Thursday, November 15, 2012

Looking ahead to 2013

Culminating with the (unofficial and unsanctioned) South Dakota Trail Championships a couple of weeks ago, the local trail/ultra running season is (un)officially over.  Overall, not much to complain about.  I missed a couple more of the Black Hills trail series races than I would've liked, but I also got to run one that I really wanted to run (the Sundance 50K) but didn't think I'd be able to, so I guess it all balances out.  Looks like I finished 4th in the men's open division of the trail series, just 2.5 points out of 3rd.  This is the first year in the series' four year existence that I haven't finished in the top 3, but that's what happens when you miss races.  Not a big deal, regardless.

As is typical of this time of year, the motivation to put in big miles is somewhat lacking.  Forty to fifty miles a week, with a couple of flirtations with 60, have been pretty typical the last couple of months.  Haven't run more than 15 miles in a single run since the Sundance 50K at the end of September.  I've never since I started running ten years or so ago taken a planned break with absolutely no running that has lasted more than three or four days.  I tried to take a week off, for no good reason, at about this time last year and I think my hiatus from running lasted all of three days before I caved and hit the trail again.  Well, no such plans this year.  In fact, quite the opposite since my first ultra of 2013 is actually looming fairly close.  I'm signed up for the Moab Red Hot 55K on February 16th. Team South Dakota consisting of myself and friends Ryan, Nathan and Paul (who is actually from Wyoming, but just barely) will be making the long drive over to experience some slickrock racing.  Hopefully the weather doesn't suck, because driving across Wyoming sucks ass under normal conditions, much less in the middle of a winter storm.  But I digress....the point is that the relatively low miles I've been putting in recently will have to be ramped up soon if I'm going to be in decent shape for a 50K+ in a few months.  One of my goals for 2013 will be to not just finish ultras....I've established that I can finish 50Ks, 50s and 100s in relatively decent, front of the middle of the pack times.  Now to answer the question of how fast can I do this thing if I really nail the training (and the race itself too, of course)?

Beyond Moab, the schedule is still a bit up in the air.  Ryan and I have discussed returning to the Quad Rock 50 in Fort Collins in May and maybe an excursion down to the Grand Canyon to run R2R2R.  I suspect strongly that I will run another 100 at some point next year but am having a hard time choosing which one.  All other factors equal, my choice would likely be Cascade Crest in Washington, but that's a fairly good haul from here (although having relatives in the Seattle area would at least make the trip more worthwhile).  Leadville is another likely choice.  I've heard a lot of opinions (many not too flattering) of how Lifetime has handled the event, but it still has that legendary mystique about it that intrigues me.  Plus, I've had several people tell me that the Black Hills 100 is harder than Leadville....wouldn't mind being able to judge that better myself (conceding that I've never actually run the entire BH100 course in one go).  The Bear is up there too, but  Ryan has expressed interest in running that one and I told him I'd pace him if he did.  So many choices...

Alright, enough of this.  Time for a run.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tinton Trail Picture Tour

I have two "go-to" local trails for running on: Lookout Mtn and the Tinton Trail.  Lookout's main advantage is that it's convenient...I can see it from my office window and it's about a mile's worth of warmup running on city streets from my office to the trailhead.  Tinton is a out of town a bit, but features gentler, longer, more runnable and generally more scenic trails (while still offering some elevation gain).  Both are user-created trails, the primary "user" in both cases being local mountain bikers, but Tinton tends to be much better maintained (some of the Lookout trails get kind of overgrown in summer due to lack of maintenance/use).  This is primarily due to the fact that Tinton gets much more use and is partly the venue for the Dakote Five-O mountain bike race on Labor Day weekend.

This time of year is the best time to be on Tinton, with the cool weather and fall colors in full display (well, almost full display).  With a day off on Friday, I decided to head out for a medium distance run (ended up being 13 miles total) and took my iphone along with me.  As you will see, I just updated to the new iOS and discovered that my camera now has a panoramic option.  So, I've been taking panoramics of pretty much everything.  I was hoping to get some good shots of the aspens in full blazing yellow, but was unfortunately a good week or two too late for that as they had mostly dropped their leaves already.  

Lower on the trail you go through some open, recently harvested pine stands (I actually had to go cross country about a mile in to skirt around some loggers cutting right alongside the trail).  A little further up, the trail transitions into a mix of pine and burr oak, as seen in the first picture (and you can see that the oak has gone brown....again, a week or two too late). This first pic is also very near the site where I saw a coyote chasing a deer fawn early in the morning a couple of months ago.  Straight outta National Geographic.

The next pic is 4 miles up the trail, in a dense, dark stand of pine. This is where the name "Black" Hills comes from.  As you can see, I was starting to get into some snow at this point as I gained elevation.

My favorite part of the trail doesn't come until you're about 5 or 6 miles up.  After running up a drainage, where the trail meanders back and forth across an intermittent stream, you come out into an open area with large stands of old growth aspen mixed in with pine and meadows.

This last pic is just up the trail from the previous one, after the trail cuts directly into the aspen stand.  It would've been a much better pic if the aspen were still in full bloom, but alas...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Win some, lose some

Two weeks, two races.  Last weekend was the Sundance 50K across the border in Wyoming.  I was horribly under-prepared for running a good 50K and it showed.  I was cruising along fairly well at sub-6 pace (my goal) for the first 25 miles or so, but ran spectacularly head-first into The Wall on a steep section of uphill after the last aid station.  As I hiked along at an almost impossibly slow pace I watched the average pace on my Garmin climb higher and higher until it was obvious that sub-6 was a pipe dream.  I did make a bit of a recovery on the last couple of miles of downhill, but it was too little too late at that point.  Ended up with a 6:24 finish in 6th place (only 20 or so finishers).  Beautiful course, especially with the fall colors in full effect, and a bit tougher than I had expected.  Would definitely like to give it another go with a more solid training cycle under me.  And, for the life of me, I don't know why this race gets so little attention....there should be more than 20-some entrants for this one if the word gets out.  Paul does a great job with it and sounds like he'll be adding a 30K option next year (in addition to the existing 10K, which gets a much better turnout than the 50K).

A week later, this past Saturday, I ran a very different race.  My wife signed me up for the inaugural Firefly 5K in Belle Fourche, a fundraiser for a scholarship fund that was scheduled for a nighttime start (started at 8:00).  I'm not big into road 5Ks, but I thought the night running idea was a cool one, especially under the full moon, so I didn't complain too much about being thrust into the field.  As it turns out, good thing she did sign me up as I ended winning the damn thing.  Of course, it's more impressive if I just leave it at that and not mention my time or how many other runners there were.  Actually, I'm not even sure how many runners there were...I think the total field was over 60 people, but many were walkers.  My time was 20:40, not blazing fast, but actually faster than I really expected given the fact that I haven't done any fast running since.....uh...probably the Hayfever race in Belle back in June (where I finished 2nd to a high school cross country runner....damn punk kids). In any case, it was fast enough and earned me a cool $10 to spend at Subway.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dancing with the sun (finally)

The Sundance Trail Run is held each year near the end of September just across the border from me in the Bearlodge Mtns in eastern Wyoming.  The first couple of years, it was just a 10K and I ran it both years.  In fact, those were two of my first trail races.  RD Paul, an ultra runner himself and finisher of the Black Hills 100K this year, added a 50K a couple of years ago.  By that time, I was fully gravitating toward trail running and was starting to get into ultras and was immediately excited by the opportunity to run one close to home, in the fall foliage of the Bearlodge.  Despite my enthusiasm for the race, I have yet to run the Sundance 50K.  You see, my son started playing youth football that first year that Paul included the 50K distance and for each of the last two years he has had a game on the day of the race and I've been involved as either a spectator or, starting last year, as a coach.  So, I assumed that I wouldn't have the opportunity to run Sundance this year.

That all changed a few days ago.  After several delays, we finally received the full season football schedule for this year (a week after we actually started playing games) and I immediately noticed that our bye week is September 22nd, the day of the Sundance run.  Upon seeing this, I almost immediately logged into Ultrasignup and registered for the 50K.

The bad news is that, assuming that we would have a game that day and I wouldn't be able to run, I really haven't been training all that hard.  The last several weeks I've been in the 30-40 mile range with, really, no long runs whatsoever since the El Vaquero Loco 50K on Aug. 11th (my longest run since then was 12.7 miles up and down Harney Peak, the high point of South Dakota, a few weeks ago).  I guess you could say I'm well tapered??  Or just undertrained, if you're being realistic about it.  Whatever.  I may not get another chance to run Sundance in the near future, so I had to grab the opportunity when it arose.  My race may not be pretty, but I know the course will be, so that's good enough for me....I guess maybe my (probable) slow pace will give me more time to enjoy the fall scenery.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Crazy Cowboy

To put it simply, my running since Bighorn has been pretty.....meh.  I really didn't feel all that bad after Bighorn and took things easy, in no hurry to rush myself back into high mileage/high intensity weeks.  Just as it felt like my legs were regaining some of their normalcy, I ran the Missoula Marathon, which just seemed to set me back a couple of weeks.  After running long runs on trails for the majority of the winter/spring, my legs weren't ready for a long (moderately) hard effort on pavement just three weeks after Bighorn and I was left feeling much more sore after the marathon than I was after Bighorn.  Not really a big deal, except for this other race on the horizon: the El Vaquero Loco 50K (aka "the crazy cowboy").

