Friday, May 31, 2013

Hardmoors 110 Race Report

A Blustery Start to the Hardmoors 110 
You know the feeling. It’s happened to all of us at least once. You’re toeing the starting line of a race and you just know you shouldn’t be there. Perhaps you’re undertrained. Perhaps you’re ill prepared in terms of the difficulty and challenges of the course. Or perhaps, your head for any number of reasons just isn’t in the right place. As I toed the start of the Hardmoors 110 this past weekend I knew I shouldn’t be there, I was a man out of my country, both figuratively and literally.

The Hardmoors 110 ultramarathon follows the dramatic Cleveland Way National Trail encircling the North York Moors National Park and the Cleveland Heritage Coastline. The course begins in Helmsley and passes through the North York Moors before following the stunning Cleveland Heritage Coastline visiting the coastal towns of Saltburn, Runswick Bay, Whitby, Robin Hoods Bay, Ravenscar and the seaside resort of Scarborough before finishing in Filey. And in case this means nothing to you (which until recently it did for me), it’s in Northern England.

More Stuff than I'm Used to Carrying
Running the Hardmoors 110 was a bit of a whim for me. I was going to be in London for work, I was looking for a race to hopefully redeem myself for a poor run at the Salt Flats 100 several weeks prior, and I just had the itch to race. It was a dandy plan until the day of the race when I realized the errors of my compulsiveness.  I didn’t know the course, I had brought the wrong race kit, I hate running in the rain, a 5:00 pm start is not too many hours distant from my bedtime, and 113 miles with 26K vertical is a long way!

After resisting thoughts to bag the race and enjoy a weekend lounging in a hotel on the Northern Coast of England the race was on. Immediately Shelli Gordon was off the front running a blistering pace. It would be later in the race that I would learn that Shelli is one of Britain’s most talented female trail runners. I fell into the lead group behind her with Simon Deakin and Neil Ridsdale, arguably the UK’s fastest and most badass 50+-year-old runner. Both Simon and Neil knew the course well and freely shared beta about what to expect over the next 100+ miles. What they shared confirmed my sense that I was a man out of my country.

While I knew the course was not flagged, RD Jon Steele had given me some confidence that it would intuitively make sense. Wrong! Immediately I realized that it would require considerable time and effort to navigate using both the map and course description that was included in the mandatory race kit. Quickly and unequivocally I knew what my race strategy would be – DO NOT GET DROPPED!

I found the course to be surprising, interesting and stimulating in that the terrain was all new to me – the fells, the rollers punctuated by steep descents and ascents through drainages, and technical rock that looked like fungi magnified by a factor of 100. Yet while the terrain was new and interesting – it was also foreign and unnerving, making it difficult to go into the zone and just run.

At one point Neil alerted me that soon we would be running on “magic grass,” sod that literally hundreds of thousands of people over the years had walked across yet had left no trails or tracks. I reached the “magic grass” and immediately slipped, becoming covered in magic mud. Why was I here?

As the sun set I finally found my rhythm. I found that other place. We climbed in the fog over four peaks and it gave me a chance to assess the strengths of Neil and Simon. I was stronger on the climbs. Both were much better descenders. At about 35 miles we reeled in Shelli and became a group of four. We ran together through the night arriving at the coast (Saltburn AS – mile 58) just before dawn.

Dawn on the Cleveland Heritage Coastline
At the aid station I suddenly realized Neal was gone. I panicked. I yelled at myself, “DO NOT GET DROPPED.” I was out the door in pursuit of Neil. As the first light was hitting the coast I could not see Neil. I was impressed at how he had put the hammer down and put so much distance on me in such a short period of time. My only hope was that he would pay later for pushing this hard so early in race. I plodded on worried that I would loose considerable time having to refer to my map to navigate. After about 30 minutes I reached an intersection in the trail and had to stop to determine which was the correct way. As I looked behind me I could see Neil and Simon off in the distance. Somehow I had left the aid station ahead of them and had been pursuing the ghost of Neil. I hopped back on the Simon & Neil train.

As we ran along the cliffs over the sea, dropping every few kilometers into a drainage before climbing back up on the cliffs, I could tell Neil was struggling. Slowly Simon and I pulled away. As we pulled away I could tell we were complementing each other – Simon knew the course, and I was feeling good and was able to push him just a bit harder than he would be running on his own. Soon we could no longer see Neil.

