Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The diagnosis

Got done visiting with the ENT (ears, nose and throat) specialist not too long ago. My submandibular gland is still swollen, but it seems to have receded some since a week ago and is certainly less painful (in fact, I'm totally pain free now). Basically have to play it by ear (and nose and throat...see what I did there?) for a few months. If I have a recurrence of pain or the inflammation simply doesn't go away, then surgery is probably a definite. Otherwise, it will hopefully clear up on its own given time.

In any case, I'm back to running and it's about damn time I started focusing since I'm a mere 26 weeks away from Bighorn. So far away, yet so close. I hammered out 11 miles in two separate runs yesterday, which means my mileage for the day exceeded my mileage from all of last week (for some reason, I didn't feel much like running when I was in agonizing pain or drugged up with Vicodin). My second run yesterday was a 4.8 mile jaunt up Lookout Mtn. The mountain appears to be totally snow free when viewed from town, but of course I found some hidden snow fields once I got up there. Really, though, the snow was pretty minimal and was packed down well, which makes for pretty decent running. The fact that I was running outside in shorts just a few days before Christmas is fairly remarkable in itself. And, I was pleasantly surprised that even after all the time off last week, I was able to run the entire runnable route yesterday, albeit slowly. I say "runnable" route, because there's a bit of rock crawling required just before the summit. That stretch might be runnable by someone with mountain goat genes, but not by me. It's even warmer today (52!...on December 20th!), so the plan is to hit the Tinton Trail just outside of Spearfish after work to assess the snow situation there. Alas, snow is in the forecast for tomorrow, so whatever the conditions are now, they are certain to change in the very near future, but I'm determined to tough it out and do as much trail running as possible this winter (even if it requires snowshoes). If I'm going to survive Bighorn, I don't have much of a choice.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm Back

Believe it or not, I am still alive. Seems like the last few months just flew by. Really I didn't have much to post about running-wise, but I guess that's no excuse. So, here's a quick update.

My son's football season went well. I found out that coaching football is much more stressful than playing football. I'm pretty sure us coaches agonized over the outcomes of the games much more than the kids did. At 6 and 7 years old, they tend not to overthink things and just go with the flow, which is good. In the end, we had a great season for a first year team. Finished the regular season at 4-3, which earned us the #4 seed in the playoffs. Ended up losing in the first round to the eventual champions. All four of our losses on the year were very close games that easily could have gone the other way....we were literally a few yards from winning at the end of a couple of those losses. Looking forward to next year!

On the running front, I wrapped up the 3rd annual Black Hills Trail Running Series in November. I had managed to win the men's open division the first year of the series and took 3rd last year, so I jokingly stated that my goal going into this year was to finish 2nd so I could have a complete collection of trophy rocks. Well, as it turned out, I finished 2nd, so the collection is now complete. Of course, I'll still be back next year.

Speaking of next year, my tentative race schedule is starting to take shape. I'm about 90% sure that I'll register for the Bighorn 100, which will be my 2nd 100 mile run and my first true mountain 100 (my first 100 being Lean Horse). I'm also fairly sure I'll run the brand new Quad Rock 50 in Fort Collins as a tune-up. Other than that, I haven't decided on anything, but will probably look for something later in the summer, maybe Elkhorn again.

Hard to think of all that running right now considering it's now been 5 days since I ran at all. This is not a voluntary break. I've got an infection in my submandibular gland (one of the ones under the jaw that produces saliva). This infection has made it nearly impossible for me to eat solid foods for the last 5 days, so I'm on a soup and pudding diet, which is getting pretty damn old. I'm on antibiotics and painkillers until I can see a specialist next week to determine if the gland needs to come out (it probably does, since this has happened in a less severe fashion before). I'm getting pretty restless though. I wasn't told not to run, but I've been playing it safe. It doesn't help that the weather right now is pretty spectacular for December in South Dakota and here I am sitting inside, sipping soup. Patience is not one of my virtues, and my patience is running out...

While I'm here, I suppose I better do some advertising for the Black Hills 100. Ryan and I are now the principle owners of the event (under the guise of our new company, Dakota Endurance). Jerry will still be helping out, but is gradually retiring from the race directing business (he has sold Deadwood-Mickelson and Run Crazy Horse to his co-director Emily and Ryan and I will be gradually taking over Lean Horse as well). For Black Hills, we are currently offering a post-Western States lottery discount for the 100M event. Through December 31st, registration for the 100M is $24 off ($175). Just go to Ultrasignup and register. Response has been good so far. I don't have the data, but I would venture to guess that our numbers are up from this point last year and we have some returnees, which is good (it means they didn't totally hate it last year).

That's it in a nutshell. I'll try to be more vigilant about posting, but I've said that before. Hopefully, I can get this damn gland thing taken care of and actually have something of interest to post on the running front.

Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Change of seasons

I'm not just talking about summer to fall. Summer racing season is all but over for me. I had thought it was over after Elkhorn the first weekend of August, and I guess it turns out it was thanks to my DNS at Lean Horse a few weeks ago. So, finally, after about 4 months of train, taper, race, recover, repeat, I can just go out and run for the hell of it with no specific goal in mind. I am still finishing up the 3rd annual Black Hills Trail Running Series, where I currently sit at 2nd place in the Men's open division standings. Just had a trail series races this past Sunday actually, the 8.1 mile Thunder Run where I took 5 minutes off my time from last year and finished 6th overall. That 5 minutes is probably a result of two factors: 1) I'm in better trail shape this year and 2) Last year the Thunder Run was my first race after the Lean Horse 100 and I was still somewhat feeling the effects. Only 3 more trail series races left, although I will definitely miss one of them and, hopefully, two (more on that later). The one I will definitely run is the 10-10-10K, which was actually on 10/10/10 last year but is now on 10/9/11....as the directors say, it still adds up the same (think about that one a bit).

Football season has also begun, which directly relates to my mention above that I'm hoping to miss two of the last three trail series races. My son is playing on and I am an assistant coach for the Belle Fourche Cardinals of the Black Hills Youth Football League, which consists of teams from Belle, Rapid City, Wall, Spearfish and Box Elder. It's full pads, full contact, 11 man football on full size fields (which is kind of odd for me since I played 8 man football on an 80 yard field back in my high school days in Montana). We had our first game last Saturday and scored our first win over the Wall Eagles 27-18. The one remaining trail series race I will definitely miss is the Sundance Trail Run on Sept. 24th because we play the Rapid City Steelers that day. As it turns out, the league championship game is on Nov. 5th, the same day as the "unofficial and unsanctioned" South Dakota Trail Championships, the final race of the trail series. The Cardinals still have 6 games of the regular season left to earn a top 4 seed and berth in the playoffs, and then would need to win a playoff game, but I would choose them playing in the championship over the trail race any day. Go Cardinals! (as a die-hard Seahawks fan, I honestly never thought I would ever under any circumstances utter those words)

Monday, August 29, 2011

DNS at Lean Horse

Well, I jumped out of the Lean Horse 50K just as fast as I jumped into it. I had hoped to run a fairly fast 50K this weekend, maybe even contend for the win in a small field, but I spent most of Friday night tossing and turning with some stomach issues. Woke up a couple of times convinced that I was going to puke, but never did. The stomach settled down for a couple of hours and I actually got some sleep, but when I woke up I couldn't stand the thought of eating anything and everything just felt off. Running 31 miles did not sound like any fun at all, so I pulled myself from the race and spent the day doing race directing duties instead. It wasn't easy sitting at the finish line watching the first 50K runners come in and wondering if it could've been me, but my stomach was still off then. I didn't each much of anything all day...pretty sure the first Hammer Gel I tried to take if I had run would've come right back up. My daughter had the stomach flu earlier in the week and my son ended up getting it on Saturday too. Just unlucky timing, but better that this happen for this race than for one that I trained a long time for and invested a bunch in. If it would've happened before the Lean Horse 100 last year, I would've been devastated. As it was, I was disappointed, but it's not a huge deal. Feeling better now, so time to focus on the remainder of the trail series races.

Congrats to everyone who finished Lean Horse this weekend! Some pretty amazing performances...the overall winner of the 50M crushed the women's course record and ran the 2nd fastest 50 ever at Lean Horse. The 100 winner ran a 15:34, ten minutes off of the course record. Pretty brutal heat this year. It got up to 102 in Hot Springs, a little cooler (mid to high 80s) up in Custer and Hill City.

As an example of why we refer to the Black Hills 100 as Lean Horse's evil stepsister, there were 29 sub-24 finishers at Lean Horse this weekend. Only 32 people finished Black Hills period, and only 2 were sub-24. Yes, Black Hills had a severe thunderstorm, but Lean Horse was hot.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Okay, one more

When I ran the Elkhorn 50K a few weeks ago, it was with the assumption that it would be my last ultra for the year. Lean Horse and Sundance were both out because of my son's football schedule and I certainly wasn't planning on traveling anywhere outside of the area for another one this year. Well, as so often happens, plans have changed. My son's team won't be participating in the multi-team scrimmage this Saturday (we just got our pads on Sunday, so the kids have barely had a chance to learn how to put them on, much less play with them). That means my Saturday morning is now free and my name is now on the Lean Horse 50K entrant list (along with a whopping 15 others).

This means I will be pulling a double duty of sorts this weekend. The original plan was to arrive in Hot Springs after the scrimmage on Saturday and fulfill some race director-in-training duties alongside Jerry (the race director) and Ryan (the other race-director-in-training). Now, I'll be in Hot Springs on Friday to help Jerry and Ryan out, run on Saturday morning and, after a quick shower, resume some directing tasks.

I've run the Lean Horse 50K once before, back in 2007. That was also my first ever ultra. I ran it in 4:46 (still my 50K PR) and finished 2nd overall after leading much of the race but eventually fading and getting passed at about mile 20. The course is different this year and should be somewhat faster. Back in 2007, the 50K runners never set foot on the Mickelson Trail...the race was a straight up out and back starting in Hot Springs, heading out on Argyle Road and then turning back about a mile short of the Mickelson. This year, all three races (50K, 50M and 100M) will start about 11 miles west of Hot Springs at the Minnekahta trailhead. This will put us on the Mickelson right away. We'll be on the trail for about 14.5 miles before hitting Argyle Road for the final 16.5. So, fewer hills this time, although all of them will come in the last half of the race (but it will still be a net downhill overall). Either way, this is a much faster course than either of the other two 50Ks I've run (Bighorn and Elkhorn), hence my PR still standing from that race four years ago (four years? really??).

To put the Lean Horse course in perspective, consider the Elkhorn 50K I just ran back on the 6th. That course featured almost 7000 feet of elevation gain over 31 miles. The total elevation gain for the new Lean Horse course is under 1000 feet. To further put that into perspective, consider the route I run once or twice a week on the Lookout Mtn trails in Spearfish. A 4.4 mile loop on Lookout includes about 900 feet of elevation gain. So, at Lean Horse I'll be stretching that same amount of gain over a distance that's 7 times longer. Piece of cake, right?