I first learned about El Vaquero Loco last summer when my friends Ryan and Nathan ran it.  Located outside of Afton, WY, just south of the Tetons and Yellowstone, the course is brutally tough, featuring about 9,000 feet of elevation gain over the out and back route.  Now, I certainly haven't run every 50K in the country, but this one has got to rank right up there with the toughest.  Speedgoat in Utah is probably tougher, but not many others can make that claim.  To put the elevation gain in perspective, the Bighorn 100, widely regarded as a fairly tough 100 miler, has between 16,000 and 17,000 feet of gain.  El Vaquero Loco has over half of that across less then a third of the distance.  In any case, at last year's race Ryan met the race director, Ty Draney, who is himself a very talented ultra runner, and offered him a free entry into the Black Hills 100.  Ty accepted and, in exchange, offered Ryan and I free entries to this year's El Vaquero Loco (this race directing thing has some perks!....hey, if any Leadville race directors are reading this, drop me a line...).  So here we are.

Eventually, my legs did start to recover a bit from Missoula.  I found that the more I stuck to trails, the better they felt in general.  But, still, I wasn't able to manage much in the way of weekly mileage.  Between starting a new position at work and an admitted lack of real motivation, it's been a struggle to break 50 mpw.  One thing I have tried to focus on is elevation gain, so with that in mind I ran two different "long" (in terms of time more so than distance) runs up Crow Peak hoping to whip my climbing legs into shape.  The first was a double summit of Crow, approximately 3100 feet of elevation gain in just under 13 miles.  The second, a week later, was a triple summit, 4600 feet of gain in just over 19 miles.  Still less gain than I'd face at El Vaquero Loco, but the best I can do with what I have available in the Black Hills.

After that Crow triple, I was actually feeling fairly optimistic about things. The third ascent was a slog, but I was able to recover and still run the descent fairly strongly.  Things were looking up.  And then I got sick.  Nothing starts off a two week taper quite like feeling like a miserable pile of shit for three days.  After sitting around feeling like I'd been hit by a truck, with some nausea thrown in, for three days, I got back to running on Thursday (9 days before El Vaquero Loco) and it was one of the more horrendous 4 mile runs of my life.  Five miles the next day didn't feel any better.  It was like I had taken 3 years off of running instead of 3 days: burning lungs, dead tired legs, pathetically slow was a mess.  Ten miles on Saturday went okay, but not great and then 7 on Sunday was less than remarkable as well.  So, a week to go before I'm planning on running a 50K in the mountains and it takes all I've got to run 10 flat miles at a slow pace.  Super.  Thankfully, things started too look up a bit in the final week before the race as 6 and 7 mile runs on Lookout Mtn. and the Tinton trail felt much better than the road efforts over the weekend.  With nothing else to do about it, I was left hoping that normalcy would return by Saturday.

Ryan and I set off for western Wyoming on Thursday afternoon and were immediately faced with the conundrum of how exactly to get across Wyoming.  If you've never tried it before, finding a direct east/west route across northern and/or central Wyoming is basically impossible.  The highways tend to avoid going over mountain ranges as much as possible, resulting in a bunch of back and forth travel as you skirt around the mountains instead, which consequently adds significant mileage to what is already a fairly long trip.  Ultimately, we chose to head over to Buffalo, across the southern end of the Bighorns and then on to Worland, Thermopolis and Riverton before heading up the Wind River and setting up camp for the night about 20 miles west of Dubois.  By "setting up camp", I mean that we crashed in a camper that a friend of Ryan's has parked in a storage shed for use during backcountry ski season.  We were up fairly early Friday and finished out the 11 hour or so journey by skirting past the Tetons through Jackson and finally down the Star Valley to Afton and onward to our campsite at Cottonwood Lake (the start/finish area for the race) about 15 miles outside of Afton.  We were somewhat surprised to be among the first runners there, but that was fine since it meant we had plenty of campsites to choose from (by late afternoon, the campground was packed).

Turns out, we chose a campsite fairly close to some folks from Salt Lake City, Jeremy and Ashley, who had volunteered at the Nemo aid station during this year's Black Hills 100, so we got a chance to catch up with them around the campfire that night.  That is, until Mother Nature put the kaibash on the campfire with some fairly significant rainfall.  As we retreated to the tent for the night, Ryan asked if I'd ever camped in this particular tent in the rain before.  Nope, sure haven't, but surely the Walmart special tent will be water-tight, right?  Turns out it was, other than a very small leak around the door zipper that didn't cause us any real problems.  And the rain was fairly short-lived anyhow. After a fairly fitful sleep that alternated between me being too hot in my sleeping bag and too cold outside of it, my alarm fired off at 4:00 AM and we were up making coffee and a quick breakfast ahead of the 6:00 AM start. A bit of standing around in the dark ensued before moseying down to the start/finish line and taking off with just enough light to see comfortably without a headlamp.

The course itself is an out and back, starting at Cottonwood Lake and climbing up to and past three high mountain lakes before descending into the Swift Creek drainage and the turnaround at the Swift Cr. trailhead (which is also where the 25K race starts before covering the return leg of the 50K course).  From Swift Cr., it's back up and and over and down to Cottonwood.  All told, about 9000 feet of gain for the 50K, with a big chunk of that coming in two climbs: the initial 4 mile climb from Cottonwood up to the first, and smallest, of the lakes and then from Swift Cr TH up for a solid 8 miles to the northernmost of the lakes. For me, the plan was simple: take it fairly easy on the uphills (i.e., hike everything) and then try to make up some time on the downhills.  Hopefully, this would result in still having the legs to run the final 4.5 miles of downhill at the end.  Ultrasignup had projected my time as 7:02 and I myself thought maybe sub-7 was possible if I had a good day, but I really didn't know what to expect on a course like this coming off of a slightly lackluster training cycle and a few days of being sick.  So, I just what I got and dealt with it.

What I got was some absolutely stunning scenery.  I didn't carry my camera with me, so I don't have pictures to back this up and words will hardly do it justice, but this has to be one of the most scenic race courses in the country.  Once the course topped out near the high mountain lakes, it was like you were running through something you usually only see in magazines or on postcards.  Definitely made all of that climbing worthwhile.  

For the most part, my pacing strategy worked.  I ran when it felt comfortable and hiked when it didn't (which was often).  Ended up hitting the turnaround in 3:25 and knew it was highly unlikely that I was going to pull off a nearly even split and get a sub-7.  This suspicion was verified on the long slog back uphill on the second leg.  Near the top of said slog at about mile 20, I felt my stomach turn suddenly and before I knew it, I was Tebowing in the wildflowers along the trail with the dry heaves.  After three bouts of this (on the third, a very small amount of liquid came up, but nothing significant), my stomach felt much better and would end up feeling rock solid for the rest of the race.  I finally topped out not much later and, as hoped, found I was still able to run the downhills fairly comfortably.  After one last grinder of a climb coming out of the last aid station, I hit that final 4.5 miles of downhill and was able to run it all.  I wasn't laying down 6:00 miles, by any means, but it's all relative at that point. I was moving forward in a running motion, and that was good enough for me.  I managed to pass three other 50Kers in the last few miles, and didn't get passed by any, and ultimately returned to Cottonwood Lake in 7:34:53, 21st place overall.  Ryan had laid down a smoking good time, running a 6:02 and finishing 4th overall.

Funny thing is, the day before the race I had been joking with Ryan that every time I ran a 50K, it took me an hour longer than the one before it.  My first was Lean Horse, which I ran in 4:46.  Then came Bighorn in 5:46.  Then Elkhorn in 6:40.  Well, looks like the trend continues.  Of course, those hour differences are directly proportional to the difficulty of the course.  Guess I have two choices:  find an easier 50K to run or just go whole hog and run Speedgoat next year (not likely).

In any case, all in all a great day in the mountains.  I'd highly recommend this race to anyone who's into ultras; you'd be hard pressed to find a more stunning course.  The race itself is kind of obscure and not well known outside of the Utah/Idaho/Wyoming area, but it's well worth looking in to.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Adventures in Montana

Last week, immediately after RDing the 34th annual 4th of July Rodeo Run 5K/10K in Belle Fourche (where we raised approximately $1000 for the Belle Fourche Cardinals Youth Football and Cheer program) , we packed up the Santa Fe and headed to Missoula.  This has become an annual pilgrimage for me, as the mini-vacation was built around the 6th annual Missoula Marathon.  I haven't missed a Missoula Marathon yet and earned my one and only BQ there in 2008.  It was a streak that started when running road marathons was my main focus, but is now something that continues chiefly because I'm always looking for an excuse to go to Missoula. This year, although the marathon was a big reason we were there, the marathon was not the focus of the trip for me.  I was more interested in exploring some of the trails around Missoula, something I sadly didn't do much of in the four years I lived there while attending UM (i.e., during my pre-running life). In the days before the trip, I scoped out two locations that I definitely wanted to hit:  Lolo Peak and Mt. Sentinel/University Mtn.

Lolo Peak is a 9,100 foot summit just southwest of Missoula.  As you look to the SW from the Missoula Valley, you can see a prominent peak that many people assume is Lolo, but is actually neighboring North Peak, which obscures the view of the every so slightly taller Lolo from most locations in the valley.  Based on the Summit Post description of the route, it's roughly 14 miles out and back, following an established Forest Service trail for the first 4 and then going cross-country the remainder of the way, with a fairly discernible unofficial path leading to the summit (it's a popular hiking location in the late summer/early fall).  I got up bright and early on Thursday morning and headed up to the trailhead.  The trail up to Carlton Ridge was a fairly good grunt with virtually no flat or downhill sections to offer a respite from the climbing, so I alternately ran/hiked.  My one worry with the route was the amount of snow that would be left at the upper elevations.  Well, a few miles up the trail, I found out how much was left.

Fortunately, the snow was hard packed and it was fairly easy to walk/run on top of it without punching through.  So, onward and upward.

After about 4 miles, the trail crests Carlton Ridge, which offers the first real view of Lolo and North peaks to the west/southwest and Carlton Lake below.

