Monday, October 29, 2012

Baystate Marathon Report

With my carry-on stuffed full of running gear, I began the long descent down from Leadville to DIA. My Hokas must have taken up a third of my suitcase. Nipple protection? Check. Assorted gels? Check. Bag of maltodextrin? Check. GPS, HR monitor, cadence sensor? Check, check, and check. (What the hell would airport security think of all this?) Over the years, the flight from Denver to Boston has become pretty routine. I fly out there about every quarter on business. Soon I was munching on dinner at Boston Beer Works at Logan, breathing in the thick, oxygen-rich air. It took all my self control to refrain from ordering a pint-- especially considering I could expense it.

My training partner!
Much like the flight, my "training" for this race was pretty routine. I would say that it was actually more recovery than training. I biked for a whopping hour the week after the 100. The following week I went for two short 4-5 mile runs during which I was definitely hampered by lingering ITBS issues. Then, the following week, there was my hernia surgery, which sidelined me for another week or so-- though I did spend some time on the bike trainer while I was recovering. All my runs were broken up by short hip stretching routines every 20-30 minutes or so. Eventually the pain in my left knee faded enough that it didn't affect my running-- though I could still feel some tightness from time to time. I managed to log one 20-mile run as my long run, and then snuck in a 13-miler and a 10-miler in the weeks leading up to the marathon. The rest of my runs were generally in the 5-6 mile range. With the exception of the 20-miler, I tried to pick runs that were mostly on pavement and that had minimal elevation gain (well, minimal for Leadville). I tried to keep my average pace around 8:45-9:00 min/miles, which is pretty much my "tempo" pace. So, low 8's going downhill and mid 9's going uphill. All in all, I logged about 4 weeks of 35 mile/week training before a one week taper. Overall, the training times I was logging were solid, but not amazing. In contrast to last year, when I was setting PRs on all my local routes in the weeks following 100, this year I was coming up a bit short. It certainly seems like this year's 100 took more out of me than last year's. Not surprising, really.

Red = Injured. Yellow = Bike. Brown = Hike. Green = 20+ miler.

Going in to Baystate, I really didn't know what to expect. I'd never run a flat, paved, sea-level marathon before. Hell, I'd never run a flat, paved marathon at any altitude before! While I'd run a few 10-13 mile training runs at sea level in the past, no previous training run was directly comparable. Obviously they were all much shorter (maxing out at half the distance). Some had hills (e.g., Vermont), while others were on sandy beaches (e.g, Florida). Looking at the data, it seemed like I could average around 8:45 min/mile for 10 miles. I'd run a few 5-mile runs at sea level where I'd averaged 7:40 min/mile. That seemed about the upper limit of my speed. So... I don't know... I was really hoping for 3:something. 3:59? 3:50? 3:45? Any sub-4:00 time would be a huge improvement on my previous marathon PR of 5:34 in the Salida marathon last March.

Baystate wasn't a focus race for me, so I certainly wasn't stressing out about my performance. However, I did feel a little bit of extra motivation to represent ultra runners well-- especially those that hailed from the mountains of Colorado. More than anything I was very curious to see how my body would respond to this new challenge. I was hoping I hadn't lost the endurance I had built up over the summer, and that my legs had recovered enough to hold up to the pounding of a road race.

My friend and co-worker, Dave Woodruff, kindly picked up my race packet on Saturday. He'd also generously offered to give me a lift from my hotel to the race on Sunday morning. Dave's a super fast runner, making the podium on many local races, and he was gunning for a Boston qualifier time of <3:10. One of my goals for the marathon was not to get lapped by him on the double-loop section of the course!

My alarm went off at 5am, which of course felt like 3am to me. I had packed enough snacks to scrounge together a pre-race meal of sorts: a Lara bar, a few handfuls of almonds, and 20 oz of the same maltodextrin-based energy drink I used for the 100. This time I also mixed in a 5-Hour Energy rather than drink it straight-- I had learned from my debacle at the Fish Hatchery. We were both in good spirits and chatted away during the short drive to the starting line. Once parked, we pinned our numbers on, made a few last minute adjustments, and headed towards the starting line. I scarfed down a Honeystinger waffle for a final 180 calories an hour before the start.

My nutrition plan for the marathon was pretty simple. Eat a good breakfast (~800 calories), don't pre-hydrate excessively (to avoid too many pee stops), and race with a 20 oz hand held bottle full of 300 calories of energy drink. Those initial 300 calories would take care of the first hour. After that, the plan was simply to eat gels and fill my bottle with Gatorade at the numerous aid stations along the course (approximately every two miles). I'd try to hit 300 calories an hour-- with about 100 calories coming from Gatorade and 200 calories coming from gel. Pretty standard for an ultramarathon, though probably more calories than most of the other racers ate. The weather forecast looked almost perfect. Not too hot, partly cloudy. Shorts and t-shirt weather. No arm sleeves necessary. I didn't anticipate needing any salt tablets in these conditions-- especially given the fact that I'd be guzzling Gatorade-- but I shoved a few in one of my pockets as insurance.

We had arrived with plenty of time to spare, so Dave and I hung out and chatted for a good while. I made sure to thoroughly stretch my hips to try to stave off any potential ITBS issues. Everything felt very casual and relaxed. With about 10 minutes or so to go, Dave and I took our places at the starting line. There were markers to separate the field into different pace groups: 11:00 min/mile, 10:00 min/mile, etc. I lined up somewhere around the 8:45 min/mile mark. I'd guess there were over 2,000 runners at the starting line-- with about half of them running the half marathon (which broke off after a few miles). There was great energy in the crowd and I was excited to start running! With a cheer, we set off!

I knew this race would be all about pacing. It was going to be a 4 hour experiment in gauging my perceived effort and listening to my body. I had to throw out my preconceived ideas about what a particular pace was supposed to feel like. Since I was in control of my pace, that's what I'd focus on. I was actually more concerned about things I couldn't really control: Would my knees hold up to the pounding? Would my ITBS flare up? Would running so fast cause me to cramp? I put those questions out of my mind since they were largely out of my control once the race began. The pacing experiment began in the first mile. What did a 9 min/mile pace feel like? How high was my heart rate? It was like learning to run all over again.

I wanted to go out slow so that I gave myself time to warm up. Plus, I had a not-so-secret desire to negative split the race, so I didn't want to run the first 13.1 miles too fast and put that goal out of reach. The first mile clicked by in 8:59. It felt super easy. Too easy. The crowds were still pretty dense at this point, and to a certain extent my pace was dictated by the runners immediately in front of me. My HR was hovering in the low 130s, but it felt very different than what low 130s feel like in Leadville. I wanted to run faster. I tried to focus on running smoothly and maintaining good form. Head up. Shoulders loose. High cadence. Small sips of calories. The first few miles went through town (your standard New England mill town), but then we started following a slightly more rural road alongside the river. I was pleased to see that there were actually a few rolling hills. I kept steady on the uphills and generally moved up a few places on the downhills. It seemed like most folks were more locked into a certain pace, whereas my instincts were to go with what the terrain gave me. I kept glancing at my watch to gauge my speed and my HR. I seemed to naturally settle in on an 8:15 min/mile pace, which seemed super fast to me, but felt right. Sustainable. My HR was up in mid 140s at that speed. In Leadville, I'd be right on the edge of going anaerobic at that HR. Generally, my GPS is set up to raise an alarm when my HR goes above 141 to keep myself in the MAF zone. Luckily I had the foresight to disable my HR alarm before the race! I found myself cruising along, thoroughly enjoying myself, and watching all the other runners.

