Monday, August 29, 2011

Tor des Geants Preparation

With just under two weeks until the start of the Tor des Geants (TDG) on September 11th – there is no more training to be done, just stewing over my plans and race strategy. Since a 205 mile race with 77,000 feet of vertical gain is all new territory for me (last year’s winning time was 80 hours – I can’t even begin to get my head around being “out there” for three-plus days), my strategy is based solely on gut instinct and advice from others, rather than any relevant experience.

Essentially I’ve got a three-part plan. 1) Good nutrition – a minimum of 100 calories every 30 minutes. 2) Pole pole (Swahili for “go slow”) for the first 100 miles. 3) Stay healthy – no falls, good foot care, dress smart. My usual tendency is go out fast and hang on. For TDG I need to go out slow and run smart. A race strategy that is not instinctual for me.

Years ago I used to fly. As a pilot you are taught to constantly monitor your aircraft to maintain the most efficient flight– do you have the right fuel mixture, is the aircraft properly trimmed, is weight and balance optimal? This is a good analogy for monitoring the human variables that will be critical to prevent a fiery crash during the 80+ hours I will be running - am I eating and drinking right, am I keeping my heart rate at the optimal level, do I have the beginnings of any physical ailments that need attention? I plan on having an instrument panel drawn on my arm to remind me of the important variables I need to monitor.

I’ve had the good fortune of having help and assistance from a variety of folks. Canadian ultra-athlete, Jen Seggar who ran TDG last year has been gracious in sharing with me information about the race and answering my myriad questions. For the past several months of my training she has constantly admonished me to 1) climb and descend – and do it again, and again, and again, and 2) practice using poles to develop arm strength and endurance.

Christian Johnson who downloaded the course GPS data and created a 6 by 11 foot map of the course. Not only is the map extremely useful for planning strategy and logistics– but it is a piece of art that will be a wonderful keepsake. Thank you Christian!

My wife Adrienne who has provided me with expert guidance and advice regarding nutrition. Being gluten intolerant makes eating, and in particular, eating during races a bit tricky. With her help I’m at my optimal racing weight, I’ve got great energy, and I have a host of race food options that not only provide the nutrition I need – but sit well in my stomach.

Planning and assembling the required kit has been an interesting exercise. Before signing-up for TDG I’d never used a hydration pack. But, with an extensive required gear list for the race, a hydration pack is necessary. I’ve selected the Solomon XA-20 and with the help of the design team at Gregory Packs have modified it for my build and the functionality I am seeking. Fully loaded with water, food and the required gear – it weighs in at 14.5 pounds. Yikes!

Critical gear I plan on using includes Montrail Badrocks as my preferred shoe, Black Diamond Ultra-Distance poles, and of course my favorite Armani button-down shirt (weather permitting). Entertainment has proven to be a bit of a challenge given the battery life of an iPod is about 20 hours. Fortunately several friends have offered to loan me their iPods so that I can have more than 20 hours of music AND be able to listen to some new music. Thanks guys!

I hope my training will be adequate. Earlier in the summer I was working on duration/endurance – lots of long runs and a fairly heavy race schedule. The last month has been focused on climbing/descending with a healthy diet of Kessler, Grandeur, Gobbler’s Knob, Sunset Peak and the likes. I’ve been healthy all summer and am pleased that I will be going into TDG healthy.

So, we’ll see what happens. I really don’t know what to expect. Everything is new to me; the course, the distance, running without a crew, European style aid stations and logistics, carrying 14 lbs, and the vert. Perhaps my naïveté will be to my advantage. More realistically, I’ll be facing challenges and solving problems that I never anticipated. At some level, it’s the unexpected and the newness of the race that I am so looking forward to that I know will make this a truly grand adventure!

Friday, August 26, 2011

El Vacquero Loco 50k 2011 Race Report

The El Vacquero Loco 25/50k (or Ty's race as it's referred to often) was really meant to be a last tuner-upper before Wasatch for me and a tough race to close the summer for Betsy. The race took place on Saturday, August 13th in the spectacular mountains east of Afton Wyoming. The traditional route from Cottonwood Lake to Intermittent Spring and back was re-routed to the opposite direction because of damage from flooding on the access road to Cottonwood Lake. I really didn't think that our high snow year would continue to force changes this late in the year, but of course I was wrong. Then just two days before the race Ty met with the local search and rescue where they told him they would not support the race if the course went all the way to Cottonwood Lake. Ty sent out a message with the news and a new route, a double out and back for the 50k and a single out and back for the 25k. I could sense the frustration in his email but there was nothing he could do, SAR was necessary but it was pretty lame of them to back out at the last minute. They should know that rescuing an ultrarunner would be at least 3x easier than rescuing this guy, which I know they've a time or two in these same mountains.

