Friday, July 18, 2014

Catching up (again)

Well, here I am again, trying to get caught up on three months' worth of goings-ons.  Honestly, everything about my training has been less structured this year and more "take it as it comes".  Consequently, I haven't been religiously posting here either.  Something about registering for Leadville last year put the fear of God into me.  I was genuinely scared of that race and knew that if I didn't train my ass off, I'd have no hope of finishing.  Funny thing is, I don't have that same fear of Cascade Crest, even though in reality Cascade is probably a tougher course overall (but at much lower elevation).  About a month ago, I was looking back at my running log from last year and was almost astounded by the workouts I was putting in in preparation for Leadville.  Like, shocked that I could even complete some of the weekends I did.  It's been MUCH more laid back this time around, and that is partially by design.  Running is supposed to be a hobby, not a way of life, and this more laid back training regime is my way of proving to myself that I don't have to be a slave to running.  Still, I have been putting in some decent miles lately as Cascade draws closer.  Oddly, finally buying the plane ticket to fly to Seattle for the race lit more of a fire under my ass than registering for the race itself.  Whether or not it'll be enough remains to be seen.  My goal for Cascade is to run a sub-24.  That seems foolish on several levels but, hey, aim high, right?

In any case, a couple of highlights from the last few months.  First off, my first ever pacing gig at Bighorn in June.  I've run all four distances (30K, 50K, 50M and 100M) at Bighorn over the past 5 years (one 50M DNF in there), so this year I had to decide which distance I would run again.  I ultimately signed up for the 50K because, well, I don't know why.  Just because.  Then, a couple weeks later, I found out my friend Mike had registered for the Bighorn 100.  I immediately offered to pace him, as this seemed much more interesting and exciting than running the race I had registered for.  I'd never paced before, although I've wanted to for a few years now, and I actually know the Bighorn course fairly well, so I hoped maybe I could be of some legitimate assistance.  As long as I could keep up, that is.  Mike is a fair bit faster than me under normal conditions.  At the pre-race meeting just a couple hours before Mike started, the race director's one tidbit of information for pacers was to stay with their runner.  As she put it, "If you can't keep up with your runner, you shouldn't be pacing them".  Mike immediately said "don't worry", but, truth be told, I was kinda worried.  My only hope was that he'd be slowed down to something more my pace by the time I started pacing at mile 48.  As it turns out, that was the case, and we ended up running an enjoyable 34 miles together through the night.  Mike was ahead of his anticipated splits the entire way and didn't really slow all that much the entire stretch that I was with him.  Just a steady diet of running the downs and flats and hiking the ups.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  He ended up running strong all the way to the finish and coming in easily under his 24 hour goal.  Welcome to the Rusty Spurs Club, Mike!

A week later was the 4th running of the Black Hills 100.  As usual, the directing of a 100 mile race was much more exhausting than the actual running of one, but all in all things went smoothly, despite Mother Nature's best efforts.  Once again, she had an ace up her sleeve, this time in the form of scattered heavy rains Saturday morning and into the afternoon.  The course was a mud pit early on, but eventually dried up a bit when the rain finally stopped for good.  Mud be damned, Ryan Burch laid down an impressive course record run in the 100M, becoming the first person to ever break 19 hours.  The bar has been raised (or lowered....whatever).

That's really about it, I guess.  Honestly, don't expect to hear from me again until after Cascade Crest. I've got some training to do...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I suck at blogging

The title pretty much says it all.  Been kinda dead around here for, oh, 9 months or so.  Which basically coincides with the neverending winter we had here in South Dakota.  So, yeah, that's my excuse.  It was too cold.

Okay, quick recap of what's gone down since the new year.  First, and most importantly, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl.  Not running related at all, but something that I honestly never thought I would witness in my lifetime.  I've been a Seahawks fan since I was 7 or 8, so around '85 or '86, and I've seen a lot of really bad Seahawks football over the years.  One near miss in Super Bowl XL and a few decent season before and after, but a lot of suckitude overall.  The Hawks' sorry history, combined with hearing non-stop smack from all the damn Broncos fans around here, made it gloriously fun to watch the Hawks completely dominate in the Super Bowl.  Boring as hell to the rest of America, but I was glued to the TV for every second of it.

I also started brewing my own beer.  Again, not directly running related, but since so many runners (or at least runners I know) also drink beer, the two kinda go hand in hand for me.  So now the free days that aren't spent running are spent brewing or bottling.  And drinking beer (i.e., "rehydrating") of course.  It's the ultimate recycling program, really.  Drink a beer, clean the bottle, refill the bottle.  I'm saving the earth one beer at a time. Future generations will thank me.

On to running matters, I tossed my name into two lotteries this past fall/winter.  Didn't get drawn for Hardrock, nor did I really expect to (or really want to this year, honestly....just trying to build up some points for future lotteries).  I did, however, get drawn in the Cascade Crest lottery, so I'll be heading to Washington (Seahawks Country!!) in August.  I've wanted to run this race for a few years now, just based on the pictures I've seen, not to mention its reputation as one of the "old school" 100s.  As a bonus, I have family in the Seattle area (hence my Seahawks fandom) and my dad lives relatively nearby in Oregon, so I'll get to visit some aunts/uncles/cousins I haven't seen in years, and my dad is going to crew for me, witnessing his first ultra in the process.

As for other races, Ryan and I take a trip to a 50 miler somewhere every spring.  The last two years, that race has been Quad Rock in Ft. Collins.  This year, we decided to shake things up a bit and flew down to AZ to run the legendary Zane Grey 50.  And legendary it was.  All winter long, as I trained in blowing snow and sub-zero windchills, I kept thinking that there was no way I would be prepared to run a 50 miler in the AZ heat in April (and when I say "heat", anything over 60 qualifies if you're an unacclimated South Dakotan who has just emerged from a 7 month winter).  Turns out that wasn't a problem.  We ended up running in what has got to be the coldest Zane Grey in the 25 year history of the event.  Temps in the mid-30s, wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow, flooding creeks, mud....other than a plague of locusts (it was too cold for locusts) and the four horsemen (too muddy and rocky for horses), it had just about everything.  Conditions were bad enough that they ended up stopping everyone at the mile 34 aid station, so it basically became the Zane Grey 50K.  It was a good decision given the weather and I was more than happy to call it a day at that point.  Of course, the next day we were golfing in Phoenix on a 75 degree, bluebird sky day.

The only other ultra "race" I have planned this summer is Bighorn.  I signed up for the 50K right away when registration opened because I knew it would fill fast, but as it turns out I'm gonna be a DNS in that one.  When I found out my friend Mike was planning on running the 100, I immediately offered up my services as a pacer.  This excites me much more than the idea of running the 50K because, for one, I've already run the 50K, but have never paced, although I've wanted to for awhile now.  Also, although I know Mike doesn't feel I owe him a debt, I would like to return the favor for him pacing me for the last 13.5 miles of Leadville last year after he had already paced 2nd place finisher Nick Clark earlier (much earlier) in the day.  Hey, Mike might be able to claim that he's the only person who paced two runners in the top 150 at Leadville last year, now that I think about it.  He should probably get a buckle or something for that.  In any case, since I've run each of the available distances at Bighorn over the past 5 years, hopefully I'll be able to impart some course knowledge that will help Mike join the prestigious Rusty Spurs Club (sub-24, for those not down with the Bighorn lingo).  Either way, there will be homebrew at the finish line.

