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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Profile and Interview with Chris Fall: Running for His Life

I visited Chris Fall and his family at his home last week and enjoyed a brat and a beer before we sat down and talked about his running career. In fact, I know Chris so well that I skipped the preliminaries of all his past accomplishments and jumped right to his post race synopsis of his most recent 100-mile finish. He finished Pine to Palm 100 on September 17th near Ashland, Oregon in just over 29 hours after a three year hiatus from the distance. Chris is a very accomplished and well balanced runner as well as a funny story teller. He made me laugh. He runs every distance from the 5k on the road to the 100-mile trail. He and his wife Denise are avid sports fans who raised their two kids in an active outdoor environment. What follows is his profile and a discussion between two old friends trying to keep on keeping on and enjoying life while doing it. By the way, his favorite color is periwinkle.

A.    Name, age, city and state, how long lived there?
Chris Fall
Tucson, AZ
23 years
B.    Place of birth, where did you grow up, high school, college, military, other?
Anchorage AK
Spent first 25 yrs there.
Robert Service High School,
Electrical Engineering degree from Univ. of AZ,

C.    Other than running – hobbies, interests, pets, kids, current employment?
Traveling but usually to races
2 new kittens
Grant 21 year old
Ashley 18 year old
Engineer at Raytheon

D.   Favorite distance to run or race on trail and on the road?
Have done more 50-milers then anything, but nothing beats finishing a 100.
I love every distance on the roads but I guess the marathon is my favorite. 

E.   Favorite race course or event?
       Mount Marathon in Seward, AK… Great memories  and great mountain race. Wasatch too.

F.     Favorite Tucson area trail to train, run, hike?
Any Lemmon ascent, I love leaving the desert and running to the pines.

G.    Favorite vacation destination?
Probably Alaska

H.    Favorite post-race/run food, drink and activity, ie. hot tub, ice cold river soak, etc?
Any race where I can have a beer and watch others finish their event.  I like chips after I finish, if my stomach can handle it.

I.     Pet Peeves?
Going out to fast
A**hole sports fans

J.  Current book you are reading or favorite author?
     Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card.. Currently reading the Ender Series
     Loved The Hobbit so Tolkien is my favorite.

K.  Favorite quote or saying to live by?
      Ski to Die, Run to Live

L.  Person you look up to, emulate, hero?
       Steve Prefontaine;  run fast, play hard.
M.  What has been your worst running injury?
       Plantar Fasciitis; a mild case. 
       A bout of runners knee as well.  I have been very lucky

N.  If you could no longer run or lost the use of your legs what sport or activity would you pursue?
     I’d bike or swim if I could
     If not, wheelchair events

TA:  Thanks for having me over to talk about your most recent 100-mile finish at Pine to Palm.

Chris:  Well, I’m pretty happy with the outcome. I finally got it right.

TA:  How was your race experience? Give me some details.

Chris:  Great race. It was the best 100-miler I’ve ever had…

never really bonked. The worst part is when I got really drowsy two times.

TA:  In the middle of the night?

Chris:  No. Once was approximately mile 44. I lay down on the side of the trail, full daylight. I lay there six minutes, got up and I was fine. All of the way up to that point I felt great. My eating, drinking, water and electrolytes, everything was going fine, stuff I normally have a problem with. I got up and ran to mile 48 where Jerry caught me.

TA:  Oh, so you two hadn’t run together up to this point?

Chris:  I separated from Jerry at 35. He was getting bonky and had to stop and eat and I was like, “Dude, we’re doing our own thing…like we talked about…I’m outta here.”

TA:  From looking at the last half of the race it didn’t appear you guys were doing your own thing? You were together the last half of the race. Did you discuss this ahead of time?

Chris:  We absolutely talked about it. We decided that if one was doing well and the other wasn’t doing so well then we would leave each other. So at 35 I left him and eventually ended up taking the break to rest on the ground. While I was sitting at 48 eating, Jerry caught up to me and we ran the rest of the way together.
     We plugged the miles away until mile 83, or so, it was still pitch dark in the early morning and I said to Jerry, “I’ve got to lie down.” And he said, “I think I can do that.”

TA:  So neither of you had pacers, just yourselves?

Chris:  Yeah, we had a silent pact. Only 45 people finished the race so we didn’t have people around us. We lay down for 10 minutes and never went to sleep. I was paranoid I wouldn’t wake up for an hour and a half and be stiff as hell.

TA:  Very true.

