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 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 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 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:

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 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.