Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 Leadville Trail 100 Report

Returning to Twin Lakes AS after the River Crossing - Powell

As I’ve become more experienced at running ultra-marathons, I’ve learned there are a few things that contribute to me having a good day. Things like a sushi dinner the night before, a fine cotton button-down shirt to run in, and a dump before the race starts. When I learned the Leadville Trail 100 started at 4:00 am – I became anxious that I might not be able to muster a super early morning constitutional.

That anxiety likely contributed to my failure to perform, so to speak, that morning. As I toed the starting line, I accepted that I would be bringing yesterday’s breakfast and lunch along for the adventure.

My goal for the day was to go sub 18 and along the way break the masters (50+ years old) record of 19:09 set by Charles Corfield. I was confident that was achievable until I heard that approval had been received from the Forest Service to run along a trail to/from the Winfield Aid Station rather than the dirt road used in years past. It was rumored that this trail would add an extra 1.5 miles. None-the-less, sub 18 was still the goal.

The race started at a brisk pace and I joined the lead runners down the “boulevard” to Turquoise Lake. The mood was jovial with Nick Clark teasing me about my pirate costume (he was referring to the bandana I was wearing under my headlamp). Liza Howard was with the lead group and I tried to absorb as much of her good energy as I could for use later in the day. Michael Arnstein advised me not to get stuck in traffic along the lake. As we neared Turquoise Lake the pace picked up as we jockeyed to be near the front of what would be a conga line along the single track around the lake.

As we ran along the lake I was literally pinching myself to be so lucky to be running with Anton Krupicka, Thomas Lorblanchet, Nick Clark, Michael Aish, Zeke Tiernan and Michael Arnstein. In my head I amused myself with thoughts that my $275 registration fee was much less outrageous given the celebrity ultra-running fantasy experience I was having. In fact, I told myself I’d pay $275 any day to be able to have the honor of running with these guys.

We were running about a 7:30 pace which felt comfortable. However, I was worried about tripping given that there was very little distance between each of us and the trail was moderately technical. We were running more by feel, than by sight. You could hear different runners scuff their shoes and knew that eventually, someone was going to go down. I was pretty sure it would be me. As I was having these thoughts I heard Thomas trip behind me. As I waited to hear where and how he went down, I felt him clip the back of my left leg and down I went. He apologized profusely in French and English. As I started to run again my mind become focused on listing all the French words that I know: non, me, voir, voyage, courir, and on and on…. Thomas had inadvertently allowed me to start going to that other place, enabling me to disassociate and get into my mental groove.

 As we neared May Queen AS (mile 13.5) I was amused by the precision of my biological clock. Yep, it was just about 6:00 and it WAS time for my regular morning dump. I pulled over at May Queen and let the lead runners go.

As I started running again, I realized that my dump might possibly have saved my race. I could now see the trail and was no longer staring at the back of the person in front of me, I didn’t feel obligated to keep/follow the pace of others and felt that now I could run my own race. I thanked my lucky stars that my biological clock was so precise.

I consciously brought down my pace on the climb up to Sugarloaf pass. I let several runners pass me. I focused on Zen running – being light on my feet, quick turnover, effortless breathing. It was important that I be able to stay comfortably in that other place through the day for as long as possible.

Fish Hatchery - Powell
I moved through Fish Hatchery AS (mile 23.5) quickly looking forward to the next 15 miles, which are relatively flat. I was able to run several miles in the good company of Michael Arnstein (super cool dude) who I had met last year at the Desert Solstice 24-hour run. At Desert Solstice we had literally been 200 yards apart, running on opposite sides of the track, for 100 miles never having a chance to talk. I enjoyed hearing about Badwater. He asked if I had any interest in Badwater. I explained that I had a blood pact with my running buddies that did not allow any of us to ever run Badwater.  In fact, our pact dictated that if anyone of us ever said the word “Badwater” we were allowed to punch them in an effort to bring them back to their senses. Before I got to ask my 101 questions about his diet and did he wear Fruit of the Loom underwear he pulled away.

After Fish Hatchery there was a group of us including Robert Mueller, Michael Arstein, Aliza Lapierre and Andrew Catalano that changed places a number of times with no one person really breaking away or dropping off. As we started the climb to Twin Lakes Pass I realized that I was climbing faster and with less effort than the rest of the group. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly good climber, but this gave me the confidence to know that I could likely loose this group over the 2X Hope Pass crossing.