Around mile 6 or so, I started setting PRs for distances I run in Leadville. I ran the first 6 miles at about the same speed as my typical Boulevard tempo run at home. I just had to laugh at the audacity of the whole situation. My plan was to maintain that pace for another 20 miles! I hit the 10 mile mark about 5 minutes faster than my fastest 10 mile Leadville run-- and I'm talking about an all out 10 mile effort in peak fitness (on pavement). Instead, here at sea level, running on relatively flat ground, it felt reasonable. Strong, but not reckless. Things were going very smoothly so far. Refilling my water bottle with Gatorade went quickly-- I barely had to stop. Better yet, I found that I could actually suck down a gel without dropping below a 9:00 min/mile pace! I've never managed to do that in the mountains. Holding my breath for just the amount of time it takes to swallow almost certainly causes a dizzy spell at altitude if I'm running that fast.

Most importantly, I was having fun. I distinctly remember one moment where a gust of wind blew a bunch of autumn leaves off of the trees that lined the route. We ran through the flurry of falling red and orange leaves. It put a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

As I started to close in on the halfway mark at 1:50 I felt like maybe I had let my enthusiasm get away with me. I had planned to reach it around 1:57 or so, which would've been a solid PR for 13.1 miles, but would still leave room for possible improvement in the second half of the race. I thought to myself, "This is crazy!" I had probably blown my chance to negative split the race. I backed off a bit during the middle miles, down to an 8:30 min/mile pace. But as I got some more gel in me, my mood improved and I started finding myself unconsciously speeding up again. At this point, I could definitely feel my knees. But, it was just a normal "creaky" feeling around the knee caps-- not the ITBS pain I so dreaded. I also seemed to be forming some kind of knot in my left quad. So far, my stride hadn't been affected, but the miles of pavement were beginning to take their toll. I began to pass more and more runners on the side of the road, stretching.

Around mile 14 a group of three very strong looking runners jogged past me while casually chatting away. These guys knew what they were doing. You could just tell they had treated the first half of the race as a warm up. They were the last runners to pass me for the remainder of the race.

Around the 30k mark (another PR) the carnage started increasing. I was now regularly climbing up the ranks, weaving around runners that were slowing down. Aerobically, I felt amazing. My nutrition was dialed in. It was all down to my legs. How long would they hold up? The various aches and pains had seemed to stabilize, so I was gaining confidence the deeper into the race I got. Everything was unfolding much faster than in a typical trail ultra. I didn't want to stop for anything! The one time I pulled off course to pee seemed like an eternity. I blew through aid stations as fast as possible. I ate everything on the run. True to the spirit of ultra running I took care of myself-- but I took care of myself while on the move. I stayed on top of calories and fluid without stopping. I shook out my arms every few miles to stay loose. I stayed in the shade whenever possible to cool down. I kept tabs on my posture and tried to maintain my form. This is probably where my experience helped the most. This race would be the ninth time I'd run 25 miles or more this year. But I didn't just want to survive the race, I wanted to run it strong with minimal fading in the crucial final miles. Running 50s and 100s keeps things in perspective, I guess. I didn't want to leave anything on the course, but I also didn't want to blow up. It's a fine balance which is hard to master-- especially on an unfamiliar course.

At mile 21 or so, my confidence reached some critical level where I knew it was finally safe to race. I was definitely going to run under 4 hours; now it was just a matter of how much. My pace quickened to sub-8:00 min/miles and my HR started climbing into the high 150s. I find that I feel a strange mixture of camaraderie and yet also competition with my fellow runners during a race. Generally, the camaraderie is by far the most common and long lasting feeling I experience before, after, and during a race. However, I cannot deny that I get a strong mental boost from moving up in the ranks-- especially late in a race. It's so much more satisfying, I think, than going out fast and not being quite able to hold on until the very end. Glancing at my watch, I knew I was close to negative splitting. I just had to push hard during these last few miles. I knew I was pushing because I started looking for those mile markers in anticipation. I'd spot a pack of runners in the distance and make it my goal to catch them. Beast mode. Finally, I turned into the finishing chute and sprinted through the cheering crowd and across the finish line in 3:38. Unbelievable.

I had done it! I had negative split the race! 1:50 for the first half and 1:48 for the second half. I had set back to back 13.1 mile PRs and set a marathon PR by 1 hour and 55 minutes. All in the same race!

26.2 miles of speed work.
If I ran with a HR this high in Leadville, I'd probably be dead.

Once I stopped running, my legs immediately locked up. I could barely walk! I hobbled around a bit and found a nice sunny spot in the grass to rest and stretch and nurse a Pepsi. Eventually I found Dave sprawled out near the food table. We quickly exchanged war stories. Dave had just missed a BQ due to his calves cramping up in the final miles. Damn it. (Next time, Dave!) But we had both set PRs. I had a big grin plastered on my face for the rest of the day. We slurped down a few bowls of soup while chatting about running, training, aging software engines, deprecated code, and the finer points of distributed systems synchronization. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a local Indian restaurant and gorged on the buffet.

Good times.

What a great way to finish a season of running! A big thank you to Dave for providing the excuse to push myself and run a final marathon this year. I feel like I learned a ton during this race. It was probably a once in a lifetime experience to make such a massive improvement at a particular distance. I felt like I was magically transported into someone else's body and told to run 26.2 miles. I had to figure things out as I went. It was surprisingly enjoyable to run just by perceived effort. Who knows? Maybe I'll start running without a watch!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tour Du Iowa Gulch

I thought it'd be a good idea to log at least one 20 mile run before my marathon next month-- even though the plan (such as it is) is to basically run the marathon on the fumes of my training from the summer. For me, the Bay State Marathon is more of an experiment in how my Leadville training translates into a flat, sea level road marathon-- not what is the ideal way to train for a flat, sea level road marathon when you live way up in the mountains.

For a while now I had considered stitching together several of my regular short midweek runs into a longer route that would take me around Iowa Gulch-- a sort of farewell tour before the snow sets in. At first I had planned to start/finish the run from my house, but that plan was more logistically difficult than simply driving to the halfway mark so that I could stash extra food and water in my car. The one drawback of doing long runs on the east side of town is that, due to all the mining activity, I don't really trust any of the water sources. Thus, I tend to run my long runs on the west side of the valley (near the Colorado Trail) where I can stop and restock on water whenever I cross a stream.

This run would also be a test to see how my IT band reacted to running for 4+ hours. It has been holding up well on my 5-6 mile runs, and it's even survived a 12 mile run, but I had yet to challenge it with anything longer than 2 hours. Occasionally I can feel it ache a bit on gentle uphill sections, but it fades away and never alters my stride. It's strange: my previous IT issues have always manifested themselves on downhills-- not uphills. I wonder what's different this time?

So, the weatherman lied. Saturday was supposed to be the cloudy day and Sunday was supposed to be clear. Instead it was the reverse. There were uncharacteristic dark, gray rain clouds hovering over the Mosquitoes when I started out at 10am. If there is any overcast in Leadville, it generally doesn't arrive until well past noon. To wake up to clouds is rare. Since I'm a chicken when it comes to dark clouds above tree line, I knew this would probably put a damper on my plans to summit Mt. Sherman. But, I'd see how far I'd make it before I talked myself into retreating back down into the valley.