Lolo on the left, North on the right

It was cold up on the ridge, so I didn't enjoy the view for long before running down to Carlton Lake to get a better view of what lay ahead if I were going to make an attempt on Lolo.  

Lolo reflected in Carlton Lake

As you can see, Lolo isn't all that intimidating of a summit from up close, but I had some worries about how long it might take and how easy route-finding might be given the amount of snow still lingering above 8,000 feet.  I pressed forward for a bit from Carlton Lake, soon crossing over into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

Into the wild

Soon after crossing the wilderness boundary, it became obvious that route-finding would indeed be a problem.  The snow was obscuring the user-created trail to the summit and there were no longer any obvious tracks across the snow as there had been on the way up to Carlton Ridge.  I started guesstimating how long this endeavor may take and decided that I didn't really want to slog around on an uncertain path in the snow for 3-4+ hours, so decided to call it a day and turned back to the trailhead.  Ended up with 9.2 miles of running and some pretty spectacular views, even though I didn't achieve the day's ultimate goal.

The mission for Friday was to bag not one, but two peaks, albeit much less impressive ones than Lolo.  Basically, my plan was to run the Pengelly Double Dip course. Pengelly is a race I've never run, but want to someday.  This was my way of at least getting to experience the course.  It's roughly a half marathon that starts on the UM campus and follows the popular hiking trail up to the iconic M on Mt. Sentinel (the M is approximately a third of the way up the mountain, not at the summit).

View of the UM campus and downtown Missoula from the M.

From the M, the route traverses the western face of Mt. Sentinel to the south along an old fire road.  This route takes you into Pattee Canyon, where you begin to wrap around the backside of the mountain and join up with the Crooked Trail.  The Crooked Trail takes you back north, but now on the eastern side of the mountain.  Just below the Mt. Sentinel summit, the trail hits a four way intersection.  The race course first takes you to the left, up to the summit of Mt. Sentinel.

Looking down on neighboring Mt. Jumbo from atop Mt. Sentinel. 

Looking across downtown Missoula and the Missoula Valley from atop Sentinel.

From the summit of Sentinel, the course goes back down to the four way and this time heads straight across to University Mtn.  While the trails up to the M and the summit of Sentinel featured several switchbacks, the trail up to University has no such amenities.  That bastard goes straight up and, in a cruel twist, includes a false summit that gives a view of more of the same in store before reaching the actual summit.  Reach the actual summit I did, eventually, after some extremely slow power hiking reminiscent of the The Wall on the Bighorn course.

Looking back down on Mt. Sentinel from atop University Mtn. (the Sentinel summit is the grassy one on the right in the middle of the picture)

From there, you dive bomb back down the trail and again hit the four way intersection.  This time you hang a right (the only direction you haven't been yet) and follow the Hellgate Trail down the northern face of the mountain.  I had actually been on this trail a couple of times in college, hiking with my dog.  Of course, it was much more fun running it and in no time I was back down at river level, on the Kim Williams Trail, which follows the Clark Fork River and takes you back onto campus.  All told, my Garmin told me I covered just over 12 miles.  The race is advertised as a heavy half, so not sure if I cut a section out somewhere, but I hit all of the prominent locations at least.

Oh, yeah, and I did run a marathon a couple days later.  In a nutshell, it sucked.  The race itself is great, but I just wasn't into it, either mentally or physically.  Too soon after Bighorn to really race a marathon and my legs did not enjoy the sensation of 26.2 miles of almost totally flat pavement pounding.  Ended up with a 3:40:02. Not a personal worst, but it is my slowest time at Missoula so far. Could I have run faster if I hadn't been off galavanting in the mountains in the days before the marathon?  Maybe.  But I don't really care....wouldn't do it any differently if I could.

Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 Black Hills 100

Another weekend, another 100.  In case you're wondering, running a 100 mile race one weekend and then directing a 100 the following weekend probably isn't the wisest thing in the world to do.  But, I've never been accused of being all that wise, so that's what I did.  It's one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time ("the time" being sometime in the winter when not much is going on, I was feeling invincible and I had all the free time in the world).  In the end, it all worked out. My own run at Bighorn went about as well as it possibly could have and the Black Hills 100 went off without any major hitches (there are ALWAYS a few minor ones along the way).  Mentally, I don't know if I'd put myself through that kind of stress on back to back weeks again, though.

I took the entire week between Bighorn and Black Hills off from my "real" job so that I could focus on recovering from Bighorn and preparing for Black Hills.  The addition of the Tatanka 100 mountain bike race to Black Hills festivities actually helped Ryan and I immensely in the course marking department since the bike race organizers did 90% of our course marking for us, and did a great job of it, freeing us up to take care of other matters.  Not to mention sparing me from having to go out and mark course all week after running 100 miles in the Bighorns.  So, I spent much of the week driving around to pick up supplies and pay off bills and get the venues for packet pickup and the start/finish set up.  I did get in one solid day of course marking on Friday.  Up to that point, I hadn't run a single time since Bighorn, but on Friday I ended up running three separate times for a total of almost 15 miles to get the first/last 6 miles of the course and the 50M and 100K turnarounds marked.  Overall, my legs felt pretty good, but by the time I headed down the hill after marking the 100K turn, I was feeling pretty beat.

The race itself went about as smoothly as a 100 mile race in the mountains can.  No matter how much planning you do, something unexpected always comes up.  This year the list included wildfires, locked gates and course markings that were possibly tampered with.  Everyone rolled with the punches well, though, and I think we were able to alleviate the big problems that arose fairly quickly.  Of course, there are always a few things that you wish you would've thought of earlier and I'm sure Ryan and I will have a list of improvements for next year.

The feedback we got from runners was almost all positive.  Of course, most people are reluctant to tell you that you suck to your face, but the overall vibe we got was very good and the suggestions for improvements were valid ones that we'll take into serious consideration.  Course marking and communications continue to be issues we will look to improve upon in the future.

The one thing about this event that has surprised me both years is our finish rate.  Ryan and I knew when we started this race that we had a tough course....we run sections of it regularly and know from first hand experience that the Centennial will hand you your ass on a platter if you're not ready for it.  But I don't think we were expecting our finish rate for the 100 mile race to be as low as it has been.  To be fair, we've had significant weather challenges both years.  Last year, it was a severe thunderstorm in the middle of the night.  This year, we avoided any storms but instead had 90+ degree heat throughout the afternoon.  Both weather events took their toll on the finish rate (35% in 2011, around 40% this year).  One of these years, we'll get good weather conditions and then maybe we'll see just how fast someone can run this thing.  We think sub-20 is definitely possible given the right conditions (this year's winner ran 21:50).

Of course, the lynch pin of any ultramarathon operation is the volunteers.  We had a great response from the local communities and the runners were unanimous in their praise for the folks that were out there working at the aid stations.  Volunteers are vital to any running event like this, but even more so on a hot day like Saturday when runners are really in need of support.  THANK YOU to everyone who was out their helping at an aid station, roaming the course, delivering supplies or helping us out at the finish line in town.  On the scale of importance to the success of an ultra event, the volunteers definitely rank several notches above the race directors (we're just the pretty faces of the operation :) ).  And both Ryan and I would like to specially thank our wives, moms, dads, children and other assorted family members who not only put up with us when we're stressing out about every tiny detail but also put in some incredibly long hours at the event.

I said it after last year's inaugural event and I'll say it again:  running a 100 mile race is FAR easier than directing one.  And I'll add this nugget of wisdom for this year: for the love of God, don't go and do both in back to back weeks.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bighorn 100

It’s hard to say when exactly I decided that running the Bighorn 100 would be a good idea.  For a long time after running my first 100 at Lean Horse in August 2010, I was in no hurry to think about another one.  Not because Lean Horse was a miserable experience.  Quite the opposite, actually.  Lean Horse went so well that it seemed like I would just be tempting fate to jump right into another 100.  It seemed entirely possible that everything that went right at Lean Horse could go equally bad at another race.  Had I already reached the pinnacle of my 100 mile running “career” after just one race and was it all downhill from there?  I don’t know, but I was in no hurry to push my luck.  So, I took it “easy” in 2011 by running a couple of 50s and a 50K and called it good.

As 2012 neared, though, the 100 mile bug started festering in my brain again.  Lean Horse was a good first 100, but I was left with the feeling that I still hadn’t run a true mountain ultra. The Lean Horse course is about as easy as they get for 100 milers, allowing you to go head to head with the distance without having to worry so much about the terrain.  As I began to run more and more on trails, I was inevitably left wondering if I could cover 100 miles in the mountains, taking on the distance and the terrain all in one shot.  This question nagged me for a good part of last fall and the thought of running the Bighorn 100 began to take hold.  By the time the new year rolled around, I had basically made the decision.

Bighorn was the logical choice for two main reasons.  One, its close; only a three hour drive down I-90.  Two, it’s everything that Lean Horse isn’t; a tough, trail ultra with over 17,000 feet of elevation gain.  It also helped that I’m familiar with the Bighorn course.  I ran the 50K in 2009, DNFed the 50 mile at mile 34 in 2010, and then finished the 50M (on an alternate snow course) last year.  So I knew what I was getting in to, for better or for worse.  Never mind the fact that when I finished the 50 mile last year, one of my first thoughts was “100 miles of that would suck ASS!”  Funny how you conveniently tend to forget such things over time…

One of the challenges of running Bighorn when you live in this part of the country is an issue of timing.  Since Bighorn takes place in mid-June, that means the bulk of your training has to take part in the late winter/early spring when the weather can be, to put it kindly, slightly uncooperative.  In the Black Hills, we’re blessed with some awesome trail running opportunities.  Unfortunately, old man winter often negates many of those opportunities for several months out of the year.  Apparently, though, the ultra gods were shining down on me this year as we had minimal snow throughout the winter, allowing me hit the trails consistently from January all the way through to June.  My training basically followed a repeating four week cycle.  The first three weeks of each cycle included between 80-90 miles per week, with a big chunk of those (40-45) coming on the weekend.  The weekend was typically something like 25/15, 20/20, 30/15, etc.  I made a serious effort to make at least one of those weekend long runs, preferably the longer one, take place on trails, but that didn’t always happen.  The rest of my weekly miles were virtually identical from week to week and included short recovery runs on roads along with short hill runs (often up Lookout Mountain in Spearfish, which I summited 41 times during my Bighorn training).  The fourth week of each cycle was a recovery week of 50-60 miles.  Thrown in there was one tune up race, which was also my longest pre-Bighorn run, the Quad Rock 50 in Colorado five weeks before Bighorn.  

