Monday, August 25, 2014

Leadville 100: Pukefest 2k14

Sometimes you have really great races. Sometimes you have races that go okay. In these ones you don't seem to improve, but at least you don't go backwards either. Leadville was neither of these for me. It was the epitome of an, "am I hurting myself? Nope? Okay, forward then," effort. There were very few good times during the race and even fewer times that were even pleasant. So why didn't I drop? Well, there's a reason it took me a week to write this race report; but in short, I still don't know.

The race itself was a bit of a surprise. A guy at work had a slot available, and even though I still had to pay the entry fee, a slot in a sold out race was appealing. Especially after Bighorn. So I signed up in mid-July with promise of a crew and pacers in place when I signed up. 

Typically, my dad is a crew of one and I don't use pacers. I'm a self motivated guy and once in awhile have a bit of a "don't tell me what to do" attitude when I get really tired in races. Not in real life, just in races. The father/son team works well because he trusts me fully that I'm not going to continue on if I'm going to hurt myself and I trust him if/when he gives me guidance. Some of it is spoken, most of it is not; but it works well. Really well.

Having a crew and pacers in place for Leadville is nice because in this race, they are allowed to carry stuff for you which is not allowed in other races. So if you're trying to go light and fast, pacers are a great way to do it. That being said, it only works if they are there. The Sunday before the race, two of the three guys cancelled. Luckily, the third, Ryan, was incredibly helpful and really scrambled to find replacements. It was a huge help and without the "replacement" guys, I'm not sure I would've finished. Luckily plans came together the day before the race. 

The actual race!

The morning of the race I woke up in the campground at 2:15, ate a couple bananas (normal), put my stuff together (normal) and just got ready (also normal). Ryan and I drove to the start and met my second pacer (Ryan would be first), Jeremy about 3 minutes before the start. I lined up, heard Ken Chlouber say the famed words, "You're better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can." And I heard the shotgun blast that signaled the 4 am start time. We all started running. I like to treat hundreds with the mindset of a 50 mile run to the start of a 50 mile race. So I took it easy. I'd done lots of training runs way up high along with speed work and road runs, ending with my last long run two weeks before the race which was a 30 mile road run from Echo Lake up to the top of Mt. Evans (over 14k ft.). But this far into the race, I never pushed. I just ran easy. I walked the uphills and people passed me a lot. 

At about mile two I felt weird. My legs felt fine, but my stomach didn't feel right. Just weird. If I have stomach problems, it's usually during an afternoon run if I ate something I wasn't supposed to for lunch. Never for morning runs. Especially since I'd eaten my superstitious gluten-free pizza the night before; which has worked wonders all year. I continued to run until Mayqueen, mile 13.5 which I reached in 1:47 ish. I thought it couldn't be right. That's too fast. So I backed off further. I made sure my heart rate wasn't too high, made sure I wasn't sweating too much. Both were fine. Was I eating? Drinking? Yep, check. But I still felt weird. Shortly after Mayqueen I started feeling rough. Just plain sick. No reason for it that I could think of. Everything seemed to check out. 

I continued on because I was sure it was just me getting used to running today. I reached Outward Bound mile 24.5 in about 3:35. Still too fast. But if all my systems were telling me I was fine, breathing, heart rate, eating, drinking, legs, perceived effort etc., why was my stomach still giving me problems? And not even "active" problems, just general pain. I continued to run because my legs felt fine. I'd walk the hills really early on and take it really easy. It would've been silly to stop because "I felt funny at mile 24." 
Photo by Eric Lee

At mile 31, Half Pipe, I started to feel a little better. My stomach wasn't being so silly and my body felt great still. So I kept my running easy and walking plan. At Twin Lakes #1 I felt great! Mile 39.5 and just feeling like the race was young and I was over my worst parts. So once again, I continued on. It was very short lived. Soon after Twin Lakes, I crossed a couple rivers which were so rejuvenating. I was able to wash off my arms and legs, dip my hat and really just get ready to climb up to Hope Pass. It wasn't long after this that things fell apart hard. I was really excited to start climbing because I love long climbs and long descents. They can be a grind, but you get in this rhythm and just feel like you could climb forever. I settled into a very sustainable hiking pace but then just started to get light headed and felt sick again. Of course, I just ignored it and kept plugging along. Finally, I reached the Hopeless aid station. I sat down and drank flat warm coke. It was disgusting. I felt so woozy and needed something cold and carbonated. That coke was neither.   

I stumbled out of the aid station and made it a full 100 yards before I puked the first time. It was a geyser and felt incredible. Shortly after, I puked two more times, both of them way more than I thought I had in me. Each time I felt better and better. Finally making it to the top of Hope Pass at 12,600 ft. I quickly started the descent. I was running. Actually running, and it felt wonderful. I didn't have any of that bile still in me, and really thought that my best miles were in front of me.
Photo by Caleb Wilson

At the bottom of the descent, you actually ascend a bit before the aid station. I quickly found out that running anything with an incline or even flat, caused extreme immediate nausea. The next 2 miles took roughly 40 minutes as I stumbled around walking anything more than a downhill grade and puking my guts out. I passed a guy who was probably some sort of park ranger and he saw me puking straight stomach acid. "Down to nothing," I thought. "Maybe I'll stop puking now." Turns out, the only thing puking stomach acid means is that it burns more. It doesn't mean you stop puking. 

I walked into the aid station with my head hung low. Ryan ran up to me. He'd been expecting me about a hour prior to my arrival. I told him of my dilemma and to be honest. The thought of heading back over Hope Pass made getting an impromptu root canal sans anesthetic very appealing. I didn't know how I was going to stand back up and leave the aid station on foot. I told him I needed to regroup in a big way and I wasn't leaving if I barfed everything I ate just sitting in the aid station. So he brought me food. A med guy gave me some anti nausea medication, and I ate ginger chews too. I drank cold, crisp, refreshing soda; and it was glorious. I needed to lie down for a minute. So I found a cot. After a couple minutes, a friend came in and told me I was looking better. So, I got up. I figured if I was looking better, I'd be feeling better soon. 