I drove 5 minutes up California Gulch and parked my car at the pull off at the top of Printer Boy. (Where the first major aid station is on the Silver Rush 50 course.) I decided to tackle the high road up the gulch first (2B).

Mt Sherman is the snowy ridge in the distance.
Mt Sheridan. The trail climbs up the notch on the left.

A view of West Sheridan across the gulch.
Nearing the end of the road and the Mt Sherman trailhead.
I climbed up the road fairly well, though I was actively trying to keep my HR low. The road gains about 1,000 ft in 3.5 miles. It was chilly and windy on the way up. I knew it'd only get worse the higher I got. (Dammit, I should have run this yesterday!) At the junction with the trail to the summit, I took stock of things and decided, what the hell, I'd climb up to the saddle and see how things looked from there. I felt surprisingly good on the way up the trail, running a few of the flatter sections, and power hiking through the steep fields of scree. My mind drifted towards potential Hardrock training next year...

At the top of the pass, looking towards Mt. Sheridan.

Looking north towards the summit of Mt. Sherman.

Looking east at some unfriendly clouds.
Once I crested the pass, I could see a few different groups of climbers descending off the mountain to the east. The sky really hadn't cleared up much and a patch of dark clouds was blowing in from the northwest. It was quite chilly even in the rare patch of sun that I was standing in. And I was running a little low on water. After considering the pros and cons I finally overcame my strong peak bagging instinct and turned around and re-traced my steps back down into the gulch. I had climbed up to 13,200 ft and I was exactly 5 miles from the car. The trip back went quickly, and I had a few opportunities to practice my scree-skiing technique on the way down. Once back at the trail head I took the rougher, low road (2) back down the valley, past the remnants of the Black Cloud mine, and back up Printer Boy hill to my waiting car. There I restocked on water and fuel and headed off down the Elk Run trail.

Don't shoot! I'm not an elk!
 The next ~10 miles would all be on a dense network of twisting trails built and maintained by the local bike club. They're only a mile from my house and they've become my favorite place to run during the week. The trails are super scenic, weaving in and out of sage brush, pines, and groves of aspens, with a fair amount of elevation gain, but nothing too steep. They loop and weave so much that it's a little hard to build up any speed, but that's a very minor complaint.

From Elk Run over to Upper Deck.

Down Wedgie.

Down Cold Feet.

Gel was losing its appeal, so I decided to eat elk instead.

Gold Digger with a view of Mt. Elbert.

Most of the aspen leaves have fallen by now, but I found one grove with its leaves still intact.

The sage hill on Wheeler's Way. This is the first section of trail to melt out in the spring.

A skull marks the trail on Wheeler's Way.

Back up Old Chub to the intersection of Elk Run and Boulders.

The ramshackle bridge across the stream on Boulders. This was the low point of my run, it's all uphill from here.

The boulders which give Boulders its name (I assume).

A vertigo-inducing mine shaft that plunges 100 ft into the darkness.

The beavers have been busy and this river crossing is now knee deep!

A view back up Iowa Gulch towards Mt. Sherman.
The tangled, circuitous route I took never retraced its steps. I eventually ended up on the Boulders Trail and headed slowly back up the valley to my car, eventually connecting with a rough, dirt road (6A) after 8 miles of beautiful single track. I was having a great time, though my energy levels were very low. I couldn't quite put my finger on why I was slowing down so much... In retrospect, I was probably a little dehydrated. I'm not sure that completely explains it, though. My stomach felt fine, but my legs were a bit tired and I just felt generally fatigued. Ah, well. Just because you run a 100 miler doesn't mean 20.5 miles with 4,400 ft of vertical suddenly becomes easy. Looking at my training log afterwards, I ran my last 22-miler (which had equivalent elevation gain) at almost exactly the same pace. I remember feeling pretty tired on that run too.

Despite the initially sketchy weather and my eventual exhaustion, I had a great time out on the local trails. (And no ITBS despite 4+ hours of running!) It's amazing that this kind of stuff is right out my front door. It's good to be reminded of that. Thanks to my wife for watching the kids and letting me indulge in what will probably be my last 20+ mile training run of 2012!

The Tour Du Iowa Gulch. It would be easy to tack on another ~3 miles and 2,000 ft of vertical by summiting Mt. Sherman and running the upper Boulders Trail up Long and Derry Hill...

Not much flat.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Training 2012 Analysis

"Law 6: Achieve As Much As Possible on a Minimum of Training" -- Tim Noakes

I've been taking it super easy since the 100. Only last week did I actually begin to really exercise regularly again. Up until that point I only went on a few, scattered 5 mile runs to test out my legs. My left knee is still a bit creaky, but I've reached the point where it doesn't affect my stride. I'm foam rolling it and stretching my hips every day. In addition to my knee, I was sidelined for a few days due to a random head cold and for a week due to my hernia surgery. Thankfully that's all behind me now and I've returned to the trails to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage up here in Leadville. We just got two cords of firewood delivered, and the snow is starting to stick above 12,000 ft...

My general plan for the off season (from now until February) is to average around 20-25 miles a week. Why? Insurance mileage, I guess. Just in case I actually get selected for Hardrock next year! (I should have 2^3 tickets, if my calculations are correct...) After much agonizing, I decided not to run the Devil Mountain 50 this weekend in Pagosa Springs. I ran it last year and it was a lot of fun, but my training has been too inconsistent since the 100 and (more importantly) my knee hasn't fully recovered yet. So, instead of running a 50 miler with 10,000 ft of vertical, I've registered for a much more terrifying race: a totally flat road marathon at sea level! Ahhh! The race coincided nicely with my next business trip to Boston and I'm really curious to see how I do on a more traditional marathon course. It's totally out of my comfort zone. I've never run a marathon below 7,000 ft or with less than 5,000 ft of vertical. Pavement? What's that? I didn't even own a pair of road running shoes until yesterday. However, at the risk of sounding cocky, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a PR for the distance is pretty much in the bag. It gave me a chuckle to see that on the front page of the race's website they advertise how fast (i.e., easy) the race is ("Selected by Runner's World as one of the 10 Fastest Marathons")! Funny... I don't think I've ever seen any Colorado race make such a claim... (Don't get me wrong: running a fast marathon is insanely difficult! I'll be lucky to break 4 hours next month. However, a 4 hour marathon would be a 1 hour and 34 minute improvement for me. I suspect I'll be the only runner wearing a SJS50 t-shirt and carrying a hand held water bottle during the race. Gotta represent.)


Continuing in the spirit of number crunching, I thought I'd take a moment to summarize my training for the 100 this year. I don't really consider myself a "hard core" runner who regularly logs huge mileage. I try to focus on quality, rather than quantity-- though I could certainly improve in that area. (It's also possible that I'm just lazy.) I'm sharing this data not because I think I have all the answers when it comes to training for a 100 miler (far from it!), nor because I think my training is especially remarkable, but because hopefully someone out there on the interwebs will find it helpful/useful as an example-- just another data point to take into consideration.