I ran this race back in 2008 where I met Luke Nelson (who won) and finished 3rd behind Erik Storheim and just in front of the legend: Leland Barker. This time around Luke and Leland were back along with a few other fast guys so I just decided to be conservative and get a good hard training run in. Well I definitely got a good "hard" training run in with a little over 8,000' of ascent/descent covering some sweet singletrack.

Camping the night before was alright, but the older I get the harder it seems to sleep well in a sleeping bag. Morning came quick enough and Betsy and I hustled down to the road to board a school bus to the start. I was pleasantly surprised to find an open seat next Aric and I got to show him the sweet Smith Pivlock glasses I scored the night before in the prize drawing. Definitely the nicest glasses I've owned in a long time! The bus driver was quite funny as she proceeded to telling us to watch out for bears and that we might get eaten by a mountain lion, obviously we weren't from around these parts and the critters would make easy work of us. I thought about saying something, but decided to save my fight for the bears, mountain lions and the course.

Gathered at the start I gave Betsy a quick pep talk before Ty sent us off promptly at 6am. I immediately settled in at the back of the front group consisting of Luke, Micah Rush, Joe Furse, and Ryan Phillips. I was content running in 5th but then I hit the upper trail and my breathing became very labored. It was almost as if I had asthma, which I have no history of, so I backed off to try and figure things out. Turns out there were two guys on horseback right in front of us and I have a terrible allergy to horses. Once I got past them I was just fine and it really had no bearing on the outcome of the race, it just freaked me out a bit to suddenly be short of breath.

The main obstacle of the day presented itself pretty quickly and we were on the climb to the high point of the race just below 10,000'. I was steady in 5th as I crested the high spot, descended to the first lake, skipped the rock hard snow for fear of losing skin and started the steep climb to the second Lake when Luke came bounding toward me. He was already past the turnaround and I had no illusion of catching the Vo2 monster so I wished him well and hit the last descent to the turnaround as I 2nd thru 4th coming back up. I topped off my bottle at the aid station then started back the way I had came. I noticed pretty quickly the 6th place runner, Nathan Morey was quite close but I just kept it steady on the long descent back to the start/finish area and the 2nd turnaround. Along the way I was able to see the rest of the 50k field, including Betsy who was all smiles and gave me an encouraging word. As I neared the turnaround I glanced at my watch. I was was hoping to get there before the 25k started but I wouldn't even be close. Within two miles or so of the turnaround I started hitting the 25k traffic coming toward me. They started at 8:30 and I hit the turnaround at 9:05. I knew right then a sub 6 hour finish was going to be a real stretch.

Ty and Mike James helped me out as Nathan came steaming through the aid station. I took my time, fueled up and left in 6th place. Somewhere in here I saw Micah coming back at us, a bad knee had forced him out. Soon after we reached the singletrack I passed Nathan, then he caught up to me again as I was taking a nature break. After that I settled in and kept hiking and running at a comfortable pace. We chatted on the lower angle stuff, but as soon as it got steep I decided I would try and catch at least a couple guys in front of me. As I approached the 3rd turnaround point I saw Luke coming toward me and this time it was much sooner than I expected. A short while later 2nd place came by me, then I was nearly to the turnaround when 3rd place came back at me. I hit the turnaround, filled bottles and dug in for the steep hike out. Ryan was nearly to the top of the next steep climb when I passed him. One more descent and steep climb before the ~6 mile descent to the finish. I didn't really know what Nathan or Ryan were capable of on the descent so continued to push hard all the way to the finish and held on to 3rd.

Luke ended up cruising to the win in 5:34, followed by Joe Furse in 6:02, while I stopped the clock in 6:20. Nathan and Ryan followed shortly behind in 4th and 5th (Full RESULTS). Betsy came in a little bit later still smiling and happy to finish her 3rd Ultra of the year. The route seemed much harder doing the double out and back this time around even though it has slightly less vertical, 8,200' compared to 8,700'.