And, of course, I'll be co-directing the 4th annual Black Hills 100 a couple of weeks after Bighorn.  In the past three years of the race we've had severe thunderstorms in 2011, unseasonable heat in 2012, and damn near perfect conditions last year.  Given how this year has gone weather wise, I would not be shocked to see snow this time around.  You heard it here first.

Stay tuned for my next blog post.  Could be next week.  Could be 6 months from now.  Ya never know...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Still Alive

Awhile back my friend Bill gave me some shit for not updating my blog often enough.  That was like two months ago.  So, here ya go Bill.  Hope it makes your day brighter! Anyway, Bill is right...I've been slacking.  Honestly, there wasn't much to say after Leadville...or at least not much that really compared to Leadville.  But, it's a new year, so I may as well get this thing going again.

First, I guess a quick recap of post-Leadville 2013 is in order.  Took me a few (5) days before I could even walk without pain after the race.  Legs felt alright, feet felt like total hell.  Never had blisters like that before.  Not sure why I did get blistered that bad, but I guess maybe changing out of my wet shoes/socks at some point might've helped (duh).  Lessons learned.  They healed up eventually and I was back to running.  And, I gotta say, it was quite liberating to just run whenever the hell I wanted with no set plan telling me what to do every damn day.  One week, I'd put in 40 miles, the next I'd hit 70 plus.  No rhyme or reason to it, just doing what felt good.  Race-wise, I ran the last couple of races of the Black Hills Trail Running Series, including a personal best at the series-ending South Dakota Trail Running Championships (Unofficial and Unsanctioned).  Ended up earning the 2nd place rock in the overall series standings for the year.  No bonus points for Leadville (damn).  I also made a trip to Utah to crew/pace my friend Ryan in the Bear 100  The plan was for me to run the last 25 or so miles with him, but he ended up calling it a day at mile 51, so I never actually did any running.  This was actually probably a good thing as at the time I was fighting off a lingering chest cold/cough and running through the night in low 20 degree temps probably wouldn't have help....not to mention that I couldn't run more than a half mile without stopping to cough violently.  Still, I got to see the race up close and it's definitely on my list of 100s to do in the future.

In December I took my longest ever break from running.  It wasn't a voluntary break, but the timing worked out well, I guess.  I've had a hernia for years....I mean, I honestly don't even know how long and for a long time I wasn't even sure if it was a hernia or something else.  It kind of just came and went.  Never really hurt, but some days I would "feel" it more than others.  One night in November I made the mistake of casually mentioning it to my wife. I was in the doctor's office the next day.  Got it repaired on Dec. 4th and the doctor gave me strict orders of no running for two weeks (I actually was surprised she didn't say longer).  As it turns out, the first few days after my surgery the high temp was on the wrong side of zero with -30 windchill, so I wasn't too torn up about not being able to run.  Plus, the soreness from the surgery (my first ever real surgery) for the first 7-10 afterwards was enough that even I knew it wasn't a good idea to push things.  I did jump back on the horse exactly two weeks after going under the knife and those first couple of runs were pretty rough.  Hernia felt fine, legs felt like shit.  How does it take so long to get into shape, but you can fall out of it so damn fast??  Doesn't really seem fair.  Actually, a month later, I'm still trying to get back into the groove.

And I'd better find the groove quick.  The first race on the 2014 calendar is the Zane Grey 50 down in Arizona on April 26th.  I've heard it's got a couple of rocks and a few hills.  As for the rest of 2014, I threw my name into the Hardrock hat but didn't get drawn (nor did I really want to get drawn this year).  I'll also enter the Cascade Crest lottery in February.  If that doesn't work out, then I'm considering the Bear or maybe Superior.  I'll also be at Bighorn in some form...maybe racing (50K if I do) or maybe pacing someone in the 100.  And the Silver Rush 50 back in Leadville is also on my list of maybes.  A lot of it is still up in the air, pending lottery results.  For a pastime that is kind of on the fringe of what most people consider sane, it sure is frigging hard to get into some of these races, isn't it??

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!!! - It isn't hard to get into the Black Hills 100 (yet).  Sign up today!!!  END OF ALERT

Anyway, there you have it.  I'm still here, plugging away.  I'll try to post more often, Bill....God forbid you actually spend your work days working! :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Leadville Trail 100

Sometimes you don’t realize how much something has consumed you, has driven your decision making, either sub-consciously or overtly, until it’s gone.  For me, that something has been the Leadville 100. Since the day I registered on January 1st, I’ve had one focus and one focus only: train for Leadville.  At some point in the last days before the race I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept past 5:30 AM.  Most normal people cut loose a bit on the weekends, stay up late, drink a few beers and sleep in the next day.  I was typically in bed by 9:00 or 9:30 and up at 4:00 to squeeze in 5-8 hours of running.  Add in real-life stuff like coaching baseball, softball, football and basketball and just trying in general to not become some dirty, stinky-ass, half-stranger to your family, and some weekends became quite the juggling act.  I’d like to think I made it through without putting running first more often than not but, in reality, training for an ultra is a fairly selfish act.  If you’re going to do it right (as in, if you’re going to train at a level that will actually prepare you for the race), you’re going to make some sacrifices in other parts of your life.  Hence stumbling out of bed at 4:00 AM on a perfectly good Saturday morning and pondering the absurdity of the entire endeavor.  Truly, the running part of training for a 100 mile race is easy.  It’s the logistics of putting in the time that’s hard.  Lucky for me, I have an incredibly understanding and supportive wife (who also happens to be a runner, which helps) and two kids who have never known anything different….I think they assume that the amount of running that their parents do is par for the course for ALL parents.   

While I certainly trained hard for my other two 100s, I don’t know that the same level of focus was there.  Both of them, Lean Horse and Bighorn, were somewhat of a known quantity since I had run shorter distances a those events before and was familiar with the respective courses.  Leadville was a whole other beast; an almost totally unknown nemesis.  While I had seen a couple of sections of the course from a vehicle a couple of years ago, I had never really set foot on it, much less run any of it.  And then, of course, there’s the elevation.  The city of Leadville itself sits at 10,200 feet.  The “low” point of the course is 9,200 feet.  Upon reaching said low point, you immediately ascend to the high point of 12,600 feet.  That’s no joke.  I mean, trees don’t even grow up there for Christ’s sake.  That should probably be a clue of some kind.

So, with a healthy respect and a good bit of fear of the Leadville course, I set about training the best I knew how with the trails available to me in the Black Hills.  The training itself really wasn’t all that different from what I did for Bighorn last year.  In fact, I did a lot of cutting and pasting from my Bighorn plan when I sat down in February to devise my Leadville schedule.   I upped the weekly miles a bit and vowed to do as many of the long runs as possible on trails, a vow I ultimately did a fairly good job of keeping.  The simple fact is that there is no way to simulate the high altitude of Leadville in the Black Hills.  I figured the next best thing was to get my legs and lungs used to running up and down hills and hope for the best.  Crow Peak, just outside of Spearfish, became one of my go-to trails for achieving max elevation gain (and loss) per mile.  Three or four consecutive summits of Crow always left my legs feeling pleasantly jello-ish, but at the same time every time I set foot on the summit and saw the sign that said “Crow Peak Summit, 5670 Feet), I couldn’t help but think that the race I was training for STARTED at almost twice that elevation.