Ryan and I left Winfield, and all previous ideas about goal times or place melted away. I was fairly positive I'd drop at Twin Lakes since that's where the crew vehicle was. Ryan shoveled saltines to me and I reluctantly ate them. I still felt like I'd had the life sucked from me by a dementor from Harry Potter but at least I was keeping food down. Once we reached Hopeless aid station I just lied in the grass. Chaos was around me with people who were still on their way up the first time, chasing cut offs, and my own body seemed to be betraying me. But lying there, was peaceful. Ryan shoved this salty mixture of mashed potatoes and ramen noodles in my face and I ate it. It was awful but he said it worked for him last year.

I didn't know Ryan very well going into the race other than I worked with him on the weekends at Boulder Running Company. I knew he was a solid guy solely based on the amount that he'd helped me find a crew at the last minute. But I was starting to trust his judgement too, and my gut reaction wasn't to decline everything he told me. 

After 5 minutes (probably more), we left the aid station. I felt rough, but I had no choice but to continue on from there. Soon after, the calories kicked in, and I felt like a million bucks! ....well, maybe not a million. Maybe about $3.50. I felt like $3.50. But compared to what I'd felt like earlier, which was somewhere around the countries current monetary deficit, $3.50 felt pretty darn good. 
Photo by Ryan and I just before Twin Lakes inbound with Hope pass behind us

We ran to Twin Lakes and I still felt good. So the thought of dropping kind of was a non-issue. Ryan had to get home and I picked up my new pacer, Jeremy. We started up the short climb and I was still rolling. No real problems. All the way back to Half Pipe, (only a 50k to go!) I felt really good and ran strong. Right after Half Pipe, I did hurl once but I wasn't too concerned. My energy levels were good, my legs still felt fresh, (actually fresh, not 70-miles-in fresh) things seemed to be okay for the time being and I thought I'd actually have a chance at turning it into a respectable effort. 

Jeremy and I ran almost everything back to Outward Bound mile 75.5 and reached there in 15:44. Just as a point of reference, Rob Krar, the winner, would be finishing in roughly 25 minutes. Incredible. He ran 16:09 that day. I started to feel rough again, and those 5.5 miles changed the way everything else was feeling too. Energy levels, low, stomach, no good, mentally, low. 

The reason I didn't drop at Outward Bound was because I really did think it was just a low spot. I figured the worst of the barfing was behind me and I was just experiencing standard low spots for mile 75. So I picked up the next and final pacer, Brandt. He was a total stranger until that day but he was great. 50 yards outside the aid station, I puked but felt better after. We made our way to the bottom of the power line climb and that's where the worst hit. I truly couldn't stop puking. I'd take a sip of water, and a lot more than that would come out. I wasn't even able to keep down water. I kept trying though. I'd drink some water, walk, puke. Repeat. That climb was extremely frustrating but eventually we made it to the aid station at the top where they were having a party. 

Brandt, somehow, had cell service and had told me that Katie had come out to the Mayqueen aid station and she'd be there when I got there. Knowing she was there was a huge motivator, but I wasn't able to move very quickly. After hours, we made it to Mayqueen and I was done. I hadn't puked in about 45 minutes, but had been too afraid to try to eat too much because of my history with food. I needed to figure out if it was worth it to continue on. Once again, the appeal of a root canal over having to run the final 13 miles was very much present. 

Katie had driven out after she'd worked all day (12 hour day as a nurse, and the shift is from 3 am- was now about 11:30 pm). I could not have been happier to see her. Luckily, I could figure out what to do from the comfort and warmth of the med tent cot. I never received an IV (doing so would result in instant disqualification) but I was there for about an hour just eating, drinking and talking to Katie and Brandt about what I'd do. 

After what felt like, no time at all, I left the aid station on my way to the finish. I figured I'd eaten enough and waited long enough that'd I'd absorbed enough to get me 13 miles. Even if I walked every step of the last 13 miles, it wouldn't take any longer than 4.5 hours and I'd left at about 12:20. Given the 10 am cutoff, I'd still be fine. The biggest reason I left the aid station on foot and not in Katie's car was that, despite the circumstances of the day, and how terribly the race had gone, I a) still didn't feel like I was putting myself in any real danger and b) still believed in the saying, "things never, always get worse." Somehow I thought they'd get better. The up side, is that they didn't get any worse. 

I had found that as long as I walked anything with an uphill grade, I wasn't going to puke. And so that's what I did. 

I finished at 3:09:59 am. 23:09:59 and at last count, at least 25 pukes. 

It wasn't my goal time, or my goal place, but I can say I finished. I seriously can not thank my crew and pacers enough. Ryan, Jeremy, and Brandt helped me more than I could have imagined and having them there witnessing the vile things I was pumping out of my body, gave the race a little more character I think. 

In hind sight, and after speaking with a couple different people, I think the culprit was altitude sickness. I'm not sure what I could have done to prevent this any further than the training I did. I could do some more research, but it's still a little too fresh in my mind to want to dive into actually learning from this mess. 

If I never want to do Leadville again, I don't have to. I've got the gigantic belt buckle to prove I ran 100 miles across the sky....that being said, I kind of have some unfinished business with that course. But that'll be a decision for another day. 

"You're better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can....and you can puke way more volume than you have eaten."
Photo by Ryan Lassen. Close to the top of Hope Pass.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bighorn 100

Cliff notes version: 
-Beautiful course! Out and back style. 
-My dad crewed and did a great job...and I may have had to drag him from Wyoming kicking and screaming.
-Rudy Rutemiller finished his first 100 miler despite having a terrible first 30 miles.
-Had numerous friends finish, and actually didn't know anyone who dropped out. 
-18 mile rough patch in the heat of the day, and walked most of it. 
-Came back from the dead once the temperature dropped and ran hard to finish in 19:39:02 for 2nd place. 