Chris:  Yeah, I would say after 10 minutes we both got up at the same time like we had been checking our watches. We looked at each other and said, “Ok, it’s time to go.”

TA:  Was that it? No more sleepiness?

Chris:  Yes. I’m convinced that 5-10 minute power naps are crucial. I call it de-fizzing. I lie down for 10 minutes and de-fizz.

TA:  Well honestly, if you don’t do that when you’re having issues, you’re going to waste more time stumbling around slowing down to a 30 minute mile pace. Why not take the 15-20 minute nap. In reality it’s a time saver. Unless you’re trying to win these things…I don’t know about you but I don’t see it in my future.

Chris:  Me either. Anyway, here’s the kicker. I get to mile 88 and run two miles up and back on a 600 foot climb which comes back to mile 92. At the top of the climb is a bouldering section and I don’t mean the chicken-shit stuff at the top of Wrightson. I mean if you slip, you’re going to break your leg. So anyway, we get back and they say we’ve got two miles to the next aid station and you’re at 94 with 6 miles left to the finish. I looked at my watch and told Jerry, “We’ve got sub-30 hours in the bag. Let’s put a move on and we can break 29.” He fought me a little on it and finally agreed.

TA:  Yeah, well, at that point you have to start sticking to a plan.

Chris:  We hammered down the trail. We ran all the way to mile 94 and at the aid station I ask, “How far to the finish?” And they go, “You’re at mile 91 so you have 9 miles to go.”

TA:  (Guffawing!!)

Chris:  I said, “Hold on!” The race director had changed the start of the race two days before the race. He moved the start up 3 miles and didn’t inform any of the aid station people or anyone else. All of the aid station people were 3 miles off except for the last aid station. So we basically had just lost 3 miles in our head.

TA:  That’s like an hour?

Chris:  Yeah, I was like f*%# sub-29…f^$# 30 hours…I don’t care! We’ve got 34 hours to get there and I didn’t care. That kind of changed the timeline on things. I ended up leaving the aid station with two empty water bottles. We had teamed up with two other guys that we finished together with and they donated me enough water to make it through. It was a sweet finish crossing the line with three other guys.

TA:  You never met those guys before? Chris Avery and I had a similar experience at AC100 this year picking other people up late in the race and bringing each other in.

Chris:  I tried to save a couple of other guys earlier in the race too…one was too far gone. There was another guy; he was hacking up any remains in his stomach at mile 80. He ended up finishing about an hour and half behind us.

TA:  It sounds like you had very good dietary management?

Chris:  Yeah…27 or 28 gels. I used Power-Bar gels; alternating between single and double caffeine. I was strict in using these for the first 24 hours as well as 27 electrolyte caps.  I’ve never been able to eat like that.

TA:  You didn’t experience late race excessive urination from too much electrolyte ingestion?

Chris:  No. I peed normally and regularly the whole time. I figure I filled my 20 ounce bottle 25 times. Something like four gallons of water. It was great. Everything was right.

TA:  So this leads to my next question. You took a three year break from the 100. And now you’ve come back successfully. What made you take the break?

Chris:  I attempted the Grand Slam in 2008. Vermont went well and the other three didn’t go so well (Western, Leadville, and Wasatch). After I bombed out of the Grand Slam I said, “That’s it, I need to take a break and get this stuff figured out.” I told myself I was going to do six 50-milers and a handful of other ultras before I attempted another 100. So I did that.

TA:  Did you always know you would come back?

Chris:  Yes. It was a planned comeback. I always thought about it. I didn’t want to go out with a bad taste in my mouth.

TA:  It’s good to have you back in the game. So why Pine to Palm?...something different?…travel?

Chris:  I like seeing different places. I’ve done a lot of the same races before. I did Zane Grey 50 Mile six times. I covered the course at Old Pueblo 50 Mile 10 or 11 times. I did Crown King three or four times when it was still going. I wanted to see some new stuff. It’s my new mentality with ultras now. It’s a great way to see different parts of the country. 

Zane Grey Mile 33

TA:  What kind of specific training did you do prior to this race…anything drastically different from your 5 previous 100-mile finishes?

Chris:  50-milers are how I train for 100s. I also run back-to-back training weekends. Like 20-25 miles on Saturday and 20-25 on Sunday; or 30 on Saturday and 20 on Sunday; a weekend combination of 50 miles all on trail. You want to go into the second day fatigued with lactic acid and learn how to run or walk it out.

TA:  What do you recommend for nutrition between the training runs?

