Monday, June 16, 2014

Bighorn 100 Pre-Race Thoughts


Well, my Achilles seems to be on the mend. (Knock on wood.) This is good. I was a little nervous there for a while... I guess I still am, but no more so than I typically am prior to a big race. Some mysterious little niggle or ache always seems to surface every year during my final weeks of training. It gives me something to obsess over during my taper.

And, man, am I tapering. Holy crap. This is definitely the most I've ever tapered for a race. The first week I didn't run at all. Just two 50-minute bike rides around the Mineral Belt Trail during the week, and then a beautiful, 2-hour bike ride up Independence Pass on the weekend. I went for a 4-mile test run to start the second week. I could still feel my Achilles, which was a bit depressing. (I've never felt it on the bike.) I kept up with the twice daily calf stretches and strengthening routines, wore compression socks all the time, iced the tendon after workouts and before bed, and went to one more PT session. Finally, on Thursday I went for a 5-mile run during which I felt a big improvement. Barely any perceptible tightness. That was a huge relief. On Sunday I went for a short hike up an insanely windy Mt. Sherman and felt fine. I can still feel it occasionally when it stiffens up, but it's definitely trending in the right direction. This week all I have planned is one final, easy 2-mile flat run on Wednesday. Then it's go time.

The view while climbing up Independence Pass. Leadville livin' at its finest.

I will say this: tapering so thoroughly (and focusing so intently on one part of your body) really helps you diagnose how much you beat yourself up during training. As they say, exercise makes you weaker. And, it's rest that makes you stronger. During peak training, tired legs can be mistaken for normal. But when you stop, and really focus on something simple and easily quantifiable like the number of calf raises you can perform, you can see massive improvements after just a few days of recovery. You realize your legs were more trashed than you initially thought.

Better to show up at the starting line slightly under-trained than over-tired, right?

In my early years of running I don't think I would've had the discipline to shut things down so quickly and thoroughly for my taper. But now I realize that any minuscule improvements that I might have been able to make during the last three weeks are irrelevant when compared to the importance of addressing my injury. That's all that matters. Let's hope it works.

Besides taking it super easy, and trying to coax my Achilles back to health, the only other thing that I'm doing differently during my taper for Bighorn is some semi-serious heat training. Don't laugh, but the 80+ degree weather that's currently forecast for the race is waaay hotter than anything I've run in this year. (Hopefully it won't be quite that hot on the course itself-- except probably for the final stretch into town on the second day.) In previous years, I'd just try to run during the hottest part of the day. But this year, with my running being so limited, I've been biking over to the rec center everyday and jumping in the sauna. At first I could only tolerate 30 minutes at maximum heat (about 170 degrees, I think), but now I'm able to survive a full hour. I drink 60 oz of water while I'm in there and come out weighing exactly what I weighed when I entered! Damn. Supposedly you can see some results within a week-- specifically, increased blood plasma to help with cooling. I figure that, as far as sedentary activities go, there's not much more you can do than bake in a sauna at 10,000 ft to encourage your body to make more blood! We'll see if I notice any effect... If nothing else, I find it strangely relaxing. It provides a good opportunity for me to stretch, too.

Leadville Marathon

The highlight of my taper has definitely been volunteering at the Venir Aid Station during the Leadville Marathon on Saturday. The wind was unrelenting, it was freezing just standing around at 11,500 ft, I got sunburned, chapped lips, hoarse from cheering, and a blister on my thumb from pouring water all day.

In short: It. Was. Awesome.

Really inspiring, and so fun to see so many friends running. Hanging out with the rest of the aid station crew was great. And I got to peek behind the curtain a bit. It really makes me appreciate the amount of effort it takes to organize a race of this size. It was also fascinating to witness firsthand the state of all the runners who passed through (twice). It didn't really matter if they were near the front, somewhere in the middle, or in the back. Some were pushing hard, looking serious, but hanging in there, some where laughing, talkative, and full of energy, and others were definitely in a dark place and staggered by with barely a glance or a grunt of acknowledgement. No matter their position, I tried my best to get folks to smile as they slogged up the hill. I saw 5-hour finishers who looked worse than than any 7-hour finisher, and 4-hour finishers who looked unbelievably fresh and happy. (Barefoot Alex, you are my hero, man!) Amazing. Oh, and then there's Michael Aish, the second place finisher, who's in a class by himself. He must've stood around the aid station for a full 5 minutes, cracking jokes, chatting, and casually snacking before the third place guy showed up and he finally took off. As he bounded gracefully down the trail, I noticed how crazy-strong his stride was-- with his heels practically hitting his butt. It was like he was on the track. Ridiculous. At least pretend like you're working, Mike! (Damn Olympians...)

The view from Venir Aid Station. Not too shabby.
The marathon race is no joke. It's tough.

My sincere congratulations to everyone who ran it!

After the race, I was looking at the results for a good 10 minutes before I noticed myself at the edge of the screen in the picture in the background! That must've been taken coming back around Ball Mountain during last year's race. Good times.

 Bighorn Preparations

“A plan is worthless, but planning is everything.”

While I've talked to many previous racers, read numerous race reports, watched videos from the race, and crunched all the data I could from past results, I really don't know what to expect.

It's refreshing to be so ignorant.

Honestly, I'm happy that I have no idea how long it's going to take me to get to, say, the Upper Sheep aid station. There are too many variables and too many aid stations for me to keep track of. I've just got some rough estimates for the major aid stations: Dry Fork, Footbridge, and Jaws. That's where my drop bags will be. No crew. No pacers. This will be a major (and hopefully fun) departure from my hyper-planned big-buckle attempt last year at Leadville. Do I want to run as fast and as efficiently as possible? Yes, of course. But Bighorn will be all about making the proper adjustments on-the-fly.