I ran Lean Horse solo; no crew and no pacers.  I was completely comfortable doing so given the course.  I think I made a half-hearted effort to recruit a pacer on Facebook, but when no one volunteered, I didn’t worry too much about it.  For Bighorn, though, a pacer seemed beneficial. First off, the course is much more rugged and remote.  If I had a pacer, I at least wouldn’t feel totally alone out there.  Second, since Bighorn starts at 11:00 AM, everyone runs through the entire night, even the winner.  At Lean Horse, with its more traditional 6:00 AM start, I finished a little after 2:00 AM.  At 2:00 AM at Bighorn I would still be smack dab in the middle of the course with several hours left to run.  It seemed like a good idea to have someone along to make sure I didn’t just curl up under a tree for a snooze or wander aimlessly off the marked trail.  I was lucky enough to have two people step up and offer to pace me.  First was Ryan, my Black Hills 100 partner in crime.  Second was Jim, another local Black Hills trail runner.  The grand master plan was to have Ryan meet me at the Porcupine aid station (mile 48) and pace me back to Dry Fork (82) where Jim would take over and prod me to the finish.

As much as a 100 mile race can sneak up on you, Bighorn did.  Between running Quad Rock, coaching my daughter’s softball team, running a few trail series races and the Deadwood-Mickelson trail marathon, making final preparations for the Black Hills 100 and watching my son’s baseball games, it was mid-June before I knew it.  In some ways, that was good.  Less opportunity to stress out about it.  I arrived in Sheridan the day before the race feeling reasonably prepared, both mentally and physically.  After going through the check-in process, including the seemingly pointless medical check, I retired to the hotel and commenced doing as little as possible. The nice thing about the late morning start at Bighorn is that you can get a full night’s sleep before instead of having to wake up at the buttcrack of dawn.  And I actually slept quite well, falling asleep right away and waking up suddenly two minutes before my alarm was set to go off.  

After a casual breakfast I headed from Sheridan to Dayton, the location of the finish and pre-race briefing.  The briefing was a pretty laid back affair; everyone was just chilling, killing time until it was time to start running.  I was wearing a Black Hills 100 shirt, which prompted a couple of people to come over to talk to me about the event (free advertising!).  No earthshaking information at the briefing…having run the course a few times before, I was already familiar with pretty much everything that was said.  I did run into Alex, Kyle and Pete, who were part of the quite sizeable Fort Collins contingent.  Kyle and Pete were both running, Alex was there to pace Kyle.  Alex also graciously offered to give me a ride to the start line, which is four miles down the road from the finish (no official shuttles to the start, everyone just carpools over). Once at the start line at the mouth of the Tongue River Canyon, some more milling around took place.  By now, the late start was getting a little old…everyone was just ready to start running already.  Finally, there was a live performance of the national anthem and quickly thereafter we were on our way.

Going into the race, I had thought extensively about what a reasonable goal time would be.  Number one, I wanted to finish; I was determined that I was not going to DNF unless the medical staff on the course were the ones to make the call.  Based on past results and my Quad Rock 50 time of 11:11, and my time of 11:15 at the Bighorn 50 last year, I somehow came to the conclusion that sub-26 would be a good “perfect day” goal and that somewhere between 26-28 hours was probably a bit more reasonable (don’t ask me what kind of highly intensive algorithms I used to make these determinations…they just kind of happened). I definitely wanted sub-30, for no other reason than the thought of being out there for 30+ hours was just way more daunting than 20-some hours.

The first few miles were fairly flat along the Tongue River road and then onto the Tongue River trail.  I fell into a steady, easy pace and just went with the flow.  After the Lower Sheep aid station a few miles in, the trail starts ascending up out of the canyon and continues up for a solid 4 miles.  This is just a long, grinding stretch.  Not much running was to be done here, just very short stretches here and there where the trail leveled off briefly.  It was powerhiking for the most part, but when we finally topped out on the ridge, I was encouraged to see that I was still maintaining a sub-26 pace even with all the early hiking.

After the first climb the trail pitched steeply down into the Upper Sheep Creek aid station and then rolled and rose a little more before dropping down into the first major aid station at Dry Fork.  My fueling strategy was to eat some solid food at each aid station for as long as possible and supplement that with EFS Liquid Shot gels in between aid stations.  For the most part, this strategy worked well for quite a long time (more on that later).  Along those lines, I grabbed some food at Upper Sheep and continued motoring on.  I ran a good chunk of the trail between Upper Sheep and Dry Fork and was really starting to feel like I was hitting a groove by the time I hit the final downhill stretch of road heading into Dry Fork at mile 13.4.  Once there, I was immediately greeted by Alex and Cat, who were actually crewing for the Fort Collins runners but quickly adopted me and helped me get my hydration pack refilled and my drop bag retrieved.  This is what ultrarunning is all about…runners helping another runner even though he isn’t the runner they were actually there to help.  Thanks Alex and Cat!

I was through Dry Fork fairly quickly and heading down the rolling, generally downhill stretch to Cow Camp.  While I felt totally fine physically along this stretch, I hit my first mental low right after leaving Dry Fork.  As late in the day as it was, I felt like I should be further into the race, but since we hadn’t started until 11:00 I obviously wasn’t.  The weight of 87 more miles of being on my feet seemed extremely heavy at that point and I had to make a concerted effort to stop thinking about it and instead just focus on getting to the next aid station….and then the one after that…and then the one after that.  I did make pretty good time to Cow Camp and passed through fairly quickly on toward Bear Camp.  I was alternating running and walking as the terrain dictated and not really pushing myself to run any kind of uphill whatsoever.  Much of the stretch between Cow Camp and Bear Camp is completely runnable, but I was playing it VERY cautiously and walking uphills that I would normally not think twice about running.  The unforeseen bonus of this strategy was that I was hydrating extremely well.  It seems that whenever I stop running to take a walk break, I almost reflexively take a drink of water.  At some point, I realized that I had been hydrating so well that I wasn’t going to make it all the way to Bear Camp before running out of water, even though my 70 ounce hydration pack had just been filled at Dry Fork and Bear Camp is only about 14 miles down the trail (70 ounces usually lasts much longer than that).  Luckily, there is a natural spring a couple of miles before Bear Camp that had the coldest, awesomest tasting water I’ve ever drank…it was like dew drops from Heaven (or something equally as devine and profound).  It took significant will power to not just sit there guzzling straight from the spigot.

Just before Bear Camp, it started to rain a bit.  The forecast had called for a 30% chance of thunderstorms, although the slight sprinkle never developed to anything more serious than that and was actually quite refreshing after several hours out on the trail.  Immediately after Bear Camp, the trail descends what is called The Wall, a 2.5 mile stretch of trail that drops approximately 2500 feet down into the Little Bighorn canyon.  Last year, The Wall was even more treacherous with mud-slicked rocks and water running down the trail in several locations.  The dry winter/spring meant that the trail was in much better shape this year and I descended at a decent clip while still trying to not pound my quads too hard.

At the bottom of The Wall is the Footbridge aid station at mile 30.  This is also the second drop bag location and the point where I grabbed my headlamp and some colder weather gear.  Although it wasn’t dark yet (I arrived in Footbridge somewhere around 5:30), it would be dark, and much colder, by the time I got up to the next major aid station at Porcupine.  So, I shoved my headlamp, hat, gloves and a longsleeve shirt into my hydration pack, grabbed some grub and was off for the longest climb of the race.
The 18 mile stretch between Footbridge and Porcupine is a fairly daunting one.  From 4500 feet in the canyon bottom at Footbridge, the trail ascends approximately 4500 feet up the drainage, topping out at just over 9000 feet before descending the last mile or so into the Porcupine ranger station.  Of course, that ascent is stretched out over 18 miles, but still, that’s a lot of climbing.  There are three other remote aid stations in between Footbridge and Porcupine, so it’s not really one single aidless stretch, but, again, the enormity of it was weighing on my mind as I started hiking out of Footbridge.  At that point, I was actually on a solid sub-24 pace although I knew that that was about to change.  I expected to hike quite a bit of those 18 miles to Porcupine, and I did, but I was also able to do a bit of running here and there.  The Narrows aid station came and went in no time.  It seemed like the Spring Marsh aid station, 6.5 miles up the trail from Narrows, took forever to arrive, but it did eventually and I was greeted by a fellow South Dakotan, Kent, a veteran aid station volunteer at Spring Marsh as well as at the Alkali Creek aid station on the Black Hills 100 course. I chatted with him briefly before continuing up the trail and before too long was met by the race leader, Mike Foote, heading back down.  He was absolutely cruising and was well ahead of the 2nd place guy and would go on to break the course record by 7 minutes.     