Thanks to Ty Draney for pulling the race together despite the obstacles thrown at him and to all the aid station help who took all the supplies in on horseback. I definitely found what I was looking for; a beautiful run in the mountains.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kat'cina Mosa 100K-Heat Training

For those of you unfamiliar with the Kat'cina Mosa 100K, I'm not sure how to best describe it. I won't sugar coat things and say it's the greatest race I've ever participated in and that everyone should run it at one time or another, but I also won't say to stay away at all costs. This was the first Ultra that I ran, back in 2005 and I've had a bit of a soft spot in my heart ever since that first finish.

The short of it is that it is a tough course. Early start (3 am), fairly minimally marked ( I've missed turns the 3 times I've run it- which isn't saying much), big climbs(the website says 17,000 ft of elevation-I'm not sure there's quite that much), lots of cobbly dirt roads, and long, exposed, HOT sections over the last 25 miles. I will also say that it's a fabulous course- beautiful first half of the race heading up to Lightning Ridge and Windy Pass, exceptional Aid Station personnel, and for me, a perfect tune up run for the Wasatch 100.

This year's run started early as usual. I was up late the night before enjoying the first night of a weekend 20 year high school reunion, so the 1 am alarm clock was not well received. On the drive down, I was amazed at the amount of traffic on the roads. i have completely forgotten that 1 am on a Fri night is a perfectly normal time for teenagers and single folk to be out driving around. I must be getting old. At the point of the mountain, traffic came to a standstill and it looked as if I-80 was being closed down to 1 lane. There was no where to exit, and I was worried I would miss the start. Luckily, it was short lived and I made it to the start with 5 minutes to spare.

The race started and I found myself running with Sandy White, Jason Berry, Matt Hart, Chris and ??? up the hobble creek road. chris and the ???? guy set a pretty good pace and soon left us on the road. After 4-5 miles Matt, Sandy and I caught back up to them and yo-yo'd until the first aid station at mile 9. A side note-about 4 miles into the run, I stopped for some business in the bushes, and for whatever reason-early am, race jitters, plain forgetfulness-left the one hand-held water bottle I had on the side of the road. It took a mile for me to realize it was gone, but by then it was too late and I wasn't going to go back to retrieve it.. Luckily it was fairly cool, and I figured I could stay hydrated at the aid stations until my first drop bag at mile 16.

We hit the first aid at 4:30, at a fairly relaxed pace. I drank plenty of fluids, and Matt and I took off for the next aid 4 miles away. The next 7 miles were pretty uneventful on dirt roads and Matt and I chatted as we ran along and waited for the sun to lighten the sky. At Rock Canyon (mile 16), I picked up a Nathan pack and some BD Ultra Z-poles. My goal was to keep a good pace on the long climb up to Lightning Ridge, and to drink a full two liters over the next 1 1/2 hours. The climb was beautiful as the sun came up illuminating the upper bowls below Lightning Ridge. I caught up with several early starters, startled some deer heading for their beds, and then I was on Lightning Ridge, and the first game of hide and seek for flagging began. I thought I remembered the trail taking a sharp right off the ridge, but there was no flagging at a snow field covering the trail with no foot prints on it. Matt caught back up to me and we both decided to take the trail. A few yards down, there was a yellowed piece of ribbon from last years race, and then on the other side of the snowfield, we found some bright blue and orange. The single track heading down to Big Springs was beautiful. Fresh wildflowers, lush basins, new sun on the peaks, it doesn't get any better than that. Until, of course, we began descending a rocky, ice filled ravine that I didn't recognize. Stubbornly, I decided to push down not wanting to hike back up to the trail and thinking for sure the ravine wold empty on the trail. The whole valley leads to Big Springs, right? 20 minutes later, after steep ravines, steeper sidehills, and a few choice words, Matt and I were bushwhacking through chin deep brush toward where we thought we heard peoples voices. Luckily, our ears didn't deceive us and we were back on the trail again. We rolled into Big Springs at about 7:35, 25 minutes behind schedule and 5 minutes behind Jason Berry who had passed us while we were exploring new country.