I've got data on what the average splits were for all 24-28 hour finishers from '13 and '12. (Which is actually a pretty small sample size given the relatively small number of participants.) And, as I'm a big believer in trying to run even splits, I'll generally try to run the first half of the race about an hour slower, and the second half of the race an hour faster, than the typical finisher. I'd really, really, really like to be able to jog those final downhill/flat 10 miles to the finish. They will take an eternity if I can't.

(If you're curious about the historical split data, just let me know and I can share it. I've got it up on Google Docs in spreadsheet form, in all its color-coded glory.)

One of the bits of data that jumped out at me was that Footbridge to Jaws takes runners only a tiny bit longer on average than coming back down from Jaws to Footbridge. This confused me, as the first split has 4,500 ft of elevation gain and the reverse has 4,500 ft of elevation loss. That's significant. Shouldn't runners be much faster on the return? But, I guess that's when night sets in. You're running the entire second split in the dark. And, apparently the trail is just technical enough to slow you down so that your downhill trip is only a few minutes faster than your uphill trip. We'll see... I've given myself 5:30 to get up and 5:30 to get down. I would hope that I could run faster on the downhill, but I don't want to take anything for granted.

Gear-wise, I'm not doing too much different. I'll be rockin' the placebo, er... compression socks during the race, trying to baby my calves a bit. Wearing a small, lightweight vest to carry any extra supplies/warm layers, while carrying two handheld water bottles. Also carrying a bandanna to soak in streams to keep cool. No poles. I'll be wearing my trusty Montrail FluidFlexes, just like last year, with a spare pair in one of my drop bags. I might switch to my Bondi-B's for the final 18 miles. There will be extra socks in all my drop bags to help combat wet feet. I'm going to try wearing a waist-mounted headlamp-- in addition to a head-mounted one-- during the night to better light the trail. I apologize in advance to all the runners I blind as I pass by! I'll be using caffeine pills to try to stay awake, instead of Redbull or 5-Hour Energy-- that stuff is crap. I can't drink it anymore. Standing on a mountainside all day, volunteering at Venir, was certainly a good reminder of how damn cold it can get in the mountains. I swore to myself that I will not skimp on warm layers (to save weight) and end up freezing during the long, cold night in the canyon.

And, of course, I'll be drinking my patented, homemade concoction during race. Almost exclusively. Sure, I'll have some Coke and some soup, and maybe some melon-- I enjoy those aid station staples-- but 95% of all my calories will come from my energy drink: pure maltodextrin, Vitargo, Gatorade, BCAAs, and some salt. Nothing special. Basically, all the ingredients you'd find in a GU, but in liquid form (and a hell of a lot cheaper). 320 calories (combined with ~24 oz of water) an hour, for the entire race. Or as long as I can stand it. At Quad Rock, I had basically no stomach issues for 11 hours-- a PR for me. It'll certainly be harder to get everything right at Bighorn, since it'll be so much hotter and last so much longer. But, I'm confident that this is by far the best nutrition strategy for me. Nothing else has come close.

Final Thoughts

I'm excited.

And grateful.

Grateful to be able to spend a weekend in the beautiful Bighorn mountains of Wyoming.

Grateful for my wife and family, who let me pursue crazy hobbies like ultra running!

It'll be great to hang out with my friends and fellow racers, Alex and Mike. And hopefully I'll make some new friends while I'm out on the course. I want to be the most positive, friendly runner out there.

Am I as fit as I was last August before the Leadville 100? Nope. I'm about 350 miles and 90,000 feet of vertical short. But... Am I more experienced? More grizzled? A little smarter? I'd like to think so!

I'm as ready as I'll ever be...

Let's do this!

At the trailhead at the top of Iowa Gulch (on the 50 course).

Climbing up Mt. Sherman.

The summit, with the moon and the Sawatch in the distance. You can see Hope Pass, if you know what you're looking for...

Looking north, seeking shelter from the hurricane force winds. I love mountains!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Month in Review (May)

5/2010: 238.4 miles
5/2011: 192.2 miles
5/2012: 216.5 miles
5/2013: 223.6 miles
5/2014: 237.7 miles

Well, the hay's in the barn, as they say.

My training for the Bighorn 100 wrapped up last weekend with the Turquoise Lake Half Marathon on Saturday and a pre-dawn ascent of Mt. Elbert on Sunday.

This year, the half marathon was a "heavy" half marathon due to the south road being closed due to spring flooding and the risk of mud/rock slides. The race was rerouted along the north road where it rejoined the original course at Mayqueen. The north road is hillier (+500 ft) and longer (+2.5 mi) than the south road, so it was quite a different race than previous incarnations. While my calves felt a little tight/weak on the initial uphill, I maintained a reasonable pace during the climb and then I really hammered the downhill into Mayqueen. I believe it was the first time I logged a sub-7:00 min/mile during a race in my life! And I definitely set my 5K PR (all downhill, of course). After running steady on the uphill, I began passing racers on the downhill and for the rest of the race on the trail around the lake. The single track was a full-blown obstacle course this year, with raging streams-- one so swollen that a rope was hung up to help ford it, plenty of mud, deep puddles, and a handful of downed trees which forced off-trail detours through the woods. When all was said and done, I crossed the finish line, gasping for breath, in 13th place. 1st in my age group. (I guess all the other 40 year old Leadville runners were at Melanzana's 20th anniversary celebration in town!) I was pretty happy with the result. I gave it an honest effort. It's hard to compare my time to my PR on the normal course last year, but my average pace was only 20 seconds/mile slower than last year. I'd say that's pretty good given the extra vertical, distance, and especially the challenging trail conditions. (Last year I came in 19th place and 3rd in my age group, for what it's worth.) I think I ran the uphills a little stronger last year, but I definitely ran the downhills much, much stronger this year.