Twin Lakes - Powell
Motivated with that confidence I moved quickly through the Twin Lakes AS (mile 39.5). I had an amazing crew (more about them later) that enabled me to pass through aid stations without having to stop. I was looking forward to Hope Pass. My legs needed a break from running and I knew some power hiking would be good for my hamstrings, that had been in the background nagging me all day.

I felt strong climbing Hope Pass. While I’m not a fast climber, I do enjoy climbing.  The best I felt during the entire race was probably on this climb. I was tentative on the descent. I debated running faster, but was concerned about potentially working my quads. I promised myself that if I wanted to bomb a downhill, I would have that opportunity on the return. Near the bottom of the descent I suddenly came upon Michael Aish walking. WTF?? Something was terribly wrong if he was walking this section. We each exchanged shallow words of encouragement. I picked up the pace knowing that now was the time to start earning back some places…

Winfield - Powell
At Winfield AS (mile 50) my pacer Christian Johnson joined me. The return miles on the connector trail went by quickly as I updated him on the race and my condition. We monitored who was behind me and how far. We got to say hello to a number of acquaintances and good friends. However, once we started the climb back over Hope Pass my energy suddenly seemed zapped. My turnover was slow. I was out of breath. I didn’t feel strong. I apologized to Christian and he assured me that pace didn’t really matter – what mattered most is that we keep moving. We climbed on…

I found passing the downhill runners on the climb to be taxing. Stepping to the side to give trail. The inability to keep a pace due to the starting and stopping required to let runners pass. The exhausting effort of acknowledging each runner and providing some word or words of encouragement. What was taxing on the climb became downright dangerous on the descent. The runners climbing up to Hope Pass would often be staring at their feet, in some outer world, completely oblivious to my warning that I was coming their way, and often completely unwilling to share the trail. 

I was also shocked and a bit appalled by the condition of many of the runners near the back. First, let me unequivocally state that I have the greatest respect for runners who are at the back of the pack. To be out there, on their feet for 24+, even 30+ hours blows my mind. I have nowhere near the grit, guts and perseverance that they demonstrate. That said, in my opinion there is a basic respect of personal health and dignity that suggests that all of us should not undertake an endeavor that one does not fully understand or is at some level prepared for. On two occasions Christian stopped to assist runners who were in severe distress. We witnessed too many runners who were grossly ill prepared for Leadville. Perhaps a qualifying race or some demonstration of experience and aptitude should be considered for entry?

I reflected back on the promise I made to myself to be able to bomb this descent if I wanted to. I was glad I hadn’t bombed the other side, and knew that I had no business bombing this side. During the descent I started to get a hot spot underneath my right heal. As I tried to place my feet in a manner that didn’t irritate the blister, I knew that this need to be remedied, and soon! Christian indicted that he would run ahead and alert my crew that I needed some tape.

Time for a quick intermission from the race report for a shout-out for my crew – my wife Adrienne, Christian Johnson, and local Wasatch Front runner Ben Corrales who when we found out was camping with his family at Turquoise Lake was immediately recruited into “Team Old Fart.” Until the second time into Twin Lakes for treatment of a blister, I never had to stop once. At each aid station I would exchange my Gregory waist pack and bottles without missing a step. They intuitively knew what I needed before I did. And, they completely understood me and knew how to manage me. Thank you Adrienne, Christian, Ben and Kya (Ben’s lovely daughter).

Christian and I got a rhythm going out of Twin Lakes.  He pushed me on the up-hills, I relaxed and opened it up on the flats and descents. We were making good time and from all indications were starting to open up a lead on the runners behind me. While I was starting to get tired, all in all I felt good.

After leaving Half Pipe AS (mile 71) I hit the wall. Almost without warning my tank was empty. It felt as if I was running on fumes and the engine was starting to sputter. I thought some music might help and asked my crew for tunes. Within minutes of leaving the aid station the iPod battery died. In some way the death of the battery was a small death for me. I recognized that sub 18 was not going to happen. I was in a funk. I was desperate.  I needed to get my sh*t back together. I felt I had to make a bargain with myself. Some sort of concession that acknowledged I was trashed, but would also reward me with the outcome I was seeking. I made the deal that I would run the entire distance to Fish Hatchery AS (mile 76.5) in exchange for allowing myself to run whatever pace I needed to honor that bargain. I limped along the paved road to Fish Hatchery at a 9:15 minute pace (my pace chart had me running this section at 8:15 minute miles)