To start, the Bighorn 100 is a beautiful, though brutal race that I'll admit to having a lot of trouble with until mile 49. I was nervous coming into the race because, while I was able to do a handful of long runs, and two races since January, I felt a little under prepared based on what friends of mine were doing. One of my long runs was a traverse of five of the peaks near my house with two friends, Patrick Garcia and Todd Gangelhoff.
Todd and Patrick
Patrick Garcia on Mt. Morrison

The second big effort was a long day on Pikes Peak with my friend Carson Rickey from Colorado Springs.

Carson and me

While both long runs were fun days with lots of vertical, long descents, and lots of time on my feet, neither was very focused in terms of elevation or the amount of actual running I'd need to do if I wanted to do well. That being said, just living in Colorado, I have access to much more trail running with elevation gain than I ever have before and I think that played a bigger part than I realized.

Also worth mentioning, after Quad Rock, I was added to the Pearl Izumi team! I'm very excited to be representing such a great company.

My dad had expressed an interest in crewing for the race when I had told him I'd signed up, and I definitely wasn't going to turn it down so we made plans to pick him up at the airport on Wednesday before the race and drive up to Sheridan, Wyoming that day. It's always great catching up with my dad, and a six hour drive is the perfect time to do so. Thursday before the race, my dad, being the logistical king he is, wanted to scout out the crew stops and figure out which one's he could get to. We also went on a short hike where we found a cave!
"We should take a selfie." - My dad
Bighorn is not an easy race to crew. Some crew stops have 90 miles in between them and crazy back roads with river crossings, so we knew he wouldn't be able to get to every one. 

After scouting it out, we picked up my packet and made the plan for him to go straight from the start to the 30 mile outbound aid station, Footbridge, the turn-around point and mile 47, Jaws, the mile 82 inbound aid station, Dry Fork, and the finish. 

Friday morning, I woke up at 5:30 on my own. The race didn't start until 11. I had hoped to sleep a little longer, but I was too wound up and ready to go. My dad and I ate breakfast and basically just hung out until it was time for the pre-race meeting at the finish line at 9. Afterward, we packed Rudy Rutemiller and his whole crew and pacers (there were too many to count, I think it was most of Virginia Tech) into the truck and made the 5 mile drive to the start line.
Minutes before the start

The race starts on a dirt road in Tongue River Canyon. It turns to single track trail after a mile and a half but remains very exposed for the majority of the race. Just standing around, we were all getting hot and tried to hang out in the shade for as long as possible. After an eternity, the race started and the field took off. Several people jumped off the front like a 50k. I was a bit surprised, but wasn't really worried. Rudy and I ran very relaxed for the first several miles pretty much until the first aid station when we start the climbing.
Myself and Rudy in the light blue behind me
I tried to stay relaxed and hike without putting too much effort into it, but with the sun beating down, it was difficult to not work hard on that first climb. After the mile 8 aid station, things settled down and I ran fairly easily for the next 20 miles or so with a couple of guys. I thought I felt pretty good coming into the Footbridge aid station at mile 30. Luke Nelson was still in the aid station looking terrible and over heated. I saw my dad, got refreshed, and left the aid station in roughly 4th or 5th place.
Coming into Footbridge. Photo Wyatt. @wyattloud

About 20 steps outside the aid station, the heat caught up to me and things got bad quickly. I hadn't realized how dehydrated I'd gotten, or how hot I was. I took every opportunity to splash water on myself from the various streams and rivers. I didn't push it at all. I just walked. I knew if there was any way to further my deficit, it would be to push it harder on that 18 mile climb out of the canyon to the turn around. One guy passed me, and I could not have cared any less. I made it to the aid station at mile 33.5 and felt dizzy. There wasn't any shade and I just slammed a couple cups of water and left for the next station assuming that the heat would have to break at some point. When I left there they said the next one was 3.5 miles away. I figured that was going to take me about an hour at the rate I was moving. Soon after leaving the AS, Luke Nelson passed me while I was dunking in a stream. He had some words of encouragement, but he looked pretty fresh. An hour and 35 minutes later I reached the next aid station and saw that Luke was just leaving. After stating that the section was the longest 3.5 miles of my life, I found out the distance was just over 6 miles. I had long run out of water and was now cramping.

The next section was more of the same. Walk a lot, run a tiny bit, cramp, stretch, hydrate, repeat. I could see Luke in front of me for some of it, but it was only because you could see so far in front. I slopped through the muddy marsh and tried not to lose my shoes for, what seemed like, miles at a time. Jesse caught back up to me about 2 miles before the turn around. He was feeling rough too, but was moving a little better than I was. I decided the turn-around would be my regroup aid station. I'd see my dad, I knew it was the end of the long climbs for awhile, and it was going to be getting dark soon. 

I plopped into a chair and ate a bunch of food. I just relaxed for a minute or two. I didn't feel rushed, and wasn't in a hurry to leave, but also made sure I didn't get too comfortable. With the food, I could feel the life coming back to me. I left there with my cold weather clothes and lights and felt actually fairly fresh, so I started running. Running felt good, I wasn't cramping, I wasn't tired anymore, and with the newly dropped temperature I wasn't sweating like crazy anymore. I wanted to be careful not to blow out my quads by running the downs too quickly, but I was feeling good...really good, and I also didn't know how long it would last. 

As it would turn out, I ran the entire way back to the Footbridge AS. It had long been dark, and had encountered every other runner on the course, along with a set of green eyes I'm still telling myself was just a deer. Behind me while running down I could see flashes of lightning and heard rumbles of thunder. I'm not sure how much it rained on people still at the turn around, but it rained the perfect amount for me. Just enough to further cool me off. I remained in my tank and shorts even though I saw others in tights and jackets. 