The last aid station before Porcupine was Elk Camp at mile 43.5.  By the time I got there, it was getting fairly dark out.  I could see fine when I was out in the open, but when the course passed through the trees, it was getting harder to see the trail.  It was also getting a bit chilly, so I pulled out my hat, longsleeve shirt and headlamp before leaving Elk Camp.  I also ate some canned peaches while there, which tasted awesome at the time but may not have been the wisest choice in hindsight (again, more on this later).  At the time, my stomach was feeling great, so whatever solid food sounded good, I was eating.

The final stretch from Elk Camp up to Porcupine is only 4.5 miles, but it was pretty slow going.  The closer I got to Porcupine, the worse shape the trail was in.  First, there were mud bogs.  Then, there was snow.  Then, there were mud bogs interspersed with snow.  At one point a couple of miles before Porcupine, I went to hop across a small creek but my plant foot slipped on the wet, muddy grass along the bank and I instead fell on my ass right in the middle of the icy cold creek.  Awesome.  Up until that point, I hadn’t been all that cold, but I sure as hell was cold for awhile after that.   Finally, I reached the top of the climb and was on the dirt road heading down into Porcupine.  I ran this section at what felt like a pretty fast pace, happy to have solid footing and a nice, gradual downhill. 

In my head, I had envisioned arriving at Porcupine to huge fanfare with crews and pacers and volunteers all cheering us on.  The reality was actually quite anticlimactic.  I didn’t see Ryan or Jim immediately but didn’t think much of it; I thought they just must be in the ranger station warming up.  So into the ranger station I went where I was quickly swept away by the medical staff and volunteers who, while very helpful in getting me food and my drop bag, weren’t all that helpful as to the location of my crew.  I drank some Pepsi and had some chicken noodle soup inside the toasty warm ranger station and quickly decided I needed to get out of there before I got too comfortable.  So, I stepped back outside, wondering again where in the hell everyone was.  Not only could I not find my pacer, I couldn’t really seem to locate ANY pacers and it seemed like there should be several waiting.  I looked around a bit and eventually spotted a campfire off to the left and wandered over there.  As I walked up, I saw one guy who I thought was with the Fort Collins crew and then I saw Alex sitting by the fire.  I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hey, have you seen Ryan?” and almost before I finished asking noticed the tall dude in the Black Hills 100 sweatshirt sitting on the other side of the fire, dozing.  Upon hearing his name, he jolted awake and was ready to go remarkably quickly.  I had run right past them when I came into the aid station but we had failed to notice each other.  

It was just after 11:00 at that point, so I was about a half an hour ahead of sub-26 pace.  Just before Ryan and I took off into the dark, I told Jim that I’d probably be back down to Dry Fork at around 8:30 in the morning, if things went well.  And, to begin with, they did.  I had been feeling good before, but having Ryan with me gave me even more of a boost.  Heading downhill for the most part didn’t hurt either and we quickly started to pick off other runners as we descended toward Footbridge.  For the first 10 miles of the descent, my stomach and legs both felt remarkably great considering I was over 50 miles into the race.  Somewhere after Spring Marsh, I started to notice a little discomfort in my gut, but nothing too serious.  Not long after that, Ryan tripped and twisted his ankle on the rocky trail heading toward the Narrows and I wondered if I might have to carry my pacer out.  He walked it off like a trooper, though, and soon enough we were running again.  Just after the ankle incident, I tripped too and while I mostly caught myself, my gel flask went flying out of my front hydration pack pocket and flew off the edge of the trail into the steep ravine below.  Ryan and I searched the dropoff below with our headlamps for a minute or so before deciding that A) we couldn’t see the flask and B) even if we could, neither one of us were all too eager to climb down after it.  Chalk that one up as a sacrifice to the ultra gods. Ultimately, it wasn’t a huge tragedy as I had a second flask with me.

We were back in Footbridge, mile 66, at around 4 AM.  After a quick change of socks and some refueling, we headed out to tackle The Wall.  My old nemesis.  It was while climbing The Wall in the 50 mile two years ago that I started puking, which eventually led to my DNF at Dry Fork.  The first part of the climb this time went fairly well, but the further up we got, the worse I started to feel and consequently started slowing considerably, to the point that we got passed for the first time since leaving Porcupine when I had to step off the trail to take care of some business in the bushes (not puking….yet).  That relieved the digestive pressure a bit and we continued on.  As the sun started to come up, the wind also came up, blowing up the canyon wall and making it quite cold, especially considering how slow we were moving.  This was my first real, total body, mental and physical low point of the race.  Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, we reached the top of that God-forsaken climb and were back at Bear Camp.  I didn’t feel all that great still, but was glad to be off The Wall and knew that at least now I could walk at a decent pace even if I wasn’t running.  And, as I walked, my stomach actually started to feel quite a bit better, which led to an improvement in my overall mood (I’m fairly sure there was a significant stretch of time there where I didn’t utter a single coherent word to Ryan).  But then I started noticing something else….I was really tired.  Not physically tired; my legs felt fairly fine.  But I noticed that I was starting to nod off as we were walking.  Not knowing what else to do to alleviate the situation, I decided to start running.  And it worked.  The running motion got my blood flowing and perked me back up.  So then I got in a cycle of walking the uphills and almost falling asleep and then running the flats and downs and waking back up.  This probably lasted for a good hour or so until we were almost to Cow Camp.

At Cow Camp, the infamous bacon station, I decided I’d better try some bacon since I never have in past years.  And, even though my stomach wasn’t feeling all that solid and the mere thought of another gel literally made me gag, that bacon tasted pretty damn good.  I think I may have had some fruit too, but at that point I was mostly fueling off of Pepsi or Mountain Dew and chicken noodle soup.  Right after Cow Camp I actually felt pretty great and Ryan and I fell into a pretty decent hike up/run down cadence.  But eventually my stomach started to revolt and, with Dry Fork in sight on the ridgeline above us, I finally stopped to face the inevitable.  And it was, without a doubt, the oddest vomit I’ve ever vomited.  You see, every other time I’ve puked during an ultra, it’s almost all liquid…more liquid than I ever imagined could fit in a human stomach.  This time, there was virtually no liquid, it was all solid food (those peaches from Elk Camp were prevalent).  It’s like what my dog pukes up when he eats his dry food too fast and then just yucks it back up in almost-whole form.  And this is after I had just drunk some soda and soup at Cow Camp along with some water after that.  It was like my body was absorbing the fluids, but not the solid food.  Regardless, I felt light years better when it was all said and done and we powered up the last stretch of hill to Dry Fork.

I had told Jim that 26 hour pace would put us at Dry Fork at 8:30 and, despite the digestive setbacks, twisted ankles, lost gel flasks, and nodding off along the way, we rolled in at around 8:45.  The medical staff immediately asked me how I was feeling.  Not sure if they had witnessed my puking incident on the hill below, I played it kind of coy and told em, “I feel fine…now”.  They asked when I’d last peed and seemed delighted by the fact that it was just a few miles before (which wasn’t a lie) and left me alone after that.  After shedding my extra clothing, as it was starting to warm up, I said my goodbyes to Ryan and told him I hoped to finish in the 27-28 hour range, as I wasn’t sure how my stomach was going to hold up.  With that, Jim and I headed out for the last 18 miles to Dayton.

I had warned Jim beforehand that this might be the longest 18 miles of his life and given my stomach issues, I was wondering if we weren’t going to have to walk the entire damn distance.  On the way up the road leaving Dry Fork, I decided to try sucking on a ginger candy to help my stomach and, lo and behold, it worked.  When we reached the next downhill section of trail, I tried running and it felt pretty okay.  Not super great, but hell, we were over 82 miles into the day.  I could at least move forward at a running cadence for a bit.  By the time we reached Upper Sheep Creek, my stomach again was feeling off so I popped in another ginger chew as we ascended the last major hill of the day, The Haul.  Again, the ginger did the trick and we were able to run off and on as we headed down into the Tongue River canyon.  By this time, my feet were pretty raw and the trail was pretty rough, which isn’t a great combination.  It hurt to walk and it hurt to run, so I tried to just run as much as possible to get it over sooner, but there were some extended walk breaks thrown in too.  Eventually, blissfully, we reached the flatter trail at the bottom of the canyon where the running and walking were both much more comfortable.  By this point, we were getting overtaken by a constant flow of 50K and 30K runners, who had just started that morning from Dry Fork.  This was kind of a pain in the ass on the trail as we constantly had to step aside, but when we finally reached the trailhead and hit the road with 5 miles to go, there was plenty of room for them to run around us. 

Running down the trail at approximately mile 85.  I was only running because I knew Jim was about to take a picture.

Once on the road, I had visions of maybe running most of the way in.  Those visions faded quickly. My legs and feet were both tired and even the slightest uphill grade was wearing me down.  Plus it was quickly warming up.  But, even though I was walking, I found I could maintain a pretty good walking pace…we were laying down sub-15:00 miles even while walking.  Throw in some short running spurts and we were doing like 12:00-13:00 pace overall.  I was perfectly content with this as I realized that not only was sub-28 in the bag, but that we would easily come in under 27 hours too.  I knew sub-26 was out of the picture, so was content to just continue moving forward steadily.

With about two miles to go, a little girl on her bike rode by with a popsicle and gave it to me, which was quite possibly the awesomest thing in the world.  If Jim wouldn’t have been with me to confirm her presence, I would’ve sworn that I had a hallucination of a small, popsicle-bearing angel from Heaven.  I’ve never had a better pink popsicle.  Although we were walking most of it, the last two miles actually went by fairly quickly.  By that time, the reality of my impending finish had set in and I was in good spirits, finally allowing myself to look forward to a chair and a cold beer.  Before I knew it, we hit the pavement and then could see the turn to the park up ahead.  As we neared the park, I said something along the lines of “let’s get this over with” and started running for the last time.  We made the left turn into the park and saw Ryan right away who gave us a high five as we ran past.  As I hit the bike path around the park to the finish, Jim peeled off and I was joined by my kids, Caiden and Chloe, for the finishing kick.  At that point, I ceased to feel any discomfort whatsoever.  It felt like I was running 6:00 miles.  Probably closer to 10:00, but, hey, who’s counting?  We “sprinted” across the finish line and it was done.  100 miles. 26:18:32. Jim, Ryan and my wife Shannon were right there at the finish with my two requests ready and waiting, a cold beer and a chair.  And let me tell you, no beer has ever tasted so good, nor has any chair ever been so comfortable.  