Dropping into Runswick Bay AS

Running along the coast was just stunning. The green fields up on the cliffs. The ancient fishing villages with stone houses and cobbled roads below. The smell of salt and the noise of birds. Simon gave me a history lesson and pointed out notable sights along the trail including the birthplace of James Cook (AKA Captain James Cook), the abbey that inspired Dram Stoker to write Dracula, and remnant bunkers built into the cliffside from WWII. He even schooled me on the art of efficiently using stiles to cross over fences and the intricacies of different kinds of English gate locks. As to the usefulness of the information – I’m uncertain. But as to its value in passing the miles – priceless!

Pushing it through Scarsborough
By the time we reached Ravenscar AS (mile 91) we were told we were approximately 45 minutes ahead of Neil, but that Shelli was about to catch him. Both Simon and I acknowledged that a race between Shelli and Neil meant that we had to move fast in order to not give up our lead. We pressed hard to Scarborough (101 miles) where after clocking sub 8-minute miles on the concrete promenade we both seemed to run out of gas and slowed down considerably as we climbed back onto the cliffs for the final 12 miles. We did mental math and convinced ourselves that we would be hard to catch. Then we saw Neil. From plodding along thinking we had nothing left in us, we realized the power of the mind when we both started clocking fast miles again in an effort to maintain our lead over the final 4 miles.  While we both had felt we had nothing left, we clearly did. We worked our way through Filey Village – down along the beach, up the hill into town then to the far side of the village were the race finished at a school. In the final kilometer we had the silent conversation that we had both been having for the last 12 hours or so – would we finish together  - or would it be a sprint for the finish. In that final kilometer we acknowledged that we had worked as a team, that each of us as an individual would not have been able to complete the course as quickly, and that we should finish together. We entered the school gymnasium at 21:13. As we watched for Neil, we were told that he was at least an hour out and that Shelli was now in front of him. I had yet again experienced the ghost of Neil.

Simon Deakin
A big thanks to RD Jon Steele and his partner Shirley Colquhoun and all the volunteers and race marshals for making me feel like I was a man in my own country. The hospitality, encouragement, and kindness made the adventure meaningful and memorable.

Can a Sword be Carried Onboard?
So here’s the best part. The first place winner gets a sword with the names of all the past winners engraved on it. Quite fitting for a run through Yorkshire. Good thing Simon lives within driving distance and didn’t have to explain to airport security why he wanted to take a meter long sword onto the plane!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Grandeur Mud Run 2013

At 2 am I woke up to the sound of rain. Not the gentle putter patter of a spring sprinkle, but the steady drumming of fat drops. A true spring soaker. At 3 am I woke to wind, and more rain. At 4, it was the same and I started wondering if anyone would show up. At 5:30, it was light enough to see, and my thoughts turned to Greg and Peter valiantly marking the course. I swear I could feel the curses I knew were spewing from their mouths as they struggled up the muddy slopes of Bambi Hill and down the slippery Camel's Toe. 
 At 6:30, a few brave souls were waiting at the West Grandeur trail head. By 6:45, a handful had gathered, and over the next 15 minutes as the rain tapered off, the trailhead filled up and the 7th annual Grandeur Fun Run as off and running. By all accounts, Jason Dorais took the lead from the start and never looked back. There was much pre-race discussion about the conditions being unfavorable for a new course record, but Jason squashed these doubts by crushing the course with a 1 hour 37 minute run, besting last years CR by 7 minutes. Drew Erickson tied the previous course record in 1 hour 44 minutes and Derek Gustafson took third in a stout 1 hour 48 minutes.
In the Women's race, Meghan Woolley repeated last year's win in 2:01 and Emily Sullivan and Bethany Lewis tied for 2nd/3rd in 2:07.

After listing the top three men and women's times, and posting a list of overall results (if you notice any incorrect times or if you're missing from the results please let me know), the thing to remember is that this is not an official race, so these numbers and lists are purely happenstance.  There just happened to be someone that started a stopwatch just as the trail enthusiasts started off en masse and then someone happened to be cooking breakfast as these folks came traipsing back to where they began with tales of beautiful vistas, dense fog, the occasional sleet,snow and hail, slick mud and assassin tree limbs.(see below)

Special recognition should go to Greg and Peter for marking the course in the early morning deluge, Suzanne Lewis for sweeping the course, and Tony DeArcos for manning the Church Fork Aid station, Also, thanks go to Kathy Newton, Whitney and Madison Dunn and Jennilyn Eaton for helping with breakfast and recording times.  Above and beyond, thanks to everyone who made a donation to the Granite Education Foundation.  Over $700 was collected which will be used to purchase material for blankets to be included in needy children's Christmas bags.

