Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Leadville 100 Pre-Race Thoughts (aka The Plan)

Goal: 23:40 vs. 24:29 (24:45)

Ah, hell. I'm just going to go for it.

Who knows exactly what my fitness is, but I'm almost certainly in worse shape than I was last year. Not terrible shape, but almost certainly not in '13 shape. Maybe more like '12 shape.

I have approximately the same number of miles and training time under my belt as '13, but my training this year basically peaked in mid-June, whereas last year I peaked at the end of July (which was my best month of training ever).

I actually have been able to match or exceed my PRs on a few uphill routes around Leadville (including both sides of Hope Pass), so I'm not totally out of shape. But, I'm basically fully tapered now as opposed to when I set those PRs in the middle of training last year. (In other words, the old PRs were set on tired legs.)

I returned to training too enthusiastically after Bighorn, and aggravated an injury leftover from the race. Runner's knee. It was a dumb, rookie mistake. I should have shut things down for two weeks after Bighorn and taken things super easy-- especially on the downhills, given the pain I was feeling in my right knee the day after Bighorn. Instead, I jumped right back into more-or-less normal training, with only a few days of rest. In my own misguided way I was trying to keep things easy, but it was nowhere near easy enough. When my knee finally really flared up, I was forced to stop running for almost two weeks. Then I slowly settled into only a 3-run per week routine. I've basically been power hiking up 14ers and walking down them for my long runs. Only recently have I actually jogged downhill at anything resembling my normal downhill pace. During Leadville, I'm definitely going to be taking all the downhills very conservatively. Being paranoid, I'm not fully convinced that my case of runner's knee won't flare up again during the 100. That would instantly prevent any chance of a PR. We'll see...

That said, I still want to try for my 5th consecutive PR at Leadville. It's worth a shot, at least.

What makes me think I can?

I honestly think that I lost ~80 minutes last year due to nausea. ~20 minutes on each climb up Hope Pass. ~10 minutes from Twin to Half Pipe. And then ~30 minutes from May Queen to the finish (which was also due to lack of motivation on my part, once I knew a big buckle was in the bag). If I say that I was ~30 minutes faster due to better raw fitness last year, that gives me room for a ~50 minute improvement. (Of course, that assumes that I never get nauseated or injured!)

At a high level, my strategy is pretty simple: improve my worst splits (when compared to the median time of all the finishers). Run the first 40 miles easier, push up Hope, but take the downhills easy, then really start pushing during the final 40 miles, culminating with the last split, which I want to make the biggest improvement on. Another way of summarizing this is to say that I want to make my 50 mile splits more even than they were last year-- slower going out, faster coming in.

If I had to pick 3 splits to improve, they would be: Twin to Hope, Winfield to Hope, and May Queen to the finish. If I'm a little slower on all the other splits: whatever.

No matter what my time is, if I'm not injured, I really want to jog the final 12.5 miles of the course. I don't care if a big buckle is out of the picture at that point. Must. Not. Walk.

Of course, if I do get injured, they'll be a change of plans. I don't want to get angry or depressed. Leadville was not my focus race this year. That was Bighorn. I signed up for Leadville again simply because it's the hometown race. If I'm injured, I'll just switch racing strategies: slow down, make myself as comfortable as possible, try to have fun, chat with my fellow racers, eat a lot, and drink beer. I plan on giving my crew an emergency 6-pack for just this contingency!

As long as I can stagger forward, I will not quit. The other streak I want to keep alive is my no DNF streak.

I will not be using pacers this year. I'm going solo. I'm not sure why, exactly, but I thought it would be fun to try something different. To mix it up a bit. I guess I want to see if I suffer better alone! Plus, having a pacer there to carry your stuff is cheating! (But, damn, is it nice!)

I will, however, be relying on my awesome, veteran crew to speed me through aid stations as fast as possible. They did such an amazing job last year that there's zero room for improvement in this area of the race! And I mean zero. Zip. Nada. My crew was the main reason I big buckled last year. I probably stopped for only 15 minutes during the entire race, blowing through most aid stations without stopping at all.