At the Footbridge AS I saw, what I thought was, the third place guy just leaving as I came in. He was doing the zombie walk. I sat down and Rudy's dad along with his crew of Guy Love, Wyatt and Chrissy were all there and started helping me. I knew there was a big climb labeled "the wall" coming up so I ate plenty and drank a cup of coffee. I wasn't quite done with the coffee so Rudy's dad walked me down to the bridge so I could finish it. 

As soon as you cross the bridge the trail cranks upward and remains that way for 3.5 miles. I settled into a hike and ran a couple steps occasionally until I saw the next guy's headlamp. He wasn't feeling so hot so I passed him and tore off up the trail. 

The night was incredibly peaceful after I reached the top of the wall. Shooting stars and the Milky Way littered the sky. With the exception of a turned ankle and steady running, the next couple sections were largely uneventful. I thought I was in third place and kept asking how long ago the next guy left the aid station when I would arrive. Times varied from 30 to 45 minutes. 

At the mile 83 aid station, I was able to see my dad again and he told me I was in second. First place, Luke, had a pacer with him and had left only a little bit ago. I thought if I pushed hard I could catch him. I left the aid station in the dark and made my way up the road, made the turn onto the little trail and came out on the road. I tripped and realized my head lamp and waist lamp were going dim very quickly. I could just barely notice that the sky wasn't totally black anymore but there wasn't nearly enough light to turn off my lights yet. 

My lights went out about 15 minutes before I would've liked them to, but managed to stay upright. I knew I only had one little uphill, then a downhill then the aid station. Then a short downhill, then a medium length, but incredibly steep uphill know as the head wall, then a very long downhill into the second to last aid station. Then I'd be back in the canyon for 2 or 3 miles then pop out on the road for 5 or 6 miles (I couldn't remember) until the finish. 

I kept looking ahead for Luke but never saw him. Around every bend I expected him to be there, I was running hard and surprisingly painless. I grunted my way up the head wall and ran hard on the down. Then I finally saw someone in Patagonia clothes! But as I got closer I realized it was Luke's pacer. He'd dropped his pacer. I didn't stick around to ask the reason he'd been dropped but I assume it was because Luke was hauling too. 

At the aid station at mile 92 or so, I asked how far ahead Luke was. They thought he was about 30 minutes up.  I knew 30 minutes would be a lot to make up in 8 miles but I took off anyway. I looked at my watch; 5:54 am. My goal shifted from catching Luke, though that would've been really cool, to breaking 20 hours. 

I ran hard through the canyon not realizing how much of it was downhill. It was beautiful that time of morning. I hit the trail head and last aid station but still wasn't sure if I had 5 or 6 miles on the road but didn't stop to ask. I knew the faster I ran, the sooner I'd be done. Around every bend in the road I expected to see the paved section which meant the end was near; and every bend in the road offered only a new bend I'd hope was the last. Finally it came and I enjoyed the last little run into Dayton, over a little bridge, across the road, into the park where I could see the finish line. I looked at my watch one more time; 6:38:01. I knew I'd definitely break 20 hours now. 

I crossed the finish line with hugs from my dad at 6:39:02. Which was 19 hours 39 minutes and 2 seconds after we'd all started.
Photo by Guy Love. @glovevt

We hung out at the finish line and waited to Rudy who finished 7th in his first hundred!!

Afterwards, my dad and I went back to the hotel to shower and nap but felt it would be ridiculous to waste time in a place we'd never been, so we slept for two hours then drove out to Devils Tower National Park. 
My dad at Devil's Tower

Overall, it was an awesome weekend, awesome race and we were both successfully wiped out!

Thanks to Pearl Izumi for the support!
Thanks for crewing, Dad!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

First two races in Colorado

Salida's Run Through Time Marathon and Quad Rock 50 miler. These two races have been referred to as part of the "tour of Colorado." Though this is a very unofficial title, and everyone seems to have a different idea of which races are exactly on this tour, everyone can agree that these two are beautiful courses and fantastically organized events.

Salida took place back in March and has a fairly straight forward course. You go up until almost the halfway point, and then you run down until the finish line, with the exception of one smallish climb in the second half. Throughout the race, there's about 4,750 ft of gain, and equal loss. This makes for a great early season kick off race, which brought out some big names. This being my first race in Colorado, I was somewhat starstruck when I saw people milling about the starting line whose names I'd only read about on
Nick Clark, Joe Grant, Jason Koop, Josh Arthur and Timmy Parr; runners that I'd read interviews with and seen in the top ten for international races. Truly strong and admirable runners were just hanging out and getting ready for a nice day in the mountains. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little intimidated by the talent at the starting line.

Of course, the make-shift starting line of a chalk line sprinkled across the gravel road made this race feel a little more low-key. The race director said "go" and we all went on down the road at a very manageable pace. Once we started up the climb, we spread out and Nick Clark and Josh Arthur separated from almost everyone almost immediately. I settled into a manageable pace for the climb wanting only to get the halfway point with enough left in the legs to burn it up until the finish line.

Once we got to the long jeep road that would steadily climb to the halfway, the pack that I was with spread out a bit. Soon before the turn around, I saw Nick Clark and Josh Arthur running toward me coming down the road, followed by Timmy Parr, Jason Koop, Ryan Burch, and several others I didn't recognize. I arrived at the turn around in 11th place, felt good, so I started rolling. I caught a couple people and passed them, until I came up on Ryan Burch. We ran together until the last mile. I thought I could see the finish line with about a quarter mile to go once we crossed the train tracks. I ran as hard as I could, not expecting to have to cross the bridge, then go under it. As soon as we started the little paved section under the bridge, Ryan took off and I didn't even know what hit me. He put 10 seconds on me in about the last .15 or .2 miles. It was humbling for sure, but more impressive than anything. 

I crossed that finish line in 7th in 3:21:58.

QUAD ROCK 50 was an absolutely beautiful course. 25 miles in one loop, and then you retrace your steps. Three big climbs and three big descents each loop makes for 11,000 ft of gain and an equal amount of loss in 50 miles. 