I woke up at 2:45am the following morning and made my way down to the South Elbert TH with my friend and neighbor, Mike. I haven't really climbed any serious mountains yet this year, and I wanted to summit at least one 14er before I began my taper. It was great to have company, and Mike and I chatted away as we hiked up the mountain in the darkness. (Mike's running Bighorn this year, as well.) There was very little snow until we reached tree line-- and only one or two short sections where post-holing was a concern. Above tree line it was all snow, but it was practically concrete. It had snowed a tiny bit the night before and the wind began to pick up and blow swirling clouds of snow into us. Clouds still shrouded the peaks, and coalesced and broke apart in dramatic fashion. As we neared 14,000 ft, the sun finally emerged over the mountains to the east, creating a beautiful orange glow in all the chaotically blowing powder. The wind was fierce, and it was uncomfortably chilly at the summit, but well worth the struggle to get there. We quickly turned around and gingerly made our way back down to the shelter of tree line. There were a few exposed snow fields that I wished I had my microspikes for, but slowly kicking steps worked just fine. Another trip up Mt. Elbert complete. I'm lucky to live so close to such amazing mountains. I really should take advantage of it more often.

Ever since Sage Burner I've felt a mild tightness/soreness in my left Achilles tendon. I never felt it during the race itself, but it surfaced shortly afterwards. It's never gotten so bad that it affected my gait while I was running, but it can definitely be quite stiff in the morning after a hard workout. I kept an eye on it, applied ice, and hoped it would quietly disappear. But, of course, running the half marathon and then summiting a 14er didn't help. Finally on Monday, I called it quits, stopped running, and scheduled an appointment with the local physical therapist. After grilling me on my training history, analyzing my gait, flexibility, balance, and strength, she agreed with my amateur assessment that basically I overworked my calves with all my racing and my sudden jump in vertical in May. After jabbing some acupuncture needles into my calf (and electrifying them!) to activate trigger points, she assigned me some exercises to perform during the next couple of weeks leading up to the race. Mostly calf flexibility and strengthening routines twice a day. After the initial soreness, my calf has responded well and is loosening up and healing. My Achilles tendon is happier and I rarely feel it any more. I've gone on a couple bike rides since, but that's about it. And biking is pretty much all that's on my plate until the 100. I'll go for maybe three or four 5-mile shake out runs during the next week or two, but that's about it.

So, it's a pretty hard taper as far as my tapers usually go. Normally, I'd go for a final 18-mile long run two weeks out from a 100. Instead, I'm going to bike up Independence Pass tomorrow. I'm just trying to take it easy and stay loose. It's frustrating to come down with an injury so close to a big race, but I'm fairly confident I should be able to fully recover by the 20th. I'm just being extra paranoid.

I'm excited for Bighorn. It's absolutely crazy to be tapering in June! It feels so strange. I'm so used to my taper-in-August routine. I'll be volunteering all day at the Venir Aid Station next week for the Leadville Marathon. I've run it every year for the last four years. It'll be strange to be on the sidelines, but fun to still be involved in the race.

I'll close with some pictures I took two weeks ago on my last long run down Clear Creek Road to Winfield. It was a beautiful morning, and it was good to return to Winfield. My first time back since the Leadville 100 last year. Spring has finally sprung in the mountains.

Hope Pass!

Mmm... 1,200 vertical feet/mile!

On course!

The split to the old jeep road down to Winfield.

Far more talented climbers than I.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sage Burner 50K Race Report

Wow. Quad Rock certainly took its toll on my legs. Three days later I was still hobbling around the house in the morning, wincing with each step. Picking up my kids took considerable effort and was usually accompanied by a melodramatic groan or two. I biked for an easy 30 minutes on Sunday and Monday, and then went for a short 3 mile jog around the block on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I took Friday off. Each jog felt a little better than the last. I could feel the various aches and pains from Quad Rock diminishing. Thankfully, I had no major injuries. Just the typical soreness and tweakiness that follows an all-day effort.

Of all my three back-to-back-to-back races this May I gave Sage Burner the least amount of attention. Perhaps because it was the last race. Perhaps because I felt my PR there was soft. I glanced at the GPS tracks from my previous races on Thursday night. It still amazes me how badly I blew up last year. Truly epic. All I really had to do this year was stay properly hydrated. How hard could that be? Simple, right? Yet somehow I've managed to dig myself into a hole almost every time I've run Sage Burner. The weather at Quad Rock never really got that hot, so yet again Sage Burner would prove to be my first ~70 degree race of the year.

I drove down to Gunnison on Friday evening. It's a nice drive, which I joke can be briefly summarized as: mining, cows, mining, cows. I picked up my bib in town, ate a huge dinner at Garlic Mike's, and then drove to Hartman Rocks to camp. I slept in the Subaru just a few feet off the course. Even in the car, it was a bit chilly at night and I was glad to have a down jacket and sleeping bag to keep me warm. My alarm woke me at 4am, I ate a small breakfast, and then rolled over and went back to sleep until 6am or so.

My secret race strategy this year? Carry two water bottles. Yup, genius. The aid stations are generally not that far apart (4-6 miles), but I didn't want to ever be caught without water or energy drink. Throughout the race, I usually kept one bottle full of energy drink and the other bottle about half full of water. Any extra water I would dump on my head as I approached an aid station.