I left Big Springs with another 2 liters of water, determined to drink it all by the time I got to Windy Pass. Matt's drop bag hadn't arrived yet, and he was missing his sunglasses. About a mile later, we ran into John Bozung (RD) and I think Matt stopped to talk to him about his drop bag, because that's the last I saw of him until Windy Pass. It was starting to get hot, I focused on a good hike, running where I could, and the only thing exciting was that I passed the biggest pile of bear poop I've ever seen. I thought it was horses at first glance. It's good to be reminded once in a while that we aren't the only ones to use these trails. Just before Windy Pass I caught sight of Jason Berry, and we came into the aid station together. I grabbed another 2 liters of water and some pringles and took off. Bozung had said that this next 9 miles of traverse down to Little Valley was extra over grown and he was right!! Matt, Jason and I fought our way through the overhanging branches slapping our faces, the extra thick overgrowth and the downed trees. Somewhere in here Matt and I found ourselves running alone again, and then I started to feel just a little bit funky and Matt quickly pulled away. Over the next hour I struggled a little. I managed to keep eating and drinking, but I just wasn't feeling it. Over a 45 minute period, my feet lost their spring and I couldn't avoid the overabundant rocks and roots. I took 6 spills, 3 Cat II's and 3 Cat I's(See Jay's 2010 Kat'cina report for details). The Cat II's being full on face plant, yard sale, tuck and rolls. By the time I got to Little Valley, I looked like Pig Pen.

At Little Valley, I was still about 30 minutes behind where I had hoped to be at this point. I caught sight of Matt on the out and back, drank a coke, filled two water bottles and took off, with the ridiculous idea that I could cover the last 23 miles in a little over 3 and 1/2 hours. I caught up to Matt on the long dirt road climbing out of Little Valley, shared my thoughts that in order to beat Jay's time of 11:27 from last year we would have to average 9 minute miles, then put my head down and started hiking. I knew that the dirt road was long, but I forgot that it was pretty much all exposed uphill to the next aid station. I hiked, and hiked, and hiked some more. I think I ran maybe 2 of the nest 7 miles. By the time I got to the Bath Tub aid station at mile 45.5, I knew that Jay's time was out of reach, and I was hoping to hang onto a sub 12. I drank a Red Bull at the Bath Tub (race day is the only day I can handle a Red Bull, it's like sweet nectar) and headed out into the heat. And it was hot!

The last 17 miles were all about trying to stay cool and hydrated, and I don't think I did quite as well as I could have. My stomach started to shut down a little, not queasy, just not feeling like eating, so I concentrated on getting calories through drinking. Due to the multiple falls/toe stubs earlier in the day, my right toes were pretty tender causing my gait to change a little on the downhills, resulting in a number lof rather large blisters developing on my right toes, Which altered my stride even more. All of the sudden it wasn't that fun to run anymore!

I made it to the last Aid station at mile 56 with 55 minutes to squeak out a sub 12 finish. I drank another Red Bull and a couple cups of water, filled my water bottle with Ginger Ale, and hit the last 6 miles of pavement. The temperature at this point was around 90 degrees, and someone told me that the radiant temperature from the asphalt was around 105. I was melting, and it was all I could do to not jump in the cool waters of Hobble Creek. Finally, the finish at Kelly's Grove. I made it in 11:56 for my third finish of the Kat'cina Mosa. After a 15 minute soak in the river and 40 oz of cold chocolate milk, I felt great and was able to sit around for a few minutes to talk about the day with all the awesome volunteers helping out at the finish.

Matt came in second, just a few weeks after an incredible effort at the Hardrock 100 in 12:31 and Jason finished 3rd in 12:49 looking very strong. Congrats to both of them and to all the participants in the run! It was a tough year to be out there.

Thanks to all the volunteers and aid station personnel who make these races happen! Thanks to my wife and kids for their continued encouragement, and thanks to the Wasatch Running center for thier support.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Burning River 100 Race Report

The dated air conditioner chugged, unable to cool the hot humid air. Mold grew on the ceiling above the window. I was covered in perspiration, as I lay sprawled on the top of the bed in a budget hotel room off the Interstate in Cleveland. I asked myself, what am I doing?

I was in Cleveland on a mission - a mission to run the Burning River 100 and hopefully set a 100-mile PR. When I registered it seemed like a good plan. An open weekend. A fast course. The possibility of tagging the race onto a work trip. Now that I was here, I knew it was a bad idea

I was stressed about the heat and humidity. Forecast for race day was temps in the low 90’s with humidity around 75%. Certainly not a favorable forecast for a Utah boy who is used to low humidity.