I've never really followed a specific training plan per se. I certainly look at various plans to get a feel for what other folks think constitutes good training, but I never pick one particular plan to follow religiously. The training plans I refer to most often are Bryon's. I guess the biggest distinguishing features of my training are:

  • 90% of my training is above 10,000 ft. Very few runners can say that. (There are certainly pros and cons to training so ridiculously high...)
  • I almost always run on trails. I log very few paved miles.
  • I average around 10,000 ft of vertical/week from May-August.
  • I'm slow (see above). My average pace for a month is typically only ~11:00 min/mile.
  • I incorporate biking during the winter (on the trainer) and for recovery after long runs. 1 hour bike = 5 mile run.
  • I race a lot, though I don't really have a separate "racing gear". I run races as training; to test out gear and to practice various nutrition strategies and general race management. Plus, they're fun.
  • I try to run about 15 ~20+ mile runs. About half these are races.
  • I try to climb a few 13ers/14ers every month from May-August.
  • I don't do any speed work. (I probably should.)
  • I like to think I pay proper attention to post long run recovery (e.g., getting enough protein, icing my legs in mountain streams, etc.) though I need to get better at regular stretching/foam rolling.
  • Living in Leadville, I am completely familiar with all the Leadville race courses. I regularly train on the more scenic sections during the course of the year.

The Spreadsheet of Truth

 So, some explanations about the spreadsheet:

  • Yellow cells are bike rides-- generally an hour on the trainer.
  • Green cells are my ~20 mile runs (or, more generally, runs that take 4+ hours).
  • Purple cells are vacation/business trip runs (which generally means sea level).
  • Red cells are injuries.
  • Mileage in bold (generally in green cells) are races.
  • YTD = from the week following LT100 '11. I train from Leadville to Leadville. :)
  • I consider "serious" training to begin at the 24 weeks until Leadville mark-- which corresponds nicely with the week of the Salida marathon. The SUM/AVE at the bottom are for that 24 week period.
  • The green/red columns on the right are the difference of my weekly mileage compared to Bryon's 50 and 70 miles per week training plans. Despite some fluctuations, I came out 36.3 miles ahead of Bryon's 50 mpw plan and a mere (ha!) 212.7 miles below his 70 mpw plan (which I would consider the minimum for trying to break 25 hours and big buckle, fwiw).

Weekly Mileage
The graph above represents my weekly mileage in the 24 weeks leading up to the 100. Some observations:
  • I consider a week of training to begin on Monday and end the following Sunday.
  • I came down with a case of ITBS which severely limited my running during weeks 4 and 5. Luckily I was able to recover quickly and jump up to 50 mpw.
  • The dip in week 12 was because I was tapering for the Sage Burner 50K on the following Monday. Thus the spike in mileage in week 13.
  • Weeks 16 and 19 are my 50 mile races: the San Juan Solstice 50 and the Silver Rush 50.
  • I like the consistency of my weekly mileage from weeks 6-11. After that I start see-sawing as I race, taper, race, taper, etc. I don't think that's ideal... There are just too many fun, local races to run!
  • I missed one 20+ mile run on week 21 when my son was born. It would've been hard to explain to my wife why I needed to do a double crossing of Hope Pass while she was in labor. :)
  • I started tapering for realz at week 22.
  • Week 24 was the 100.
I feel that training-- particularly for an ultra-- just sets you up for success-- it doesn't guarantee it! Injuries and/or poor nutrition on race day can completely negate/overwhelm all your hard work. For example, after training basically the same as I did last year, I managed to finish the 100 one hour faster this year simply because of improvements I made to my race nutrition. That was by far the most important change I made in 2012 even though it may seem so simple/trivial. Your #1 training priority should be: don't get injured. And I'd venture to say that your #2 priority for success in 50+ mile races should be: learn how to eat/drink adequately while racing. Once you've mastered that, then you can focus all your efforts on total mileage, proper intensity, course specificity, hill work, speed work, fiddling with gear, shoes, etc.

So... there you have it. There are certainly things I'd like to change about my training for next year. (I've started compiling a list.) But I'll refrain from rambling on about that until my plans for next year firm up. Certainly, like almost every other ultra runner in Colorado-- or at least every other Colorado runner in the blogosphere, Hardrock is the ultimate goal. Being selected for that venerable race would certainly push my training about a month forward and kick it into high gear. Failing that, another Leadville finish (in 27 hours, dammit!) is my default goal, though we have plans to visit my wife's parents in France and Switzerland next August/September... UTMB, anyone?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

LT100 Race Analysis

So, being the OCD runner that I am, I grabbed all of the race results (with splits) off of the website and threw them in a spreadsheet. After massaging the data a bit (e.g., calculating cumulative time columns for each racer at each aid station), and sorting it in a variety of ways, I was able to create the following tables.

Why bother? Well, mostly I'm just curious. But I also find it helpful to write down a few details about each split, along some thoughts about how I might be able to improve, before my memories of the race start to fade.

2012 Results vs. 2011 Results

2012 Results vs. 2012 Goals

2012 Results vs. 2012 Average

The tables above compare my splits from this year to my splits from last year, my goals for this year, and the average splits for this year. So, for example, I ran from the start to May Queen 13 minutes faster than last year, 3 minutes faster than my goal for this year, and 5 minutes faster than the average.

A few clarifications: Obviously, my results from last year were on the shorter course. Also, I didn't adjust my goals for this year when I found out that the course was going to be ~3 miles longer. Once I heard about the extra mileage I knew I probably wouldn't be hitting my goal splits from Twin to Winfield and back (and I let my crew know as much). I try to be as brutally honest as possible when I set my goal times for each aid station. My goal times aren't when I hope to be an aid station. They're not best case scenarios. They're my best guess as to when I'll actually be at an aid station. My crew rely on these times and I owe it to them to try to be as accurate as possible. If I've done my job right, it should be as likely for me to arrive at an aid station 10 minutes ahead of schedule as it would be for me to arrive at an aid station 10 minutes behind schedule. Of course, during the race there are a million variables that I can't predict or control, but that's what makes running ultramarathons so interesting, right?

I should also note that the average times were calculated from all of the runners who completed the split-- regardless of whether or not they ultimately finished the race. So, they're almost certainly a bit slower than the average split times for just the finishers because they will include the split times where folks blew up and DNF'ed at the next aid station. Finally, I want to point out that these are the average times-- not the median times. I'm guessing the median times are slower... maybe?

2012 Results vs. 2012 Median
Actually, no. It looks like the median times are actually faster than the average overall. I'm no statistician, so I'm not sure which one is more "correct" in this case. I think I prefer median because it's more "real". Someone actually ran the split in that time and half of the runners ran it faster and half of the runners ran it slower.

-160 places in 40 miles! That's -4 places/mile...
The table above tracks my place for each section of the race (and how much it changed from the last section). Also, my time for each split is ranked. So, for example, when I arrived at Half Pipe (inbound) I was in 288th place. From Twin to Half Pipe I passed 53 runners, and my time for that split was the 157th fastest. (As a reference point, I counted 796 people starting the race.) Again, as far as place and rank go, I'm considering all the runners who completed the split-- not just the finishers. There are a few minor holes in the data because a couple of split times weren't recorded (meaning that I couldn't calculate cumulative times for absolutely everyone). I really finished in 183rd place, so the numbers might be off by one or two places-- with slight errors being more likely for the later splits.