After a short speech from the RD, and a brief countdown, the race immediately began with a short climb straight up onto the mesa. Sage Burner doesn't really have that many long, sustained climbs, but it certainly undulates up and down almost continuously. You run up to the edge of the mesa, then off to a scenic high point with a juniper tree and a pile of rocks to negotiate, then back down off the mesa, then climb back up a gulch, then pick a different high point to visit, then down off the mesa again, repeat for 31 miles.

I took the first half of the race very easy. I just enjoyed the scenery, chatted briefly as I passed various racers, and kept a careful eye on my fueling. My legs felt fine. Not exactly springy, but nothing to complain about. I was very happy to be feeling as good as I was a mere week after Quad Rock.

The 25K and the 50K run more or less together for a while, making for a more social experience. But after the split, it's just the hardy 50K racers. There are generally only 50 or so of us every year, and you can get quite spread out across the starkly beautiful, sage-filled landscape.

I had been leap frogging with a few racers during the first half, but ended up passing them as the uphills kept coming. After the aid station at Skull Pass, around mile 16, I mentally flipped a switch. I had reached the 3 hour mark, I felt great, and I was ready to make my move. So I put on my ipod, cranked up the music, and went to work.

The second half of my race was one of the most satisfying experiences of my brief running career. I felt strong, totally in control, and unfazed by the distance. In some ways, having run a grueling 50 miler the week before was an advantage. Sixteen miles? It's nothing. A warmup. As I cruised across the desolate mesa top towards a distant high point, I could barely catch a glimpse of a red shirt more than a mile ahead of me. My first target. I passed him maybe three miles later, walking, depleted in the growing afternoon heat. That was me last year.

Where was everyone else? I bombed down a technical drainage and out onto a road, where I saw the next runner. I was running sub 8's at this point-- about my top speed. After a short flat stretch on the road, the course climbs up an incredibly steep jeep road back up onto the mesa again. Ah ha! I could see a pack of four runners ahead of me on the switch backs. I grinned at the contrast. A moment ago I was hauling ass on the flats, and now I was passing folks just as convincingly while dropping agonizingly slow 20 minute miles! Ultrarunning is certainly not about locking into a particular pace, but rather a particular level of effort. I was running everything, but my pace was all over the map.

And so the race went. I have rarely felt as confident as I did that afternoon. I was on fire. Everything felt effortless. It wasn't like I was running faster than I normally do on a typical training run, but the distance was having absolutely no effect on me. It was like I somehow managed to string together six 5-mile runs all run at my typical 5-mile training pace. It was glorious.

I finally charged across the finish line in 5:36 in 10th (?!) place. A whopping 45 minute PR. I negative split the race by about 25 minutes and passed about a quarter of the field in the final 10 miles. I had zero stomach issues and felt perfect the whole day. If anything, I probably took the first half of the race a little too easy. But, damn, I wouldn't trade anything for feeling like I did during the second half. Perhaps this was the race that my training this year has best suited me for-- not too fast, not too vertical, yet long enough that endurance matters.

A blurry picture of me near the start. (C) Gregg Morin.
Everyone was very friendly at the finish line, and I was touched by how many racers took the time to shake my hand and tell me how strong I looked as I passed them. I made sure to emphasize that it had taken me five years to finally get it right!

Sage Burner was my very first ultra (and my first marathon!) back in '10, so it holds a special significance for me. I've run it every year since and have accumulated quite a few memories on the course. ("Oh, look! I think that's where I threw up in '12!") I'm so happy to have finally beat the heat and had a successful race there. I've always felt that I hadn't yet reached my potential on the course, but feeling and doing are two very different things. I'm proud to have finally executed. That's all you can ever really ask for in any given race.

I'm so happy to have been able to end my streak of racing this May on a high note. I've got three more weeks of training left before tapering for Bighorn. I'm actually looking forward to taking things a bit easier next week-- especially on my long run. I think I've got enough quality long runs under my belt, and now it's time to focus on some shorter, mid-week quality sessions. Most of the regular trails I run around Leadville should melt out next week. I can't wait.

Next up: the Turquoise Lake Half Marathon. A very different beast. It's going to hurt; it's going to be fun. It's always a good workout. (Probably a better workout for me than yet another 20 miler at this point...)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Quad Rock 50 Race Report

After my debacle at Collegiate Peaks, I paid special attention to recovering as well as I could before Quad Rock-- not just recovering from the race, but from my April training in general. I definitely didn't want to start another race-- especially a 50 miler-- with dead legs. I biked around Turquoise Lake on Sunday, took Monday off, ran an easy 6 miles on Tuesday on the Mineral Belt, took Wednesday off, ran an easy 3 miles on Thursday around the block, and then took Friday off. In one week I more than doubled the number of days I've taken off since the beginning of the year.

As far as goals for Quad Rock went, they were much looser and hand-wavy than my goals for Collegiate Peaks. The only historical data point I had for comparison was my 25 mile run in '12, Quad Rock's inaugural year. I finished that race in 5:17, which seemed about right for the halfway mark of the full 50. Given my modest ranking, Ultrasignup was predicting an 11:48 finish for me. But comparing the course to other 50 milers I've run recently (keyword: recently) I thought that was a bit too conservative.

The biggest unknown for me was really the timing of the race. The earliest 50 miler I've ever run is the San Juan Solstice 50 in mid-June. And I've really struggled each time I've run it. My normal 50 miler every year is the Silver Rush 50 in July. That's the timing I'm most familiar with. So, how would my body respond to running a 50 miler six weeks earlier than I ever have in my training cycle (and nine weeks earlier than I normally do)? I guess I was about to find out! I laughed to myself when I realized that Quad Rock-- in a single day-- would represent a quarter of my total mileage in April and about half of my total vertical!