I stayed with my friend Ryan the night before and since he had picked up my race packet along with 3 others, we went to what seemed like the Colorado Springs house. There I met Tom, Jeff and Carson, all of them from the Springs. After hanging for a bit and sharing in a pre-race brew, I hit the hay in preparation for the 3:45 am alarm.  

Lining up on that starting line was a little bit more hectic. The bathroom line was a little longer than I think anyone expected, and while I won't bore anyone with the details I ended up standing on the line with about 30 seconds to spare. Thankfully, Nick Clark, the race director, postponed the start time about 5 minutes to accommodate the people still in the bathroom line. At any rate, this race seemed to be just as competitive as Salida, though, with the 25 mile turnaround being the start/finish area, the allure of being finished would probably lend itself to more DNFs if someone wasn't feeling like tackling the second 5,500 ft and 25 miles.   

Nick counted down the starting time and we all started off down the only flat 2 miles of the course all day. Without knowing for sure who was in the 25 mile race and who was in the 50, I was impressed with the number of people who set a brisk pace right from the start. I settled in to my own race, which was largely uneventful until about mile 13 when I was distracted by the views, totally spaced, and missed a really well marked turn. I'd be surprised if I added more than a half mile since I didn't go too far before realizing I wasn't really on a trail anymore. Unfortunately, two other guys were following me, and they missed the turn too. I don't think we lost too much time, but we did lose a couple of positions. It was still early enough that I didn't get too frustrated over it, but I did have to consciously not speed up to try and make up time.   

I caught up to a group that included Tom and we ran together in a pack of four or five until about mile 23, just a bit before the turn around. I arrived at the turn around in 10th or 11th with Jason Koop and we ran together until about mile 34, gaining a position or two when I decided to try and catch the next guy ahead of us. 

My legs felt fine, muscle-wise, but they started to spasm on the climb up to the Towers Road aid station at mile 35.7. From there to the finish line, it seemed to be all about managing the spasms and figuring out what to do nutritionally to fix it. I'd never had that problem before, but they seemed to stop seizing conveniently 3 miles before the end. Coming around the last corner, I saw Ryan, Tom, and Jeff, (who decided that 25 miles was enough that day) along with Andy, from the Wednesday night group. Seeing them was a welcomed sight. Though, the finish line was a little more appreciated. I crossed in 8:33:24, in 5th place.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Big changes

So, most people that know me, know that there were some big changes in 2013. Big, and busy changes! 2013 was the year that Katie and I got married, and also the year we decided to bail on the East Coast and move out to Colorado. We are living in Lakewood, CO and absolutely loving it.

Surprisingly, it hasn't been a very easy transition. The physical move was easy enough, and our sight-unseen apartment that we signed a lease on turned out to be awesome and in a truly great location. That part could've been a disaster. But we've each had our bumps in the road with work, and trying to figure out how things are done professionally here in Colorado. Luckily, we are both fairly easy-going and we've figured it out.

Running-wise, Colorado has definitely lived up to its reputation. Since we've moved here, I've hit several of the 14ers but look forward to getting up high the rest of this year. The apartment we're living in, is within 1.5 miles from a great trail system on the local hill in Lakewood, Green Mountain. I've also met a couple of local runners, and we've started a Wednesday night group run that has showed me around to a ton of the other local trails.

This year, I've also decided to start keeping track of what I'm doing in training. I've only done this before in terms of mileage for product testing for Smartwool but now I'll be keeping track of a bunch of stats and I'm hoping it'll help to keep me more accountable and actually train specifically for races. I'm not sure I'll need to publish my weekly mileage and elevation, but I'll definitely be keeping track myself. So far, I'm signed up for the Salida Marathon, Quad Rock 50 miler, and Bighorn 100. I'd also like to run a race later in the year but haven't decided which one yet.

This is the first post I've written in quite a while, and while I'd like to think that it'll be a more common thing in the coming year, I'm not sure I can say that with certainty. I'll try though...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TARC 100

The Trail Animals Running Club from Boston decided that there needed to be a 100 mile race in Massachusetts. So Josh Katzman and Bob Crowley created one. They also held a 50 miler at the same time. 25 mile loops repeated four times (twice for the 50 mile, duh) with very minimal elevation change; start it at night so the heat isn't much of an issue until the end of the race; add in a few aid stations, a drop bag at the start/finish and mile 4.5 and go run 100 miles. Simple enough. Better yet, slap on a cheap price tag and you've got a really great thing going!

Photo Ron Heerkens

After my Massanutten fiasco, I needed some redemption and this seemed like as good of a time as any: I still had a high level of fitness, I wasn't sick, and seriously, why not just get a redemption race over-with rather than string it out.

I signed up the week before, figured out a carpool with David and headed up there on Thursday night amid tornadoes,  pouring rain and generally unpleasant weather. Boston also got rain...which is relevant to the story. David and I slept a decent amount on Friday but just lounged for the most part (I'm still unsure of the connection between David and the guy who lived there) before heading out to the park in Weston, Mass where the race was held.

The VHTRC had a decent presence with 6 or 7 runners coming for the inaugural event. Skipping menial details of what kind of bagel I ate with "blank" amount of minutes before the start time...the pre-race meeting started at 6:30 where the race director told us about a little mud out on the course. A little mud. He also told us that volunteers were out on the course all night in the pouring rain marking the course. This course's map looked like a nightmare with more turns than anyone would care to count. Though, out of all the races I've run, this one was marked the most effectively. There was no way anyone could have gotten lost. They did an awesome job at that. 

At 6:57 we all lined up on the starting line awaiting the start. There were A LOT of starters. Especially for a first year race. I was very impressed. I think there were about 280 starters between the 50 and 100. At 7:00 pm on the dot, we all took off....some of us much faster than others. Seriously. People bolted. The majority of us made our way around the initial 4.5 mile loop in a very loose pack before getting back to the start/finish and starting the bigger loop; though, not before getting our feet nice and wet in several spots on the mini-loop. I felt very relaxed, and a little bit distant. I just made sure that I ate when I needed to, drank when I needed to and took care of myself nice and early.