The toughest part of preparing for this race (if you can call what I've been doing preparing....it's been a very low mileage recovery mode since Elkhorn), is getting over the trail mentality when it comes to pace. Most of the ultras I've run recently have been on fairly tough mountain courses, where 11, 12, or 13 minute pace were the norm (for me, at least). I would like to run Lean Horse in 4:30 or so, which would be sub-9:00 pace. In my mind, that sounds really hard for an ultra, but I think I need to get past the idea that the course will affect my pace. In reality, I should be able to maintain a good pace over a relatively flat course fairly easily...I did it in training for the Lean Horse 100 several times last year and I just ran the Missoula Marathon at sub-8:00 pace back in July without pushing myself too much. Of course, I haven't done many flat long runs this year because my focus has been on trail running, so I just don't feel as comfortable in that realm right now.

In any case, this is probably way too much thought to put into a race that I just found out I was running two days ago. My intent is to run comfortably, but steadily, early on and see where that leaves me when I hit Argyle Road. If I do that, I should end up near my PR, and given the small field, probably at or near the front of the "pack" as well.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Elkhorn 50K Report

I've wanted to run Elkhorn for a couple of years now. I grew up in Montana, have run several marathons in Montana, but had never run an ultra there. Unfortunately, Elkhorn just never fit into my schedule until this year. Still, I kind of wavered back and forth trying to decided if I actually wanted to do it. After running two 50 mile races (Collegiate Peaks and Bighorn) in May and June, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do, if anything, to finish off the summer racing season. The Lean Horse 50K or 50M was tempting because of its proximity, but a schedule conflict there eliminated that idea. After running the Missoula Marathon in July, I finally took the plunge and registered for the Elkhorn 50K, opting for a "short" ultra (and, man, I ended up being VERY glad I didn't register for the 50M).

One of the draws of Elkhorn is that my cousin John lives in Helena (the nearest city to the race). John ran the 50K last year and was registered again this year. He has also run the Missoula Marathon with me the last few years and we finished within a minute of each other this year. So, free lodging with he and his family and someone to run at least part of the race with. For the cherry on top, John is also a home brewer and a pretty damn good one at that, so free homemade beer too. It's like an ultra runner's dream come true!

I made the 8ish hour drive over to Helena on Thursday and spent that evening and pretty much all of Friday just hanging out at John's place and basically just sitting on my ass. After a fairly rough weekend last week, where my legs just felt totally dead, I was erring on the side of caution and resting as much as possible heading into the race. On Friday evening, John and I drove out to the packet pick-up/pre-race dinner. This is wear things started to get a little crazy. Now, Montana is a big state geographically speaking, but a very small one population-wise. Inevitably, when I tell someone I'm originally from Montana they say, "Oh, do you know so-and-so from Montana?" More often than not, I don't....the population isn't THAT small and it's spread out over a large area. Well, my experience at Elkhorn did nothing to dispel the myth that everyone from Montana knows everyone else from Montana. Beginning with packet pick-up, I ended up meeting four random people who I knew or who knew somebody I knew. First off was one of my friends from college who was at the pre-race dinner with some of his friends who were running. I knew he lived in Helena, but had totally forgotten that fact until I looked up and saw him standing there. Then, the lady handing out the race packets recognized my name...turns out her mom was my grade school English teacher. The next day at the finish line I ran into a guy who was my lab partner in Ecology class back in college and another guy who knows one of my best friends from college. So, yeah, apparently everyone in Montana DOES know everyone else. In any case, the pre-race dinner was fairly decent. Nice relaxed scene and I scored a free pair of shoes at the prize drawing after the meal.

Race morning was nice and cool...about as good of weather as you could hope for in Montana in August. This race has experienced some pretty hot days in its history and I can't even imagine how much tougher the already brutal course would be with temps in the 90s. I'm pretty sure it never got out of the 70s while we were running and I never felt hot...in fact, in some places I actually got chilled.

There are three events at Elkhorn: the 50M, the 50K and the 23K (totally random distance there, but I think that just happens to be how far the lower loop of the trail is). The 50M had already started at 5:00 AM when we arrived. The 50K start was at 7:00 and then the 23Kers took off at 9:00. All three events follow parts of the same course, which is almost entirely singletrack trail save for the first (and last) mile and a half along a dirt road. The 50K course follows the dirt road out to the McClellan Creek trail, which heads basically straight south past the Teepee Creek aid station (which isn't open yet the first time through) at about 4 miles. From Teepee Creek, the trail continues south and starts the first big climb of the day, ascending up and over a ridge to the Elk Park aid station at about mile 7. Elk Park marks the beginning of an 8 mile loop, which first takes you downhill to the Wilson Creek aid station and then up the 2nd big climb of the day back to Elk Park at roughly the halfway point. From there, the course follows the same trail back down to Teepee Creek at mile 19, which is an active aid station this time. And this is where the fun begins....the toughest climb of the day heads up from Teepee Creek and along a ridge, eventually topping out and then descending a little bit to the Casey Meadows aid station at mile 23. Another shorter climb takes you out of Casey Meadows before you drop into the Jackson Creek drainage and start heading down to the final aid station. However, that downhill is interrupted (quite rudely) by one more steep but fairly short climb before heading back down to Jackson Creek at mile 28. From there, it's downhill for a ways on the trail and then back on the road to the finish line. All told, approximately 6,900 feet of elevation gain (and subsequent loss) over the course of 31 miles....nothing to shake a stick at.

My overly optimistic goal heading in was to run a sub-6. This would be only my 3rd 50K. I ran a 4:46 at Lean Horse a few years ago, which means nothing considering how flat that course is. I also ran a 5:46 at Bighorn two years ago on what is certainly a much tougher course than Lean Horse, but I wasn't really sure how it compared to Elkhorn. I knew sub-6 would put me in the top 10 almost assuredly and possibly top 5. A lofty goal for me, but what did I have to lose?

As the race started, I felt okay. Not great, not bad, just okay. The first stretch to Teepee Creek is almost all uphill, but gradual enough that it's totally runnable and John and I ran almost all of it. After Teepee Creek, we hiked much of the climb up to Elk Park and I did not feel good at all on that section. Considering that I was less than 8 miles into the race and was hiking, I felt like I was working WAY too hard. My legs didn't feel into it and I was starting to feel some impending digestive issues. After Elk Park, John started to pull away from me and I eventually decided that a trip to the bushes was necessary if I was going to be able to run this downhill section properly. As I had hoped, that did the trick and soon enough I was feeling much better and running fairly well. In short time, I caught back up with John and we ran into the Wilson Creek aid station together. He pulled ahead of me a ways on the subsequent climb (all hiking) back up to Elk Park, but we hooked up again at the Elk Park aid station and started the descent back to Teepee Creek together. This was the high point of the race for me. It only took me 15 miles or so to find a groove, but I did finally find one. Descending back down to Teepee Creek I pulled away from John and passed three other guys who we hadn't seen since climbing the same hill earlier in the race. By the time I reached Teepee Creek, I was feeling great and was actually thinking that I might be able to make up enough time over the rest of the course to be somewhat close to 6 hours (my pace had drifted so much on the first climb to Elk Park that that goal seemed lost early on).

And then the climb started. Actually, I felt very good for at least 3/4 of the climb to Casey Meadows. I was power-hiking all of it but was consistently passing 23K runners and wasn't getting passed by anyone. My legs and stomach both felt solid. At what I thought was the top, we crossed a meadow and I was all psyched up to start running some downhill. Except there was no downhill. Instead, the course headed up more, steeper than before and extremely rocky. And just like that, I hit the wall. My legs started to quiver, I started feeling lightheaded and was sure I was going to hurl (which is appropriate, considering the race is put on by HURL - the Helena Ultra Runners League). I pulled off the side of the trail, hunched over and waited for the inevitable to come, but it never did. The nausea faded eventually and I continued on. My last mile up that climb was somewhere in the 23:00 range. Just brutal. Finally, the climb did end, but by then I wasn't so eager to run. I tried a few times, but the trail was so rocky that my pathetic shuffle just resulted in tripping every few steps, so I was resigned to more walking. Eventually the trail did smooth out and I was able to achieve something resembling a running gait as I approached the Casey Meadows aid station.

The climb out of Casey Meadows featured more walking. This climb wasn't nearly as steep and under normal circumstances I would have run much of it, but normal circumstances are fairly abnormal during an ultra, so hike I did. Along that climb, I got passed by the 1st place 50 miler, who was absolutely cruising and ended up crushing the course record. John also caught up to me on that stretch. I knew by our position high up on the ridge and the finish line's location at the bottom of the drainage that eventually we would have to lose quite a bit of elevation, but the trail just didn't seem to be cooperating. We were heading down, but gradually. I finally asked John if the damn trail ever went down for real and he pointed ahead. Sure enough, there was the turn onto the Jackson Creek trail. I was able to do some decent running here and again pulled ahead of John. About halfway between Casey Meadows and Jackson Creek, the downhill is interrupted by a short but steep climb. By this point, my legs had absolutely no appetite for going uphill, no matter how slow. I started slogging up the hill and got hammered again by a wave of nausea. Again, I pulled off to the side of the trail, hands on knees, and waited for the inevitable. And, again, it never came. I continued the slog and soon enough was running back downhill into the Jackson Creek aid station.

John caught back up to me at the aid station, although I pulled slightly ahead as I left sooner. There's just a short bit of trail after the aid station and then the course meets back up with the same road we started out on. When I got to the road, I looked back and John was right behind me. I walked for a bit until he caught up and then we shuffled together down the road. By this point, we were both fighting cramps and would each have to take short walk breaks, but always ended up catching back up with each other. With about a quarter mile to go, we saw John's wife Vanessa and his son Jack cheering us on and, as we passed them, Jack ran out to pace us to the finish. John and I ended up finishing side by side (not hand in hand, although I'm sure that would have been a tear-jerking moment) in 6:40:23, about a minute faster than John ran last year.

All told, not a horrible day on the trails. I definitely underestimated the difficulty of the climbs. I had some cramping issues, but nothing debilitating. My nutrition was pretty poor...I don't think I ate any gels after the last big climb and the last two aid stations didn't have any Pepsi, which I had been drinking at all previous aid stations, so I basically didn't take in any calories for the final 10 miles or more (other than a few chunks of watermelon, which doesn't even really count). I was drinking plenty...ended up emptying my 70 oz. hydration pack a couple of times. I just need to learn to force more calories down, something I think I let slide here because it was "only" 31 miles. Of course, it was easily the toughest 31 miles I've ever run. All in all, a great event with some pretty spectacular trails and scenery. They say that if you can finish the Elkhorn 50M you are probably ready for a 100 mile race, and I would say that's true. I myself didn't finish the 50M, but after running the 50K I feel like I ran at LEAST 50 miles. It's a tough course, but well worth checking out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Seems like I've been stuck in a taper/race/recover cycle since late April/early May. After training through the winter/spring, I tapered for Collegiate Peaks 50M on May 7th, recovered, got in a couple more weeks of training and then tapered for Bighorn 50M on June 18th, recovered (somewhat), ran the Missoula Marathon on July 10th and then tried to get in a couple of decent training weeks before tapering for the Elkhorn 50K coming up on August 6th.

