The idea was simple. Five of us were to write a series of posts on our respective blogs leading up to Western States. We’d each write about an agreed upon topic and share the links with each other ahead of publishing so we could include them in our own posts. We’d then schedule our posts to be published at the exact same time. Nobody but the five of us knew when we were publishing, and initially nobody had any idea that this was about to be launched. Once published, no matter which blog you started reading first you could follow the links to the other posts so you eventually read each one.
That was 10 years ago today. January 15, 2009. My fellow synchrobloggers included: Andy Jones-Wilkins, who like me was preparing for his sixth WS 100; Sean Meissner, a coach, race director and ultra runner who was training for his second silver buckle; Scott Dunlap, the original ultra blogger and de facto king of ultra blogs at the time, who was in the race for the first time; and Bryon Powell, the creator of iRunFar and three-time finisher who was pacing AJW that year. It was an interesting group of bloggers as we each had a different perspective on or role in the race.
That first synchroblog was so much fun. We were to write a post making a plea or request directly to the Western States Board of Trustees. In my mind they were these powerful mysterious figures who made decisions in a smoke filled room. While I knew a few of them personally, I had lots of opinions but zero influence on a race I had been obsessed with for decades. I wanted to get their attention so I took the opportunity to write about something I was and still am very passionate about. I suggested that the board drop the volunteer service requirement. Bryon wrote about transparency and accountability, Sean wanted to know why Scott Jurek wasn’t allowed to run the race after winning for 7 consecutive years, Scott interviewed WSER board member John Trent, and AJW, the prankster of the group, wrote a tongue-in-cheek article suggesting ten course changes. I recall the excitement that morning as readers figured out what was going on and the synchrobloggers tried to follow the comment threads on each others posts, comparing the stats as the page views increased. Suffice to say, we didn’t get much real work done on synchroblog days.
While I don’t think we got any comments from board members on that first round I know they heard us. The remaining topics were less direct and included fluffier topics such as the aid station we were most looking forward to seeing and what we liked best about WS. Still to this day I occasionally go back and read posts from that synchroblog. You can see a complete list of the topics and links to each of our posts below.
Blogs were a thing 10 years ago. Facebook was so new the like button made its debut the month after our first synchroblog. Without any alternative, ultrarunners posted their race reports on their blogs. Blogs were also a place for community discussions, and we had some great ones on our blogs. Today we tend to use Facebook or Instagram for race reports if we do write them, and the community discussions are either on Facebook, cumbersome Twitter or the homogenizing iRunFar.com. The sport in general and WS specifically have also changed and grown tremendously in those 10 years.
What about me personally? Well, after completing WS in 2009, 2010, and 2011, the retirement of RD Greg Soderlund was announced in September 2011 along with a national search for his replacement. While I had close to 10 years of experience race directing Waldo 100K, race directing was a labor of love, something I did outside of my profession. I didn’t immediately apply for the job but the job description fit me to a tee as my friend Joe Uhan pointed out.
After a discussion with vice president Tim Twietmeyer and lengthy discussions with my wife I set about trying to write a resume and collect letters of recommendation. My curriculum vitae and chronology of jobs I’d had up to that point in computer science didn’t quite work so I started fresh and wrote a functional resume and got letters from a ski patroller, a forest service employee, a ski area manager, a fellow race director, a teammate, and my brother. Nothing from any of my previous computer science jobs! I submitted my package a day or two before the deadline then was asked to be at an interview in Davis, CA on Jan 15, the day after the Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston where I was an “Athlete Supporter” for my friend Meghan.
Suffice to say, the interview went well despite some travel issues which left me desperately searching for deodorant at a Chevmart in Dixon on my way to Davis. My five minute intro slides took me 23 minutes to get through. After the interview I wasn’t sure if they’d hire me or not, but I distinctly remember telling my wife and friends that I was true to who I am and didn’t try to answer any questions the way I thought would help land me the job. If they wanted the status quo they’d probably not choose me. If they were willing to take a risk on a change agent, well, they knew what they were getting and I knew they knew. We moved from Eugene, OR to Auburn, CA close to where I grew up in Cool. I am still thankful for and carry the same stick of Black Suede with me everyday.
Taking my dream job did put a crimp on my quest for a ten day buckle. I was able to run the race in 2017 after five years of directing. It was a lot harder to direct and run than I had expected even though I was and am surrounded by many talented people. I was able to visit every aid station on race day which is virtually impossible to do any other way, and I learned first hand how special that Golden Hour of ultrarunning is as I finished in the daylight for the first time in 9 tries. Not sure when I’ll go for the 10th but I’m liking the symmetry of going for my 10th finish the same year I direct the race for the 10th time which will be in 2022. Problem with that plan is I’ll be three years older and running is not getting easier with each passing year.
To celebrate this 10 year anniversary of the synchroblog, three of the other original synchrobloggers have decided to join me again today. See what AJW, Sean Meissner, and Scott Dunlap have to say about Western States 10 years later.