Caiden and Chloe with the banner they made for me.  Good thing I finished.  Woulda been kinda awkward otherwise.

Caiden and Chloe pacing me to the finish.

From L to R, Ryan, myself and Jim.  

So, what now?  Don’t know, not really in any hurry to figure it out.  Although, I do now have a qualifier for both Western States and Hardrock…

Friday, June 8, 2012

(Emb)Racing the taper

Ah, the taper.  In many ways, I look forward to means the months of hard training are over, race day is near, and I can relax for a bit.  On the other hand, while I may be relaxing physically, tapering is mentally exhausting.  I'm fairly sure that, no matter how many miles I've put in during the few months prior, that I will never enter a taper thinking "yup, I've done enough".

So, how to keep the mind off of anal-retentively analyzing every single detail about something you know longer have any control over?  Keep it occupied with other matters.  Like other races.  By the time I toe the line on in the Tongue River canyon at 11:00 AM next Friday for the Bighorn 100, I will have run six other races in the five weeks leading up to that moment.

First was the Quad Rock 50, which was planned as my last really long long run (although I did run a few other kind of long long runs in the three weeks after QR).  A week later, the Big Hill 10K trail race.  Nine days after that, the Bolder Boulder 10K.  Six days after that, the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon.  Four days after that, the Dino Hill trail race.  And two days after that, coming up tomorrow, the Hayfever 4 miler.

How's that for a taper strategy?  Now, to be fair, I didn't really RACE Quad Rock or Deadwood-Mickelson...they were planned as nice, easy (in terms of pace) long runs all along.  I put a moderate effort into Bolder Boulder, but didn't get too crazy.  Big Hill and Dino Hill I raced a little harder, seeing as they're both part of the Black Hills Trail Running Series and I need all the points I can get for the season standings.  Hayfever will likely be a moderate-hard typically draws a very small crowd (10-20 runners), which means I may have a legitimate shot at winning (one of my two lifetime victories came at Hayfever a few years ago).  I will run as hard as I have to and nothing more.  If it's clear that someone else is faster than I am, I will not kill myself trying to chase them down.

Quality over quantity?  I guess we'll see.

Friday, June 1, 2012

May Summary

Miles: 329.9 (17.9 less than April)
Time Spent Running: 55:50:04 (1:11:xx more than April)
Runs: 38 (three more than April)
Rest Days: 4 (2 more than April)
20+ Mile Runs: 4 (same as April)
Lookout Summits: 8 (same as April)

Well, there it is.  The last month of "real" training before Bighorn on June 15-16.  As expected, my miles were down a little bit from April, due to double the number of rest days, which is partly due to running the Quad Rock 50 in the middle of the month and taking the day before and the day after off.  Despite the lower mileage, my hours spent running were higher, again largely thanks to 11+ hours on my feet at Quad Rock.  I have one last long run, in the form of the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon, this Sunday and then I'll be in all-out taper mode.  I don't know that I've ever entered taper thinking that I'm absolutely ready to tackle whatever race it is I'm training for, but I feel cautiously confident heading into Bighorn.  Seems like you're always left thinking you could've/would've/should've done more, but that's just part of taper madness.  Quad Rock was a good confidence boost that I can cover long distances in the mountains.  Now, I just need to get rested up.

About this time last year I crunched some numbers and figured out that I had run about 22% of my miles on trails leading up to the Bighorn 50, which was about double the trail mileage I had run when preparing for the Bighorn 50 (which I ultimately DNFed) in 2010.  Curiosity got the best of me, so I ran the numbers again for this year and found that I've just about doubled my trail miles again to 42%.  Given the realities of life (i.e., work, taking kids to school, coaching/watching kids sporting events, not having any trails immediately accessible to me without driving, not wanting to have my wife file for divorce, etc.) that's probably approaching the max percentage I can realistically achieve.  Unfortunately, running on roads is simply more convenient, but I made a concerted effort to hit the trails as much as possible this winter/spring (and that effort was helped immensely by our mild, relatively snow-free winter). I won't know if that effort was enough until sometime on June 16th, but I gave er the old college try, at least.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bolder Boulder 10K

Another week, another 10K, which is funny because I generally don't really like 5Ks or 10Ks.  Of course, Big Hill last week was a trail 10K, which is much more tolerable.  Bolder Boulder, on the other hand, is a road 10K and one with 50,000+ participants to boot.  Considering I don't really like 10Ks or large groups of people, it's not really a natural choice for me and I didn't initially plan on running it.  Hell, I had honestly forgotten that it was even going on the same weekend we would be on a family vacation to Denver.  

In preparation for that vacation, I had emailed my friend Mike (our host for Quad Rock a couple of weeks ago) and asked him for some running route suggestions in Denver.  He clued me in on some good routes and also casually mentioned Bolder Boulder.  I checked out the race website and was surprised to find that registration was still open (and, actually, they took registrations race day morning, which is just insane to me for a race that big).  Really, Bolder Boulder is the antithesis of everything I like about trail and ultra running, but it is a well known event and Boulder is a cool town.  After some deliberation, I decided I wouldn't mind seeing what the whole thing was like first-hand, so I went ahead and registered.  

To handle the masses of people, you are placed in one of 92 waves with staggered start times.  The idea is that you'll end up running with a group of people of similar speed, which will avoid massive traffic jams, throwing of elbows, cussing and general malcontent as always happens when large numbers of runners attempt to self-seed.  For the most part, it seemed to work very well.  Based on my time from the Missoula Marathon last year (the only non-ultra qualifying time I had), I was placed in the BA wave, which is the 5th wave to start.  This was good, since it meant I would start at about 7:04 AM, be done running before 8:00 and we could hit the road back to SoDak fairly early in the morning (the later waves didn't start until after 9:00 AM).

In order to hopefully make the race day go a bit smoother, I opted to drive up to Boulder from Denver on Sunday afternoon to pick up my race packet rather than braving huge lines on race morning.  This may or may not have been a good choice.  As soon as I hit Boulder, traffic was bumper to bumper and it took me longer to drive around downtown and find a parking spot than it had to drive the 30 miles from Denver.  The downtown area was absolutely stuffed to the gills with people in town for the race and I found myself wondering why in the hell I had decided to do this.  I did eventually get my race packet and made a quick escape back to the relative calm of Denver.

After that experience, my biggest concern for race day wasn't the race itself, but finding a decent parking spot for Shannon and the kids.  With that in mind, we got up at the buttcrack of dawn and drove into Boulder and paid a fairly ridiculous $20 to park on the University of Colorado campus, within easy walking distance to the finish line at Folsom Field.  The start line was about a mile walk from there, which was fine with me.  I was just glad to have a good parking spot at that point.  

As for the race, I had absolutely no expectations going into it.  I hadn't even thought about running it until less than a week ago and I was primarily there for the experience.  Not to mention that I have done absolutely zero speed training this spring.  Basically, the plan was to just start running and see how things felt and go from there.  At precisely 7:00, the first wave took off and like clockwork they kept herding us forward until my wave was at the front and on our way just past 7:04.  Immediately, I felt like crap.  My legs felt heavy and tired and my stomach didn't feel all that agreeable.  I immediately began wondering how many porta-potties were located along the course and where they might be (luckily, I never had to answer that question).  Overall, I felt tired and suddenly "just a 10K" felt like a very long ways.  I spent the better part of the first 5K just trying to get into some kind of rhythm, and I would for short stretches, but then I would have stretches where I felt like crap again.  It was like a microcosm of an ultra playing out on a much smaller scale.  I ran between 7:20 and 7:40 pace for those first few miles, which is not spectacular at all considering I had run a trail 10K, with many more hills and less smooth footing, at around the same pace the week before.  

After hitting the halfway point, I finally found a groove and was able to stay in it for the remainder of the race.  I dropped my pace to sub-7:00 for the last couple of miles and started passing a bunch of people in the process, which is always fun.  I still didn't feel great, but I felt tolerable.  Up a couple of short hills and we were in Folsom Field for a final half lap to the finish.  I ended up running a 45:15, a solid 6 minutes slower than my 10K PR, but I was totally fine with that.  After getting herded like cattle through the finish line, past the chip removal and into the indoor track where I got a free Michelob Ultra (not my beer of choice, but I'm not one to turn down a free beer), I finally emerged back outside where I was able to locate Shannon and the kids fairly easily.  Back to the car and back on the road for a 6 hour drive home.

So, would I do it again?  Probably not.  That's not to say that there is anything wrong with Bolder Boulder.  In fact, the level of organization is mind boggling and, from my perspective, things seemed to flow very smoothly.  The course is fairly nice, Boulder is a beautiful town and the race seems to be the focal point of the weekend.  It was a cool thing to experience, but once is probably enough for me.  Like I said before, road 10Ks with masses of people just aren't really my thing.  I'm glad I did it this once, though, just to see what it was all about.

Now, back to the trails.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Big Hill 10K

Remember in my last post when I said it's becoming tradition for Ryan and I to run a 50 in Colorado on Mother's Day weekend?  Well, another developing tradition is to come back to SoDak and run the first race in the Black Hills Trail Running Series the weekend after that 50.  