Despite the uncertainty of just how I would be able to handle a course at such high altitude, I set a big goal for Leadville:  finish in under 25 hours.  At many 100s, sub-24 is the de facto “big” goal; finish the race in one day.  I guess at some point the organizers of Leadville decided its difficulty warranted an extra hour to earn the “big buckle” (which is, in reality, quite large).  I figured if I was going to go, I was going to go big.  But, at the same time, heeding the advice of others who had run the race, I was also planning to run smart; to not chase the sub-25 goal too aggressively and subsequently not finish at all.  With a typical finish rate somewhere in the 50-60% range, just finishing Leadville isn’t a given by any means.  I certainly didn’t intend to invest several months and 1800+ miles of training, not to mention a good bit of money in the form registration fees, shoes, clothing, food, travel, etc. to come home from Leadville empty-handed, with my first ever 100 mile DNF hanging over me.

While the actual running of a 100 mile race can be a solo endeavor, and my first 100 at Lean Horse was completed entirely solo, sans pacers or crew, many participants bring along a cadre of crew members and pacers that assist the runner at designated stops along the way and run/walk along with the runner in the 2nd half of the race.  Ultra races are designed in such a way that having a crew isn’t necessary; you can get by just fine on the supplies provided at the aid stations.  But, having a crew allows you to have your own personal items and volunteers to cater directly to your needs, not to mention the oft-overlooked advantage of seeing some familiar faces every few hours.  Pacers can be an even bigger help, especially in an event such as Leadville.  At most races, the act of “muling” (i.e., the pacer carrying supplies for their runner) is strictly forbidden.  Hell, it’s forbidden at the Black Hills 100, the race that I co-direct.  Leadville is one of, if not the only, exception (I don’t know of any others off-hand).  In a nod to the old-time hardrock miners and their pack burros that the race was inspired by, pacers are allowed to carry anything the runner wants them to, with the exception of the runner themself, of course.  Besides that, it doesn’t hurt to have someone with fresh legs and, more importantly, a clear head to accompany you in the middle of the night after 15+ hours of running.  For Leadville, I put out a call for help that was graciously answered by running friends Carolyn and Neil, who offered to crew (they both still think the actual running of a 100 mile race is totally insane, but I’m convinced I can turn them toward the dark side).  I was also able to line up two pacers, Johnathan and Mike.  In a nod to the unselfish nature of ultrarunners, and runners in general, Johnathan was on board to pace two separate sections (about 20 miles total) just a week before his first 100 mile race at Lean Horse.  Mike happily agreed to pace me the last 13.5 miles after already pacing another runner, Nick Clark, who would end up finishing 2nd overall, earlier in the night.  And Neil, who is recovering from Achilles surgery and was not really planning on pacing at all, jumped in to join for a bit as well.  Maybe all of us runners, and ultrarunners especially, are totally insane in the eyes of the non-runners out there, but you’ll never meet a nicer, more selfless group of crazy-ass people in your life.

I made the trip down to Leadville in two parts, driving as far as Fort Collins, where I bunked at Mike’s place, on Wednesday night.  That left me with a short 3 hour drive to Leadville on Thursday.  As luck would have it, my friend Paul was hired on by Lifetime Fitness, which organizes the Leadville Race Series, in June and he and his wife Katie had offered up their couch for the weekend.  I happily accepted as I had quickly discovered upon registering for the event that lodging in Leadville during race weekend was a book- a-year-in-advance kind of deal (small, old mining town with 2600 residents + a couple thousand runners/crew/family/friends = zero lodging).  Besides the big advantage of being free, the ability to relax in a house rather than a hotel room (or tent) can’t be understated.  And, I got to play Chutes and Ladders  and Candyland for the first time in forever (thanks Wilson!). 

As for altitude acclimation, there seems to be two schools of thought.  Either get to high altitude 2 or 3 weeks in advance and train there or get there within a couple of days of the race and dive into the deep end before your body realizes what the hell you’re doing.  Obviously, I chose Option B and hoped for the best.  I spent Thursday getting checked in at race headquarters and doing some shopping downtown.  Friday was the pre-race briefing and expo and just general sitting around and making sure all my gear was organized.  Neil arrived Friday afternoon and we went over my planned arrival times at each crew location and what gear I might need.  With a fairly ridiculous start time of 4:00 AM, I headed off to bed fairly early, around 9:00 and was actually able to sleep pretty well, right up until my 2:00 alarm. 

After getting dressed and eating some breakfast, I found Johnathan sleeping outside in the yard, having arrived overnight along with fellow Black Hills residents Jim and Sara, who would be pacing/crewing for another friend of theirs.  I caught a ride to the start line with them and milled around a bit until it was time to line up.  Often, in those final moments before the gun fires, I find myself wondering what in the hell I’ve gotten myself into and questioning why I’m really about to put myself through this.  At Leadville it was different.  I was very calm and relaxed and just ready to get going.  In no time, we were off.

Start to Mayqueen (0 to 13.5 miles)
The race starts off with a few miles of downhill along paved and then dirt roads exiting Leadville before jumping onto the rolling, but mostly flat, single-track trail around Turquoise Lake.  One piece of advice I’d heard from many sources was to not go too fast on this section, which is fairly easy to do with the downhill and adrenaline of the start working in conjunction.  I did start out fairly fast on the roads, but didn’t feel like I was really overdoing it too much.  Once on the Turquoise Lake trail, you fall into a conga line of 900+ runners and passing can be difficult.  I tried to be patient when the pace slowed along this section, but there were moments when the pace started to feel ridiculously slow and I ended up jumping off trail to pass clogs of runners.  I’m not sure how many times I repeated the phrase “On your left, thank you”, but it was a lot.  My goal was to reach Mayqueen at 6:10 AM.  I got to Mayqueen at 6:10.  Woulda been a few minutes faster if not for a stop to crap in the woods along the way.  Off to a good start.  Because I’d heard that the congestion here was a real bitch in the morning, I had told my crew to not even bother and just meet me for the first time at the second aid station, Fish Hatchery.  So, I made quick trip through the aid station and grabbed some M&Ms and a PB and J for the road.

Mayqueen to Fish Hatchery (13.5 to 23.5 miles)
This section features the first real climb of the race as you exit Mayqueen campground and climb Sugarloaf Pass via the Colorado Trail and Hagerman Road.  My legs were feeling good and I ended up running much of the trail section and then falling into a run/walk along the road.  The climb went by fairly quickly and it was time to descend the infamous Powerline.  As the name suggests, the descent into Fish Hatchery is along a powerline corridor that is washed out in many places and features a few steep pitches alternated with flatter, easier downhill running.  This section would become the bane of my existence later on, but early in the morning it all felt fairly free and easy, although I did have to make another stop to crap in the woods (this would be last one of the day, thankfully).  My goal had been to reach Fish Hatchery by 8:05 AM and I rolled in at 8:13.  If not for that crap, I would’ve been nearly dead on again.  I found my crew (or, more accurately, they found me) right away and quickly refilled my hydration pack and restocked the fuels I had consumed (I was going off of GUs, Clif Bars and Honey Stinger waffles for the most part).  They also had a PB and J ready to go, which I took for the road.  In no time I was out and on my way for what I was hoping would be a quick section to Twin Lakes.