The other consideration I factored in was that out of the seven 50 milers I've run in the past, I'd say all but one were severely limited by serious nutrition mistakes on my part. Historically, I've really struggled to consume enough calories during the 10+ hours it generally takes me to run 50 miles. However, I finally found a system that worked for me last year, and that has made a huge difference in longer races (i.e., 50's and 100's). So, assuming I could stick to my nutrition plan, I anticipated that I could run Quad Rock faster than my past results might suggest.

So, anyway... taking that all into consideration, and waffling back and forth a bit, I finally guessed that I might finish somewhere between 10.5 and 11 hours. Just my best guess. I would finish when I would finish. My primary goal was to take care of myself-- stay on top of my hydration and nutrition, and try not to kill myself on the downhills. It was going to be a long day of running. Enjoy it.

The Friday before the race, I drove down to my friend Alex's house in Louisville. We're both running Bighorn together in June, and we both signed up for Quad Rock as a training race. The last time we saw each was when I paced him at Run Rabbit Run last September. We enjoyed a quick dinner together, went to his son's t-ball practice, made some last minute preparations, and went to bed early-- our alarms set for the ungodly hour of 2:45am. That would give us just enough time to get dressed, make some coffee, eat a quick breakfast, and drive up to Ft. Collins for the race. I remembered feeling rushed at the starting line in '12, so I didn't want that to happen again.

When we arrived, we were just about to park in a long line of cars about a third of a mile from the start, when someone noticed we had carpooled and directed us to a closer parking lot-- much closer! We ended up parking about 30 ft from the starting line. Sweet! Donning our headlamps in the pre-dawn darkness, we went about our final preparations.

We wished each other good luck, and as the sun finally rose we all took off.

They've re-routed the start of the race so that you stay on the dirt road much longer before hitting the single track. This is definitely a good thing. It made it much easier to spread out and find a good pace. As I ran the initial rolling miles, I was very relieved to feel my legs respond. There was no obvious fatigue like the soreness/tightness that was immediately obvious at the start of Collegiate Peaks. However, temperature-wise, I was much too comfortable at the starting line and, as soon as the sun peeked over the eastern hills, I started becoming too warm. Before the initial climb began, I pulled off the trail and took a minute to take off all my extra layers and throw them in my pack. (I'd eventually dump them in my drop bag.)

The first ascent up to the Towers aid station went well. I slowly jogged the whole thing, moving up many places, passing folks who were hiking. On a few of the steeper sections, my legs actually burned from the effort, which is a rarity for me as Leadville's lack of oxygen is usually my limiting factor! Still, I didn't feel like I was pushing too hard. I had memorized some of my splits from '12 and I knew I was already ahead of my former self by the first aid station.

By the time I had dropped down to the Horsetooth aid station, I had gained yet more time. Everything was going great. However, I had to make one more visit to the bathroom. I ended up waiting in line for what seemed like an eternity. Ah, well... Enforced rest, I guess. I picked up more fuel, refilled my bottles, and headed up the next climb.

My oh-so-fashionable shirt got a lot of comments!
Up, down, refuel, up, down, up, down, refuel, up, down, up, down, refuel, up, down, finish.

And that's pretty much how the day went!

After 11 hours and 6 minutes, I sprinted across the finish line to cheers of "It's the J Crew guy! Yeah!" I certainly felt fatigued, but I was happy. It was a solid race-- and a solid workout, for sure. My legs were toast, but I kept my stomach under control the entire day. It was definitely the longest I've ever been able to run without any stomach issues at all. A victory for me.

The weather was perfect. It started out sunny and cool in the morning and never really got hot as the clouds moved in in the afternoon. It spat rain a few times, and the wind picked up briefly, but I never had to battle the heat. Just to be safe, I dumped water on myself a few times, and dunked my hat in a few streams as a precaution.

I hit the turnaround at 5:02, a 15 minute PR over my previous time for the 25 mile race. I jogged every step of the course until mile 32 or so and then I started mixing in hiking on some of the steeper sections. While the uphills were definitely tough and unrelenting, I felt stronger on them than I did on the downhills later in the race. On the final two descents my quads were screaming. This was definitely way more downhill running than I had ever done in training so far this year. I'm guessing that mashing big gears on my bike trainer has helped build my uphill strength some, but has done nothing for my downhill strength. It's become probably my primary training goal for the next few weeks-- hit the downhills hard to prepare for Bighorn.

My stomach felt solid throughout the day. I constantly tried to strike a good balance between water and calories. I'd often carry one bottle of pure water and another bottle of energy drink and alternate between the two, using the water to flush my stomach out if I ever felt full. I'm convinced that most of my past bouts of nausea have been caused by dehydration. A few times during the race, usually while on a downhill, I did get a side stitch. I took that as a sign that I was falling behind on hydration, and I'd try to drink more water, while jabbing my other bottle into my diaphragm to relieve the pain. All told, I consumed approximately 3,360 calories during the race (10.5 320 calorie bags of energy drink mix). That's about perfect for my body weight and finishing time.

The slower 50 mile pace allowed for lots of friendly conversations during the race. It was great to meet folks and pass the time chatting as we fought the hills together. Despite the grey weather, the post race festivities were great. I scarfed down multiple hamburgers and enjoyed the complementary beer. One of the best signs that you've fueled properly during a race is how quickly you can eat a normal meal afterwords.

While ideally I would've liked to have not have slowed down quite so much during the second half of the race, I feel like I can't complain too much. I felt good out there. Certainly not overwhelmed by the distance. I keep coming back to the word "solid". You know things have gone pretty well if that's the adjective that keeps popping into your head.