Start to May Queen

Not much to improve upon here. If I want to run this split faster I, um, need to run this split faster. The question is: can I do that without it coming back to hurt me later in the race? The fastest I would probably ever feel comfortable running to May Queen would probably be around 2:05-- and even that would make me a bit nervous. I mean my PR for the Turquoise Lake Half is 1:56. I'm just not that fast. In a lot of ways, I feel like your precise time to May Queen is a bit beyond your control due to the conga line effect around the lake. You can jockey for position before the mini-powerline climb, but after that you're kind of stuck. I certainly don't think it's wise to try to pass folks in the dark on the single track. My philosophy is that if you're ever forced to go slower than you'd like, don't get frustrated; just take the opportunity to eat more.

May Queen to Fish

Again, not much to improve upon here. Just like the first split, I know I could run this split faster, but it's probably not a good idea. Maybe I could run this section in 2:00 without killing myself? Doubtful. If I'm going to push a bit harder in the first 23 miles, maybe it makes more sense to push during this section rather than to May Queen? I'm not sure... I don't want to waste too much energy pushing uphill this early in the race.

Fish to Half Pipe

I might be able to shave a minute off of my stop at Pipeline, but I couldn't run through the Fish aid station any faster than I did. I don't think I want to run this split any faster-- certainly not to Pipeline. Maybe I could shave off a minute or two from Pipeline to Half Pipe-- but that's insignificant in the big scheme of things.

Half Pipe to Twin

Hey, here's an idea: don't get ITBS and stop four times to stretch for ~10 minutes on the way to Twin! Oh, and actually run the downhills faster than limping at a 12:30 min/mile pace! Now that I have more confidence in relying solely on energy drink for calories, I could definitely move through the Half Pipe aid station 5-10 minutes faster. So, there's lots of room for improvement for this split. This was my worst split, but it's also the split that I have the most confidence in improving upon. (Last year I ran it 24 minutes faster.)

Twin to Winfield

So, this split includes the time I spent at Twin and the time I spent at Hopeless (about 10 minutes each). Plus, it includes the ~3 minutes or so I spent icing my knee in Lake Creek. I could certainly move through the aid stations faster. I also feel like I got a little behind on calories/fluid during this section. I was really surprised how strong my split from Hope to Winfield was. I was expecting it to be much worse given my ITBS. So, I think 3:55 should be possible for this section. I've never broken 4:00 for this section (even on the shorter course), so that would be a big psychological boost.

Winfield to Twin

This split includes the time I spent at 3 aid stations: Winfield, Hopeless, and Twin (because I stopped to meet my crew before crossing the timing mat). I easily spent 10 minutes at each of those aid stations. It also includes the time I spent puking right after leaving Winfield. What a waste of time: eating for 10 minutes at Winfield only to spend 5 minutes puking it all up! If I had stayed on top of my nutrition/hydration during the previous section that probably wouldn't have happened. I spent a few minutes at Hopeless icing my knee (to no avail). Limping from Hope down to the river crossing sucked-- I lost a ton of time. I'd really like to run from Winfield to Twin faster than I run from Twin to Winfield. I'd also love to arrive at Twin before sunset. I think both of those goals are within my reach as long as I can keep my stomach and my IT band happy.

Twin to Half Pipe

Here's where I started clawing my way back into the race. At Twin, I was 41 minutes behind my time from last year; at Half Pipe I was 4 minutes ahead! Could I run this split faster? Probably, but not by much. There were several sections where I had to walk a bit due to knee pain and/or to settle my stomach (so that I could swallow Advil). I spent no time at aid stations during this split, so there's no room for improvement there.

Half Pipe to Fish

My strongest split, surprisingly. And my time includes 5+ minutes changing into long pants and different shoes (my Hokas) at Pipeline. I don't realistically think I could run this section much faster.

Fish to May Queen

This split includes the time (approximately 5 minutes) that I spent at Fish. It also includes the time I spent walking the road to Powerlines (and puking). I was severely limited by my IT band on the way down Sugarloaf. So, even though I set a PR for the section, I think I could possibly run it 10-15 minutes faster. That seems pretty fast to me, but it appears to be doable.

May Queen to Finish

This split includes the time I spent at May Queen-- where I had to spend some time (~5 minutes) in a porta potty. Strangely, I felt like I was moving faster during this section than I had in the past, but the results show otherwise. (My best time for this leg was in '10 when I was terrified of not making the 30-hour cut-off. I blew through May Queen without stopping, which made all the difference.) My ITBS almost completely limited my running except for a couple of miles on the Boulevard. I probably should've taken more Advil for this section, but I was worried about my kidneys. Assuming my knees are okay, I believe that I could run this section much faster. I don't think 3:20 is out of the question. There is a lot of room for improvement here. I would guess that the final 13 miles of the race hold the most room for improvement for almost everyone. In my opinion, too many racers kill themselves trying to shave 10 minutes off their time over Hope when it'd be much easier to make up that time (and more) in the final miles.

Best Decision

To blow through Half Pipe (inbound) without stopping. I recognized that stopping to eat "real" food was unnecessary, just slowing me down, and causing my knee to lock up. (And Pipeline was only 2.5 miles away.)

Worst Decision (Tie)

To not mix more energy drink at Hopeless (outbound). I needed those extra 300 calories and I puked shortly after Winfield as a result.

To chug a full bottle of 5-Hour Energy while approaching Powerlines. God, that stuff tastes awful! Next time: dilute it!

Hardest Decision

To stop and stretch for ~10 minutes on the way to Twin (outbound) to try to combat my emerging case of ITBS. I don't regret it, though I'm not sure it did anything meaningful, but it definitely meant sacrificing my short term goals for the long term.

Biggest Regret (If Time Travel Were Possible...)

If I had just continued to stretch/strengthen my hips in the 3-4 weeks leading up to the race I firmly believe ITBS wouldn't have been an issue. The score so far: ITBS: 2, Me: 1.

  1. Don't get ITBS and limp all the downhills!
  2. Spend less time at aid stations!
    1. Trust in energy drink to provide almost all of my calories. Cut back on stops for soup/potatoes.
    2. Don't fiddle with gear so much. Don't waste time changing shoes.
  3. Umm... puke less?
While I don't think there are enough savings to be had to go sub-25 and big buckle, I do think that a 26-27 hour finish is within my reach-- and without altering my training, except to include more time stretching/strengthening my hips (to prevent ITBS).

My knee pain has mostly faded, but I can still feel my left Achilles tendon. That's going to take a while to heal. I'm icing the tendon once or twice a day and I'm beginning to stretch and strengthen my hips and calves. I haven't run since the race. (I don't think I could run without tendon pain altering my form, which is not advisable.) Last week all I did was bike around the Mineral Belt Trail, hauling my daughter in the Chariot (and setting a PR for the route!). I think the bike really helped my recovery. I may try another bike this week and maybe a short run on the weekend if I'm feeling limber enough. I have surgery scheduled for mid-September to repair an epigastric hernia, and that'll knock me out of commission for 2 weeks or so. (Yes, I ran the 100 with my guts bulging out of stomach! How awesome is that?) I'm not precisely sure when I came down with the hernia, but I noticed it a few days after the Silver Rush 50, I think.