If you count Missoula itself, I've gotten in a 20+ mile long run each of the last three weekends in preparation for Elkhorn. The week after Missoula it was a 20 miler on the Centennial trail (which I blogged about last week) and this past weekend it was 22.6 miles, again on the Centennial. My weekly mileage the week after Missoula wasn't all that impressive as I took a couple of days off after the marathon, but I did manage to get in 74 miles last week, which I believe is my highest mileage week since before Bighorn.

The difference between Elkhorn and Collegiate Peaks or Bighorn (besides 19 miles of distance between a 50K and 50M)is that I have a concrete time goal in mind for Elkhorn. I'm gunning for a sub-6:00. Not really sure how ambitious that is since I'm not familiar with the Elkhorn course other than I've heard it's fairly tough. I've only run two other 50Ks, Lean Horse and Bighorn. I ran a 4:46 at Lean Horse, but that's not a good reference point since the course is much easier than Elkhorn. I ran a 5:46 at Bighorn, which might be a better indicator. That 50K at Bighorn was a couple of years ago and was run on fairly minimal trail mileage in training. I've run many more miles on trails this spring and summer, so am hoping that will push me to a sub-6 on what is probably a more difficult 50K course.

With that in mind, I set out for my long run this past Friday morning on the Centennial with the goal of pacing myself the way I would if I were running a 50K. I started at the Alkali Creek trailhead and proceeded south along the trail as far as the Elk Creek trailhead (11.3 miles one way). This section of the trail includes two big climbs. The first is a fairly gradual 4 mile climb up to Bulldog ridge. The climb features enough switchbacks to make it entirely runnable, so I ran the whole thing, albeit fairly slowly. From the top of the ridge, the trail heads straight down the other side into Bulldog Gulch for a little bit of flatish running before you start a real grunt of a climb up to the next ridge. I alternated running and walking on the lower section of this second climb, but power hiked most of the upper portion on the steeper, shale-covered slope. From there, you drop down the other side of the ridge on a fairly gradual descent, eventually reaching Elk Creek (well, the trailhead at least...the creek itself is a mile further down the trail).

At the halfway point of the run I was still feeling really good and was averaging just over 11:00 pace (sub-6 for a 50K would be about 11:36 pace). I figured I could drop that pace some on the return trip since it was a net downhill, although I faced two big climbs going that direction too. I was able to run a fairly good portion of the first climb, much more than I've been able to run on previous Centennial trail excursions. The second climb back up to Bulldog ridge is fairly short (0.4 mile) but steep as it goes basically straight up (no switchbacking), so that was a power hike. The beauty of an out and back course is that if you start off with a 4 mile climb, you get to finish with a 4 mile descent and I was able to push the pace fairly well on that last 4 miles back to Alkali. Final time was 4:05, for a 10:53 pace. Could I have maintained that for another 9 miles? Probably. Can I do it on the Elkhorn course? Well, that remains to be seen...

For you data nerds: Garmin Connect link

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Heat training

After what has really been an unusually cool and wet summer so far, the heat hammer has fallen in the last few days. The last few days we've flirted with triple digits, but I don't think we've quite reached that magical milestone quite yet. The real issue is the humidity. Although I don't like it, I can handle 90 and dry, but 90 and humid is a whole other animal.....a wet, hazy, sticky, miserable animal.

My training in the week plus since Missoula has been kind of stop and go. While I didn't push it all that hard in Missoula and my legs felt just fine after the race, I've still had some struggles getting back into the groove. My legs aren't sore and I have no pain, but on some days when I run, they are just dead. Of course, when I get up at the buttcrack of dawn to "beat the heat" and it's already 75-80 with matching humidity, it doesn't help matters. But, then again, on some days the legs feel fine.

Case in point, last Friday I got up to run and was planning on maybe 8-10. It was warm and sticky and my legs had no desire to be in motion, so it ended up being a very slow 5 miles. The next day I didn't run at all as I was helping my mom move and then it was freakishly hot in the afternoon (and my legs probably needed the break anyhow). On Sunday, I got up early and drove to Sturgis for a planned long on the Centennial Trail. It was 80 already when I started at 6:00 AM and I was honestly ready to call it a day only a mile into the run. I told myself I could re-evaluate at the Alkali Creek trailhead, about 6 miles out. By the time I got there, my legs had warmed up and I was actually feeling alright, despite the fact that I was sweating at a ridiculous rate. So, I pressed on and on the 4 mile climb up to the top of Bulldog, I felt really good...it didn't hurt being in the shade of the timber for most of the climb. Once I got up there, which is where I was planning on turning around, I realized I was at 9.6 miles, so only needed another 0.4 to get in a 20 miler. So I bombed down the steep descent to the location of the Black Hills 100 Bulldog aid station and then power-hiked back up. The run back to Sturgis went well, other than the last flat mile along the paved city bike path, which was pretty miserable in the 93 degree heat. Legs felt fine afterward and I spent a good 5 hours that afternoon "swimming" (there was no actual swimming involved) at the Spearfish waterpark with the kids. Got up the next morning, hoping to knock out 8 miles or so and, again, the legs were just dead (again, it was crazy warm and sticky). So, again, 5 very slow, wet miles.

With Elkhorn looming, I'm hoping this dead/not dead cycle will eventually cease (on the side of not dead, of coursehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif). One more long run on the Centennial planned for this weekend, and then it's taper time, I guess (really, it feels like it's been taper time pretty much since early May, just before the Collegiate Peaks 50).

I included the link to my Garmin data HERE to show the elevation profile from Sunday's 20 miler only because I think it looks cool...like somebody took a giant axe and chopped a wedge out of the high point. Or maybe that's just the heat getting to me...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Elkhorn 50K

I have officially registered for the Elkhorn 50K on August 6th in Helena, MT. I've been thinking of running Elkhorn for a couple of years now, but it never really fit into my schedule since it fell right at the beginning of the Sturgis Bike Rally and I've worked at the Rally for the last two years. This year, though, I'm helping coach my son's youth football team (GO CARDINALS!....as a Seahawks fan, you have no idea how it pains me to say that). Football practice starts the same day as the Rally, so I had to retire from my Rally gig to accept the coaching gig (which pays significantly less....as in zero). But, since football doesn't start until the 8th, that frees me up to head over to Helena and run Elkhorn on the 6th. My cousin John (who is featured in my post about Missoula below) will be there too. Haven't run a 50K since June of 2009 (Bighorn), so I'm looking forward to a "short" ultra. I had gone into Missoula with the intent of treating it as a long training run....now I know what it is that I was training for!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

5th Annual Missoula Marathon

Having grown up in Montana and attending college at The University of Montana in Missoula, I was very excited when the Missoula Marathon was created 5 years ago. I was there for the inaugural running, stumbling through the heat in the midst of the hottest July in Missoula's recorded history, and swore I'd be back as long as I was able. So far, so good as I just finished my 5th Missoula Marathon this past weekend. I've only run one other marathon multiple times (Deadwood-Mickelson, twice). It's no secret that Missoula is my favorite place in the world, and running is as good of an excuse as any to go back there at least once a year.

However, the direction of my running has taken a turn since I ran that inaugural Missoula Marathon back in 2007. Back then, I was still relatively new to marathoning (I think the Missoula race was my 5th marathon) and I was striving to work toward a Boston qualifying time. I didn't try to BQ at the inaugural race....even if I had, the heat would've put the kaibash on that really quickly. I would BQ at Missoula the following year, though, in perfect weather conditions (that first year has proven to be an anomaly, as each of the last 4 races have been run under almost perfectly cool conditions). After finally achieving a BQ in 2008 and then running Boston in 2009, I came to a crossroads in my running "career": pursue a sub-3:00 marathon (my PR, set at Missoula in 2008, is 3:09) or take the road less traveled (literally) and delve into ultramarathons. As many of you know, I chose the latter. I haven't specifically trained for a marathon since Boston and have only run Missoula and Deadwood-Mickelson as training runs since deciding to focus on ultras. As I've started accumulating 50K, 50 mile and 100 mile finishes, and subsequently running more and more miles on trails, my interest in road marathons has waned significantly. In fact, my interest had waned to the point that in the week leading up to Missoula this year, I wasn't entirely sure why I was even bothering anymore, other than the fact that I just so happened to be in western Montana for my sister-in-law's wedding, which was a few days before the race. But, during the race I was reminded of why I go back to Missoula every year....it's a great event in an awesome town and, despite being entirely on pavement, is still a good time. And, I gotta admit, after running two 50 milers in the past couple of months, it was nice to be able to stop after "only" 26.2 miles.

Of course, training for an ultra in the mountains is very different than training for a basically flat road marathon. As such, I've been running an increasing number of miles on trails instead of roads, which subsequently works different muscles. Also, my pace has been necessarily slower...you just don't run as fast at the same effort level uphill on a narrow trail as you do on a road. Speedwork has been virtually non-existent because, well, what's the point? When you're goal is to cover 50 miles, you don't worry too much about how fast you can run 800m intervals. Sure, there's probably still some benefit to doing speedwork, but it's not as critical. So, after training for the Collegiate Peaks and Bighorn 50 milers this spring/summer, I was very prepared to spend half a day on my feet in the mountains, but not all that prepared to run 26.2 miles at a decent clip. Of course, I know I can cover 26.2 miles now without much of a problem, but the question was how long would it take and how much would that much pavement pounding hurt? It didn't help that I spent the entire week before the race with my wife's family in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. The Bitterroot has some pretty spectacular trails and I just couldn't resist the urge to do some exploring. I didn't run a ton of miles the week leading up to the race, but certainly more than I would've if I had actually been concentrating on the marathon.