Chris:  Well, I’ve made mistakes before like doing a long run and then drinking a 6-pack with little other hydration makes a tough second day. I do really well with Top Ramen after a long run; lots of salt and noodles.

TA:  Yeah, I know what you mean; just last weekend I did a 16-mile road run on Saturday and then attended a wedding later that evening. I think I had four glasses of wine and a chicken breast and then got up Saturday morning and tried to run up the Green Bug Trail. I felt like crap 200 meters after the start.
     Have you picked up any new training methods over the years?

Chris:  I went into my first 100 at Wasatch in 2002 with four 50-mile race completions that year leading up to it. I was scared to death. I went into it in really great shape. I haven’t really changed anything over the years. It’s all about miles; miles on trail.

TA:  I agree; the trial of miles. I want to find out what running accomplishments are you most proud of?

Chris:  I ran every day in 1995. It was a New Year’s resolution; something of at least 10 minutes or more. I had not been running prior to this for about a dozen years. After a couple weeks I thought…f*%#...I might as well keep going.

TA:  When did the streak end?

Chris:  I ran all that year and for two months after. Then I ran Smith-Barney Marathon in Phoenix in 1996 in a time of 2:52; negative splits by a minute. I did other races throughout the year and always ran the day after.

TA:  So you were really into the road racing scene?

Chris:  Yes. My first race was the Bally’s Fitness 10K. It was funny as hell. I came in second place to Greg Wenneborg. He was so far ahead of me; I ran around 37 minutes but he was near 32. The U of A cheerleaders were helping at the finish line and by the time I crossed the line they must have put the finish line tape again. I crossed the line thinking I won and the guy ahead of me must have got lost somehow. That only lasted 2 or 3 minutes until other runners came in asking how far Wenneborg had won by. I was like…What? Are you kidding?

TA:  That’s kind of mean. In that case they should throw a tape up for everybody…

Chris:  Yeah, it was a horrible course too. It started by the Tucson Mall and did an out and back with a lollipop in the middle. That’s where I lost Wenneborg. I really thought I had it for a few minutes.

TA:  So you were off for over 12 years. Did you run in high school?

24-hour Relay in High School (check out the Baton)

Chris:  I ran a marathon when I was 17 years old in 2:47. It was a good time and I was stoked. But I began to lose focus on running. I let it go. I had my job, school, and friends that didn’t run. In my mid-20s I got active with basketball, racquetball, and tennis. It was my last semester in college in 1995 that I took a running class for one credit. It was the easiest ‘A’ I ever got.

TA:  How funny, I just moved to Tucson in 1994 and met you right about the same time you started running again. We met during a Hash run.

Chris:  Yeah, those were good times; great training effect. Another run I feel really good about is breaking 4 hours at Pemberton 50K in 2006.

TA:  I remember that. You had a good day. How many marathons have you run so far?

Chris:  I have 42 ultras and 26 marathons. My next ultra makes 69 combined events.

TA:  With all of that experience what is the most helpful piece of advice you can give to a newer runner?

Chris:  I would tell them to go slowly in the early part of a long race.  Make sure you figure out your hydration and nutrition needs on your long training runs.

TA:  On the flipside, what advice have you received in the early days of your career?

Chris:  Let me see…Julie Arter was doing 100-milers when I started to do TTR. Mica Mountain was my first TTR event. My first 100 was in 2002…Jerry Riddick was just starting to do them and Chris Avery had already dropped out of the scene. As a matter of fact, you were the one that got me going into Crown King after that first year you did it in 1997.
     I didn’t really know what to do when I first got started…Mt Lemmon Ascent with a Gatorade bottle in my hand. That was nuts.

TA:  I remember that day at Mica also. Did you actually make it to the top? I know you and Sean Andrish took a side-trip to Manning Camp.

Chris:  Yeah we made it. We ran a couple extra miles. It was Sean’s first TTR run too. I don’t know who it was but someone did tell me once before I got into ultras that I would have to drop my road mentality of running every step. He said, “That’s not going to work; you’re going to have to learn to walk the hills.”

TA:  So after all of this time are you learning anything new?

Chris:  Yes, I learned that I don’t have to drink as much water as I thought. I was drinking 30 ounces of water an hour and my stomach couldn’t handle it. 20 ounces is much better. Not sure it will work next time. 

44-mile aid station at Zane Grey

TA:  How have you managed to stay relatively injury free over the years? What is your secret to longevity?