Fish Hatchery - Powell
At Fish Hatchery I learned that I had enough of a lead over the runner behind me that my race strategy became one of moving at solid clip and making no mistakes. I counted my lucky stars that I was in this circumstance. I was spent and wasn’t sure that I had any more “racing” left in me. For several miles I contemplated why I felt so spent. Towards the end of a 100 I am definitely tired, things are hurting, focus becomes a challenge. But, there always seems to be something in the tank. Today was different, there was nothing in the tank. Did I go out too fast? Was the altitude a factor? Was I tired from too much racing this year and too little rest? Was age catching up with me? Some or all of the above??  I dragged my tired ass into May Queen AS (mile 86.5) and gave Christian the explicit instructions to keep me moving and get me across the finish line in under 19-hours.

Unbelievably I didn’t fall along Turquoise Lake. I had 15-20 close calls with Christian admonishing me to be “careful.” In my mind I replied, “Dude, do you think I’m purposefully being careless? Do you really think I get pleasure from kicking these rocks?” I tried to care about running faster, but I couldn’t. I trusted that Christian would do whatever was needed to get me back to Leadville under 19-hours. I belonged to him.

The climb up the “boulevard” seemed to go on forever. I knew it would be like this so I wasn’t surprised. Yet, I wanted it to be over. Finally we hit the pavement and made the final push for the stoplight.  I crossed the finish line in 18:42 for 5th place - with conflicting emotions that seemed to neutralize each other and resulted in almost no feeling whatsoever. I had placed well. Yet, knew I hadn’t run my best race. I was disappointed in the time. Yet, I was pleased I had broken the masters record. I was glad to be done. Yet, I wasn’t on a high like I usually experience at the completion of a race. I just wanted to get in the car, leave Leadville behind, and go home. Which I did…

Monday, August 13, 2012

Leadville Trail 100 Taper & Prep

The 2012 Leadville 100 Trail Run is just a few days away.  Leadville is my big race for the year – and to say I’m looking forward to it would be an understatement.  I’d like to have a great day so in preparation I have been:
  • Only running every other day for the last month. Definitely unconventional, but I found myself flirting with injury, fatigue and burnout following a heavy race schedule this spring. I figure I have more to gain with being healthy and rested – rather than more training.  We’ll see how this new routine translates into performance this weekend, but I have a hunch I’m onto something!
  • Seeing a therapist to help me overcome the guilt I am experiencing about asking my pacer Christian Johnson to mule for me. You see, I was raised to believe that “friends don’t ask friends to carry their shit.”  My professional counsel has assured me that after 50 miles I will not experience ANY guilt and that my new mantra may be “friends carry their friends’ shit.”
  • Working on core strength. On my non-running days I’ve been lifting weights, cutting, splitting and stacking wood, and getting intimate with an exercise ball.  Matt Hart seems to think it’s important – and I consider his advice to be solid.
  • Icing my aching shins following too much “jumping” at a Michael Franti concert last night.  My confidence that I can run a hundred miles in a moderately dignified manner has been undermined by the reality that two hours of jumping and dancing have left my shins inflamed and my calves sore. 
  • Creating crew instructions that I know will get completely thrown out after the first aid station. I would be better served by practicing how to say “I’m feeling like an espresso gel right now rather than vanilla bean like I asked you to have ready. Thank you for being patient with me and adapting to my fickleness. I am very fortunate to have you here. Thank you for all your help!!” rather than my usual, “I don’t want vanilla bean (accented by throwing the gel on the ground). Give me an espresso! Can’t you tell what I need??!!”
  • Altitude training. Yep – I painted the outside of the house this past weekend spending the better part of both days more than 30 feet off the ground. My best estimate is that this could result in up to a 23-second improvement in my performance due to this adaptive effort. Perhaps a second and third coat of paint this week could result in running an entire minute faster??
  • Visioning the race in my head during training runs.  I imagine myself light on my feet with a quick turnover, almost effortlessly moving along the trail enjoying that amazing feeling that comes when one is fit, healthy and has their head in the right place. I’m cautiously optimistic that Saturday will be that kind of day for me! We’ll see…

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to celebrate your 15th Anniversary

Are you tired of searching through the list of traditional and modern-day gifts for your 15th Wedding Anniversary?  Would you like to get out of the rut of the cruise from San Diego to Tijuana and back to make it a special occasion?  If so, check out the following video to see what my good friends and neighbors Jesse and Erin did to celebrate their 15th year of marital bliss.    