Given all that, my strategy for the race was basically identical to last year, when I used Missoula as a long training run leading up to the Lean Horse 100. My general goal was to run it in under 3:30 (besting my worst Missoula time of 3:32 at the inaugural race) without destroying myself and derailing my training. Last year, my cousin John and I tucked in with the 3:30 pace group for the first 10 miles or so and then made a break for it. John eventually dropped me at about mile 17 and ran strong to finish in 3:25. I faltered a bit over the last 9 miles and finished in 3:27. This year the plan was pretty much the same. John and I took off with the 3:30 group and, once again, dropped them at mile 10. We ran strong up and over the one hill just past the halfway point (that hill seems much smaller and less intimidating now that I've witnessed The Wall on the Bighorn course). This year, I was feeling a bit stronger and was able to keep up with John until about mile 21, when he slowly but surely started to put a gap between us. Up until that point, we had been running fairly consistent 7:45-7:50 miles, but my pace started to falter toward the 8:00 range and then further toward 8:20. That gap closed a couple of times when he stopped for water at an aid station and I ran through (the aid stations are only a mile or so apart in the last 10K and I didn't feel the need to stop at EVERY one). With about 3 miles to go, I caught a bit of a 2nd wind and started to push the pace a bit. John was still running pretty strong, but with a couple of miles to go I was within a block of him and thought I still had a chance of catching back up. That never happened though as he turned on the jets and my 2nd wind abandoned me. I still ran the last couple of miles fairly well, but just didn't have a lot of extra to give until the last 2/10ths across the Higgins St. bridge to the finish. John ended up running an almost identical time to last year (3 seconds slower) and I finished about 50 seconds faster than last year in 3:26:21 (and felt stronger overall in the process).

So, all in all, a somewhat surprisingly "easy" moderate effort. The pavement didn't take too much of a toll...I'm sore but not any more than would be expected. Fairly safe to say I'll be back in Missoula next year for #6 (and probably also safe to say that I probably won't run another road marathon before then).

Up next, seriously eyeing the Elkhorn 50K near Helena, MT the first weekend of August. John ran it last year and is running it again this year. I'd like to get in one more long race this summer, but I'm not really feeling up to another 50 miler, so 50K sounds really appealing. The timing of Elkhorn is pretty good since it's before my son's football practice starts (I'm one of his coaches this year). And, I've heard good things about the race, so I'd like to check it out. All I need to do is take the plunge and actually register before it fills up.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Belle Fourche Rodeo Run 10K

Apparently a few people out there in internet land are googling for information on the 33rd Annual July 4th Rodeo Run 10K in Belle Fourche. This post is in the hopes that Google leads you here for the most up to date information. So, here it is:

Registration: 6:00-6:45, Herrmann Park
Race Starts: 7:00, Herrmann Park
Cost: $10 (which gets you a t-shirt, refreshments and a chance to win some prizes)

We will be raffling off door prizes while the race is going on, so when you get done, be sure to check the prize table. We will also be recognizing the male and female overall winners as well as the top 3 runners in each age group. The overall winners and age group winners will receive an extra-special, appropriate for the 4th of July award.

In a previous post I made about this race, I said that we might do a kids' run before the 10K, but that is NOT the case (maybe next year). So, the 10K will start at 7:00.

If you'd like to see a map of the race course, follow this link (FYI - the loop is run clockwise): http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/1350354

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A view from the other side: Directing the Black Hills 100

Wow. You truly can't comprehend what all goes in to putting on a 100 mile race until you've actually gotten in there and done it. I've volunteered at ultras, I've run ultras and now I guess the trifecta is complete. Trust me when I say that, in many ways, running 100 miles is easier than directing. When you run the race, you have one mission in mind: get yourself to the finish. I spent the better part of 39 sleepless hours on Saturday and Sunday (not to mention all the time put in before then), stressing out about getting 150+ runners to the finish. Of course, not all of them made it....not nearly so, but it was rewarding nonetheless and we'll definitely do it again next year.

So, a not-so quick recap. I spent most of Wednesday and Thursday and part of Friday marking the course. Ryan had already done some marking before that, so we were just finishing up. Our intent going in was to mark only the intersections and trouble spots that we knew of (i.e. the places where we have gotten off course ourselves while running the trail). For the most part, the Centennial is easy to follow and has dedicated trail markers, but there are some confusing areas. We ("we" being the three co-directors; myself, Ryan and Jerry) had thought that we got everything marked sufficiently, but apparently not as a few people had some trouble. Sounds like most of the confusion was along the motorized portion of the course, so we'll definitely focus on making that easier to follow next year. It's so hard to estimate how much is enough....we don't want to go out there and hang a flag every ten yards when the trail seems obvious, but we also don't want people lost. So, something to work on for next year.

Everything pre-race (expo, pre-race briefing, dinner, etc.) went very well. The only big snag was when one of our EMTs, who was supposed to be at the finish line on Saturday, bailed because of a scheduling conflict. We scrambled to find a replacement on short notice and I eventually got in touch with one of my co-workers who is an EMT and she was able to fill in. Other than that, everything seemed to be running like clockwork right up until about 10:00 on Saturday night, about 16 hours into the race. That's when a massive thunderstorm moved across the northern Hills and started unleashing rain, hail and lightning. I stepped out from under shelter for about 15 seconds to try and rescue the $5000 race clock and was instantly drenched (the clock was fine, by the way). I can only imagine what it was like for the runners on the course, but I think the storm led to a lot of DNFs....kind of hard to leave a nice warm aid station and face the prospect of running through hail/rain for an unknown amount of time.

In the midst of the chaos caused by the storm, we got a report of a runner stranded at an unmanned aid station who needed a ride out. We got someone headed that direction and the runner also managed to place a 911 call. Our rescue vehicle and the local ambulance got there at about the same time and brought the runner back in (they were fine, basically just cold, tired and a little freaked out by the storm). One other runner was transported to the ER in Rapid City with chest pain, which turned out to not be serious, fortunately. Other than that, there were no serious health issues that I know of, although my own blood pressure was probably sky high for the duration of the storm.

Because the course crosses Elk Creek five times, we were concerned about runners getting safely across in the dark after the torrential downpour had bloated the creek. Ryan and I actually discussed holding runners at Dalton Lake, the last manned aid station before the crossings, for a while, but as the storm tapered off we decided against that. Luckily, we had placed ropes across all of the crossings before the race, which allowed everyone to get safely across.

One of the things we were most curious about before the event was just how long it would take someone to run 100 miles on this course. Thanks to the storm, I still don't think we have a good answer for that. The winning time was 23:01 and we only had two sub-24 finishers (at that rate, we have enough sub-24 buckles to last us 25 years). Out of 91 starters in the 100, only 30 finished. That's a ridiculously low finish rate. How much of that can be attributed to the storm and how much to the course itself is hard to say, but I think a good 30% of the drops could have been storm-related. I mean, I know the course is hard, but not THAT hard. Having said that, there were a lot of people who underestimated just how hard this course is. The most common comment I heard at the finish was "that was way tougher than I thought it would be". It almost sounds blasphemous, but I heard from more than a few people that the course is harder than Western States or Leadville. The 2nd place finisher ran it only 10 minutes faster than his most recent time at Wasatch. We "only" have about 16,000 feet of elevation gain (Leadville and Wasatch are around 28,000), but the course is just relentless, constantly hitting you with relatively short ups and downs that eventually take their toll. I'm still curious to see how fast someone could run this under better weather conditions. Hopefully, the word gets out that this is no walk in the park and we get some big guns to put it to the test.

We also heard from several runners that the course is actually 104-105 miles long. One of the hardest aspects of setting up an event like this is getting the course laid out and measured accurately. Our measurements, which put it within a mile of 100, were gathered by a local mountain biker who rode the entire course in one day (well, the out portion anyway). I've GPSed it section by section and some of my measurements were a little off of what he got, but not drastically so. But I've also run the same section on different days and gotten different measurements using the same GPS. It doesn't take much variation per mile to add up to a signficant chunk of mileage over the course of 100 miles. In any case, I'm not sure if the course is long or not, but it's something we'll try to get nailed down before next year.

All in all, the weekend went well, despite the high stress moments (and I knew there would be some). I know the event isn't perfect, but I think we got off to a good start and the vast majority of the runners I talked to were impressed and had good things to say. Of course, people will rarely give you negative comments to your face, but I got a good vibe overall from the people I did talk to. We'll take what feedback we do get and try our hardest to improve for next year.

Thanks to everyone out there who participated in the inaugural Black Hills 100 and a huge thank you to the volunteers we had. We got incredible support from the local running community and it was a huge part of our success.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bighorn 50M: Slaying the Demon

Last year, I started the Bighorn 50 with no doubt in my mind that I would finish. After all, it was just a training run for the Lean Horse 100 later in the summer and I had never once before, in any race of any distance, not finished. What could go wrong? Approximately 19 miles into the race, I was on my hands and knees in the bushes alongside the trail heading up The Wall, the steepest and longest incline of the course, puking my guts out. Suddenly, finishing didn't seem so certain. In fact, I wasn't quite sure just how I was going to make it to the next aid station at Bear Camp a couple of miles up the hill. I did, eventually, and actually death-marched another 13 or so miles further before finally accepting my fate and dropping at the Dry Fork aid station at mile 34.

As a result of last year's humbling experience, this year was all about Bighorn. Instead of serving as a training race for a later summer ultra as it had the last two years (I also ran the Bighorn 50K in 2009 as a training run for the Lean Horse 50M), this year Bighorn was THE race, the one race that I was focused on all winter and spring. I did run the Collegiate Peaks 50 as well, but I basically entered that on a whim and treated it as a training run. With Bighorn as the focus, I made a concerted effort to get in more trail miles this winter and spring. Last year, I didn't really start any trail running until March or April, when most of the snow was gone and even then I didn't get in many long trail runs. In fact, just one of 20 miles with the rest of my long runs done on roads. This year, I hit the trails early and as often as possible, snow or not. I also hit up the trails for many more long runs and ran over twice as many trail miles as I had leading up to Bighorn last year (see my last post for all the nerdy details on that). The hope was that my body would be better conditioned for the abuse it was going to take in the Bighorns. I needed to convert my road runner legs into trail runner legs, or at least enough so to avoid another DNF. By the time May and June rolled around, I could notice a definite difference. My legs started to feel more comfortable on long trail runs than on long road runs and many of the local trails that I had to walk portions of before, I was now able to drop into a grind gear and run the entire distance. On my last long trail run before Bighorn, a 30 miler on the Centennial Trail, my legs felt good all the way to the end and were minimally sore afterward. On my last long road run, a 15 miler the week before Bighorn, my legs felt like crap....my pace was decent, but my legs just did not enjoy the experience all that much. I took that as a good sign.

I headed over to Sheridan on Friday afternoon. I was flying solo, which is kind of boring in that you have no one to hang out with all weekend, but it's also relaxing in a way because you can just chill and do whatever you want. What I did was check in, drop off my drop bags, grab some dinner and head to the hotel. I fell asleep reasonably easily and slept really well considering what lay ahead in the morning. Good thing I did sleep well, because I didn't sleep long as the alarm went off at 2:30. Now, I've been up at 2:30 many times before, but nearly all of them were back in my college days and no sleeping had yet been involved (plenty of hydration, though). It's times like 2:30 AM when you're sitting on your hotel bed, struggling to fully wake up and realizing that you're about to run 50 miles in the mountains that you really start to question your state of mind. Regardless, I got up, ate a Clif Bar, a bagel and a banana, had some really bad hotel coffee and hit the road for Dayton, 20 miles away. From the Dayton city park, the location of the finish line, you catch a bus that hauls you up into the Bighorns and leaves you behind with no way back but your own two feet (or, as I learned last year, the vehicle of a another runner's crew if you happened to drop at Dry Fork...I was hoping to stick with my own two feet this time).