Chris:  I think it is that I take breaks during the year. I take a full month off after a 100-miler. Two to three times during the year I take 2 weeks off of no running. Just by the seat of my pants when I’m getting burned out I stop and take a break. I don’t run 6-7 days a week. Normally I only run 4 or 5 days a week.

TA:  So you’re not a high mileage guy?

Chris:  Because I run 25 miles on the weekend I still end up with 45 mile weeks. When I start feeling achy I take a couple weeks off. I don’t run through it. I use Glucosamine-Chondroitin also.

TA:  Yeah, Bruce Gungle and I had a discussion about Glucosamine-Chondroitin. It’s a lifesaver. Call it a placebo but it works for me too. I hear you were doing Yoga for awhile?

Chris:  I did it for awhile and it really helped me. I also do some strength training and core-work during some of our weekly workouts. Garrett Ford once told me several years ago, “You’re just a one dimensional dweeb; all you do is run, who are you kidding?”
     I want to start swimming. I have some aspirations to do triathlons.

TA:  That’s interesting. I remember Garrett whimpering on an uphill on the Crown King course one year; he said something about needing a Cotex. Do you have any background?

Chris:  I’ve done a couple duathlons awhile back involving running and skiing. I did a mini-triathlon once. The ones they do in the summer at Reid Park. After I got out of the pool four minutes behind the last person I was told by Rane, the RD, that I was the slowest person they had ever seen in the pool…ever! By the time the 2.8 mile run came around I had to haul ass to catch up. I didn’t want to be last. I ended up catching five or six people.  That was in 2004 and I did it 10 days after completing Western.

TA:  You’re not a total stranger to the event then. Do you think you will ever want to do an Ironman?

Chris:  Yes. The kids are out of the house. I can train now. I know what will happen. I’ll start with the sprint distance and then the half and then what’s next? $600 dollars later I’ll enter the Ironman.

TA:  $600 if you’re lucky. I hear they’re almost a $1000 and hard to even get into. What about the bike? Are you going to spend big bucks on a bike? Didn’t you complete the El Tour once?

Chris:  Yeah I suppose I’ll spend a little on a bike. I did do the El Tour once a few years ago. I did two 20 mile training rides prior to the event. It was a few weeks after I completed the Javalina 100-mile. It hurt; my ass was seriously sore.

TA:  (Chortling!!) But you completed it; how long were you out there?

Chris:  Around 8 hours. I was not in the top 50%. I used to bike a lot before I started running again in the early 90’s. I did Tour of the Tucson Mountains on the early 90s, I was in decent shape. I have to tell you about a training ride I did once from mid-town. I was out on Wrightson Road out near Tanque Verde Road. I had my helmet on with my head down and I was hauling ass. Out of the middle of nowhere appears a huge pothole. I flew butthole over tea kettle, honest to goodness. I wasn’t wearing a shirt. I had blood all over the place.
    I was able to ride back to Swan and Grant and got a flat tire. I thought…I can’t do this anymore; so I walk over to the strip mall nearby to use a phone. At the time I was very fit. So I walk into a business and ask for a phone. I’m talking to Denise on the phone and asking her to come and get me. I started looking around and there were a bunch of women that were all over-weight looking at me. I looked up on the wall and it said “Jenny Craig.” I felt like the most incredible heel. I had no shirt on, a six-pack for a stomach, blood everywhere and wearing bicycle shorts. I’m thinking to myself…I’m an asshole.

TA:  (Laughing!!) That’s a great story! We have to keep this in the interview. Speaking of which, who do you want to see interviewed next?

Chris:  It has to be Julie Arter.

TA:  Do you hear that? Who knows more about this stuff than Julie? Alright, last question, what is the meaning of life?

Chris:  It’s my favorite quote: “Ski to die, run to live.” Ultimately it means live life to the fullest and play hard.  I skied x-country and downhill as a kid.  My best friends were all better downhill skiers than me.  What they had for skill I made up for in guts.  Now running is what keeps my life grounded.  Doesn’t matter if I’m running as hard as I can on the track or easy on the trails, I love to run.

TA:  Awesome! Well that’s it. Thanks for the entertainment.

Chris:  No problem, that was easy.

1 comment:

  1. Great Interview! I had the pleasure of meeting Chris this past weekend at the North Fork 50 miler in Pine, Colorado. He got me going again when I was feeling like I couldn't run anymore. And we talked a bit after the race too. I have friends going up to Run Rabbit Run where Chris will be running the 100 miler. His 50th Ultra on his 50Th Birthday. GOOD LUCK CHRIS! and look out for some San Antonio folks who'll be looking for you