I guess you could say I ran my guts out this summer. :)

As for the fall, I'll probably be taking it pretty easy. Part of me really wants to continue to race because I'm at peak fitness right now, but another part of me is content to simply be done for the season. I'll probably run casually in September, enjoying the fall colors when I can. Maybe a marathon in November? Who knows? I've got to complete my recovery before I make any serious plans...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

LT100 Race Report

On Thursday I went for my last training run, an easy 3-miler on the course around Turquoise Lake. I love the feeling of finishing that final pre-race run. 52 weeks of training: done. Race preparations kept me busy almost all week-- running around to local stores to buy last minute supplies, writing up detailed notes for my crew and pacers, and organizing all my food and gear. I always underestimate how much time this takes! Nothing felt rushed, exactly, but I never seemed to have any down time to relax. I slept reasonably well the night before the race, curled up in a sleeping bag out in "the shack" to escape the noise of Ethan's nighttime nursing. (I felt a little guilty about that, but I needed every minute of sleep I could get!) I woke up shortly before my alarm at 2am. I ate my traditional fruit smoothie for breakfast (~850 calories) and walked to the starting line with my sister-in-law, Jennifer. Everything felt very casual and relaxed. No pre-race jitters. I chatted with my friend, Alex, at the start and waved to my crew-- my dad and my brother, Tim. A few minutes before the gun went off I handed Jennifer my down jacket and extra water bottle and made my way through the crowd to the middle of the pack. My goal was to run the average finisher's race, so it seemed like a logical place to start!

Start to May Queen

The first 12.5 miles (yes, that's all it is) felt totally automatic. I doubt my heart rate even made it into the 130's. I jogged along through the dark listening to my Juno Reactor mix. I must have been very well hydrated, since I stopped to pee approximately 4 times before Tabor! (I would break that PR on the way back.) My goal was to reach May Queen in 2:20. I made it there in 2:17 and met my crew. I swapped hydration bladders, dropped some warm clothing, and picked up my sunglasses and hat. During this leg I probably consumed 700-750 calories-- mostly my homemade energy drink and a few gels.

May Queen to Fish

I jogged from the aid station to the trailhead and then hiked/jogged up to Hagerman Road. Again, taking it pretty easy. I jogged up Hagerman Road and then started hiking at the first switchback, where I puked for the first time due to coughing on some phlegm. Annoying, but something that happens occasionally when I drop from a run to a hike at the top of a climb early in the morning. Runner's cough, I guess. I hiked all the way up Sugarloaf and then started running the descent. I wanted to take the descent a little easier than I did last year, but I felt good and I got carried away by the excitement of running downhill, logging at least one <8:00 mile. I ran strong on the rolling road into the cheering crowds at Fish. My goal was 2:10 and I arrived at 2:09. Another 700 calories of energy drink and gels. I was actually feeling full.

Climbing up Sugarloaf

Fish to Pipeline

My transition at Fish couldn't have been faster. I blew through the aid station, took off my hydration pack and arm warmers on the move, and threw them at my crew, grabbing a water bottle full of energy drink for the next leg. No time lost. I cruised through the next section, listening to my iPod and passing folks left and right. My new Hokas felt good on the asphalt, though I was starting to feel a little tweak in my left knee. Once I hit the dirt road to Pipeline I slowed down a bit, and arrived in 53 minutes. I had planned on 45, but the new route for this leg was about half a mile longer. Another 300 calories.

Pipeline to Halfpipe

At Pipeline I met my crew and family and switched to two handheld water bottles (full of energy drink) and my running vest. I stuffed more energy drink powder into my vest to use at the next two crewless aid stations. So far my nutrition was going perfectly. In fact, I might have been eating a little too much! I felt a bit full at times, but better safe than sorry, I suppose. I jogged/hiked to Halfpipe at a relatively easy pace and arrived there in 33 minutes. I had planned on 1:30 for Fish to Halfpipe (a tad slower than last year's 1:27), so 1:26 put me there ahead of schedule (with an extra .5 miles thrown in for good measure). The tweak in my left knee had not gone away.

Halfpipe to Twin

I sat down at Halfpipe and took the time to eat some Ramen and some potato that I was carrying with me. Then I set off for Twin. This had been my strongest leg last year (I ran the 90th fastest split) and I was hoping for it to be a strong leg this year as well-- though, I planned to run it 5 minutes slower (1:55). However, as I jogged out of the aid station my left knee got my attention. This nagging little tweak was not going away and it was starting to feel unmistakably like a case of ITBS. No, no, no... I had cured that in April! I hadn't felt anything wrong with my IT band in what? Three and a half months? I had run 2 25 milers, a marathon, a 50K, and 2 50 milers and felt great! 2 50 milers! No pain! WTF?! Why was it acting up now at mile 30?! I was pissed. I was distraught. I stopped for three minutes by the side of the trail to stretch. I ran a bit more. Nope, no better. I stopped to take my first Advil. I ran a bit further. Stretched again. Ran a bit further. I knew the 3 mile downhill into Twin was coming up. That would be murderously slow with my IT band flared up. I stopped and took a second Advil in anticipation. To understand my state of mind, you've got to know that I battled through a pre-existing case of ITBS the first time I ran the LT100 in 2010. I limped for 70 miles, from Halfmoon to the finish, popping 2 Advil every 6 hours. In 2011, ITBS was never an issue and I ran the entire race without taking a single painkiller. So, for me to be staring at a tiny brown pill of ibuprofen in my hand, and contemplating the 70 miles to go... well, it was hard. I knew how this played out. I knew I could finish, but it would be painful and there would be very little running involved. This was not the race I had trained for! I limped into Twin Lakes in 2:14, 19 minutes slower than I had hoped.

Twin to Winfield

At Twin I met my crew and family again and told them the bad news. They had all been with me in 2010, so they knew what this meant. In a move of desperation, I switched from my Hokas back to my MT101s, hoping that might change something. I grabbed my hydration pack and set out for the river, contemplating the climb to come. I knew the uphill wouldn't be an issue, but I was dreading the downhill into Winfield. I sat down in the river for a minute or two in an effort to cool off my knee and then headed off for Hope.

Icing my knee in Lake Creek

I climbed well, even running the one flatish section on the way up. The perverse logic of ITBS is that it makes the "easy" downhills hard, so you have to really push on the uphills to make up for lost time. I arrived at Hopeless a few minutes slower than I had planned, but that was probably due to sitting in the river to "ice" my knee. I sat down at ate some of their delicious mashed potato/soup mixture while a helpful volunteer refilled my hydration bladder. I remembered to tighten the laces on my water logged shoes in preparation for the downhill. (That oversight cost me a big toe nail in 2011.) After a 10 minute meal, I set off for the top of the pass. I remember stopping to catch my breath a few times on this last section of the climb last year, but not this time. I was slow and steady. Continuous forward progress. Now came the downhill. It wasn't as bad as I had feared. Sure, I could feel my knee complaining, but I don't think it was slowing me down much. The south side of Hope Pass is so steep that it's more of a controlled fall rather than a run. I turned onto the new section of trail to Winfield excited to see what it was like. Sure, it was longer and slower than the road, but I loved it. A very pretty, well-built trail with great views. There were some rollers, but nothing serious. I was still jogging the uphills, which gave me confidence that my nutrition plan was working. My energy levels were solid. I jogged into Twin in 4:21, which wasn't too bad considering the extra mileage. Certainly not a PR, but not bad considering the state of my knee.