Normally, the Bighorn 50 mile course is actually 52 miles and is run point to point, starting at the Porcupine Ranger Station deep in the Bighorns and heading down to Dayton. Thanks to high snowpack and a cool spring, the upper elevations near Porcupine still had significant amounts of snow (as in 80+ inches), forcing the organizers to revert to an alternate course. The alternate course starts at Dry Fork, which is normally mile 34 of the regular course, and follows the regular course backwards to the Footbridge aid station 16.5 miles away. From Footbridge, it turns back and follows the same route back to Dry Fork and then on to the finish as usual, adding up to exactly 50 miles (or close enough for government work). On paper, the two courses would appear to be similar in difficulty since either way you run generally downhill into Footbridge to start out and then run the same route from Footbridge to the finish, with all of the big climbs from the regular course included in the alternate course. The results tell a slightly different story though as this year's winning time was nearly an hour faster than last year and the times overall were also faster this year.

In the minutes leading up to the start I was feeling surprisingly good. The proper level of anxiety, but I felt rested and ready to face the day. And, following a live singing of the national anthem and a quick ten count, the day began. My plan was to run the downhills and walk the uphills for as long as possible. For the most part, the first 16.5 miles to Footbridge are downhill; Dry Fork sits at about 7600 feet while Footbridge is down in the Little Bighorn Canyon at 4200 feet. A big chunk of that descent comes in one big bite though as the course drops 2100 feet in about 3.5 miles from Bear Camp down The Wall to Footbridge. I followed the plan all the way from Dry Fork to Bear Camp, approximately 13 miles. I had a pace chart made out that showed times for 10, 11, and 12 hour pace. I basically knew that 10 hours was probably a little far fetched for me, but I wanted a point of reference. Eleven hours seemed somewhat realistic, maybe closer to 12 hours if the course was as muddy and snowy as I expected going in (turns out, it wasn't). When I hit Bear Camp, I was about 20 minutes ahead of 10 hour pace, but I knew not to read too much into that considering I still had all of the major climbs ahead of me. Heading down The Wall was downright treacherous in some areas with mud covered rocks covering the trail on steep descents, but the lower we went, the more solid (and more runnable) the trail became. I fell in with a couple of other guys and followed them down a majority of the descent, maintaining a steady pace. One of them commented that the longest run he had done in training had been 25 miles and had been just a week ago. Really curious as to whether that guy finished, but I never caught his name or bib number.

I hit Footbridge exactly 3 hours into the race, 16 minutes ahead of 10 hour pace. I was feeling good and took a few minutes to refill my hydration pack, guzzle an Ensure and strip off the long-sleeve shirt and gloves I'd been wearing. I opted against changing shoes and socks here since I knew they would just get muddy and wet again right away. Although the mud wasn't horrible, there were quite a few small stream crossings and getting muddy, wet feet was inevitable. Once I had everything squared away, I set back out to tackle The Wall, the place where my race basically came to a screeching halt last year. This year, I was able to get into a good hiking groove and do a little bit of running on the few and far between sections where that was realistic. I tried to remember the exact spot where I had puked last year, but I couldn't recall for sure. This year, I think I only got passed once along The Wall, near the beginning, and managed to out-hike several others, a definite improvement over last year. Slow and steady wins the race...or at least allows you to finish it.

After Bear Camp, the course levels off somewhat with some rolling, twisting single track. It took me a little bit to get back into a running/walking groove after The Wall, but I eventually did and hit the Cow Camp aid station about halfway between Bear Camp and Dry Fork feeling pretty good. The stretch between Cow Camp and Dry Fork starts off with some pretty good rollers, so I was walking the ups and running the downs. At some point along this stretch, you come over one of those hills and can seed the Dry Fork ridgeline from what seems like 10 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation gain away. Of course, it's not nearly that far, but seeing the aid station and vehicles perched up on the ridge with a long stretch of road heading up to it is kind of daunting. That last climb up the road to Dry Fork just about did me in last year....I was honestly hoping that someone would see me struggling and stopping every 10 yards and send an ATV down to retrieve me, but they never did. This year, I was able to get into the slow, steady hiking groove and maintain forward momentum up to the ridge. When I DNFed at Dry Fork last year, it had taken me just over 9.5 hours to reach that point. This year, I hit the aid station in just under 7.5 hours. That put me at 20 minutes OVER 11 hour pace, so I had lost a fairly significant chunk of time on the return trip from Footbridge, but I was still moving and feeling good...more than can be said for last year.

At Dry Fork I took another few minutes to down another Ensure and change into dry shoes and socks. I knew they would get wet eventually, but my Cascadias were so saturated and mud covered that I needed to get them off. I tried to eat some solid food at the aid station before I left, but my saliva level was low and nothing was really looking all that good. Up to that point, I had been forcing down Hammer Gel and the two Ensures, but felt like I should be taking in more. I also made the decision at Dry Fork to abandon Nuun and go with straight water in my hydration pack. I had been drinking pure Nuun up that point, but the taste was starting to bother me and I noticed that my hands felt a little swollen, which I assumed was from too much electrolytes. So, I went with straight water and it seemed to work...I found that I could drink more and my stomach seemed to tolerate it a lot better.

After Dry Fork, the course follows a gravel road for a mile or so, mostly uphill, so there was more walking in store. Eventually, the course diverts off the road onto a series of trails and smaller roads. The course also levels out at this point and then heads downhill some, so I was finally able to start running for extended periods again. When I ran the 50K two years ago, I made up a ton of time on this section and this year was no different. My stomach and legs had managed to agree on a working relationship, which allowed me to maintain a nice easy running pace for the most part. My legs actually felt really good considering I was 35ish miles into the day. Just before the Upper Sheep Creek aid station at mile 38, you can see the final big climb of the day aheah, dubbed The Haul. The Haul is steep, but much shorter than The Wall. After a brief stop at Upper Sheep Creek for some Pepsi (the one source of calories I've found I can consistently stomach during an ultra), I started in on The Haul and was quickly able to get back into the slow, steady hiking groove. Once you top out on The Haul you're faced with what, on paper at least, seems like the kind of descent that might be kind of fun. From the summit of The Haul to the Lower Sheep Creek aid station, the trail descends approximately 3000 feet in a little over 4 miles. With 40+ miles on your legs though, this is really anything but fun. I don't know that the descent itself has a name, but it should be called The Tenderizer, because once you get done your quads are guaranteed to be quivering. The thing is, walking down it really isn't any more comfortable than running, so you might as well run and get it over with. So I did.

After Lower Sheep Creek, the course finally levels off and follows the Tongue River trail along the surging Tongue River. This section is very runnable, assuming your legs are still functioning after the last four miles of downhill pounding. My legs still felt decent so I ran the majority of this section, passing a few other 50 milers, a couple of 100 milers and some back of the pack 50Kers and 30Kers. At mile 45, the trail ends at the Tongue River aid station. At this point, I glanced at my watch and the pace chart and was surprised to discover that if I covered the last 5 miles at just under 10 minute pace, I would finish in under 11 hours. As easy as that would be under normal circumstances, 45 miles into a 50 mile run is far from normal circumstances and I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to maintain that kind of running pace for 5 miles straight. And I was right. After leaving the Tongue River aid station, the course follows a fairly flat gravel road into Dayton. This would seem to be the easiest, most runnable part of the course but instead it was the point where I ceased to be able to run for any significant stretch. I would do the ultra shuffle for awhile, walk and repeat, but could never maintain a run for very long as my legs were getting tighter and tighter. With about three miles to go, I was basically resigned to just walking it in. At the final aid station, Homestretch, with just under 2 miles to go, they had popsicles. Nothing in the world at that moment sounded more magical than a nice, cold popsicle, so I grabbed one and resumed my walk toward the finish. I don't know if it was because of the popsicle or not, but at some point I decided to try running (if you can call it that) again and managed to shuffle to the next turn in the road. I walked for a bit and then picked out another point to run to and made it there. Finally, I saw blacktop ahead, which I knew meant we were getting into Dayton. I ran to the point where the blacktop started and then took my last walk break. When I reached the intersection at the edge of town, I started running again, made the last couple of left turns into the city park and onto the bike path and, finally, the finish line was there. 11:15:48. A year in the making, but I finally finished the Bighorn 50.

Immediately after finishing, one of the friendly volunteers gives you your finisher's award. Bighorn doesn't give out medals like most other races. Instead, they give out apparel. And not cheap apparel either, but good quality running gear. One of the most disappointing things about DNFing last year was that I didn't get the fleece finisher's pullover. This year it was a New Balance quarter-zip thermal running pullover, much more useful than any medal I've ever received. I think I might wear it for, oh, the next three months straight, summer weather be damned.

After retrieving my cell phone from my car and placing the requisite post-race phone calls/text messages/Facebook updates, I headed back to the finish line with a camp chair and a couple of cold beers to take part in one of the coolest scenes in ultra running: the Bighorn post-race BBQ. The start times of the four races (30K, 50K, 50M and 100M) are staggered so that the majority of runners finish on Saturday afternoon. They bring in a caterer to grill up brats and burgers while everyone hangs out in the park, cheering in the finishers and telling war stories. Very relaxing after a long day on the trails.

That's about it, or all that's worth telling (including some that probably wasn't worth telling). Although my finish time at Bighorn was slower than at Collegiate Peaks, I would rate my performance much higher. Collegiate became a death march with a good 15 miles to go and I never really felt all that strong past mile 30 or so of that race. At Bighorn, I was purposefully conservative for the first 33 miles and it paid off, because the next 14 miles I felt great. Of course, that left me with 3 miles of feeling not so great at the end, but what're ya gonna do? Three is certainly preferable to 15. So, even though it was a slightly slower time (I ran 10:54 at Collegiate), I think it was a stronger effort overall and, given my DNF last year, much more rewarding.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Senseless Number Crunching

Okay, so what better to do the day before the big race than sit down and crunch some numbers in an effort to make myself feel better about the impending challenge. Welcome, everyone, to my taper madness. Actually, the taper hasn't been too bad overall. I tend to freak out less before ultras than I ever did before marathons. When I was training for a marathon, I knew that everything needed to go damn near perfectly for me to achieve my goal. For an ultra, you know that even if things start off perfectly, they're probably going to go to hell in a handbasket at some point. You may very well emerge from hell and finish strong, but there will be highs and lows. For ultras, I put less pressure on myself to run fast and have more of a focus on just finishing (something I didn't do at Bighorn last year).