Fish Hatchery to Twin Lakes (23.5 to 39.5 miles)
There is actually another aid station (Half Pipe) in between here at about mile 29 and a crew location  a couple of miles before that, but I had told my crew to skip ahead again to Twin Lakes to try and avoid congestion.  I anticipated that this section would go by fairly quickly since it starts out with a few miles of paved and then dirt roads, all of which are fairly flat.  Oddly enough, this was the first time all day that I really started to feel like the elevation was affecting me.  Those road sections just were not as easy to run as they should’ve been and I ended up taking some unplanned walking breaks along the way.  After the Half Pipe crew zone, the course takes to some two track trails through the Half Pipe aid station and then eventually on to the Colorado Trail again.  I was still struggling a bit to find a rhythm along the road section, but finally found the groove once I hit the single track.  The thing about it was that I didn’t seem to be the only one struggling in this section….everyone around me seemed to be in the same boat.  Regardless, by the time the trail descended into Twin Lakes, I was feeling really good and, although the section overall felt ridiculously slow and it felt like I had lost a ton of time, I came into Twin at 11:19, compared to my goal of 11:10, so I’d basically only lost one additional minute.  Given that all of my goal times for the day were fairly arbitrary and unscientific, I was totally fine with that.

Cruising Through Half Pipe (photo courtesy of Jim Hadd) 
I did have a moment of near-panic when I couldn’t find my crew right away upon arriving at the aid station.  The thing about this aid station is that it’s friggin huge.  You pass through the aid station tent itself (which I passed straight through without grabbing anything) and then continue along some roads that are lined shoulder to shoulder with waiting crews.  Before long, I ran out of road and was being ushered onto the trail exiting the aid station, but still hadn’t seen my crew.  I now faced the dilemma of turning back to see if I had just missed them or continuing on.  As I paused to consider the options, I heard Carolyn’s angelic voice calling my name (seriously, the amount of relief I felt just then was substantial).  They were positioned just down the trail from where I was, along the exit from the aid station.  Neil had been positioned somewhere earlier, but we had somehow missed each other.  No big deal in the end as Carolyn and Johnathan quickly got me refilled and refueled and set me up with my trekking poles and stuffed a jacket, hat and gloves into my pack for the ascent up and over the infamous Hope Pass.

Twin Lakes to Winfield (39.5 to 50 miles)
This is perhaps the most iconic section of the Leadville Trail 100; the climb up and over Hope Pass (and then back up and over).  At 12,600 feet, it represents the high point of the course.  Just below the pass itself is the Hope aid station, often referred to as “Hopeless”.  Aid station supplies for Hope are carried up the mountain on a pack train of llamas, creating the surreal experience of ascending the trail above treeline to come into a field of grazing llamas.  The climb starts after the only real creek crossing of the day just past Twin Lakes.  After running the flat trails to the base of the Hope climb, it was pure hiking mode after that.  I put the new trekking poles to good use but was quickly feeling the effects of the climb.  This was the 2nd time that I felt like the altitude was taking a toll.  Granted, this climb wouldn’t be all that easy at lower elevation after 40 miles, but being at 10,000+ feet certainly didn’t help.  It felt like I was absolutely crawling up that hill, probably because I damn near was.  I just didn’t have any push in my climbing legs.  I stopped a few times to drink some water and at one point forced myself to choke down a GU, which took some considerable effort, but it went down and, more importantly, stayed down.  My stomach felt fine, and had all day, I just didn’t have much of an appetite at that point.  Just below tree line the race leader at the time, Mike Aish, came bombing down the hill.  Not long after, Ian Sharman ran by in hot pursuit (he would eventually pass Aish and hold on for the win). 
Llamas at Hope Pass (photo courtesy of Jim Hadd)
My totally arbitrary and unscientific pace chart had me arriving at Hope aid station at 1:20 PM.  My actual arrival time was 1:47.  Lost a bit of time there, but was still well ahead of sub-25 pace, which would’ve put me there at 3:07. Upon arriving at the aid station, a friendly medical lady took one look at me and asked me when the last time I’d taken any salt had been because I had a lot of salt on my face.  Near as I could remember, it was down at Twin Lakes.  She didn’t seem too satisfied with that (in fact, her exact words were “Oh, shit”) so she stood and watched while I swallowed an S-cap and then she mixed up a concoction of Ramen noodles and instant mashed potatoes with extra salt added in and watched me drink that.  While I was hanging at the aid station for a bit, Nick Clark came through in 3rd and looking pretty strong.  Wanting to get the rest of the climb over with, I washed my soup/potato/salt concoction down with a cup of Coke before sneaking out of the aid station.  Despite how lifeless my climbing legs had felt the entire way up, the moment I hit the top of the pass I was able to start running down the other side and ran basically the entire way down, pausing only to get out of the way of runners on their way back up.  Not long after cresting the pass, the first runner I saw coming up was Hal Koerner, who was pacing Scott Jurek.  Damn, running these big name ultras is a like a who’s who of ultrarunning!

By the time I got down the other side of the pass to the new Winfield trail, I was feeling pretty good again, but at some point along here I realized that I had made a totally stupid and careless mistake up at the Hope aid station.  Upon arriving at the aid station, a volunteer had asked me if I needed my pack re-filled with water.  I reached back to feel how full the hydration bladder was and it felt almost full, so I declined.  Well, turns out that what I had felt wasn’t the water in the bladder, but my jacket and hat and gloves bundled up in the exterior pocket.  By the time I got down to the Winfield trail, my hydration bladder was in fact almost empty.  I guess I was drinking more water than I had thought, which was a good thing, but now I was almost certainly going to run dry before the Winfield aid station, which wasn’t so good.  As it turned out, I only ended up going about a mile and a half without water, so not a huge deal, but it also could’ve been easily prevented.

Winfield is a ghost town that springs to life for the Leadville 100 and was quite the madhouse when I arrived.  From all the crew reports I’ve heard, including the account of my own crew, getting into Winfield with all of the race traffic was quite a chore.  In fact, at one point my crew was so concerned that they wouldn’t make it into the aid station before I arrived that Johnathan jumped out of the car and took off running the last couple of miles to the aid station, hauling a bunch of random crap he thought I might need with him.  Thankfully, another crew who had gotten past the gridlock stopped and gave him a ride and by the time I got there my entire crew had made it in.  My projected arrival at Winfield had been 2:30 PM and I arrived exactly at 3:00, not bad considering I had already been behind my projected time leaving Twin Lakes and spent a little bit of extra time at Hope.  I’ve run 50 mile races (Quad Rock and Bighorn) in longer than 11 hours, so the fact that I was able to cover the first half of a 100 in exactly 11 hours was encouraging (or, it meant that I had gone WAY too fast). 

Re-stocking at Winfield (honestly not sure who took this picture)
Immediately upon arriving, I was told I had to weigh in.  The scale showed me down 8 pounds from my pre-race weight, a fact that earned me a dirty look from the otherwise nice-looking old lady who was recording weights.  She told me to get into the aid tent and eat and drink, which I promptly did (she seemed serious and I wasn’t about to argue with her).  Johnathan followed me into the aid tent, where I grabbed a cup of ramen noodle soup and some Coke.  As I fumbled around with my trekking poles and two cups, I told Johnathan to hold the soup cup for me.  Not having been brought up to speed yet on the allowance of muling at Leadville, he immediately said, “No, I don’t want to get you disqualified.”  Ah, so innocent.  I smiled and told him it was perfectly legit and was, in fact, encouraged here and that he would be carrying much more than a cup of soup for me in the very near future.  Upon that news, we quickly transferred all of my extra gear (jacket, hat, gloves) to his pack, leaving me with just my water pack and trekking poles.  Carolyn and Neil had my pack ready to go when I exited the aid tent and with that Johnathan and I were off to tackle the 2nd half of the race.