After four consecutive races with perfect weather, I'm mentally preparing for apocalyptic weather on race day. I think we're due... With all the monsoon weather we've been getting this July, it's not hard to imagine. I want to be ready to rock it '08 style! (Yeah, lightning at the top of Powerlines at 8am in the morning! Yeah, continuous drizzle throughout the night!)

As always, this race will be all about staying on top of my nutrition and hydration. If I don't get nauseated (and I don't get injured), I can almost guarantee a PR. Seriously. It's that important.

Mistakes I made last year: I didn't drink enough water in proportion to the calories I was consuming. I actually made the mistake of telling my crew to overfill my bottles (~400 calories/bottle) from Pipeline to Hopeless. (And I overfilled them myself from Hopeless to Winfield.) Dumb, but I was hungry at the time. Being a little hungry is not necessarily bad. It means things are moving through your stomach. Don't panic. Just keep drinking and maintain a 320 calorie/hour rate of energy drink. Don't eat more calories without drinking more water!

I'm going to top off my bottles at streams/aid stations throughout the day. At least during the hottest part of the day, I need to be drinking more than a bottle's worth of water per hour. Thus the top off to dilute whatever remaining energy drink is in the bottle.

I'm going to try to drink from an extra ice-filled water bottle every time I meet my crew. Then run off with my two bottles of energy drink for the next leg. This should effectively dilute the contents of my stomach, lowering its osmolarity, and aiding digestion.

I'm going to stop at the Half Pipe aid station this year. Both ways. It's worth it to take the time to hydrate more and grab a little bit of real food.

I'm going to try to eat some nut butters earlier on in the race (as opposed to the 3 gels I ate from the start to Fish). I think they'll be more filling.

I'm going to use caffeine pills instead of trying to choke down Redbull. My caffeine intake was probably a little low last year. (Though I don't remember being too tired.) I was just relying on Coke, which really doesn't have enough caffeine to be your sole source during the night.

This year I haven't been using any protein in my energy drink. (Just amino acids.) Who knows what effect that will have (if any)?

Of course, I'll ultimately end up resorting to Coke. Probably around mile 60. But, honestly, I need to stick to energy drink as long as I can. Just choke it down. Remember Bighorn. Maybe try to just drink Coke at the aid stations themselves, but don't carry it and drink it on the run?

For comparison purposes, I've been looking at some of my friends' splits from last year:

Andy W. ran a 23:18.
Marvin ran a 23:28.
Smokey ran a 24:11.
Mike ran a 24:18.

They all beat me!

Andy W. and Marvin will be running again this year, Mike will be pacing a friend, and Smokey has some secret plans for the top of Powerlines. So, hopefully I'll see them all out on the course!

You can think of my goal splits for this year's race as what I consider to be the smartest way to run a 23:40 race at Leadville. Even if I can't make these times this year-- due to nausea, lack of fitness, injury, etc.-- they'll probably be my goal splits for next year... and the year after that... until I actually achieve them!

I won't lie. I'm less confident about making my goal this year than I was last year. My training has been too inconsistent/unorthodox. I'm nursing multiple injuries. Every year, my PR gets harder for me to beat. That's the nature of PRs.

Who knows what will happen on race day? The important thing, really, is the relative level of effort for each split. Push hard up Hope. Push harder the later in the race it is. Take everything else easy.

Remember that in my report from last year, I emphasized that my improved fitness would account for very little of the 3 hour and 50 minute PR I ultimately set. It was all about efficient aid station management, better hydration/nutrition, staying injury-free, and running smarter.

Format: Split '14 Goal vs. '13 Time ('13 Goal)

May Queen 2:10 vs. 2:09 (2:10)

2:05 is certainly doable, but would probably be the fastest I'd ever want to run this split. Use knee warmers during this section. If I have to jump into a restroom during this split, it could easily take 10 minutes longer than planned. Don't panic.