In any case, here's where my number crunching led to. I tried to get in as many trail miles as I could this year in preparation for Bighorn, feeling that I didn't do enough trail running last year and that it contributed to my DNF. Ideally, when training for an event like Bighorn, I would do pretty much all of my training on trails. But, winter/spring weather in South Dakota, along with not having trails immediately available (I have to drive to them), just doesn't make that realistic. So, I end up running the vast majority of my miles on roads and hope I can hit the trails enough to survive a trail ultra. Not the best scenario, but it's what I have to work with. I was pretty sure I had run significantly more trail miles this year leading up to Bighorn, so I decided to actually take a close look at my training logs and find out. Here's what I found:

From Jan. 1st up until Bighorn in 2010, I ran a grand total of 163 trail miles out of 1,610 total miles, for a paltry 10% of my mileage on trails.

In the same time period this year, I've run 334 trail miles out of 1,522 total miles for 22%, over twice as much as 2010. Those miles include 50 at Collegiate Peaks and four other long trail runs of 21, 29, 30 and 30 miles. I logged only one long trail run prior to Bighorn last year, and it was only a 20 miler (I did many other long runs, but all on roads or the Mickelson Trail, which doesn't really count as a "trail").

Granted, 22% still isn't all that impressive. That number would ideally be reversed, with 20% or less of my mileage occurring on roads. But it is what it is and I do feel that my trail running has improved as a result of the extra trail miles.

Hey, if 10% trail mileage got me to mile 34 of Bighorn last year before I DNFed, then twice as much mileage should get me twice as far, right? Lucky for me, I don't need to go twice as far, just an extra 16 miles. Of course, it probably helps that I'm not nursing a raging sinus infection this year. I guess there's only one way to find out...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Snow, snow go away

Seems like snow is a hot topic this year in the ultra world. Western States, Hardrock, San Juan Solstice....a lot of the big gun ultras in the west are struggling with crazy amounts of snow pack. While I'm happy to report that the Black Hills 100, which I'm co-directing, is NOT one of those events, I'm not so thrilled that the Bighorn trail run, which I'm running this weekend, is very affected.

Snotel data at Bald Mountain, near the 50 mile start/100 mile turnaround at Porcupine ranger station, shows 85 inches of snow on the ground. That's just wrong. At this time last year, Bald Mtn. showed 30 inches of snow. There were a few patches of snow to traverse near the start last year, but overall it wasn't bad. This year, though, I doubt the start is even accessible, unless you have a snowmobile or plan on snowshoeing in. And the snow ain't goin anywhere either....in fact, in the middle of last week Bald Mtn. actually got 5 inches of new snow. It just simply hasn't been that warm around here (or over in Wyoming) this spring, causing the snowpack to linger longer than normal.

So, it's a certainty at this point that we'll be running an alternate course at Bighorn. What that course looks like remains to be seen. So long as it doesn't involve running laps around the Dayton city park, I really don't care...I'm confident the Bighorn organizers will come up with the best route possible given the uncooperative conditions. But it looks like I'll have to plan a return trip to Bighorn next year to truly get revenge for that DNF on the regular course from last year.

Taper is going just about how you would expect it to. My legs felt like absolute, total crap, for no apparent reason, for the first few days last week, but they came around as the week went on. The Dino Hill trail race, 2nd race of the Black Hills Trail Series, was on Thursday evening. While I ran it about 30 sec./mile faster this year than I did last year, I finished 3 spots lower in the overall standings. Just more faster guys there this year. I was pretty happy with the run, though. Last year, I was forced to walk a few of the hills. This year, I ran the whole thing. And, I ran close to 2 miles of it with my left shoe untied. I felt it come loose, but I had a guy right on my butt and didn't want to stop to tie it and give up my position. So, I kept going and the shoe got looser and looser...by the end, my heel was slipping out on the uphills. The gamble paid off though as I finished just ahead of that guy...I'd pull ahead on the uphills, he'd catch up on the downhills, but could never get the momentum to pass. Lucky for me, the race ended with a series of uphills (and my shoe stayed on). Next time, I'll triple tie those laces.

Edit: Of course, just after writing this post I went to the Bighorn website and the alternate course for the 50 mile had been posted. In fact,they posted two of em. Apparently getting in to the Dry Fork aid station with a vehicle is still touch and go. If Dry Fork is accessible, we'll be starting at Dry Fork, running backwards (compared to normal) to Footbridge and then turning around and heading back to Dry Fork and then on to the finish (the same snow course they used in 2008). If Dry Fork isn't accessible by vehicle, we'll be starting further up the road at Twin Buttes, running to Dry Fork and then to Footbridge and back (and will actually end up closer to 53 miles, whereas the first option would be 50...the normal course is 52). In any case, not knowing is the worst part. Now I know and am ready to tackle either one!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The race is on!

Okay, this post basically serves as shameless promotion for a race I'm directing, the Rodeo Run 10K in Belle Fourche. But, I need all the promotion I can get since I just discovered that I would in fact be directing this race a week ago and the race is on July 4th. Yeah, not much time to get ready. Lucky for me, it's not like I'm starting from scratch. This race is as old as I am (33) and has been directed for the last 3+ decades by Rod Woodruff and his wife Carol, who own and operate the biggest concert/campground venue at the annual Sturgis Motorcyle Rally. They decided to hand over the reins of the Rodeo Run to someone else this year and that someone else ended up being me. So, my number one priority now is to just get the word out that the race is in fact ON! I think many people who run it each year just assumed that it would be, but in case anyone was having doubts, now you know. July 4th, Herrmann Park in Belle Fourche. $10 gets you 6.2 miles of fun and a t-shirt. Registration from 6:00-6:55. I think we'll introduce a free kids' race this year around the park bike path, so that will start at 7:00 and the 10K will start at 7:30ish (how's that for specifics??). If you're a Black Hills local, spread the word, if you wouldn't mind. Hell, spread the word if you're not a Black Hills local.

For myself, I'm going to be doing just as much race directing in the next two months as I will race running. In addition to the Rodeo Run, I'm co-directing the inaugural Black Hills 100 on June 25-26 and then the Crow Peak Ascent trail race (part of the Black Hills Trail Running Series) on July 31. Running-wise, I've got the Bighorn 50 next weekend, the Missoula Marathon on July 11 and then, maybe, the Heart of the Hills 10.4 mile race on July 16. I thought summer was supposed to be relaxing??

Monday, June 6, 2011

Taper Time

It's that magical time again....taper time. Really, I don't know think I freak out quite as much while tapering for an ultra as I do when tapering for a marathon. When I run a marathon, I'm typically shooting for some distinct goal that I know is going to be relatively hard to achieve, which leads to a few weeks of mental anguish leading up to the race. I'm still new enough at ultrarunning that I don't really worry about the time so much as just covering the distance. But, Bighorn has some special meaning this year since I DNFed there last year, so I am starting to get the "did I do enough?" thoughts passing through my brain.

So, did I? Hell, I don't know. I had several weeks of 80+ miles including four runs of at least 29 miles (including the Collegiate Peaks 50). One thing I noticed when looking back at my log is a distinct lack of back to back long runs. In fact, I really only did back to backs on one weekend and that was back in March. Not sure how that happened, as I'm pretty sure I planned on doing more. But, the number of 30 milers (I count the 29 as a 30) is encouraging and I think is equal to, or maybe even more than, what I logged when training for the Lean Horse 100 last summer. I also managed to get in many more trail miles than I did last year. While I would always like to run more on trails, I got in enough miles this winter/spring that I've noticed a definite improvement in my trail running ability....I've learned the hard way to find a grind gear and power up hills instead of just hammering them and then burning out.

This last week was kind of a mystery. After running relatively low miles with no long run the week before while I was vacationing in Minnesota, I expected my legs to feel fairly good this week. Wrong. My first trail run of the week, a 5 miler, felt like too much of a chore and a 9 mile road run the next day just felt absolutely horrible. The next day was better, including 4.5 miles on Lookout Mtn. I did my long run in Friday, knowing that I wouldn't get it done over the weekend because of the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon (I didn't run it, but my wife ran the half and we both volunteered at the expo on Saturday in addition to the kids finishing the kids marathon that day).

I was determined to get in one more long trail run before Bighorn, so headed to the Old Baldy trailhead south of Spearfish. This location is convenient because you can link together three separate loop trails (Old Baldy, Rimrock and Little Spearfish) to get in a decent-sized long run. I started out with Old Baldy and the legs didn't feel all that great right off the bat. But, I took it slow and easy and, after a couple of miles, thing loosened up and I started feeling pretty good. After running the Old Baldy loop, including the spur up to the Old Baldy summit, I followed the connector trail over to Rimrock, which features some awesome rolling single track for a couple of miles before you drop rather quickly through the rimrocks (hence the name) to the Little Spearfish Canyon. Rimrock and Little Spearfish share a trailhead in the canyon bottom where I jumped onto the Little Spearfish loop. The first part of this loop is a fairly gradual but long climb out of the canyon. I did a good bit of walking here, but also threw in some running as I was still feeling pretty good. After topping out, you're rewarded with an equally long downhill on the backside of the hill to finish out the loop. I jumped back on the Rimrock trail and took a different route up. This route is a grind for sure. It was about 0.8 miles and I power hiked all of it. When I got back to the top, I headed back to the Rimrock Old/Baldy connector and back toward the Old Baldy trailhead. The climb up Rimrock took a bit out of me, but I was still feeling decent and was at 21 miles when I got back to my vehicle. With time becoming an issue (had to get back to town for my kids' baseball games), I decided that was sufficient (or would have to be) and called it a day. All in all a good run in almost perfect weather conditions. If you're a numbers/charts geek, here's the link to my Garmin data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/89937710

One thing I've noticed is that I usually feel suprisingly good the day after a long run such as this one. Not so this time. My legs felt totally fine after the long run and throughout that evening, but when I got up the next morning for a planned 10 miler, they were not happy. Just no energy whatsoever and it was a chore to get in 5 miles. Not all that encouraging, but hopefully something taper will take care of.

Let the madness begin!

Friday, June 3, 2011


No, not Unbreakable as in the Bruce Willis movie. Unbreakable as in the upcoming documentary about the 2010 Western States 100 (i.e., one of the greatest ultra races of all time). Check out the trailer, it looks extremely bad ass:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It's freakin wet, dontcha know?

I guess I spoke to soon when I claimed last time that the exorbitant amount of rain we've received wasn't causing any major problems. Last Tuesday, creeks and rivers starting leaving their banks. Our house wasn't affected....it sits just outside the designated floodplain (the boundary of which is the street in front of our house), but there was a ton of water where it shouldn't be in Belle Fourche last week. Getting from the north end of town to the south end was like running an obstacle course, trying to figure out which roads to detour on in order to avoid roads closed by flooding. It became enough of an issue that they canceled the last day (half-day, actually) of school on Wednesday. This meant that we could began our mini-vacation a little bit earlier; instead of leaving for my grandma's place in west central Minnesota at lunchtime on Wednesday, we left bright and early Wednesday morning.

