahans who are expecting a baby right around Hardrock time. Ultra-fatherhood.

I continue to be inspired by the community of athletes I’ve come into contact with through my participation in Ultras. I feel privileged to be able to do this. Jim Skaggs puts on one heck of an event out on Antelope Island. I look forward to coming back to this one many times in the future.

After a long drive home, I managed to get a short and humiliating jog in yesterday afternoon. It’s safe to say my legs are toast and I couldn’t be happier. Next up is Fruita 25 miler in mid-april. Fire it up.

A photo for the ladies:

Red Hot

Well, Moab turned out to be a very enjoyable and worthwhile experience. It was nice to get out of town for a while and see a different, yet equally beautiful, Western American landscape. Courtnee and I left Aspen after work on Thursday and rolled into Moab just in time to catch dinner and a beer with a college friend of mine at the Moab Brewery. We were staying across the street at the La Quinta and retired early to sleep off the drive.

We got up really early and had a low key day on Friday that consisted of a 30 minute run on the course, and a long drive/hike around in Arches national park. Absolutely stunning. That evening we went to Pasta Jay’s with several other racers to gorge on carbohydrates and talk at length about the following day’s race. I had a good amount of nerves built up already so I left dinner extremely psyched up about returning to competition. Again we retired early to await the not so bad 6:00am alarm.

When I finally found myself at the start line all the nerves subsided and my spirits were high. A large pack of maybe 20 runners went out fast at the start. I was content to sit right in the middle and allow my legs to find a comfortably fast, yet sustainable pace for what would be my longest effort in many months. After the first real downhill the field had strung itself out and I was sitting in probably 10th place feeling good but cursing the consistent rain and howling wind.

Ryan Burch and I quickly fell into a similar pace on the climb towards the first aid station and had an opportunity to catch up with each other. Ryan has been a huge inspiration for me since I first learned about this weird little sport, so it was good to hear how well he’s doing. We continued to climb strong through aid #1, quickly making up time on a few guys who had taken the pace out too fast. We reached the top of the first major climb together and prepared for a long and fast downhill. Within 2 minutes of the start of the descent, Ryan had opened up a gap of at least 100 yards. This would become a theme for the day. Dude is a freak on downhills. This gap opened considerably so I came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t keep up, and settled into what I felt to be an honest pace.

When the trail flattened out again I could see Ryan off in the distance with what I guessed was probably a 90 second lead. I slowly made up time on the flat section and subsequent uphill until I finally caught him again. We ran together some more until we hit aid #4 at the top of the last major climb at about mile 23. Ryan finally broke me here and was able to run away from me for good. I was still moving pretty well however and was confidant I could push for another 11 miles for a respectable finish. I hit a bit of a low point on the rolling slick rock section around mile 27 so I downed about 2 ounces of gel from my flask to avoid a late race collapse. I cruised through the last aid station and through the mostly downhill last 5 miles to finish 4th overall in 4:15.

After the race Dakota, Tim, Ryan, Duncan, and I sat around discussing our races and plans for the new year. Very classy group of guys who are invariably humble considering their incredible talents and accomplishments. I look forward to many more conversations (and runs) with these guys in the near future.

Lastly, I’d just like to express how much I loved this particular race. It has a low key, small race feel, while still drawing a very competitive field. The landscape was something totally unique from anything I had experienced in an ultra and the volunteers were all top notch. I look forward to coming back to Red Hot as an early season fitness test for many years to come.

Next up is probably Antelope Island 50. Fire it up.

Live Epic

Hello and welcome to my blog. After establishing this online platform several months ago, I now feel compelled enough to actually publish some thoughts pertaining to my daily activities. The reason for this change of heart doesn’t have as much to do with any new occurrences, but comes more from a genuine excitement about the spring thaw we are currently experiencing in the Aspen area.

Even though spring is making its presence rather obvious with rising temperatures and longer days, I still woke up to about a foot of new snow on Aspen Mountain this morning. This allowed me to push around some freshies in the morning, accumulate miles in the early afternoon, and still make it to work by 3pm. Not a bad daily schedule.

While this winter certainly has been memorable and enjoyable in many ways, the mountains will be closing in a few short weeks and Aspen will turn back into a relative ghost town for almost two months. Most people my age tend to use this “mud season” to either visit exotic ends of the Earth or return home to enjoy some quality family time. I, one the other hand, can afford neither and plan on using this time to decompress and train as much as possible.

My recreational priorities have witnessed a bit of a shift recently as I increasingly feel more drawn to my running shoes than my ski boots. As such, the weekly mileages have been increasing steadily for about 6 weeks now to the point that I am beginning to feel pretty darn fit. Here is a look at my mileage from the last week:

3/21– 12 miles (felt excellent)– 1.5
3/22– AM:12 miles (very tired) PM: 6.25 miles (Felt awesome) Total: 18.25 miles– 2.25 hours
3/23– 12 miles easy in the snow– 1.5 hours
3/24– 24th birthday! 24 miles + ski– 3.5 hours
3/25– 12 miles (Easy effort. Felt great. No fatigue from yesterday.)– 1.5 hours
3/26– 12 miles (A bit tired)– 1.5 hours
3/27– 12 miles (painful last couple miles) + Ski (Pow!)– 2 hours

102.25 miles + Ski time– 13.75 hours

You’ll notice that Wednesday was my 24th birthday. Since I tend to get my long runs in mid-week it felt only natural to run my age in miles. Definitely gonna be a tradition for years to come.

With my fitness consistently improving I am becoming more and more excited about this year’s race season. Here is a look at my tentative race schedule for 2010:

April 18th– Fruita 50m
May 8th– Quicksilver 50k or 50m (Fruita recovery dependent)(San Jose, CA)
June 19th– San Juan Solstice 50m
August 21st– Leadville 100
September 19th– Steamboat 50m
October 17th– Denver 26.2

This seems to be enough introductory information for the first post but please do check back often as exciting things are sure to happen! Live Epic.