The turn-filled course. 
After reaching the start/finish I grabbed my head-lamps and headed out very relaxed. I ran with Glen Redpath, Jack Pilla and Eric Ahearn (fast marathoner, first 100) and several others who I knew to be reasonably fast guys. Amid the normal banter we slopped around in the mud that was about shin deep in some spots, the creeks that were waist deep in some spots, and the sweet sweet single track. Somewhere in there, we switched on our headlamps and the crowd thinned. Glen and a handful of others went ahead, some fell behind, and some spent a few more minutes at the aid stations than others.

Towards the middle of the first loop I needed to relieve my bladder so I pulled off the side of the trail to pee. I knew Jack was behind me about a minute but it was dark and I figured he'd just pass - no questions asked (this is not at all uncommon BTW). I heard him coming up behind me but just as he passed me he tripped on a root and narrowly missed landing in my stream. We each had a chuckle and moved on.

I finished the first loop having no idea where I was in the pecking order. It was 25 miles in, and I didn't care. I switched out my gel flask, added the Heed powder to my bottle and moved on. So far, the mud was "noticeable." Even "very inconvenient" in spots, but the magnitude of the toll the shoe-sucking mud was taking on the field of runners was unbeknownst to me. After the first loop, roughly 60 runners dropped out between the two races.

The second loop was run entirely in the dark. I ran every step I could, nice and easy, just being patient. One of the coolest parts of the course were all the times you cross paths with other runners. No one had any idea where the other runner was in the course or where exactly they were, but all night you could see headlamps to your left, right, above and sometimes below you. You never felt completely alone in the woods. 

Around the 35 mile aid station I came upon Jack and Glen running together. I stayed with them for a bit and left to run my own race. Jack stayed with me for a bit but as we were fording one of the deeper streams he jammed his leg on a stump. The scream he let out was undeniably one of agony. He said he was fine so we moved on. I didn't get a good look at it but I know he wrapped it in a big bandage and later dropped because of it. I finished the second loop in the lead. The top two 50 milers had finished and my shoes were filled to the brim with grit, grime, mud and pebbles. At the start finish I took off my shoes and rinsed them out, took out the insoles to rinse those off and made sure my socks were clear of rocks. It only took about a minute per shoe, but it was well worth the time.

While I was doing that, Glen came into the aid station and we left together. We did the 4.5 mile section together and I could gauge how he was doing. When we got back to the start/finish I ditched my headlamps and left quickly. I knew Glen was a very strong runner, and would surely finish very strong. So when I left I didn't look backwards, I didn't ask aid station workers how far back he was (until mile 90), I just kept running. 

The mud was becoming really difficult and made me realize that it turned this very easy course into one that was actually pretty difficult. Aside from the mud it was VERY runnable and I made sure to keep running everything in the third loop. On some sections there were large fields we had to cross. They really were very peaceful. High grass with a heavily traveled trail across them made for a good spot to glance over my shoulder to see a minute or two behind me. I always expected to see Glen's red hat and jersey bobbing towards me, but I didn't.

I started lapping a few of the runners while I was on the third lap. We exchanged pleasantries but I didn't feel  much like talking. To be honest, the third lap was lonely. I didn't spend any more than a few seconds at any aid station and I just wanted to be done running.

Arriving back at the start/finish completing 75 miles, Josh the RD was there and he helped me with rinsing out my shoes and insoles. I wanted to make sure I could run the last 25 without any issues (at least to start). Josh was a brave man even coming within 20 yards of my shoes at that point. They'd been wet for many many hours and I can't imagine how they must have smelled.

I ran the 4.5 mile loop and passed a few more people, always exchanging "hellos" and "good jobs." Despite the circumstances of the race with the mud and difficulty, I had an immense amount of admiration for the people who were just starting their third loop. They were in for a looooong 2nd 50 miles but they were smiling and laughing and talking with the people they ran with and looked like they were just having a grand old time...all while their feet were in the process of rotting.
Josh the RD

Shortly after I left the start/finish for the last 20 miles my left knee stopped bending. It was really painful, but I just figured it was because I'd twisted my right ankle on the second loop and unknowingly favored my left leg. I realized that as long as I was running, it was manageable, but walking made me want to puke, so I didn't really have a choice. When I arrived at Ripley #1 (I think about mile 85ish) I stopped moving my leg to fill my bottles and eat a banana. It was probably the worst decision I made all day; my knee froze.
I limped out of the aid station seeing stars and I instantly felt the pain all the way into my stomach. I knew if I could just get momentum for running again, I'd be fine, but the momentum just wasn't there. I came up on a group of 3 guys just as we came up on a fairly deep stream (upper thigh depth) with a sign that warned "unstable rock wall." Two guys opted for the rocks, a guy with a pony tail and green shirt opted for straight through the water and so did I. Green shirt made it across before I did but as I got to the deepest part of the stream my foot slipped beneath a rock and twisted my left hurt knee. I must have let out quite the yelp because the pony-tailed man didn't miss a beat. He immediately turned around and offered a hand. I took his hand and he yanked me straight out of the water. It all happened so quickly and my vision started blurring the pain was so striking. I think (and hope) I muttered a "thank you" before leaving. I knew that I had to start running before I had too much time to think about my knee. So if you're reading this, green-shirted-pony-tail man, thank you.

I continued on and left the Ripley #2 (mile 90) aid station after finding out I had about 20 minutes on Glen. I left just after a couple guys. I reached them just after a stroll across a big field that gave way to some really deep mud. On one of the big spots, I fell into a mid-thigh deep hole under the mud and it tripped me enough to cause me to belly flop and plunge my hand-bottle deep into the muck. The two guys behind me made sure I was okay, I thanked them and ran on. If it's a secret so far, I appreciated all the help from the people on the course.