I've been to grandma's house once before, 4 years ago, but didn't do any running when I was there back then. That year, we made a stop in Fargo on the way and I ran a PR (at the time) at the Fargo Marathon before continuing on to grandma's. The day after the marathon, I caught the flu bug that my son had been battling all week and spent most of the time there feeling generally shitty. This time, no illness, but my daughter developed a severe rash on the way there. My first thought was that she was allergic to driving across North Dakota, which is totally understandable, but a visit to the doctor in Alexandria, MN revealed a delayed reaction to anti-biotics she had just finished taking for bronchitis. Apparently, we are cursed when it comes to Minnesota trips....wonder who will get what next time we go??

In any case, I did get some running in while I was there this time. I had expected to endure miles of total flatness along section line roads, but the area ended up being hillier than I remember (but, like I said, I didn't run the last time I was there and you don't truly notice hills until you run them). No major hills and no trails to speak of, but a lot of rollers that at least broke up the monotony somewhat. I fully intended to get in a long run of 20 while I was there, but a night of drinking Grain Belts with my dad and cousin followed by an early morning of walleye fishing kind of put the kaibash on those plans. So, I guess I started taper for Bighorn a little early. Well, not really because I plan on getting in some decent miles and a decent long run this week before really starting to taper next week. Really, I don't know what the hell I'm doing....just flying by the seat of my pants here.

Speaking of Bighorn, looks like a good possibility that we'll be on an alternate course this year. They've still got some pretty incredible snowpack up at Porcupine, the start line for the 50 and turnaround for the 100. I may have to go back again next year to get true vengeance on the route that I DNFed last year.

Monday, May 23, 2011


While certainly not as severe as the flooding going on along the Mississippi right now, we do have some areas under water around here that shouldn't be. I had to take an overly circuitous route to drop my son off at school this morning because Hay Creek (which normally doesn't even flow) was up and across the main road leading to the school. This same situation gained me some bonus miles this morning as I had planned on running that route but had to take a detour around. It rained pretty much every day last week, including an almost solid stretch of precipitation from Thursday through Sunday. In fact, lucky for me, the only window of non-rain during that four day stretch was when I ran my long run on Friday. How's that for planning? In any case, other than some wet basements (not mine, thankfully) and some inconvenient detours, we haven't had any major flooding issues that I know of and the rain finally stopped last night, so hopefully the creeks will be receding soon.

In spite of all the rain, last week went really well for me running-wise. The biggest challenge was scheduling. Right now both my son and my daughter are playing both soccer and baseball (teeball for my daughter) and they're in different age groups, which results in two different practice and game times for them each week. On top of that, we had my daughter's birthday party yesterday, a couple of weeks before her actual birthday, so that she could invite all of her school friends before the school year ends this week. So, with that and two soccer games planned for Saturday morning, my window of opportunity for squeezing in a 30 mile long run was pretty narrow. It takes a long damn time to run 30 miles, after all. Lucky for me, while filling out my timesheet, I discovered that I only needed to work 2 hours on Friday to get in my 80 for the pay period. So, I cranked out those two hours early and then set off for the Centennial Trail, praying for a break in the rain (which, as I mentioned, I got).

I met Ryan at the Pilot Knob trailhead, which is approximately mile 42 (outbound, 58 inbound) of the Black Hills 100 course. The plan was to run from there to the Rapid Creek trailhead, which is the 50 mile point, and then back to Pilot Knob where we would continue in the opposite direction toward the Boxelder Creek trailhead (but not all the way to the trailhead....just far enough to get in 30 miles total). I actually drove through an area just past Deadwood where it had snowed overnight, which was NOT all that heartening, but by the time I got to Pilot Knob, the snow was gone and the sun was actually trying to burn through the clouds. Ryan and I took off on what was a new stretch of trail for me. And let me tell you, it was an awesome stretch of trail. I'm not just saying that because I'm one of the RDs for the Black Hills 100 either. The stretch of the Centennial from Pilot Knob to Rapid Creek, about 8.6 miles long, is the kind of rolling, twisting, smooth singletrack that reminds you why you are a trail runner. We hit Rapid Creek in no time and headed back. I started to labor a bit on the return trip as there is a bit of a rise in that direction....not a real grunt of a climb, just a steady gain that makes you work a little harder. We noted a few intersections where we'd need to clearly mark the course before the race and actually got confused and started down the wrong trail at one intersection (funny how an intersection you didn't even notice running one direction confuses the hell out of you when you come across it from the other direction). By the time we got back to Pilot Knob, about 17.5 miles into the run, I was feeling pretty good again and ready to keep going. Ryan wasn't feeling so great and, considering he's running a marathon in a couple of weeks, decided to call it a day.

After a quick change of clothes (we had gotten rained on a bit near Rapid Creek) and guzzling an Ensure (not just for old people), I set off to the north of Pilot Knob to finish up the 30 miles. The difference between this section of trail and the first one we ran was like night and day. The first section was non-motorized, pure singletrack. Pilot Knob is the southern-most terminus of the motorized section of the Centennial Trail. Despite all of the rain that had fallen the past couple of days, the non-motorized stretch we ran was in perfect shape. Not true of the motorized section. It was a sloppy mess, with huge puddles (I expected to see fish jumping in some of them) occupying the entire width of the trail in some places and water running straight down it in others. Add in some rocky technical sections and a pretty good climb coming out of Pilot Knob, and it was pretty damn slow going. I pushed forward for a bit, hoping conditions would improve, but after awhile I started thinking "why am I putting myself through this when there's a perfect section of trail back the other way?". So, after a little over 3 miles of skipping between puddles and sliding on mud, I turned back.

I ran right through Pilot Knob and needed another 6 miles or so to finish out the run so headed south again on the non-motorized trail Ryan and I had run earlier. I was in a groove by this time and, although I wasn't running fast by any means, I was able to run consistently without having to force it and my stomach was being very cooperative. I did get off track once and made about a mile long detour (I'll personally mark that intersection before the BH100), but all in all I felt great and honestly was wishing that I could stay out a little longer. By that time, though, it was getting close to time for me to head home so I could take the kids to soccer and baseball practice (which ended up being canceled due to all the moisture, but I had no way of knowing that without cell phone coverage). Overall, a very satisfying day on the trails (even with the 6 miles of slogging through the mud) and a good confidence boost being able to run that long that well so soon after Collegiate Peaks in what will probably be my final really long run before Bighorn. Really, you can never go wrong with a day that includes two hours of work and five and a half hours of running.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rapid Recovery

I still remember the struggle I endured when trying to recover from my first 50 (Lean Horse 2009). It was rough. Probably the worst part of it was that my legs weren't really sore for more than a few days, but it took a good month before I could get them to respond the way I thought they should. Almost every run in that month turned into a chore as I just had no energy whatsoever and it was a struggle to even maintain what should have been a very easy recovery pace. So, the big question when I decided to run the Collegiate Peaks 50 a little over a month before the Bighorn 50 was whether or not I would be able to bounce back and resume training in a reasonable amount of time. I didn't want my run at Collegiate Peaks to sabotage my Bighorn training. Based on how last week went, I'm fairly certain that it didn't.

I took two days off from running after Collegiate and, while the legs had the expected level of soreness, nothing really hurt or felt like it had taken an abnormal amount of abuse. I've felt much worse immediately after some road marathons, Boston and Colorado namely. My first run after Collegiate was a simple, easy 5 miler around town. Immediately I knew that my legs were feeling much better than I had expected them to. The next day I ran a double with 6 miles in the morning and a fairly tough 5.8 mile trail run, which included climbing up and over Lookout Mtn. and then turning around and going back up and over, in the afternoon. My legs felt great on that trail run and I was able to run the entire thing fairly strongly other than the stupid steep, rock crawling sections near the summit, which basically require scrambling rather than running.

Feeling so good, I faced a bit of a dilemma: take it easy on the mileage for the remainder of the week just to be sure or go ahead and crank it back up? I opted for the safe route, partly because I was planning on running a trail race on Sunday and wanted to have somewhat fresh legs for it. I ended up with around 52 miles for the week including a long run of 16 (on roads). Legs felt good the entire week, marking a surprisingly quick recovery from what was a pretty rough 50 miles last Saturday.

As for the trail race, Sunday was the second annual Thoen Stone Seven in Spearfish, which was also the first race in this year's Black Hills Trail Running Series. I've been looking forward to this one because part of it takes place on Lookout Mtn., where I do the bulk of my trail running during the week. Lookout is conveniently located within a mile of my office, allowing me to get out at lunchtime two or three times a week to hit the trails. The entire race course actually encompasses more pavement than trail as it follows a loop from the city park to the trailhead, up and over Lookout, down the other side and then back on the city streets and bike path to the park. After drawing only 24 runners last year, there were over 80 signed up this year.

Immediately after the race started, a pack of 5 guys who were clearly faster than myself, including my friend Ryan (who also ran Collegiate last week), took off together. I settled into what felt like a comfortably hard pace and soon found myself running next to another local, Tanja, who is routinely the first female at local races. Tanja and I finish within one position of each other more often than not, so I figured this meant I was at my appropriate place in the field.

When we hit the trailhead, the pack had started to pull away, there was one guy in between me and them and Tanja and another guy were hot on my heels. Not long after the real climbing on the trail section started, I ceased to hear breathing behind me so assumed I had dropped my pursuers (and it turns out I had). Unfortunately, the dude in between me and the pack was pulling away from me at the same time I was pulling away from Tanja and the other guy. I ended up running the rest of the Lookout section on my own, like I was just out for one of my lunchtime runs. After hitting the summit, I started to push the pace on the downhill, hoping to make up some ground on the guy in front. By the time we hit the city bike path with a couple of miles to go, it seemed like I was making up some ground, but he was still a ways ahead of me. Then, I saw him glance back and see me and it was pretty much done after that. He pulled away some more and I started to lose some steam. Ended up running the 7.1 miles in 56:25, 7th place overall. Ryan, who had labeled the race as a "fun run" earlier in the week, ended up winning (fun run my ass). All in all, not a bad day at all on the trails (and pavement) just a week after Collegiate Peaks.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Check this thing out.....it's the latest and greatest (?) from Mizuno, dubbed the Prophecy. Apparently, the 'prophecy' says that thou shalt spend $200 for a pair of shoes with a support structure resembling something you'd build to span a waterway. On the plus side, I'm pretty certain I could fit a tube of Nuun tabs and at least six gel packets in those holes.

I have nothing against Mizuno in general....I had a pair of Wave Riders once and they were a good shoe. And I'm not all-on the minimalist bandwagon either, although I do own a set of Saucony Kinvaras and Saucony Peregrines (which are basically the trail version of the Kinvara). But for crying out loud, I can buy three, maybe four, pairs of the Kinvaras or Peregrines (or pretty much any other shoe I run in) for the price of one pair of the Prophecy if I shopped around hard enough. Or I could make a payment on my new-to-me 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe.