Of course, being able to race the week after a 50 depends heavily on being able to recover from said 50.  Recovery from Quad Rock went about as well as I could hope for.  I took Sunday off completely and ran a flat, easy five on roads on Monday.  My hips were really tight and I had some general fatigue, but nothing really hurt.  Tuesday I started getting back into my normal routine and by Wednesday I felt almost normal.  

The bigger question outside of how well I would recover was how I should structure my weekend around the trail series race, the Big Hill 10K.  I had, perhaps with great confidence, scheduled back to back 20 milers for this weekend back when I sat down and hammered out a Bighorn training schedule a few months ago.  The intent all along was to train straight through Quad Rock as much as possible, but in reality I wasn't sure how recovery would go and whether or not I'd have to cutback a little in the week following Quad Rock.  

With recovery going seemingly well, I decided I'd like to try and get in those back to back long runs while also running the race, so I developed an ingenious grand master plan.  As luck would have it, the Big Hill trailhead is about 6.5 miles south of the Tinton trailhead just outside of Spearfish.  My plan was to start out at the Tinton trailhead, run the 6.5 miles of the Tinton trail up (and it is predominantly uphill) to Big Hill, arriving there in time for the start of the race.  I'd then run the race and then run back down Tinton to my car for a total of 19-20 miles.  Perfect!

All in all, the ingenious grand master plan went well.  I ran the first 6.5 very, very easy, even walking a few of the uphills along Tinton that I would normally run on shorter excursions.  I arrived at the Big Hill trailhead, ensconced in a fog reminiscent of Quad Rock last Saturday, with about 20 minutes to go before the race started.   My bright yellow Boston shirt is fairly easy to pick out of the crowd.

Runners in the Mist
Photo courtesy of Mark Warren

As I chatted with a few other runners and waited for the race to start, I eventually cooled down a bit.  My legs didn't stiffen up too bad, but all the heat I had generated on my run up the hill dissipated fairly quickly and I was getting pretty cold by the time we finally started.  But, it didn't take long to warm up as I found myself cruising the first downhill portion of the race loop at just over 6:00 pace.  A far cry from my blazing fast 13:23 average pace at Quad Rock a week ago.  I like to keep my legs guessing.

Race Start
Photo courtesy of Mark Warren 

The race itself was a 10K loop (which actually turned out to be more like 6.7 miles) on one of the four Big Hill loops, which are popular groomed cross country skiing trails in the winter.  For the most part, there's actually not much single-track as most of the trail system is old logging roads that have grown over.  Every once in awhile, there's a distinct track to follow, but other times we were just running down a wide grassy path through the aspen and pines.  Being highly popular cross country ski trails, there aren't a lot of steep hills along the loops.  The trail is fairly rolling in nature with more gradual ups and downs than most of the other runs in the trail series.  Actually, thinking back on it, it was this relatively gentle rolling nature that drew me to Big Hill for my first ever foray into trail running a few years ago.  I haven't run there since, having found the appeal of "purer" (is that a word?) single-tracks like Tinton and the Centennial.  But, I digress...

Typical Big Hill Trail
Photo courtesy of Mark Warren

As for the race, it went just about the same as how all the trail series races go.  The really fast guys took off in a small pack right away, leaving myself and the other handful of kinda fast guys in a middle pack.  This middle pack eventually spread out a bit over the course of the race until it was just myself and another local, Carlos, within sight of each other.  Carlos and I leapfrogged each other a couple of times early on before Carlos pulled a ways ahead on a long downhill.  As the course looped around and started heading back up toward the trailhead, I would reel Carlos in bit by bit on the steeper uphills, but he would maintain or slightly improve his lead on the flats and short downhills.  I drew closer and closer throughout the second half of the race, but ultimately ran out of real estate (I was running out of steam too, quite honestly) and Carlos finished about 5 seconds ahead of me (I believe we were in 6th and 7th, although I never checked for sure).

After catching my breath for a bit and chatting some more, I decided I'd better head back down the trail before my legs stiffened up too much.  The return trip to my car along the Tinton trail went really well, aided by the fact that 95% of it was downhill.  Thanks to the extra race mileage, I ended up with about 19.8 miles for the day with a nice little tempo workout in the middle of it.  Best part is that, one week after running 50 miles, I don't feel at all like I just ran 50 miles a week ago.  I love it when a plan comes together.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Quad Rock 50

Seems that traveling to Colorado to run a 50 miler in May is becoming something of an annual tradition for Ryan and I.  Last year, it was the Collegiate Peaks 50 in Buena Vista on Mother's Day weekend.  This year, the inaugural Quad Rock 50 in Fort Collins, again on Mother's Day weekend (did I mention our extremely understanding wives??).  Hanging out at the QR finish line on Saturday evening, still caked in sweat and trail grit, Ryan was already plotting our adventure for next year.  Can't say for sure that it will include Colorado again but, regardless, that's getting a little ahead of ourselves.

We heard about QR back in November or December and it immediately moved to the top of our radar.  For one, it's relatively close (a 5 hour drive from Spearfish).  For two, the course looked like a beast (more on that later).  For three, the timing was good.  I had already locked in on the Bighorn 100 as my big target for the year and QR fell 5 weeks before Bighorn, making it a perfect long tune-up race.  For four, I knew some people in Fort Collins, all of them acquaintances from the blogosphere.  One of those acquaintances, Mike,  was so gracious as to offer us a place to crash for the weekend.  Many thanks, Mike!  And, speaking of understanding wives, thanks to Mike's better half J for putting up with three strange trail runner dudes from South Dakota for a few days.

So, QR it was.  Ryan and I initially recruited a couple of other locals, Nathan (who had ventured to Collegiate Peaks with us last year) and Andy to come along with us.  Unfortunately, Nathan was sidelined with some hamstring issues so he couldn't make the trip.  We decided to leave on Thursday, giving us a chance to just chill on Friday.  This worked out well, since Mike clued us in on a local group run and potluck on Thursday evening, which was a great way to stretch the legs after the car ride and meet/run/drink/dine with some of the Fort's local trail runners, including Alex and QR co-directors Nick and Pete

After wandering around the Fort Collins/Loveland/Longmont/Boulder metroplex for most of the day on Friday, it was time to finally face the task at hand on Friday evening.  At some point on trips like this, I inevitably have an "oh shit, I actually have to run a race in the morning" moment.  That moment came on Friday evening as I stared at the random pile of crap I had shoved into my luggage before leaving South Dakota and tried to determine if I had everything I would need the following day (or if I was even sure if I knew what I would need).  The primary concern was the weather.  It was a balmy 85 when we hit the Fort on Thursday, but a cold front blew in and the forecasted high for race day was around 60 with a 30% chance of showers.  A bit cooler than what I had planned for, but I figured I'd be okay so long as those showers didn't become a steady downpour, as they sometimes do (they didn't).  

It seemed as though I had the requisite gear to run 50 miles, but for some damn reason I couldn't shake the thought that Saturday wouldn't be my day.  Why?  To be honest, the course was starting to intimidate me a bit. For months, I've barely even thought about this race.  Now that it had snuck up on me and I was staring it straight in the face, I was starting to wonder what I had gotten myself into.  Much of the talk at the potluck on Thursday had revolved around the course and its challenges, namely 12,000 ft of elevation gain over the 50 mile route.  That's a shit-ton.  I've been running a decent amount of trail miles this year, but was seriously doubting that it was enough for a beast of a course like this.  And if I couldn't survive this, what would that say about my chances at Bighorn?  Pete had mentioned on the QR website that in order to finish the 50 mile race, you had to hit the turnaround at 25 miles knowing that you would be going out for a 2nd loop...the thought of stopping and taking a 25 mile finish couldn't be an option.  I tried mightily to think that way, but I just couldn't really convince myself that I would be able to make that turn on Saturday.

With those thoughts swirling through my head, sleep didn't come all that swiftly on Friday night, but it did eventually come.  Morning came quicker, at 2:45 to be exact.  As I got dressed and gave my gear one last check, the sense of trepidation remained.  Honestly, I don't even remember if I was this nervous immediately before running my first 100 at Lean Horse.  Of course, Lean Horse was a known quantity....a course that I knew I could run well on.  This was a totally different situation.  Standing in the dark at the starting line, I felt totally unsure about what was about to transpire.  Confidence was nowhere to be found.  It seemed to me to be a lot of worrying for what was supposed to be a simple training run.  As much as I was dreading it, it was probably merciful when Nick finally counted down from 10 and sent us on our way.

So, back to the course.  As I've alluded to already, the route is comprised of two 25 mile loops through Horsetooth Mountain Park and Lory State Park.  In conjunction with the 50 mile race, there is a 25 mile option. Everyone runs the first loop in the clockwise direction.  After reaching the start/finish line at the 25 mile mark, the 50 milers turn around and run the loop again, counter-clockwise (essentially making it an out and back course).  As I also mentioned, 50 milers have the option of calling it a day at the turnaround and accepting a 25 mile finish.  The total elevation gain for the 50 mile race is in the vicinity of 12,000 feet, which comes in six big climbs (three on each loop, obviously).  The entire route includes precious little flat's basically go up, go down, repeat (actually, it says something similar right on the race shirts).

Once the race was underway, it was time to stop over-analyzing things so damn much and just run, and it turned out to be a great relief to be underway.  I had lined up somewhere in the middle of the pack and was somewhat unprepared for just how congested the trail would be early on.  I was basically forced into running the pace that people immediately around me were running and it seemed very slow, much slower than I probably would have started off if left to my own devices.  But this was a training run for a 100 miler.  I kept telling myself to treat QR as if it WERE a 100 miler and run accordingly.  In retrospect, being "stuck" back in the pack was probably the best thing that could happen to me as it prevented me from going out too fast and consequently crashing and burning later on.