The rest of the section until I reached 97 I was looking over my shoulder. 20 minutes would be a lot to make up but it would be doable if Glen decided to burn it, and I knew it was not beyond him to do that. From the last time I left the Gun Club aid station (97) I knew as long as I kept running I could win. It was a very relaxing feeling, even though I wasn't relaxed. I reached the last mile, and the insane amount of mud that it held. I didn't waste time dancing around the sides. I was now covered from shoulders to the soles of my feet in black mud. I had nothing to lose, nothing to hold back, and no reason not to swim in the stuff.

I crossed the finish line in first in a time of 19:35:46. Not a PR but given the day, I'll take it.
Photo by Topham Photography

To add to the dramatics of the race, Padraig Mullens caught Glen and took 2nd in the last 3 miles finishing in 20:09:05; Glen Redpath rounded out top 3 with 20:15:46. On the women's side, Donna Utakis 1st in 22:37:27, Sara Walsh 2nd in 25:26:37, and Katya O'Hagan was 3rd in 26:40:17.

There were about 135 finishers between the 50 and the 100 with an attrition rate of 60%. AND 100% finishing rate for VHTRC. What's up!

The TARC 100 was a first year event, but ran very smoothly and professionally. Thank you to the RDs, the volunteers and especially Josh, who cleaned my shoes and socks and dumped water on me at the end. Way above and beyond RD duty. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Races as motivation

We all have motivation issues. Even the people that you only see (or forcibly read about on Facebook posts) waking up at 3 and 4 in the morning to get their 20 miles per day would rather sleep in. After working all day, of course it is more appealing to take a nap, or make a bag of pop corn and clock into your couch and waste away; only turning or moving to avoid getting bed sores. Instead of eating healthy foods, I think everyone would rather eat pizza for every meal followed by cake. Everyone is human. Even the serial Facebook informer.

Motivation is a funny thing. Dogs are motivated by food or by praise. Not surprisingly, people are motivated by the same things. Some people run or workout for the extra piece of cake. And some people run and workout to post their pictures and workouts to social media sites and receive "likes."

I've been listening to Ultrarunner Podcast quite a bit lately and I listened to a great one featuring Max King and then another one featuring Michael Wardian. Both are phenomenal runners. And both are extremely versatile. They win races both at the ultramarathon distance and also shorter distances of 5k, 10k and marathons. Aside from the fact that they are both versatile, and both speedy Olympic marathon trials qualifiers, they actually don't have much in common. King is built like a powerhouse who won the World Mountain Running Championships as well as the Olympic trials for steeplechase - Wardian is built closer to the Kenyans yet places 3rd at the Badwater 135 one week and wins an indoor marathon the next.

Whenever I listen to or read interviews, I try to apply something to my own running. Even though these guys are extremely out of my league in terms of being competitive they are perhaps the most relateable. They run. A lot. They race. A lot. But they don't just race one race. They race short and long and all types of terrain - road, trail, and track.

What do either of these guys have to do with motivation aside from the fact that they have enough to solve the obesity problem in this country?

With a looming race and a desire to perform, that could be all the motivation anyone needs. Any time someone comes into the running store telling us they have some problems staying motivated, we suggest they sign up for a race, it doesn't have to be long. But knowing that you have a race coming up, might give you a reason to lace up the shoes in the summer's humidity and go an extra mile or 5.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

MMT 100

Saturday I ran the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. Well, to be more specific, I started the race. But dropped out. I'm just now reaching a mindset that I'm able to look at the race from some sort of objective standpoint and dissect it to a point that makes any sense; without feeling like I "failed" or just came up with "excuses." That being said, the past couple days have largely been spent moping, being generally down, and genuinely sad about the way the race played out.

This was a race I had been looking forward to since December when I found out that I had gotten into the race. It had been a long time since I was truly looking forward to a race with happy anticipation. I've run races recently, but every race this year has been considered a "training run" for Massanutten. I had trained harder, and put in more miles, more long runs, I actually did some speed work, and purposely destroyed my feet every chance I got in giddy anticipation of the sheer amount of rocks on the Massanutten course. It's a home town course and I got out on it every chance I could. I even did the first 63 miles solo on a training run carrying my supplies the whole way. I trained to win this thing. I wanted a Virginia Happy Trail Runner's Club member to win it out-right. The women's side has been won by a VHTRC member for the past couple years, which is awesome, but I thought it'd be cool to bring it home for the men.

For some reason, I put a lot of pressure on myself for this race. There were several fast guys there who could possibly win and I knew who they were. If they beat me, I wanted it to be because they were faster, older, or more experienced. But I wanted to be sure I trained harder than them.

All of that being said, I guess it's time I explain what happened. Even now, the reasoning still sounds a little like excuses but it is what it is.

Katie and I got married on April 27th and it was awesome. The wedding and everything was such a blast. Afterward we went to Costa Rica on our honeymoon, which was also amazing. It is such a beautiful country and the people are very nice as well. The week before the wedding, I had my last really long runs. From there, it would be two weeks of just running to maintain fitness and a one week taper until the race. Everything went as planned. While in Costa Rica I didn't run much, but enough just to keep the legs moving. But as soon as Katie and I got back from CR, we both got pretty sick with some sort of intestinal thing. It wasn't pretty but we assumed it was something we ate since we didn't drink any local water because we'd been warned about that.

Fast forward to the Monday before the race, 10 days after we got back, and I was finally starting to feel better. Tuesday, I felt fine, so I thought it was a good ol' "game on" for the race. The whole rest of the week I felt fine, and when Friday afternoon rolled around, I found myself setting up my camping stuff with my dad for the night and listening to the pre-race brief.

Saturday morning, I woke at 2:44 buzzed. I was so ready, I woke up a minute before my alarm. I slept well, and even though I only slept about 4 and a half hours, it felt like enough. Besides, I was sure it was more than most people got. My dad and I got the crew gear ready, and I went over the specifics of what I needed where. He'd been to so many of my races, I think he knew all of it already but he listened anyway.