Winfield to Twin Lakes (50 to 60.5 miles)

It’s amazing how having someone with you can take your mind off of things and just make you feel better.  Granted, by the time I reached Winfield I was feeling pretty decent anyway, but having Johnathan along for the return trip over Hope helped take my mind off the fact that I did indeed have to make a return trip over Hope.  Although the climb back up is shorter, it’s also steeper, but we made fairly good progress.  And although Johnathan was pacing for the first time in an ultra, he took to it like an old pro, subtly reminding me every 15-20 minutes that I should probably drink some water, or take an S-cap, or eat a gel.  I didn’t always feel like doing any of those things, in fact sometimes I wanted to stab him in the eye with a trekking pole, but knowing that it was for my own good, I grudgingly obliged.  I won’t say that the climb back up Hope was easy, but it certainly went better than the first climb had.  As soon as I hit the top, I thrust my trekking poles back at Johnathan for him to carry and ran down into the aid station, feeling much better than I had the first time I had arrived there.  I didn’t get waylayed by the friendly medical lady this time and after drinking some Coke and ramen noodles (this would be my standard fuel for the remainder of the run as solid foods just weren’t appetizing anymore), I collected my hydration pack that Johnathan had refilled for me and took off downhill while Johnathan hung back to take pictures of the llamas (he was really excited about those damn llamas).

Descending Hope Pass (photo courtesy of Johnathan Karol) 
The descent down Hope back to Twin Lakes went by in a blur.  I ran the whole way, feeling great and passing several others who had passed me on the previous ascent.  At one point, we came upon a hiker heading up the hill, holding his bloody nose.  I paused to ask if he was okay before I realized that it was Paul, heading up to check on the Hope aid station.  We gave him crap because, theoretically, he should be acclimated by now and not suffering altitude-induced nose bleeds.  At another point in the descent I had to tell Johnathan not to pick up the glow sticks he was finding on the trail.  Being the Good Samaritan that he is, he thought they were trash and was just trying to help out.  Thankfully, he only picked up one or two before I realized what was going on.  In no time, we were back at Twin Lakes and Johnathan’s first pacing leg for the day was done.  My goal had been to reach Twin Lakes by 6:00 PM and we checked in at 6:32, basically holding the pace that I had been on for the last few sections.

I found my crew right away this time, as Carolyn and Neil were at the same place I had found Carolyn and Johnathan the first time through.  I ditched the trekking poles, gathered my jacket, hat and gloves from Johnathan and also grabbed a portable charger to charge my Garmin while I ran the next section (as an aside, this is the first time I’ve ever done this and it worked like a charm, allowing me to record the entire run on my Garmin 910….the only downside was that I couldn’t see my time or pace while it was charging since it only shows the percent charged and time of day while charging).  I also grabbed a handheld bottle and filled it with Coke as I was done with GUs or any solid food at that point and wanted to have some form of calories with me.

Twin Lakes to Half Pipe (60.5 to 72.5 miles)
Heading out of Twin Lakes is a decent climb, but one that isn’t nearly as steep or strenuous as the double crossing of Hope.  I was able to hike it fairly strongly and once it was over I alternated running and walking as appropriate on the rolling sections of road and Colorado trail leading back to the Half Pipe aid station.  I didn’t have a pacer for this section, but felt fine doing it solo and ended up running a bit with other runners and their pacers.  Somewhere along this section it got dark enough that I had to dig into my pack for my headlamp and turn it on before reaching the Half Pipe aid station.  Once there, I refilled my pack with water and my handheld with Coke and grabbed some more ramen soup and some watermelon before heading out toward the Half Pipe crew zone a couple of miles past the aid station.  While I had told my crew to skip that location on the outbound leg, I decided it might be a good idea to meet them there inbound in case I needed anything.  When I got there, Neil was ready to pace the next 4 mile section of roads to Fish Hatchery, something that hadn’t been planned beforehand, but was welcome nonetheless.  Having restocked everything at the actual aid station, I didn’t really need anything at the crew zone, although I did ditch the charger since my Garmin was back to 100% and would have plenty of juice to make it to the finish.  The question was, how much juice did I have left??

Half Pipe to Fish Hatchery (72.5 to 76.5 miles)
Having just recently completed rehab from Achilles surgery in the spring and in the process of working his way back into running shape, I think Neil was a little concerned about being able to keep the pace with me.  His concerns were quickly assuaged when he realized what kind of pace it was he would have to maintain.  The miles had started to take their toll and my legs and feet just weren’t into it anymore.  We alternated running and walking down the road, maintaining something around a 15:00/mile pace, maybe just a tad faster if I hit a good little downhill stretch and was really able to hammer it (say, 12:00/mile pace).   The worst part of this section is that you can see the lights of Fish Hatchery basically all the way from the Half Pipe crew zone.  I commented to Neil more than once that those damn lights weren’t getting any closer.  He assured me that they were but, damn, it wasn’t happening very fast.

We did eventually get there, however, and it was again Johnathan’s turn to babysit me over a tough climb, one that will live in my nightmares for many weeks to come.

Fish Hatchery to Mayqueen (76.5 to 86.5 miles)
Upon arriving at Fish Hatchery at 10:27 PM (27 minutes behind my goal), I was still solidy on sub-25 pace and, in fact, was almost exactly on sub-24 pace.  But I knew that the next section would make or break my ability to achieve either of those landmarks.  The Powerline climb has crushed many dreams at Leadville.  I had heard various horror stories about it beforehand, but until you experience it you simply can not fathom how sadistically cruel it is.  Some say it has three or four false summits.  Others say there are six.  I think I lost count at 27, give or take.  I told Johnathan on at least three occasions, “If that’s not the real top, I’m going to sit down and cry”.  On none of those occasions was it the top but, to my credit, I didn’t actually sit down and cry (although I wanted to).  Also, my headlamp was starting to play tricks on me.  Stumps along the trail were turning into deer, and I saw hundreds of snakes on the trail, all of which turned out to be branches or roots upon closer inspection.  I kept repeating to Johnathan, “It’s never going to end, it’s never going to end” and “someone must’ve moved the trail markers, this hill wasn’t this long when we ran down it”.  It was, quite honestly, like one of the nine circles of Hell from Dante’s Inferno.  By the time we actually did reach the top, an hour and a half later, I was a bit out of it.  My legs were shot, my feet were raw and my brain was addled.  I wanted so very badly to be able to run the relatively gentle downhill road down the other side, but I just couldn’t run for more than 50 yards at a time.  In fact, I was having trouble just staying awake, as my headlight beam shining on long, straight, monotonous stretches of road was lulling me to sleep.  Any realistic shot I had at finishing in under 25 hours evaporated as I walked down that road, unable to make up any of the time had bled away on the trudge up Powerline.  I was able to pick the pace up a bit, and wake up, once we hit the Colorado trail again and the technicality of the single track gave me something to think about and focus on, but it was too little, too late (and not that fast, regardless) at that point. 

We rolled into Mayqueen at 2:06 AM, over an hour behind my goal time of 1:00 and a half hour behind sub-25 pace, the first time I’d been behind sub-25 pace all day.  That left me with 2 hours and 53 minutes to cover the last 13.5 miles and finish in under 25 hours.  Under normal circumstances, a ridiculously easy feat, but nothing is ridiculously easy after 86.5 miles.  Mike was waiting to take me the rest of the way into Leadville and he was much more confident about my abilities to earn the big buckle than I was, but I warned him that this last section would likely be a long, slow hike around Turquoise Lake.  Ever confident, he said something along the lines of “We won’t rule sub-25 out” and off we went.