At the top of Hope Pass

Winfield to Twin

I weighed in at 177, down from 180, but nothing shocking. Hell, 3 lbs could easily be attributable to random scale variance. I was eating and drinking well. I met my crew and family and sat down to try to eat something. The place was a circus! I don't know what changed about the layout (or maybe it was the hundred extra runners this year), but it felt much more crowded than I remembered. Justin, my pacer, organized all our gear and we set off after a 10 minute break. I told my crew that my plan of 3:45 for the return trip was definitely not going to happen given my knee and the extra mileage. My revised goal was 4:15-- who knows? I was just making this sh*t up as I went. Shortly after the aid station I puked for a second time. I'm not sure why... I shrugged it off and continued on. I'm sure it didn't inspire confidence in Justin! One of the best dynamics of coming into/leaving Winfield is that you get to see all your friends headed in the other direction. I was exchanging hellos at a rate of least once a minute: "Hiya Woody! You're killin' it, Mike! Way to go Smokey! Hey, Craig! How's it going, Brian? Hiya, Nick! Hey Christopher! Yeah, Lisa! Lookin' good, Molly! Hey, Alex!" I loved it. It's one of my favorite aspects of this out and back race.

Still... running... uphill.

So, onward and upward. I was jogging on gentle uphills on the new section of trail and limping on the downhills. When we intersected with the main trail, the climbing began. I had seriously bonked during this climb last year, stopping a half a dozen times to try to gather my strength. I was determined not the let that happen again: 300 calories/bottle of energy drink to the rescue! We settled into a long train of runners and relentlessly ground up the mountain. Justin and I stopped at treeline so that I could pee and take some Advil in anticipation of the upcoming downhill, but that was our only stop. Solid. Justin ran ahead to the aid station to grab some soup and refill our water bottles as I staggered down. My left knee was killing me. I would often shout out in pain and swear loudly.

Hopeless is such an idyllic aid station: llamas grazing about, majestic, towering peaks, a blue alpine lake beckoning, tents nestled in among the weathered trees. It made me long for camping out under the stars. The thought of calling it quits here and helping out for the rest of the race actually crossed my mind... What can I say? The downhill into Twin sucked. Darkness fell before we had even finished descending. One of our headlamps was almost completely dead, which led to some comedy as it basically forced Justin to stagger down the rocky, ankle-busting lower sections of the trail in almost complete darkness. He joked that the beam was almost powerful enough to light up his shorts. My ITBS prevented me from running the gentle downhill flats to the river. This is where I first uttered the word "DNF" to Justin. I had been in this exact position in 2010. I knew what lay ahead of me. I was confident I could finish, but what did I have to prove? Been there, done that. It's not exactly fun-- especially without the novelty of it being your first 100-mile race to push you. Justin would have none of it. He coaxed me onward with words of encouragement and simply jogged ahead, forcing me to jog to follow him.

And, somehow, it felt a little better.

Maybe in those few minutes the pain of the steep descent off of Hope faded and my knee recovered a little bit. Maybe it was because it was ever-so-gently uphill from the river to Twin, but I jogged and it didn't feel too bad. I recalled that I was too exhausted to jog this little section last year. But here I was, at mile 60, and I could still jog uphill... maybe it wouldn't be a complete repeat of past years?

Twin to Pipeline

I was more than an hour and a half behind my goal, arriving at Twin 40 minutes later than I did last year and 10 minutes later than in '10. The race was not going as planned. A couple of more missteps and I might have to actually start worrying about cut-off times! I met Matt, my next pacer, and Terra, who had taken over crewing responsibilities. I was still warm, so I just tied a light jacket around my waist. We switched headlamps, I changed into my second (dry) set of MT101s, and we headed off into the night with a Redbull in hand. Matt was carrying a ton of gear for me-- he looked like he was headed off on expedition, which I guess isn't that far from the truth! We had extra warm clothing, all kinds of food options, multiple energy-drink filled water bottles, and my hiking poles. I think there might have been a kitchen sink in there too. I talked pacing strategy with Matt on the way up out of Twin. The section Matt was pacing was what I considered to be the crux of the race for me: Twin to Fish. In the past, this is where my race has devolved into walking, stopping, resting, nibbling on various unpalatable snacks, shivering, throwing up, and watching hundreds of headlamps pass me in the night. Historically, my pace drops way off the average for this section. Somehow I seem to "recover" from Fish to the finish, but I think that's mostly just because everyone else has blown up by that point as well, so my times return to the average. My goal this year was to make it through this section at least 40 minutes faster. Was that possible? The climb up from Twin seemed... easy, really. I barely even used my poles. I guess everything seems easy after you've climbed up the south side of Hope Pass. Once past the Mt. Elbert mini-aid station I started to experiment with jogging. And... I could do it! I could feel my left knee complaining, but it wasn't bad enough to prevent me from jogging. 13 minute miles started to click by! This was exactly what I had visualized during my training! Instead of last year, where a steady stream of headlamps walked by me as I sat groaning on a rock by the side of the trail, I was the one jogging past a steady stream of walking headlamps. I was passing folks on the uphills, I was passing folks on the downhills. My energy levels were great. I was now on an exclusive diet of energy drink and it was working! We blew through Halfpipe without even stopping and continued on to Pipeline to meet Terra.

2011's time from Twin to Halfpipe: 3:10
2012's goal time from Twin to Halfpipe: 2:45
2012's time from Twin to Halfpipe: 2:25

We crushed it. We ran that section just 11 minutes slower than I had 21 miles earlier in race!

My spirits were high. I must have been happier than anyone with ITBS has ever been at mile 71 in an ultramarathon!

Pipeline to Fish

At Pipeline, we stopped to get organized for the next leg to Fish. I knew it would be cold. Down by the river, at the bottom of the valley where the heavy, cold air settles, the temperature drops like a rock. I switched into running tights and a wool long-sleeved shirt, plus my running jacket. Basically, I was dressed as if I were going for a run in Leadville on a January afternoon. After restocking on energy drink, we quickly set out. Could I keep jogging? How long could this last?

I ran every step of the way to Fish Hatchery.

2011's time from Halfpipe to Fish: 2:16
2012's goal time from Halfpipe to Fish: 1:55
2012's time from Halfpipe to Fish: 1:45

A 31 minute improvement over 4.5 miles! (And the previous time was for only 4.0 miles.) We ran that section just 19 minutes slower than I had run it outbound.

Things were going so well that I nearly choked up with emotion a few times. I was so happy. I ran a 12:00 min/mile uphill from the last bridge to the aid station, charging through a pack of 20 runners. When Matt expressed his concern that I might be going a little too fast, I sheepishly admitted that it was possible that I might be showing off just a little bit. I couldn't help it. I was so excited to feel this good so late in a race.

You know, I've only been running for two and half years. I've invested a ton of personal time analyzing my training, analyzing my races, constantly trying to improve. Nothing has come easy. I'm not naturally gifted at this sport. I enjoy it. I love the challenge. But I'm a decidedly mid-pack runner who has always battled his stomach and faded after 6+ hours of running. But not this time, dammit. Despite my ITBS, I didn't feel over-matched by this race. This time I was actually running. And faster than everyone around me.