Race morning did not disappoint. The temperature was a balmy 72 (I must admit – it was nice not being cold waiting for the race to start) with close to 100% humidity from the rain the evening before. My shirt and shorts were clinging to me – and I hadn’t even started to run!

I joined the lead pack of Dave James, Michael Owen, Eric Grossman and Jordan Whitlock and we went out fast, running the first 9.6 miles in 7:11 pace. Even before the sun had risen, I was having trouble keeping myself cool. I forced myself to drink. I worried about how I would stay hydrated and cool.

By mile 10 Dave, began to pull away. I needed to stop for a Don Pedro (bio break) and let the remaining group go. At this point it was nice to run by myself, find my pace, and get into zone. Just when I was about to that “other place” Valmir Nunes caught up to me and began to force the pace. I was determined to stay with him. I think he was determined to put the hurt on me. We ran shoulder to shoulder for about 4 miles, each mile picking up the pace, until I finally feigned that I had to pee. I could not sustain the pace any longer.

At 43 miles all the wheels fell off. I was worked from having gone out fast, letting Valmir force the pace, and the effects of the heat and humidity. I was dizzy, experiencing a dull headache, and I was having trouble consuming the liquids and food I needed. I contemplated dropping. At mile 45, Mark Godale, Burning River 100 winner in 2008, 2009 and second place runner in 2010 passed me. We ran together for several miles were he humbly admitted that he “knew” the course and graciously helped me up a stream bank that my old, tired and bonked ass was having trouble negotiating. I just stared at his feet and hung on, glad to have the companionship.

As I contemplated my dire condition, I recalled Christian Johnson’s advice when I had shared with him before the race that I was stressed about the heat and humidity. His advice, “just manage it.”

My management plan was simple. At the next aid station I exchanged my two handhelds for a 70 oz Nathan hydra pack. Someone at the aid station commented, “you’re really going to wear that bowling ball?” I put a couple of gels along with some mangos in the front pocket and committed myself to drinking the pack dry and eating all the food before I reached the next aid station. This bowling ball was going to be my lifeline.

By 50 miles I was feeling better physically, and felt mentally rejuvenated when I was able to pass Mark and learned that Valmir had dropped. I was now in 4th place. I was so pleased with my management plan that I filled the bowling ball up again and committed to drinking it dry over the next 6-mile leg.

I find that the first 60 miles of a 100 miler are the hardest. The end seems so far away. Things hurt. Self-doubt creeps into my head. But, from about 60 on it becomes a simple countdown and the miles and the time seem to go quickly. During almost every section I had a little boost. At mile 62, I caught up with Eric and moved into third place. At mile 85 I was surprised to see Michael sitting at the aid station. I suspected he was dehydrated and bonked like I had been earlier in the day. I knew that I possibly had 3-4 miles of opportunity to gain time on him before he fully rebounded. I went out of the aid station hard knowing that if I could get a few minutes lead on him I could possibly place second.

I finished in 16:16. While I failed to set a 100-mile PR, the time was fast enough to place second and I walked away with $900 in prize money (which is a first for me). And, 16:16 is good enough to count as the 5th all-time fastest 100-mile trail time for an old goat (50+).

Top Male Finishers
Dave James 15:57
Jay Aldous 16:16
Michael Owen 16:26
Mark Godale 16:46

Top Female Finishers
Connie Garner 19:01
Rachael Nypaver 19:36
Starshi Blackford 20:17
Christi Tokarz 21:08

Full 2011 Burning River 100 results can be found at

This was the hardest race I have ever run. Clearly the weather was difficult for me. And, I think it was hard for others as well given the 50% drop rate (280 starters – 143 finishers). Parts of the course are on roads or towpaths. I have a hard time running well on the flats and find it difficult to get into the zone. The volunteer at the 92 mile aid station was surprised when I almost yelled at him “I’d rather have a hill” in response to his gleeful proclamation that “the next three miles are flat.” Maybe in the future I’d best stick close to home - where the air is dry and the hills are big!

A big thanks to RD Joe Jurczyk and the more than 400 volunteers that make this one of the best organized 100 milers. Kudos for a race well run!