Mayqueen to Leadville (86.5 to 100 miles)
Although by this point I had basically come to terms with the fact that I was not going home with a big buckle, I also knew that I was going to finish and probably finish with a fairly respectable time.  I was actually kind of concerned that I would finish painfully close to 25 hours and Mike and I had a conversation about how it’s almost preferable to finish in say, the 25:30-26:00 range, than to be within sight of the finish when the clock clicks over to 25:00:00.  So, yeah, I was sandbagging a bit, but the reality was that I just didn’t have enough juice in the tank to make up the time I needed to make up.

As we started the trip around Turquoise Lake, Mike initially made good on his vow not to rule sub-25 out and tried to encourage me to test the running legs.  And, amazingly, they actually responded a bit at first and we covered maybe a half-mile at a fairly respectable (for that point in the race) clip.  But, my 2nd wind (or maybe it was my 22nd wind?) didn’t last long and before long we were hiking again.  By that point, it wasn’t my legs that were the problem as much as it was my feet.  I had been feeling some blisters forming for quite some time and the balls of both feet were absolutely excruciating whenever I landed wrong on a rock or root, making it exceedingly difficult to run any kind of decent pace on the suddenly technical trail (none of those rocks or roots were there in the morning, I swear to God).  So, we spent the time hiking catching each other up on the goings-ons of the day and enjoying the view of the nearly full moon reflecting off of Turquoise Lake and, after the moon set, the brilliant starscape and Milky Way up above.  The stars really do look closer high up in the mountains, far removed from any form of artificial light or air pollution.

The long trip around Turquoise Lake actually passed by relatively quickly, but by the time we reached the roads leading back into Leadville, I had totally forgotten just how long we had to travel on those roads to reach the finish.  In the morning, on the way out early in the race, those roads had gone by in a flash.  For some reason, in my mind, I was expecting to leave the Turquoise Lake trail and be back in town soon after, but that’s not the case.  First, you have to cover a couple of miles of dirt roads before hitting the Boulevard, a three mile long, straight stretch of road that rises at a gradual but steady pitch up toward Leadville.  I honestly barely even remember running down the Boulevard on Saturday morning, but I won’t soon forget hiking up it on Sunday morning.  Like Powerline, I swore several times that it was never going to end.  I could see the headlamps of another runner and their pacer maybe a quarter of a mile up ahead of us and, every once in awhile, the headlamps would disappear, which would lead me to believe that they had reached the end of the Boulevard and turned off, which meant we soon would too.  But, alas, it always turned out that they had just disappeared over a small rise and would come back into view a short time later, revealing that I still had a long ways to go.  I knew that we should be getting closer to Leadville, but there was no indication that we were getting anywhere at all…all I could see was a seemingly never ending, straight stretch of road lined with a wall of trees on each side with no streetlights or any other indications of an approaching town in sight.  I was so out of it by this point that if Mike hadn’t been with me, I ‘m pretty sure I would’ve become convinced that I had taken a wrong turn and was not in fact even on the right road.  Eventually, though, the end of the Boulevard did appear up ahead (way up ahead) and Mike said we still had a shot at sub-26, a totally arbitrary and meaningless goal, but one that became suddenly very critical to achieve.  I couldn’t run at all thanks to the blisters on my feet, but I could power hike like a sonofabitch, so that’s what I did.

Upon reaching the end of the Boulevard, you find yourself suddenly in Leadville (after no indication that it even exists for the last few miles, it’s just suddenly there).  A left turn followed by a quick right deposits you onto 6th Street, the final stretch of road to the finish.  6th street starts of with a short hill, which means you can’t actually see the finish until you approach the crest of that hill.  I gotta tell ya, there are few sights more glorious than seeing the finish arch and red carpet up ahead when you do crest that first rise.  Of course, nothing at Leadville comes easily, so after that first rise and a subsequent short downhill on 6th, you have to finish on an uphill.  Although by this point it was obvious I would finish in under 26 hours, I initially had thoughts of running it in all the way from the top of the first rise.  Those thoughts vanished after two running strides sent bolts of agony up from my blistered feet.  Back to powerhike mode, but I vowed that, painful or not, I would run across the finish line.  As I neared the red carpet, I heard the finish line announcer say my name and “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” playing over the PA system.  At the end of the red carpet, I started in on something that may have resembled a run.  It hurt like hell, but I did it anyway and held true on my vow to run across the finish.  25:53:14. Immediately after crossing the line, Marilee, the original race director of Leadville, was there to put my finisher’s medal around my neck and give me a hug.  She said, “Welcome home”, to which I replied “It’s good to be home.”  After that I was met by Neil, Carolyn, Mike, Johnathan and Paul and I believe my exact words to them were “Holy fucking shit.”  How poetic, huh?

From L to R: Neil, myself, Carolyn and Johnathan in the med tent post-race. 
My feet on fire and the rest of my body freezing in the pre-dawn 30-some degree temps, I made a bee line for the med tent to get my feet looked at.  The medical volunteers didn’t seem too concerned with my blistered feet, but they did take notice when I started feeling nauseous soon after finishing.  After taking my blood pressure and pulse-ox, they gave me some Tums and Carolyn brought me some chicken broth.  Those things, combined with a blanket and seat next to a heater, soon had me feeling much better and I was ready to head out for a shower and a quick post-race celebratory breakfast at the coffee shop before the crew started to disperse in their separate directions.

I guess the first question is: am I disappointed?  Short answer: no.  Yeah, I wanted a big buckle, but I also wanted a finish, and I feel like I fought the good fight to earn it.  943 people started the Leadville 100 this year.  494 finished, a finish rate of 52%.  Finishing any 100 is never a given, much less a 100 such as Leadville, so I won’t take that fact for granted.  Will I go back to try and get a big buckle?  I honestly don’t know right now; much too soon to think about that.  I don’t even know when I’m going to run again, much less what event I’ll run next.

Finisher's swag: buckle and jacket (photo courtesy of Johnathan Karol)
Physically, my legs were sore the remainder of the day on Sunday, but a couple of days later they feel fine.  My feet, on the other hand, are another matter.  I’ve suffered from blisters in each of my 100 milers now, something that I’ll have to try and remedy in the future, but I’ve never suffered like this.  Two days later and I can still barely walk because the balls of my feet are so raw and painful and my feet are so swollen.  I’m not sure of the cause, but I sure hope I can figure it out before the next one (yes, despite all this pain, there will almost certainly be a next one).

I’ve said thank you to all of these people multiple times already, but it deserves repeating here in writing for all eternity.  So, thank you to Neil, Carolyn, Johnathan and Mike for your support on the course, whether pacing or crewing.  Having friendly faces out there was invaluable, especially in the wee hours of the morning when I wasn’t quite all there mentally.  Paul and Katie, thank you for a place to sleep and cook and just hang out over the weekend.  And, last but most certainly not least, thank you to Shannon and Caiden and Chloe for putting up with my obsession and for your support.  Hey, I’m not running this weekend, we should do something!

Oh, and I slept until 6:30 this morning.  It was awesome.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Leadville Training Part 10: Taper

Well, shit, here we are.  It's Monday.  At this time next week, I will be driving (or getting ready to drive) back to South Dakota from Leadville, hopefully with a big buckle riding shotgun.  Nothing left to do now but wait for the damn race to get here already.  The physical part of the training is done, now to get through the mental challenge of the final few days before the big event.