Fish To May Queen

We pulled into Fish and met Terra, who would now pace me to the next aid station: May Queen. As we trotted off, I shouted back at Matt, thanking him for pacing me so well. Matt is a super talented runner, who I am sure will return to this course someday and big buckle in style. While still on the pavement I tried to stock up on some calories and caffeine for the climb ahead. As I struggled to choke down a 5-Hour Energy, Terra asked me how many times I had puked so far this race. In a queasy voice I answered, "Only twice... but here comes number three!" With a look of horror on her face she quickly leapt to the other side of the road as I started vomiting. Strange French music blared from the house on the corner. We later laughed about how far she had run away-- as if I could possibly projectile vomit across the road. Ah, good times! I recovered quickly and we soon attacked the Powerlines. We climbed steadily all the way to the top, clicking off each false summit as we went. No stops, no breaks, no rest. I still had my climbing legs. I knew the downhill would pose a bigger challenge than the uphill given my IT band. It was tough, but I managed to limp/jog most of the way to the Colorado Trail. I certainly descended faster than I have in past years, but I wished I could have gone even faster. The only thing holding me back was the searing pain in my left knee. My left Achilles tendon was also starting to act up-- probably a compensation injury of some sort. Once on the CT, I grabbed my poles again and gingerly negotiated the rocky trail. We fell in behind a train of runners. I probably could have moved a tiny bit faster than the pack, but it wasn't worth the energy to try and pass. I feel like that section of trail is incredibly injury prone and I didn't want to take any risks just to save a minute or two. I used it as an excuse to slow down and keep up on calories. At this point I had pretty much been exclusively drinking my homemade energy drink for hours-- ever since Twin. It seemed to be doing the trick. After we reached the trailhead, things opened up a bit and I jogged into May Queen. I glanced at my GPS and saw that we had destroyed my PR for this section by 23 minutes!

2011's time from Fish to May Queen: 3:38
2012's goal time  from Fish to May Queen:  3:30
2012's time  from Fish to May Queen: 3:15

May Queen to Finish:

As we rolled into May Queen I caught sight of my dad, brother, and sister in the crowd. My sister, Katie, who had just flown in from Virginia two days ago, would be pacing me to the finish. After a brief pit stop to answer the call of nature, we were on our way. I had warned Katie beforehand that there wouldn't be much running going on during this leg-- that it would be the slowest half marathon she's ever run! This definitely turned out to be true. Katie set a good pace and we power hiked along in the cold darkness, chatting away. I nursed another Redbull for a few miles and then switched back to my energy drink which had fueled me so well for the entire race. I had never been through May Queen this early before and we had to use our headlamps almost all the way to Tabor. I tried jogging a few times but my knee was having none of it. I had the energy, but the pain was too great. My left leg was starting to lock up. Eventually dawn came and we slowly began to warm up. But it wasn't until the Boulevard that the sun was strong enough to finally take off my jacket and wool shirt. During training I run the Boulevard for my speed workout. In the spring, when most of the local trails are still snowbound, I may run the Boulevard two to three times a week. I know every inch of that damn road-- for example, the green gate is exactly 2.8 miles from the front door of my house-- and that familiarity makes walking it seem to take forever. I was in good spirits, but I was tired and my knee was killing me. I just wanted to be done. I was willing to do anything I could to make the end come quicker. Luckily the Boulevard is almost all gently uphill, which was the only grade I could run any longer. So run I did. 13:45 min/miles for miles 99 and 100. I managed to run all of 6th Street (except the short downhill stretch by the school) and sprinted across the finish line, my family running by my side and cheering me on-- Christina carrying little Ethan in her arms, oxygen tank dangling from her shoulder. I pushed especially hard the final mile because I wanted to set a PR by over an hour.

Finish #3!

The final score: 28:19-- a 64 minute improvement over last year's time (on a course that was 3 miles longer).

Pure maltodextrin + Clip2 + Gatorade for the win!

I am still baffled as to why I suffered IT band issues during the race. Why this race? Why now and not during all the races I ran this summer? Did I tighten up during my taper for the 100? I don't know, but I'm confident that it's a solvable problem. What I'm elated about is that after almost three years of trying, I finally solved my nutrition problem and it certainly appears that, yes, it was poor race nutrition that was the primary cause of my slowdown in past races. That was always the theory, but now I've got the evidence. After many failed attempts, I was beginning to doubt that I'd ever figure out how to make my stomach happy. Having at least one positive data point is very, very uplifting. Now, all I have to do is combine an ITBS-free race with solid nutrition and I am certain that I can shave another hour off of my finishing time! That is both inspiring and motivating.

This year's race had more drama than any of my previous LT100 races. I came closer to giving up and quitting than ever before and yet I ran my best race ever. While I still didn't hit my goal time of 27 hours, I persevered and proved to myself that I could run much stronger splits in the second half of the race. That's a huge confidence boost.

I'm sure I'll scribble down more notes in future posts about exactly what did and what did not work for me this year, and where I think I can make further improvements. But for now, I'm limping around my house, multiple ice packs taped to my left leg, basking in the glory of LT100 finish #3.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Month in Review (July)

7/2010: 145.0 miles (0 babies)
7/2011: 235.5 miles (0 babies)
7/2012: 198.1 miles (1 baby)

Another solid month of training, but with a bit of an early taper...

I had tentatively planned to run my traditional double-crossing of Hope Pass on the last weekend of July, but life had other plans! Instead of 20.5 miles from Twin to Winfield and back, my wife and I must have logged at least a mile of power walking in the hospital lobby trying to speed up her contractions and induce labor! On the morning of 7/29 it finally worked and our new son, Ethan Stirling Reiff, was born!

Future ultra runner: Ethan.

Watching my amazing wife endure labor (without any painkillers!) and give birth to a perfect, healthy little baby certainly put things in perspective on many levels. The 100 seems very small in comparison. And whining about sore legs or an upset stomach during the race? Laughable.

I logged a total of 39,064 feet of elevation gain in July. A little low compared to last year, but almost all of that came during a seven day stretch from the Silver Rush 50 to the following Saturday: 21,000 feet of vertical in seven days. I set PRs on both Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive-- I was not holding back on the downhills to save my legs.

Near the summit of Mt. Elbert

While my running training has been put on hold for a bit, my sleep deprivation training has just begun! Ethan is a very quiet baby, alternating between nursing, pooping, and sleeping every few hours. We're waiting for him to discover his vocal cords, but for now he is remarkably well behaved... a thoughtful, almost contemplative little guy. The only things that seem to annoy him are having his diaper changed and when his oxygen tubes fall into his mouth. Like most infants in Leadville, he's on oxygen for the first few months. It's annoying for parents to have to deal with the tangle of tubes and tanks, but a good precaution. And, of course, this means I'll have several oxygen tanks at my disposal during the 100... Hmm... I wonder if there are any rules against that? :)

I'm going to try to get in one or two more long runs (16-20 miles) this weekend, but after that everything will be 10 miles or less. Probably just one 10 miler next weekend, I think. I'm enjoying paternity leave and looking forward to the race-- though I'm obviously a bit distracted at the moment. That's probably a good thing. It's easy to starting obsessing about race day details once you start tapering... but I'm going to try to relax and enjoy these few weeks with my family.