Smokey took a leisurely 2:24!

Fish 2:00 vs. 1:55 (2:00)

I certainly don't want to bomb down Powerlines like I did last year. Drop knee warmers at Fish. Unfortunately, this means I'll have to sit down and take off my shoes.

Smokey took a leisurely 2:07!

Half Pipe 1:20 vs. 1:11 (1:20)

No room for improvement. I might naturally run this around 1:15, but no rush. The road does not play to my strengths this year. Only carry one bottle to Pipeline (like last year). Actually stop at Half Pipe to top off fluids.

Andy W. took 1:10. Everyone else was around 1:15.

Twin 1:50 vs. 1:46 (1:45)

No room for improvement. Need to focus on hydration! This will probably be the hottest split. I'll probably hit Twin around 7:20-- 20 minutes slower than last year.

I ran this split faster than Andy W., Marvin, Smokey, and Mike. Need to slow down.

Hope 2:00 vs. 2:18 (2:15)

My first planned improvement over a split from last year. I can run this split in ~1:40 in training (never dropping below a 19 min/mile). I may need poles if my knee is acting up.

Everyone was around 2:00 or less. Mike took 1:46?! Holy shit!

Winfield 1:20 vs. 1:17 (1:25)

I can run this split in ~1:00 in training. I don't think I was really pushing it last year, so maybe I can run this split faster? Don't plan on it, though. Top off bottles at streams! Push on the flat sections-- not the steep sections. Even if I hit Winfield at ~11 hours, a PR is not out of the question.

Everyone ran faster than 1:20 last year.

Hope 2:00 vs. 2:22 (2:15)

I can run this split in ~1:35 in training. Top off bottles at streams! This was the only split I ran slower than the median time last year. Thus, I have the most room for improvement. I may need poles if my knee is acting up.

Almost everyone took less than 2:00. 1:45 is remotely possible (but insanely strong)!

Twin 1:30 vs. 1:28 (1:25)

I can run this split in ~1:00 in training. Push on the flat sections-- not the steep sections.

 My time was right in the middle of everyone.

Half Pipe 2:15 vs. 2:21 (2:15)

If I really push, and I'm feeling good, I think I could maybe run 2:05. Maybe. This section is very, very runnable from Elbert to Half Pipe. It would be awesome to get to Half Pipe before the sunset. I just barely missed it last year.

Everyone ran faster than 2:15. Andy W. took 2:03!

Fish 1:20 vs. 1:26 (1:40)

I was pretty much in the middle of everyone. I want to push hard this split. Exhausting, but pretty damn flat and totally non-technical! As uninspiring as this section might be, it is every bit as important as Hope Pass. Run!

Smokey took 1:18. 

May Queen 2:45 vs. 2:45 (3:00)

No room for improvement. This was my best split from last year. I ran the 41st fastest split in the entire field! Matching my time will take some effort and motivation. Funny, I didn't feel like I was pushing especially hard last year (or even really totally on top of my nutrition), but... I don't know... something happened. I think my time from last year is a testament to how important focus is late in the race. I was focused on nailing this split, no doubt.

I beat everyone (Andy W., Marvin, Smokey, and Mike). Andy W. ran this split in 2:45 in '12.

Finish 3:10 vs. 3:32 (3:15)

Smokey ran this split in 3:09 and he was neck and neck with me just before the dam! (So he put over 20 minutes on me during the final ~6 miles! Incredible!) If I can pull off a Bighorn-style finish, I could theoretically run close to 3:00. This is the split where I want to push my hardest. No walking!

There you have it. Simple, right?

PS I'll close with some pictures from my last long run. I decided to try something different and actually climb the ridge from Hope Pass to the top of Mt. Hope. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. Stunning views. I'm so glad that I made the trip to the summit! Definitely worth it. Amazing views in all directions. This may have to become a yearly tradition.

Probably the best spot to spectate: above Hope Pass!

Hope Pass from the edge of Mt. Hope itself.

Twin Lakes from the top of Mt. Hope