So, I guess a quick recap of what went down the last few weeks is in order.  After the trip to Minnesota, I had planned on one more big mileage week before tapering and that's exactly what I did.  Ended up with my highest mileage week of this training cycle with a grand total of 103 miles.  That was topped off with a 40 miler on the Centennial trail.  The goal for that run was to run smart and easy and still have something left at the end (i.e., treat it as if it were a 100 mile race).  That goal was accomplished; I finished still able to run when running was appropriate and my legs were minimally tired afterward.

The next week was officially the first week of taper, but my first taper weeks are typically still fairly intense, just with fewer miles.  So, I still did some speedwork (hill repeats on the Tinton trail) and still got in basically the same mileage in the middle of the week, I just scaled it back a bit on the weekend.  I did feel the inexplicable urge to get in one last Crow Peak run before Leadville, so my long run for the week was a 19 mile Crow Peak Triple.  Seeing as I was tapering, I decided beforehand that I would run the first ascent and then take it easier on the next two.  I also decided it would be a good chance to try out my trekking poles for the first time, so I carried those along with me on the 2nd and 3rd ascents.  Once I found a rhythm with them, they seemed to help, so I think I'll bring them along with me to Leadville and have them as an option for the double crossing of Hope and then Powerline on the way back.  All in all, I ended up with just over 70 miles for the week.

This past week was a more significant taper, starting with my first rest day since the last day of June.  And, arguably, you could call it my first rest day since May since that rest day in June was occupied with directing the Black Hills 100 and wasn't really all that restful at all, even though I didn't do any running.  Truly, I don't really like rest days.  They make me feel restless, so much so that I ended up going for two relatively short (half hour each) walks just for something to do.  Ended up with about 48 miles for the week, topped off with a trail half marathon, the Victoria Secret Dirty Half, on Saturday.  Granted, running a half marathon the week before a 100 mile race may not be the smartest thing in the world to do, but I told myself I'd take it easy and I'd like to think that I kinda sorta did.  The fact that I finished 2nd overall doesn't really seem to support that belief but, really, I could've run harder than I did.  The simple fact of the matter is that the pace I was running and the depth of the field put me in the position to finish where I did, so I pushed a bit where needed to assume 2nd place and took it easy in other sections.  I finished almost exactly 20 minutes behind the race winner, who was the only one to go sub-2 (I ran 2:02:35).  Last year there were several sub-2 finishers, so the simple truth is that the field just wasn't as fast this year, and I was the beneficiary.  In any case, I don't think I did any damage and it gave me a chance to break in the new pair of Pearl Izumi shoes (EM Trail N1s, if anyone is curious) I'll be wearing for Leadville. And, I've now moved into 2nd place in the Black Hills Trail Running Series season standings, which gives me something to focus on after Leadville (incidentally, after the race on Saturday someone asked me what I had planned for after Leadville and I suddenly realized that I had no friggin clue....haven't thought much about anything BUT Leadville all year).

This week will be about as easy as it gets.  Today is another rest day, I'll put in 6-8 tomorrow and 4-6 on Tuesday and that's it until 4:00 AM Saturday.  To break the drive up some, I'm going as far as Fort Collins on Wednesday evening and then heading the rest of the way on Thursday.  I've got at least one pacer lined up, possibly two.  I've got a crew lined up.  I've got a pace chart made.  I've got lists of shit I need to pack and things I need to do before I leave.  I'm both confident and apprehensive and, more than anything, I just want Saturday to get here so we can get this show on the road!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Leadville Training Part 9: Minnesota

What better way to train for a 100 mile race in the Rocky Mountains at over 10,000 feet elevation than by spending a few days four weeks before said race at under 2000 feet elevation in the flatlands of Minnesota?  It's the reverse psychology thing....I'll trick my body into being acclimated to running hills at high altitude by training on flats at low altitude....or something like that.

One of the challenges of being a normal dude training for an ultra is that, sometimes, life gets in the way.  And, honestly, that's not even a really appropriate way of putting it, because most often "life" involves your family, and to suggest that family commitments "get in the way" of ultra training suggests that ultra training is more important, which is definitely not the case.  Let's just say that trying to squeeze in the time to have the best of both worlds can be a bit tricky at times.

Case in point, we spent several days in Minnesota last week, far away from anything you might describe as a mountain.  The primary reason we were there was to attend my father-in-law's wedding in St. Cloud, but we also transformed it into a summer vacation and stayed a few days after the wedding in the Twin Cities to check out Valley Fair, the Mall of America, and the Minnesota Zoo.  I also got to take my son to his (and my) first ever major league sporting event in the form of a Twins game (they lost 7-1, but it was still a great time).

Understandably, trying to squeeze in weekend runs of 3-5 hours in the midst of all of these other activities is kind of tough.  In fact, it just wasn't feasible at all and, knowing this, I had actually scheduled last week as a cutback week when I made my Leadville training plan way back in February.  Probably not all that conventional to have a cutback week this late in the game, just before taper starts, but it is what it is.  If I go out and set a course record on August 17th, everyone will be doing it (hell will also have frozen over, but that's beside the point).

Basically, my goal while I was in Minnesota was to get in at least 10 miles a day, and I largely met that goal.  The first couple of days in St. Cloud kind of sucked, to be honest.  My father-in-law had told me about a place called Quarry Park that had a trail network (real trails, with dirt, not paved bike paths, which are so often mislabled as "trails") and afters some quick research online it looked like a great option.  According to the website, the park officially opened at 8 AM, but I figured if I got there a couple of hours earlier I'd still be able to access the trails, assuming the park would only be closed to vehicles wanting to park there.  So, I set out running from the hotel bright and early on Friday morning with aspirations of getting in 20 miles.  Right away my legs felt like crap (not sure why) and my stomach didn't feel all that great either (again, not sure why).  It was about 3 miles along city streets from the hotel to the park entrance and when I got there it was locked up tight.  We're talking 8 foot high chain link gates and fences with barbed-wire on top.  It was only 6 AM at this point and I sure as shit wasn't going to wait around for 2 hours for the place to open, so my 20 mile run with some significant trail miles turned into a 13 mile pavement slog down random streets in St. Cloud until I eventually looped back around to the hotel and called it quits.  More of the same on Saturday morning, but at least I was able to access the (paved) bike path along the river during my 10 miler that morning.

After the run on Saturday, we packed up our stuff and headed into the Cities for a full day at Valley Fair.  We were there from the time they opened at 10 AM until the park shut down at 11 PM.  Not sure how many miles I walked that day, but let me tell ya, it was like an ultra in and of itself (with some roller coasters thrown in).  Amazingly, after the long, tiring day on Saturday, I woke up before sunrise on Sunday feeling pretty damn good.  Before the trip I had sought some trail suggestions from a Black Hills 100 participant (and our 100K record holder) and he had clued me into several good trails in the area.  Our hotel ended up being only 4 miles from one of these trails, so I set out for the Lebanon Hills Regional Park for my Sunday run.  This time I drove to the park, which "opened" (no gates at all here) at the much more reasonable time of 5 AM.  What I found was a great network of criss-crossing hiking, cross-country skiing and equestrian trails.  I ended up running 15 miles and felt like I could've spent a lot more time there just exploring the trail network.  While there was nothing there that compares to the terrain of Leadville, or even the Black Hills, I was surprised when my total elevation gain accumulated to over 1000 feet by the time I was done.  Relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but better than nothing.  That run was followed by a full day at the Mall of America, and then the Twins game, and then some more Mall of America.  Kind of wish I had worn my Garmin the whole time just to see how many miles we covered.