Thursday, August 2, 2012

White River 50 Mile Race Report

Mount Rainer

Its 2 o'clock in the afternoon, I have just woken up from a hour and half nap that was supposed to be forty five minutes. I'm thinking of all the things I should be doing instead of laying around in bed. Fortunately I did get a wonderful early morning 17 mile long run with Peter. We did one of our favorite loops starting at Church Fork, running up Bowman, then back on the Desolation Trail. The flowers were out and the trail was in great shape, we talked about everything from restaurants to good books, our families and life in general. At the end of the run Peter was headed off to the O.R. show, I said I needed to do yard work and finish a race report, but wasn't excited about posting a report because my races always seem so boring, nothing ever happens to me and I'm never racing for the win. So I have decided to keep this short and random.

The White River 50 is a large and competitive 50 mile race in Washington State. It has been a northwest classic since 1993. This year 325 people towed the line with maybe 25-40 of those choosing the early start. There was runners from Poland, Vietnam, Switzerland, New Zealand and of course all over the U.S. The course consist of 43 miles of cushy, wonderful, lovely, awesome you name it single track trails with a long, boring make your joints hurt 6.5 mile dirt road section being the only back to reality part of the course coming off Sun Top Mountain. The previous course record was 6:25 by Tony Krupicka in 2010, so even though the course has 8,700 vertical feet of gain it is obviously a very fast runnable course.

One of the highlights from my race is I almost hit a cow elk driving to the race start. I was driving with my friend Ryan Swan and a guy named Ken who we had just met who needed a ride to the start of the race. As we continued on Ken says from the back seat "Holy Cow that was close!" I thought he was making a joke like holy cow as in the elk was a cow. Turns out he just didn't want to swear in front of me , thought I might be Mormon because I was from S.L.C. and didn't want to offend me. Like I said not much happens to me during these races.

View from Sun Top Mountain

Decent Trail from Ranger Creek Cabin Aid Station

My goal for the race was to go under 8 hours and try to place in the top 20. I had a nice text exchange with Jay the night before the race and he has a great way of making you feel faster than you are so I a lined up with the other 300 starters working my way to the front which made me feel a bit arrogant and presumptuous but I didn't want to get stuck behind slower people as I knew we would be on single track trail after a very short 1/4 dirt road section. I did a pretty good job, getting myself somewhere in the top 30, and while I didn't get myself stuck behind a slow person I did get myself behind a girl who was way over her head. My guess is her heart rate was running about 180 bpm, she was rolling ankles like Sugar Ray used to throw punches. I kept thinking oh this is going to turn out bad, should I tell her to slow down and relax a little? no I told myself you'll come off as a know it all jerk, just pass her, which I did, then I had to pee. So once again ankles rolls are flying, heart rate is now most likely up too 190 bpm, then thankfully the first climb started, finally a smooth pass. Good news is the girl did finish the race, though her ankles must have been very sore.

Skookum Flats Trail, last 6 miles of the race
So the short of it is I finished the race in 15th place, my time was 7:55. I had a great time chasing runners and being chased the last 6 miles of the race which made the finish line come much quicker than usual. I am really happy with the result and am looking forward to returning to see if I can shave off another 20-30 minutes or so now that I know the course. Local runner Dan Barnett had a solid race, finishing in just under 10 hours. I saw Dan a 1/2 mile from the finish and he was looking strong and happy. My friend Ryan Swan finished the race, this was Ryan's first attempt at 50 miles and he did great. He made a few minor fueling mistakes that cost him time but he finished with a great attitude and a smile on his face. I'm so impressed with Ryan, he is one of the most talented athletes I have ever known (if you saw him ski you would know why I think this) but ultra trail running has been one sport that he has really had to work at. Ryan trained very hard for his first 50 mile finish and I have no doubt with more training and time he'll get his first 100 mile finish if he chooses to do so.

Sage Canaday was first place overall in C.R. time of 6:16!, Ellie Greenwood was first women in a time of 7:40. 275 people finished out of 325 starters. Results can been seen here , pictures from the race on Glenn Tachiyama's site here. If you get a chance go do this race, you will not be disappointed.