Next up: the Sage Burner 50K. It'll be the fifth time I've run it, and I have a score to settle with the course. It's time to recover as best I can, and hopefully time for a little redemption!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Collegiate Peaks Race Report

A quick report on my CPTR 25 experience this year. It's short on narrative flourish, but hopefully captures some of the details of the event.

The weather on race day was beautiful. Probably the warmest day of the year so far. While I imagine the 50 milers might have suffered a bit in the afternoon heat, for the 25 milers it was perfect. I was excited to race and soaked up the energy at the starting line. Before I knew it, we were off.

Within the first mile of the race I found myself uttering, "Uh, oh... Oh, crap!"

My legs felt strangely tight/sore during the first 3 paved, flat miles. Mostly my calves, but also my legs in general. Still, I made it to the turn at mile 3 on PR pace. Next came a rolling, single track section. I didn't obsessively check my GPS between aid stations, but instead ran by feel. I was only 1 minute back at the first aid station at mile 6. Certainly not time to panic yet, but I knew I wasn’t really feelin’ it. For some reason, I hadn’t recovered fully during the week leading up to the race. Why were my legs so unresponsive?

The next 4 mile uphill section would be a test. I tried to stay positive and not succumb to any negative self-fulfilling thoughts. Unfortunately, I slipped to 4 minutes down at the second aid station. Not good. I wasn’t really passing anyone on the uphills. My last hope for a PR was to try to make up some time on the downhills, but all I could do was maintain my pace-- barely. The 7:30 min/miles I was hoping for were not happening. I was still about 4 minutes down at the base of the final uphill. Could I push harder up Lenhardy Hill than I did last year? Doubtful. I honestly thought the best I could do was to maybe stay on pace. Nope, not even that. I was down 9 minutes at mile 18 at the top. A PR just wasn't happening today. There was no way I could make up 9 minutes in the final 7 miles-- certainly not with the way my legs were feeling. Dammit. Ah, well...

At that point, I gave up trying to PR. I switched modes to "just get ‘er done" and stopped chasing splits. I passed a couple of blown up people in the final miles, but nobody that was really running. I chatted with Adrian S. (who I recognized from the Silver Rush 50 and Sage Burner 50K last year) for the last 3 miles. He was running the 50 today. I settled into a relaxed 50-mile pace with him and took it easy to the finish. It was nice to be able to pass the time chatting with someone. Finally, I jogged across the finish line, down 14 minutes from last year. 4:16. I didn’t even bother trying to squeak in ahead of the racer in front of me. I had no desire to pass. I had stopped racing miles ago.

If I had kept pushing for the full 25 miles, maybe I could’ve finished only 10 minutes back from my PR... I just couldn't motivate with my legs feeling like they did. I'd like to think that I'd be more willing to push through leg soreness that arose during the race itself, but pre-existing leg pain due to inadequate recovery? Not so much. I don’t think I really made any mistakes during the race, I just hadn’t recovered fully. Not enough rest during the final week. I think my high-cadence bike workout on Monday really worked my calves in a way that they're not used to. Then I simply slogged up and down the Boulevard a bit too much-- trying to get 200 miles for April. Trying to keep the daily training streak going. I should’ve skipped some days if I really wanted to race fresh. Basically, my race this year felt like a ho-hum training run. Fine, but not great. If I hadn't been racing I probably would’ve stopped a dozen times and rested and soaked up the views. My energy levels were fine, but my legs had no pop.

Of course, I never fully taper for any non-focus race like CPTR, so I don't expect to be at 100%, but-- superficially, at least-- my mileage for the week leading up to the race was the same as last year. That's all I was hoping for: to make it to the starting line as rested as I had been previously in '13.

In hindsight, I really think I pulled off something special last year when I set my PR of 4:02. I really raced the course, and as I kept beating my past splits I got more and more excited and motivated and really kept up the intensity. Having people to chase was great, too. There was a small group of runners that I hung with throughout the race in '13. This year, I tried to keep my spirits up and enjoy the race, but eventually I knew a PR wasn’t going to happen. There was no desire to hurt more than necessary. Thoughts of conserving myself for the Quad Rock 50 the following week crossed my mind. I was actually fairly comfortable on the uphills, but the lack of “pop” slowed me down ~1 min/mile. I just slowly jogged uphill, losing some distance on folks-- not that much, but enough that I noticed it. I’d actually close gaps on the super steep sections when people dropped to a hike. I did manage to run the entire course again, never resorting to a power hike.

Ironically, I finished in 46th place-- the exact same place I finished last year, despite being 14 minutes faster.

Not so much green. I had no uphill legs (miles 4, 9, 10, 16, 17, 18). Stopped chasing my former self at mile 18.

After looking over my training data from last year again, it’s interesting to note that I had a lot of “blah” training runs after CPTR last year. CPTR was really the only long run I nailed in May '13. My average pace on all my other May training runs (which all had roughly equivalent vertical) was about 1-2 minutes slower per mile. So, maybe I just hit that “blah” period a little earlier this year because of the extra miles/long runs I’ve been running? However, even if I had started the race totally fresh this year, I bet I could have done no better than, say, 3:55.

My extra training this year has put me in a good place, but not one that’s radically different.

I knew it would be difficult, but not setting a new PR this year was a little tough to swallow. I thought I was fit enough-- and that I had recovered enough-- to have a chance, but apparently I was wrong.

Well, I know of no better remedy for a disappointing race than to get back out there and race again! I'm looking forward to the Quad Rock 50 next weekend. While certainly more epic, I think it will also be more low stress. I've never run the full 50 mile distance before, so I won't be obsessing over splits. Plus, the longer distance will make the race more about taking care of yourself throughout the day.