Fast forward to the start of the race, we all moved away from the safety of the start/finish line tent at 4:00 on the dot and into the darkness with headlamps bobbing. I wanted to make sure that I was never running any faster than was comfortable. After mile 70, if I felt like I could go harder, I would. But before then, I wanted to just cruise, no hard breathing. Even though I didn't feel like I was working hard, it didn't take long to get quite sweaty because of the humidity and lack of air flow.

We all made our way up Short Mountain in the dark, got to the ridge and ran along rather comfortably. No one took off at a sprint and that was fine. I wouldn't have followed if they did. It got light while we were just about to descend into the Edinburgh Gap (mile 12 ish) and a group of 5 or 6 of us got there a minute or two under two hours. I tossed my dad my headlamps and he was ready with replacement bottles. I grabbed a couple bananas and left for the next climb. Again, no hard work.
photo by Bobby Gill
On the next climb, I ran alone for the most part with Jason Lantz and Denis just ahead about a minute. On long straight stretches, I'd see them up ahead but I wasn't chasing them by any stretch of the imagination. Through Woodstock Tower, and Powell's Fort we all stayed within a minute or two. I imagined I wasn't the only one just cruising. No one looked to be working very hard.

The climb after Powell's Fort, I found myself in the lead and didn't see anyone behind me, but figured they weren't far behind. I got into Elizabeth's Furnace (33 ish) first, got new bottles from my dad and started up the Shawl Gap climb. On my way up I saw a black bear and as soon as it saw me, it turned around and fled. I thought it might have been a cub because it was pretty small which meant that mama bear was around somewhere, but I didn't see any others...though I stayed alert for awhile after that just in case.

Running down the backside of Shawl, I expected to see Jason because he tends to run more of the climbs earlier in the races. I saw my dad at the Shawl Gap aid station (38) and grabbed my pack since there would be a longer section coming up.
The race felt easy so far. I hadn't been working hard at all. I started imagining myself floating down the trail at mile 80 and 90 effortlessly. Jason came into the AS a minute or so later and we left about the same time. We ran the road section to Veach Gap (42) together and Jim Blandford (who would later win the race) joined us for the climb out of the aid station. Climbing out of there, Jason and Jim went on ahead during the long section. Right near the top of the climb, my calves and fore-arms started to cramp. It almost never happens to me, especially when I stay on top of my nutrition like I was doing that day. I took an extra Enduralyte and the issue dissipated pretty quickly. I thought it was nothing more than needing to bump up my salt intake for the day since it was so humid. I still felt fine, my legs still had a spring in their step, and everything else felt great.

Just before the Indian Grave AS (50) it happened again. At the aid station, Jim had already left. I ate salty foods and started the 4 mile road section to Habron Gap. Jason went ahead, and still, this early in the race, I didn't try to keep up. Though, about a mile before Habron, everything seized. My forearms cramped, as did my calves, and one quad. I, all of a sudden, didn't feel well. I got to the Habron Gap AS and told my dad I was cramping a lot and my pacer, Jeremy Ramsey, was there as well. He asked what I'd been taking and I told him. Everyone around us had a strange look on their face like, it sounds like you're doing everything right... Jeremy suggested maybe taking the next long section especially easy and seeing what I felt like at Camp Roosevelt.

The climb up Habron was slow to say the least. I didn't want to run it and made myself go even slower and tried to catch up on my nutrition. That was the only thing that I could imagine it could be. Once I reached the ridge, I ran easily what I could, but never pushed it. I felt like I was going so slowly, it was frustrating. While I was on the ridge, I realized something was wrong. I couldn't pin-point what it was. My head was foggy, my sight started getting blurry and I started seeing multiples of things. I slowed down and was drinking both electrolyte drink and water, and taking electrolyte tablets and eating gels and real food more frequently than I ever have in the past, and my condition seemed to be declining still.

Upon reaching Camp Roosevelt I sat down. I wasn't hungry because I'd been eating, but I ate anyway. I promptly threw it up. I felt like I was going to pass out so I lied on the cot they had set up and things got even foggier. Something was definitely wrong. I'd never experienced anything like that. After 10 minutes and talking to my dad and Jeremy we didn't know what to do. I couldn't imagine what could be happening and quite honestly, that scared me more than anything. Any time I'd had an issue in the past, I knew what could fix it. It was always fixed by a reset. Slow down, eat more, drink more, get on top of your salt and electrolytes and go through a "system restart" if you will. The only problem is that I'd been resetting since the top of the Veach Climb and I'd only declined.

Somebody asked if I'd been sick lately and suddenly it all made a little bit of sense. Except for Tuesday-Friday of last week, I'd been sick with whatever-it-was for the previous 10 days. That dehydrated me and trust me...I wasn't absorbing a whole lot of vitamins and minerals from my food during that time... My big question was whether or not it could be fixed in the course of the next 38 miles. So Jeremy and I left the aid station planning to just walk and see if I could feel better.

With my head still spinning and my vision still doubled, we started up the trail. As the climb turned steeper, I think I realized that I wasn't going to get better if I continued. I think I was in such a deficit, nothing would improve unless I stopped. My body was sending me a message, a rather strong one at that, to stop. And when I got to the Gap Creek Aid Station at mile 69.8, I listened to that message before it involved me passing out on the side of a mountain. I'd like to think that I made a smart decision to stop because I'm not sure what would've happened. Maybe I would have been able to death march it to the finish line. But maybe not. That's also not what I went to do. I wanted to run a race, win or lose, I wanted to at the very least lose the race while pushing myself and finishing.

I'm not sure how much more disappointed I could have been about it. But that's just the way things go sometimes.

I really appreciate my dad coming out and supporting me for the duration of the time I was out there. Also, Jeremy definitely kept me entertained out there on our stroll through the woods on the last section.
Thank you to both of you.