Monday was our last day in the Cities and I headed back to Lebanon Hills to squeeze in 10 miles before we headed to the Minnesota Zoo and then jumped into the car to begin the voyage home.  We made it as far as Fargo that evening.  Tuesday, the last day of the trip, I didn't technically get in a single 10 mile run, but I did run a 7 miler on the mean streets of Fargo before we finished the trip home and then another 5 miles around Belle that afternoon, so the cumulative miles was over 10.  Ended up with just over 77 miles on my "cutback" week, which actually isn't too bad although there weren't any real long runs in there.

So, now I'm back in SoDak and staring down the barrel of the last real high mileage week of my Leadville training before starting the taper.  Only three weeks to go.  It's terrifying and exciting all at the same time.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leadville Training Part 8: Pacing and Racing

While having a spouse who is also a runner is great in many (most) respects, it does create some conundrums that must be navigated around when one is training for an ultramarathon.  This past weekend was a good example.  Shannon had planned on running the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, which was held on Saturday morning, for quite some time.  I was planning on running the 7.3 mile Mystic Mountain Trail Run on Sunday.  Somehow, I would need to squeeze a long run out of at least one of those two days so that I could feel warm and fuzzy about my Leadville training.  After some careful thought, and channeling of my inner Dean Karnazes, the answer was obvious.  I would run the half marathon with Shannon, but I would do it twice, getting in a good long run and pacing her in the process (as an added bonus, this would also be, by far, the furthest distance we had ever run together.....well, whether that was a "bonus" per se, is up for debate, but ultimately it worked out just fine).

So, my weekend started off with a 3:00 wakeup call on Saturday morning.  Honestly, it's at those moments, and not when I'm 50 miles into a 100 mile run, when I wonder if I am truly just a little bit crazy for doing this shit.  After the requisite amount of coffee and some last minute preparations, I set off to Spearfish separately from Shannon and parked at the finish line of the half marathon.  Being an anal-retentive mileage tracker, I had decided that 30 miles on my Strava feed would look MUCH better than "only" 26.2, so I ran a couple of miles down the bike path and back before starting up the actual half marathon race course (aka, Spearfish Canyon).  The race itself starts 13 miles up the road and is almost all downhill back into the Spearfish City Park.  My "warmup" would therefore include 13 miles of almost constant uphill to reach the start line.  Now, this uphill is child's play compared to, say, running up Crow Peak four times consecutively, but it is just enough to slow you down a bit and the camber of the road got to be a bit annoying. My biggest worry going in was nailing down the timing of the whole endeavor.  I didn't want to get up to the start too soon and end up standing around and stiffening up, but I also obviously didn't want to be late for the start of the actual race.  As it turns out, I nailed it pretty well, arriving at the start with just under 20 minutes to spare.  Once there, I refilled my water bottles, at a PB and J, pinned on my bib (yes, I did register for the race), met up with Shannon and was ready to head back down.

Our goal was to run sub-2:05, which would be a PR for Shannon.  Along those lines, my job was to set the pace somewhere in the 9:30/mile range.  Secretly, I thought it might be prudent if we ran just a tad faster on the more downhill early miles, but I tried to keep it no faster than 9:15ish.  We quickly fell into a good pace as we headed downhill and started clicking off miles between 9:20 and 9:30 on a consistent basis.  Funny thing was, I had somehow tricked my mind into believing that the 17 mile warmup had never happened.  When I reached mile marker 5, I didn't think "oh, I've gone 22 miles", it was "hey, we're 5 miles into this thing".  It was only when we reached mile 9 that it occurred to me that I had just completed a full marathon.  Regardless, my legs felt fine and I tried to keep a nice, steady pace as well as I could.  Things were going tremendously well until about mile 10, when Shannon's left calf started cramping.  We took a few walk breaks to let it loosen and I was still thinking we could maybe get that 2:05 since we had built a little cushion early on, but the cramps persisted and we ended up running 2:10.  Still, not a bad effort at all. Other than some cussing and arguing about how long the walk breaks should be there toward the end, it was a heart-warming couples experience.  Well, we're still married at least.  Not sure if Shannon will accept any future offers to pace her, though.

Post-run, my legs felt totally fine and I was actually having a hard time remembering that I had just completed a 30 mile day (again, my mind kept forgetting the first 17).  I'll take that as a good sign, I guess, and it left me with some optimism about my prospects at Mystic Mtn. on Sunday.  Mystic, which was held for the 43rd consecutive year this year, is the oldest race in western South Dakota and, probably, the oldest trail race in the state.  But, in my seven years of living here, I'd never run it.  So, being a Mystic virgin, I didn't really know what to expect.  Looking at familiar names on past results, I figured that a top 10 finish and something under an hour would be reasonable.  The race itself starts near the old townsite of Mystic, of which there isn't much left nowadays.  It follows a gravel road for the first couple of miles before heading up some steep single-track on the Bright Angel trail and looping back around to the Deerfield trail and back down to the start/finish.  After a few miles of warmup to loosen up the legs, I felt reasonably ready to run hard.  Once the race actually started, I quickly found myself back in 15th or 16th place as it always takes me a little bit to get into a rhythm on these shorter, faster races.  After about a half mile, though, I started picking people off and, soon enough, had moved up to 8th place.  By that time, the top 6 were in a loose group way up ahead and 7th place was also well ahead.  Less than two miles in, and it seemed fairly obvious that my goal for the remainder of the race would be to hold onto 8th.  By the time we left the road, I could no longer hear footsteps behind me, but wasn't exactly sure just how far back the next runner was.  As we headed up Bright Angel, I eventually did hear him not too far back and assumed that I would get passed before the top of the hill.  That never happened though, and after topping out I was able to drop the pace back down on the all-too-brief downhill and build a little bit of a gap again.  It didn't last long though as soon enough we were heading back uphill, this time on a much more gradual, but much longer, two track road.  Again, I thought for sure that whoever it was that was behind me would pass me soon enough but, again, it never happened.  After the long uphill, we hit a series of shorter ups and downs and I could hear footsteps behind me the whole way.  Finally, we hit the last hill on the course and the lady running the aid station at the top said "all downhill from here" and, I'll be damned, she was actually right (in my experience, spectators/volunteers who say that are very rarely ever right).  I tried to hammer the downhill a bit to build a gap but, being unsure of how much further we had to go, I didn't want to push too hard just yet.  My shadow was apparently doing the same as I could hear the constant sound of footsteps just a few yards behind me, never drawing closer but never falling back either.  Finally, we came around a small bend and I caught a glimpse of vehicles down below.  Knowing that the finish was definitely near, I started my final push and could tell right away that the dude behind me had done the same.  From there, it was an all out push to the finish, probably the hardest I've ever run at the end of a trail race. It paid off in the end as I crossed the line just a step ahead.  We actually finished with the same time (57:54) and, honestly, if the race would've been just a few yards further I probably wouldn't have been able to hold on.  As it turns out, our little race within the race ended up being for top honors in the 30-39 age group.  Bonus!

So, all in all not a bad weekend.  Some long distance pacing and some short distance racing.  Not sure how, or if, it will all benefit me in Leadville.  I suppose I'll find out soon enough.