Despite no PR, I still had a lot of fun at Collegiate Peaks this year. It's always a great race. And, hey-- it was my second fastest time ever! My wife and kids joined me at the finish line. I got to say hi to a lot of running friends and catch up with various folks. The weather was truly beautiful. Afterwards, the kids and I played in the ice cold stream while mama went off for a run by herself. It was good to relax and enjoy a lovely spring day in Buena Vista with my family. I topped it off with a giant blackberry shake at K's. A classic.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Month in Review (April)

4/2010: 163.3 miles
4/2011: 135.0 miles
4/2012: 164.9 miles
4/2013: 175.0 miles
4/2014: 200.1 miles

TL;DNR: Training is going well! I have lots of races coming up! I overthink things!

Well, somehow, I actually managed to survive April intact. All things considered, I'm pretty happy with where I'm at training-wise and I'm certainly excited for the next three weeks of racing.

I've been looking forward to May for a long time.

Three races, three weeks, 106 miles. One final month of training before the Big Horn 100 in June.

Heading into this year's training I knew April would be logistically tough. Perhaps my toughest month. Two months out from a hundred miler, variable spring conditions (to put it mildly), a family vacation, ten days of single parenting while my wife was off backpacking in Utah, and my precocious daughter's 5th birthday. There were a lot of responsibilities to balance. I'd have to get creative with my schedule and sneak in workouts whenever I could.

Colorado National Monument, Fruita, CO. A nice escape from winter.

This month was an incremental improvement over previous Aprils. Nothing fancy. No radical departures from my typical spring routine. I ran more or less the same routes I usually do this time of the year. I just tried to focus a little more on quality, pushing it a bit more than usual once or twice a week. Usually on the downhills. Earlier in the year, I was worried about trying to get a lot of vertical in April and I imagined myself climbing Mt. Elbert and/or doing laps up and down Ski Cooper. Instead, I eventually decided to let that dream go and focus more on speed. (Or, what passes for speed for me at 10,000 ft.) It was logistically easier, if nothing else (i.e., less driving to trailheads, more road running from my door). Plus, looking at my monthly totals over the years, it struck me how much my average pace slows down in June, July, and August when all I'm doing is running up and down the local peaks. April has always been one of my fastest months, simply due to the fact that my long runs tend to be flatter and at lower elevations. Perhaps I've under-appreciated the benefits of a 3 hour 20-mile run. Of course, aesthetically, I'll always prefer the 5 hour 20-mile trip over Hope Pass and back in June. There's no question about that. It's just more fun. But that doesn't necessarily mean that a flatter option run at a faster pace doesn't have its place. Variety is the key to adaptation and improvement-- or so I tell myself.

On top of Red Hill, Carbondale, CO. 800 ft of vertical in 1 mile. Mt. Sopris in the distance.

So, with the generous help of my wife, babysitters, Aunt Jennifer, and some PTO, I managed to string together four weeks of relatively consistent training. Sure, I spent a fair amount of time on the bike trainer, but no more than last April. I ran a long run every week, plus a couple of 10-milers midweek when time and weather permitted. Though we still have plenty of snow leftover from winter, April's weather was actually pretty nice. Much better than the blustery, grey April we had last year, that's for sure. I set a few PRs on some local routes around town, so that was a nice confirmation that my training was headed in the right direction. Still, I had some nagging doubts about my fitness as I never quite nailed a long run. I was putting in some solid efforts, but generally a bit slower than similar runs I ran last April. On paper, I was supposed to be in better shape this April as I had more miles, more time, and more long runs under my belt than ever before.

Expectations are dangerous things.

Last Friday, on my long run down in Buena Vista, I finally nailed it. As has become my tradition, I run a 20-mile loop on the course the week before the race. I took the first 13 miles pretty casually, up until the top of Lenhardy Hill. It was a gorgeous spring day. Checking my watch, I was about 2-3 minutes slower than my effort up until that point on last year's training run. Then I gritted my teeth and pushed for the final 7 miles, making up ~1 min/mile, and set a 5-minute PR for the route. It felt great.

Around mile 14 on the Collegiate Peaks course. Mt. Princeton in the distance.

Setting a PR on a long run was the final missing piece of evidence that I was hoping for. All my training these past four months seems to have paid off. And, maybe-- just maybe-- another PR at Collegiate Peaks is possible this year.

I consider last year's race one of the best races I've ever run-- second maybe only to last year's Silver Rush. It was a good day. A very good day. I surprised myself. I honestly think it would be easier (though by no means easy) for me to set another PR at the Leadville 100. So, another PR at Collegiate Peaks will be very tough-- far from guaranteed. If I could improve my time by 5 minutes and go sub-4 hours, I'd be thrilled. Of all my races this May, I find Collegiate Peaks (the shortest race) to be the most intimidating-- precisely because my PR is so stout; the margin for error so slim.

Even though it isn't a focus race for me, I am still very motivated run Collegiate Peaks as well as I can. I often tell myself that I should just relax and quit obsessing over splits... If I PR, great. If not, who cares? But, I do enjoy the challenge of setting a PR. It's a very personal challenge-- I'm racing against my previous self, chasing my own ghost. It's an affirmation of all the extra work I put in during training this year. All those slow, snowy slogs up California Gulch. I know at some point the PRs are going to stop. And I certainly can't expect the ridiculous PRs I managed to set last year to continue indefinitely. I love trail running for its own sake. And I can think of no better way to spend my days during Leadville's wonderful summers. But, I can't deny that working hard and seeing an improvement is very rewarding too. So, I guess I'll enjoy it while I can! Like everything, there's a balance. You want to see constant improvement, but there are limitations and factors beyond your control. Tight calves. A side stitch. Heat. A strong headwind. A cold. Any of those things could easily slow me down the few minutes it would take to put a PR out of reach.