Almost before I knew it, we were atop the first big climb at the Towers aid station, about 7 miles in.  I grabbed a drink of Coke and a PB and J wrap and was on my way.  As for fueling, I was gun shy about trying the EFS gel they had given us right before the race as I'd never trained with it, so I was sticking with the trusty ol' Hammer Gel between aid stations and making a concerted effort to eat some "real" food at each aid station.  Leaving Towers, I was still "stuck" in a bit of a crowd and went with the flow down to the Horsetooth aid station.  Upon arriving at Horsetooth, I was immediately greeted by a familiar face in Rob, who ran the inaugural Black Hills 100 last year.  Funny how a seemingly inconsequential thing like seeing someone you recognize can give you a boost in a race, but for some reason it always does.  I grabbed another Coke and a turkey/cheese wrap (this turned out to be my food of choice for the day) and headed up the hill feeling great.

Climbing back up towards Towers past Horsetooth Rock was the first time where the field really started to spread out and I felt like I could maneuver a bit.  I started to pass a few people here and there, but still didn't feel like I was really pushing all that hard.  I did a lot of walking on the uphills, even though there were several sections where I most certainly could've run.  I didn't have a heart rate monitor on, so I basically judged my HR by feel and tried to keep from pushing it too high.  After reaching Towers, drinking some more Coke and eating another wrap, it was down Mill Creek toward the Arthur's Rock aid station.  I noted a few steep, straight-shot descents (i.e., no switchbacking) along this stretch that were going to be a pain in the ass (or legs, more accurately) going back up the other direction.  Oh, and speaking of the other direction, by this point in the race my mentality had changed completely.  The fear of not being able to make the turn at the halfway point was virtually gone.  My legs felt great, my stomach felt great and I was in a groove.  I still had a long way to go before even hitting the turnaround, but quitting there no longer seemed like a probability, or even really an option.

The Arthur's aid station is back down in the valley where we started, just up the road from the start/finish line.  But of course it would be too easy (and short) to just haul ass down the road to the start/finish.  Instead, it was back up the trail for the third an final climb of the first loop.  It was on this climb that I hooked up with another runner, Jason, who seemed to be going about the same pace as me.  Well, actually, I seemed to be pushing a bit faster on the uphills, even when just hiking, and he seemed to run the downhills a bit faster, but working together we stayed pretty close to one another.  At the top of climb, we hit an old road and it was here that the leader of 50 miler, Ryan Burch, came cruising by, running the uphill in the opposite direction steady and strong (he would go on to win the race and, consequently, he also won the Collegiate Peaks 50 last year, so he's won every ultra I've ever run in Colorado).  As we continued the long descent toward the start/finish line I saw Ryan and then Mike not too far behind, both also looking nice and strong.  And when I say long descent, I mean lllloooonnnngggg descent.  At some point, the trail emerged from the timber onto some open, brushy slopes that afforded a view of the start/finish area down below.  Of course, upon seeing such a sight, my immediate thought was "hey, almost there!".  Wrong.  You can see, and hear, that damn turnaround point for a solid few miles as you switchback down the hill before you finally get there.  But, get there I eventually did, hitting the turnaround in about 5:25, over a half an hour ahead of pace for my totally arbitrary goal of 12 hours for the full 50.  Of course, I knew I would slow some over the 2nd half, so sub-12 certainly wasn't in the bag just yet.

Immediately upon hitting the turnaround, I was greeted by Alex, who had just finished the 25 mile race a little over an hour before and was now volunteering.  He grabbed my hydration pack and refilled my water while I rooted around in my drop bag for a fresh shirt and refilled my gel flask.  All in all, thanks to Alex's help, it was a fairly efficient turnaround and I was back out for my 2nd loop before the 5:30 mark.  Jason had left the aid station right before me and we ended up hiking (and running a bit) back up the hill as we chatted about the race and other events we've done.  This was a great way to kill the time and made the long climb back up go by much faster than it would have if I was alone with my own thoughts.  We ran fairly strongly back down to Arthur's together but then got separated a bit when I took a bit of a walk break after Arthur's, on relatively flat trail, to finish eating my wrap.

Now it was time for what would be the hardest climb of the day.  Several hours into the race and facing the steepest ascents along Mill Creek.  Early in the climb I walked when it felt appropriate and managed to run a few of the mellower sections, but when the grade increased it was nothing but a slow hike.  For the first time all day, I felt like I was really working hard, even while just hiking.  But, when I hit a downhill grade, I still found it easy, and comfortable, to resume running, so I was still making somewhat decent progress.  Eventually the trail topped out and I found myself cruising back down into the Towers aid station for the third time.  Only one more big climb left.

After Towers, there's a bit of fairly technical trail near Horsetooth Rock and I was able to run this comfortably, if not carefully.  My quads still felt perfectly fine and I was able to move my feet quickly enough to account for the terrain.  When the trail hit the wider, totally smooth trail lower on the descent it felt heavenly and I was able to open up my stride and just cruise for a bit for the first time since....well, all day, really.  As I hit the Horsetooth aid station, I glanced at my watch and saw that I was 8:49 into the race.  I fleetingly wondered if Ryan or Mike had finished yet (both were gunning for sub-9) and, as it turns out, Mike was finishing at almost that exact moment, with Ryan not far behind.  Leaving Horsetooth, Rob told me I had just a few miles of climbing left and then mostly downhill for the last 7 after that.  Music to my ears.

The climb up Spring Creek was fairly slow going as my legs were definitely starting to feel the elevation gain.  I was walking several grades that I could easily run under normal circumstances, but let's face it, there is little "normal" about running an ultra.  At some point, I glanced up to my right and realized I could see Towers Road and then saw a couple of people running down it, which led me to believe I was nearing the Towers aid station again.  Wrong.  Like the turnaround, that glimpse of the road was deceiving as the trail parallels it up the drainage for quite a ways before I finally caught site of the aid station and the top of the climb.  Once back at Towers for the fourth and final time, I was a bit disappointed to find that they were out of Coke and Mountain Dew.  They did still have turkey wraps, but I was tired enough from the last ascent that I didn't really feel like eating and, with only 7 miles to go and a long downhill on Towers Road ahead, didn't feel like wasting the time to walk a bit and eat.  It was obvious by this point that sub-12 was practically in the bag, but I also thought I might be tantalizingly close to sub-11.  So, I grabbed a handful of gummy bears, shoved em in my mouth and started pounding down Towers.  As I had arrived at the aid station, I noticed Jason sitting and eating.  I wondered if he was feeling alright, but assumed he was and that he would probably catch back up to me eventually.  Turns out I was correct on both accounts.

Although my quads still felt relatively good, I did have 43 miles on my legs, so the descent down Towers and then back onto the trail wasn't exactly blistering fast, but I was able to run fairly comfortably given the circumstances.  Jason did catch up with me as we neared the bottom of the descent and at some point he wondered aloud if we could break 11 hours.  I told him I'd been thinking about that myself, but that in order to do so, we'd both have to really kick some ass over the final few miles.  I did some quick calculations in my head and, assuming my GPS mileage was accurate (it was), we would've needed a few solid 8:00ish minute miles to come in under 11 hours.  Turns out, neither of us really felt like kicking quite that much ass.  But, as we came off the hill and onto the nice, smooth, gentle trail through the valley, I did get another chance to open my stride up a bit and pulled ahead of Jason.  At this point, it wasn't so much that I was trying to gap him, I was just ready to be done and had a bit more push left than he did.

Although the valley trail is easily the flattest part of the course, I did find myself taking a few short walk breaks here and there.  I knew sub-11 was out and my new goal was to beat my Bighorn 50 time of 11:15 from last year.  A totally, ridiculously arbitrary goal, but something to shoot for none-the-less.  I cruised straight through the Arthur's aid station with two miles to go with a few encouraging words from Alex as I passed by (I would say "flew by", but let's face it, I wasn't really flying).  Eventually, the finish area came into view and before I knew it I faced that somewhat surreal moment that comes at the end of every ultra when, finally, after hours and hours of running, the finish line is right there in front of you.  I had somewhat jokingly told Andy the night before that my goal for the race was to finish before my Garmin battery died.  Turns out, that battery has at least 11:11:51 of time on it, because that's what it read when I hit the stop button (my official time is 11:11:21...not sure where the 30 second difference comes from, nor am I all that worried about it).

I grabbed my finisher mug and immediately noticed that Nick was conducting the awards ceremony down at the picnic shelters, so wandered down there where I quickly located Ryan, Andy and Mike and heard about their extremely strong runs (10th and 11th in the 50 for Mike and Ryan, respectively, and 25th for Andy in the 25).

Hands down, the best paced 50 I've ever run.  Standing around the finish, my legs felt relatively fine.  Tired, of course, but not shot.  Could I have gone another 50?  Well, we'll never know for sure, but I'd like to think that the answer is yes.  Running this course faster than Bighorn, and with a bunch more elevation gain thrown in, has restored all of that confidence that I was severely lacking early Saturday morning.  Not really sure that things could have gone any better.  All that worrying for nothin'.

All in all, a great trip and a great race.  The organization was top notch (Nick and Pete know a thing or two about ultras) and the volunteers were outstanding (again, it's obvious when the volunteers are runners themselves).  The course is a beast, but it can be tamed (sounds corny, but whatever).  Definitely a worthy early season goal race or a great training run for other races such as Bighorn, Black Hills, Western States or Hardrock (of course, when choosing amongst those four, one must ALWAYS consider Black Hills first #notbiasedatall).

Huge thanks to Nick and Pete for putting this thing together, to Rob, Alex and all of the other volunteers for, well, volunteering and, again, to Mike and J for the lodging.  Much appreciated!

EDIT:  Meant to add this before, but spaced it.  Garmin Connect link to my GPS data from the race.