Obviously, I haven't tried them, but it seems like Mizuno is looking to make a quick buck off of the casual running crowd who will just automatically assume that the most expensive shoe is the best. They may be a fine shoe for all I know, but I'm fairly certain you can find just as fine of a shoe for at least 1/3 the price.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Collegiate Peaks 50

Immediately upon finishing the Lean Horse 100 last August, my thoughts turned to what would come next (well, maybe not IMMEDIATELY following….finding a chair was the first order of business). In the few months following Lean Horse, I considered damn near every ultra in the west. Ironically, Collegiate Peaks was not one of them. I was aware of the event, had even heard some good things about it, but for whatever reason it just didn’t enter my mind. Until, that is, occasional fellow Black Hills runners Paul, Ryan and Nathan mentioned in January or February that they were running it and asked if I wanted to tag along. Well, hell, if you’re gonna twist my arm….

By that time, I had actually settled on a race plan for 2011 (or thought I had, anyhow). After I suffered my first ever DNF at any distance at mile 34 of the Bighorn 50 last June, it was obvious that I had to go back for redemption this year. So, I had formulated a training plan that would build toward that race on June 18th. As it turned out, that training plan called for a 30 mile long run on May 7th and a 10 miler the following day for a weekend total of 40 miles. Tack on another 10 miles and cram all of em into one day, and I’m set, right?

As for the actual training, my one mission this year was to get in more trail miles. I’ve progressed as a runner over the years from 5Ks to 10Ks to marathons (I skipped the half-marathon step) to ultras. As a result, I’ve also started delving more and more into trail running in the last couple of years. I’ve now reached the point where, if it were logistically feasible, I would run the majority of my weekly miles on trails. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible, so I still find myself pounding pavement for the most part while hopefully catching a couple of short trail runs during the week and then maybe a long one on the weekend. Not the most ideal training for a mountain ultra since, well, mountain ultras take place on trails in the mountains. I did manage more trail miles this winter/spring than I ever have before, including a 30 mile run on the Centennial Trail (the first 30 miles of the Black Hills 100 course) a few weeks before Collegiate Peaks. I tapered the last couple of weeks before Collegiate Peaks and was feeling reasonably good by the time race day rolled around.

We made the 9ish hour drive from South Dakota down to Buena Vista (which is either B-you-na, B-way-na or B-when-a depending on who you’re talking to….most locals go with B-you-na) on Thursday evening. Lucky for us, an old college buddy of Paul’s lives in BV and offered up his camper, which was large enough to sleep all four of us, for the weekend. Free lodging! Can’t beat that. On Friday, we loaded up in the vehicle again (because we just hadn’t gotten our fill of driving on Thursday) and headed up to Leadville, about 35 miles north of BV, to check it out. Paul had lived there before, so he showed us around and took us on a mini-tour of the Leadville 100 course. I was actually quite surprised by how much of the course consisted of roads. Not that that makes it an easy race, because the climbs we saw were pretty insane (Hope Pass, in particular). Plus the fact that it starts at over 10,000 feet. Maybe I’ll come back someday and find out how hard it really is. Maybe. After the Tour de Leadville, we headed back to BV and checked out a small portion of the Collegiate Peaks course. While doing so, we noted how overly warm it felt, even though it was actually only mid-60s. The cold spring in South Dakota hasn’t offered up much in the way of heat acclimation with only a handful of genuinely warm days. This observed “heat” (which we will consider “chilly” in a few months) would prove to be a factor on Saturday. After dinner at the race-sponsored pasta feed, which was actually fairly decent, we headed to the pre-race meeting and then back to the camper for a surprisingly decent night of sleep.

We were up at 4:30 on race morning to get dressed and down some breakfast before we headed into town to seek out coffee, which we found at the 7 Eleven. We pulled up to the community center, which serves as race headquarters, about an hour before guntime and got a rockstar parking spot very near the start/finish line. This was desirable since the race does not have any accommodations for drop bags on the course….if you want to resupply you have to wait for the halfway point and get your supplies from your vehicle. Having a parking spot so close allowed us to do so fairly efficiently. We milled around a bit, fighting off the pre-race nerves, before we were ordered to line up. Immediately after doing so, I spotted Mike, who I’ve met at a few other races in Colorado and South Dakota and at the Boston Marathon and we chatted for a bit. Then, with absolutely no warning whatsoever, no 10-count, nothing, an air horn went off and the race was on.

The Collegiate Peaks course is a 25 mile loop mostly consisting of ATV trail and Jeep roads with a short section of pavement and couple of sections of single-track trail. They have a 25 mile race in conjunction with the 50 mile. Participants in both events complete the loop clockwise. After the first loop, the 50 milers turn around and run the loop again, but counterclockwise the second time. 50 milers are also given the option of stopping after the first loop and becoming a 25 mile finisher. The first couple of miles included the paved section that took us along the Arkansas River and eventually onto what seems to be a twisting maze of ATV and Jeep trails through the hills east of BV. Fortunately, the course was marked very well, so taking a wrong turn was never really a concern. Early on, I was feeling pretty good and actually ended up running much more of the first loop that I had thought I would. There were a few climbs, primarily in the second half of the loop, where it seemed more prudent to hike, but for the most part I was cruising along and didn’t feel like I was putting too much effort forward. I ran and chatted with a couple of other guys along the way, one of whom told me he was considering running the Black Hills 100 or the Bighorn 100 as his first 100. Lucky for him, I told him, he had randomly managed to find and run with one of the Black Hills co-directors. I told him a bit about the race before we eventually parted ways. We’ll see if it worked. The course starts at about 8,000 ft. in BV and tops out at about 9,300 ft. I really didn’t feel like the elevation was affecting me much during the first loop, but I did take note that the last 6+ miles of that first loop included quite a bit of downhill, which of course would become an uphill during the 2nd loop. As I was heading down that long decline, I passed Ryan, Mike and Nathan on their way back up, who were all looking good. I hit the bottom in exactly 4:30, resupplied at the vehicle and headed toward the start/finish. When the dude with the clipboard asked if I was going out for the 2nd loop, I didn’t hesitate and said “yes I am” thinking I was on pace for a possible sub-10 hour finish. Wrong.

The first few miles going back up really weren’t bad and I was still feeling good. I passed Paul, who was on his way down, not far into the climb and that was the last familiar face I’d seen until the finish. I wasn’t running everything at this point, but taking walk breaks every now and then. I didn’t really feel like I NEEDED to walk at this point, but I thought it was prudent to do so knowing that I would be going uphill for awhile. A few miles into this climb, the course switches from trail to Jeep road and the steepness of the ascent sharpens noticeably. I swear to God, I do NOT remember running down that steep or long of a hill on the way down during the 1st loop. I was definitely walking because I HAD to at that point. I could see the road stretching out above me for a long ways and every time I got to the point that seemed like it should have been the top, the damn thing just kept going further. Finally, I did reach the aid station at the high point of the course. At this point, I was definitely feeling the elevation as my heart was hammering in my chest and my stomach was starting to voice its disagreement with the current state of affairs. My legs, while definitely feeling like they had covered 30+ miles, still felt reasonably okay. I still had aspirations of being able to run a good portion of the downhills for the remainder of the race. Those aspirations were quickly shot down as I discovered that running only caused my stomach to feel worse, which forced me to walk much more than I really wanted to. It was at this point that I started playing a very delicate balancing act between taking in enough water and calories while not upsetting my stomach. I ate a ginger chew at some point, which seemed to settle my stomach a bit and allowed me to start running the downhills again. The problem was, I knew that I needed to be taking in calories too but as soon as I did, whether in the form of a gel or solid food, my stomach would start to go south again and I would be back to square one. I would repeat this process of feeling bad and walking until I felt better, to running for awhile and feeling okay, to feeling bad again for the rest of the race. There was never a doubt in my mind about whether or not I would finish, it was just a matter of how long it was going to take.

Finally, I reached the last aid station, and was actually feeling pretty decent at that point with only five miles to go. Or was it six? No one seemed to definitely know the answer to this question. I thought it was six, but the sign at the aid station said I was at mile 45. By this point, my new goal was to finish in under 11 hours. Why? Who knows? Really, I think I just needed something tangible to work toward at that point. Whether it was five or six miles to the finish, I had an hour and a half to cover it. I decided I should probably just assume it was six miles and pace myself accordingly just to be safe. I left the aid station reasonably confident sub-11 would happen but still resolved to run as much as possible and started off pretty well in that regard. Then, after running a downhill section of trail, the course made a sharp turn up a hill. This hill was fairly steep, but also very short, something I would definitely power up under normal circumstances (of course, “normal circumstances” don’t apply to an ultra). I walked up it, slowly, and as soon as I reached the top I was hammered by a wave of nausea. I reached into my pocket for another ginger chew, but it was too late. I stepped off the trail and, for the 2nd time ever, I puked during a run (maybe not coincidentally, the 1st time was also during a 50 miler). I didn’t have much to throw up, water mostly, but I felt immensely better after it was done with. By that point, I was only about four miles from the finish and still on pace for sub-11. For the first couple of miles after emptying my stomach, I felt pretty good and was able to run quite a bit. After that, the course left the trail again and I was back on the road. This definitely should’ve been entirely runable, but as I ran down the road my stomach started feeling a little off again. I would run for a bit and then would have to walk for a bit while it settled down. Then I’d run some more until the nausea built up again. Wash, rinse, repeat. I got passed a few times along this stretch and really didn’t give a damn. My Garmin battery died at about mile 48, so I couldn’t track my pace, but I was at least able to walk strongly when I was walking and with the little bursts of running thrown in, I knew I was probably going to make sub-11. Finally, I made the last few turns and the community center came into view. Obviously, I had to save my last bit of running for the charge across the finish line, which I did, crossing in 10:53:59.

And, honestly, after finishing I didn’t feel all that bad. The nausea immediately went away. My legs were definitely tired, but not debilitatingly so. I met up with Paul, Ryan and Nathan and caught up on the events of their day. Paul proved to be the smartest one of our group as he called it good after 25 miles. Ryan hammered out an impressive sub-8 finish, good for 2nd in the Master’s division and top 10 overall. Nathan also fought off stomach problems (no puking for him though) and still ran a sub-9. All in all, a successful day. Yeah, I would’ve preferred to run this thing an hour or 90 minutes faster, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me on that day. I was able to fight through and finish, which is all I ultimately cared about (and more than I can say about Bighorn last year). After a quick shower in the coin-operated facility at the community center, we headed down to the Eddyline Brewery for some post-race beer and food. It was good. Real good.

Overall, Collegiate Peaks is well done. I have some small gripes, such as not having gels or ice at the aid stations and the fact that the last two aid stations ran out of Coke by the time I got there, but overall it’s a good event, especially as an early season training run for something bigger later on (say, the Black Hills 100, for example *wink wink*). Nice course, some great scenery, but you might want to bring your own oxygen if you’re not a Coloradan. Hopefully, it will prove to be good preparation for my return to Bighorn next month.