So, we'll see... I'm excited. I'll be grateful to show up at the starting line healthy, ready to race. Who knows what will happen? That's why we run these things...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Month in Review (March)

3/2010: 109.0 miles
3/2011: 129.6 miles
3/2012: 153.3 miles
3/2013: 174.7 miles
3/2014: 192.4 miles

Looking Behind

March was a month of extremes. There were many days when all I could muster was a 30-minute ride on the bike trainer or a 3-mile run down the Boulevard. It was exceptionally difficult to motivate myself to get outside the week after I returned from the warmth of Florida. But, in contrast to these short bouts of exercise, I did manage to get in 5 long runs-- one each week. Definitely an improvement over last year. I'd estimate that those long runs accounted for half of my mileage every week-- meaning they accounted for half of my mileage for the entire month! So, I hit my modest mileage goals for March, but the distribution of those miles was perhaps a bit... unorthodox.

My daily exercise streak is now at the 3-month mark. I like the discipline of carving at least 30 minutes of time out of my day to exercise-- even if it means riding the bike trainer at 9pm after the kids are asleep and the dishes are done. There is no waffling, pondering "Should I exercise today?", there is only "When should I exercise today? What should I do? Bike? Run? Ski?" I keep waiting to come down with a cold and be forced to skip a day or two, but luckily that hasn't happened yet. Everyone in my family is hacking up a lung except for myself. Knock on wood.

So, I'm feeling pretty fit. Not amazingly fit by any means, but better than I've ever felt for this time of year. If I had to guess, I'm maybe as fit as I was last year in May. Maybe. It's hard to tell. Hopefully I can buckle down, continue to improve in the coming two months, and whip myself into shape for Bighorn.

Salida Marathon

Of course, one of my long run runs-- in fact, the longest of my long runs-- was the Salida marathon. As always, it was a great race and a ton of fun. It's sooo nice to be able to run on (relatively) snow-free trails at this time of year! My race went well-- not off the charts by any means-- but I'm pleased with the result: 4:46. That represents an 11-minute PR for the course. Secretly, I was kind of hoping for something closer to 4:30, given all my extra training this year, but that would've required much more effort on my part. In retrospect, I think I ran the race a little bit too comfortably. I felt absolutely great before, during, and after. I kept things conversational almost the entire time. I enjoyed myself. I ran the last mile of the course at basically the same pace as I ran the first mile. And I was able to grunt up the hill at mile 21 more than a minute faster than I did last year. Everything felt very sustainable. I didn't listen to any music during the race, which is rare for me, and probably made me a little less aggressive and more inclined to chat up neighboring runners and simply enjoy the sights.

Mile 3

One thing I did differently-- which led to humorous results-- was try to drink more water. I'm convinced that when things go badly for me during a race it's almost always due to dehydration. So, I wanted to practice drinking more fluids. Since I pack 310 calories into every bottle I drink, I only get about 18 oz of liquid per bottle. Which means I generally only get 18 oz of liquid per hour. Not quite enough, I've learned. I think I want to be closer to 24 oz of water/hour, depending on the conditions. This will hopefully keep the osmolarity of my energy drink lower and make it easier to digest. So, I carried two water bottles during the race even though the aid stations were generally less than an hour apart. The exact numbers were difficult to keep track of, but I'd generally try to hit my targets for calories and liquid by keeping one bottle at full concentration and another bottle at a more diluted concentration and alternating between the two. Of course, the cool, cloudy weather on race day did not warrant 24 oz of water/hour, so I must've spent 5 minutes peeing on the side of the trail throughout the day! The sacrifices we make for science...

Looking ahead

So, I survived March. April's next. I think it's going to be my most difficult month of training, at least from a motivational perspective. It'll also be logistically tricky. My wife will be in the field for 10 days-- overlapping two weekends-- leaving me as the sole parent. The rough goal is another 5 miles per week, bringing me up to ~45 miles/week. The question is how to best divide up those miles into quality workouts given the conditions in Leadville.

According to the calendar, it's spring. Looking out my window, it's winter. The roads around town are beginning to melt out, but the trails will have to wait at least another month. Looking at my training log, I can see that in '12 I was running the local trails during the first week of April. That was a very dry winter. Last year, they didn't melt out until May. This year, it's looking like I'll have to wait until May again. My dreams of another early melt don't look like they're going to happen.

So, what does that mean? Running roads, roads, and more roads. Some dirt, but I'm going to have to embrace the asphalt for most of my running next month. And, given my limited options, that means that April probably won't be very big in the vertical department-- at least, certainly not where I would normally like to be at two months before a 100. I'm going to have to mix things up a bit and try to substitute some speed for elevation gain. Given the choice, I prefer the later. But, I've come to accept the fact that I'll have to wait until May to start running up mountains... In a lot of ways, what I've been doing so far is just base building. Sure, I've had a smattering of quality workouts where I pushed myself-- most notably in Florida-- but mostly I've just been slowly ramping up the miles without ramping up the intensity. That's going to have to change in April, I think.

May will be fun. The leaves will come out; more and more of my favorite running routes will open up. In many ways, May will be the reward for all this early season training-- huffing-and-puffing up and down the same roads every week. I've got 3 back-to-back-to-back races lined up: the Collegiate Peaks 25, the Quad Rock 50, and finally the Sage Burner 50K. It will be a cycle of race, recover, race, recover, race, recover. Then a final two weeks of peak training, then the taper for Bighorn. It's crazy to think how close it is!