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 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 course 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 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! 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 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 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'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 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):