All in all, it was a perfect day to enjoy spring in the Wasatch and let's do it again next year!!

Carbo loading after a hard run.

Barry trying to impress everyone.

The perfect day for a Mud Run

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Grandeur Fun Run 2013

If you haven't heard, there will be a gathering of trail enthusiasts for some vertical and pancakes this Saturday, May 18 at 7 am.  Details can be seen on the cover photo above and read about on the link to the right.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ultrarunning and the Logic of Church Bells

One of the great things about running is it gives you time to think. The hypnosis of seemingly infinite steps provides an opportunity to ponder. Chewing up the miles allows one to masticate on some of life’s more perplexing problems. I’d even go as far as asserting that ultrarunners on the whole have greater insight, clarity and perspective on life than non-runners, and in particular, that genetically related species called “marathoners.”

Or so I thought…

You see, I’m come upon a conundrum that even after multiple long runs I have been unable to solve. The logic of church bells.

It started when I moved to Rome. At first I thought the bells I could hear at night were both charming and practical. Charming in the sense that they contributed greatly to the ambiance of living in old Rome. Practical in that while I slept, some part of my brain kept track of the time – loud dongs for the hour, soft chimes for the quarter hour. No need for an alarm clock since the bells I could hear, “my bells” if you will, called out the time with regularity and precision.

"My Bells" Church of Santa Maria - 12th Century
If only it could have stayed that way…

One morning the air was heavy with rain. There was a light breeze from a new direction. My windows were open to enjoy the smell of spring. I was sipping on an espresso anticipating an enjoyable and productive day. Then it happened! Perhaps I was mistaken. No, it couldn’t really be. Yet it was true, I heard different bells. These were not my bells! Instead of a lingering donggg.. These bells had a punctuated dang. The bells announcing the quarter hour rang at a faster pace. These were definitely not my bells. These new bells unsettled me.

"The Other Bells" Church of San Crisogono

Then the questions started racing through my head…

You see, I like to know how things work. I crave understanding the hidden dynamics that lead to why things are the way they are. Once I started down the slippery slope of asking “bell” questions, I became a victim of causal sequence. The clarity in my life was about to end. It was an avalaunche of questions cascading through my frontal lobe. Mental arrhythmia.

"More Bells"
Voices in my head were yelling at me, “Who decides how loud a church bell can be? Do neighboring churches have “turf wars” over volume and tone? If one church installs a louder bell is a neighboring church compelled to upgrade its bell? Is there some inter-faith agency in the model of the UN that establishes guidelines for bells, and if necessary mediates bell disputes? Is there a master “bell plan” that dictates bell decibels and type? Do we the as the “bell listeners” have any say in the types of bells that permeate our lives? Has a priest or a pastor even been fired for neglecting the quality of a church’s bells? Is a priest or pastor more employable if they have “kicked some bell ass” in a previous position? Is there a “bell race” taking place and I don’t know it? Are the manufacturers of bells fueling this “bell race” by designing bells that ring louder or are perhaps tonally distinct?  Where do the old bells that get replaced go? What is the MTBF (mean time between failures) for church bells?  Are there acoustical engineers specializing in church bells? And perhaps most importantly, Do we really need church bells?

It was if all the bells in Rome were ringing in my head. I was confused. I was overwhelmed. I needed to run.
So after many miles of pondering the logic of church bells I have no answers. Is it a problem too big for my small mind to solve? Perhaps. Is it a mystery that evades humankind? Maybe. Could it be a problem best resolved by those of the Christian faith? Doubtful.  The questions I cannot answer exponentially multiply. These damn bells are haunting me. My magic mental elixir of running seems to have failed me. All these f’n bells are messing with my mind – and my running! 


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013 Salt Flats 100 - A Celebration of Friends

Salt Flats 100 Starting Line - M. Lebowitz

I'm a believer that we are born to run. And, over the years I have come to believe that a life lived asking the question, "where can I run next?" can be rewarding and enjoyable. Sometimes it can be as simple as a run combining errands, perhaps running to or from work, or maybe a trot to explore vacation sites seldom frequented by most tourists who just walk (or even fail to get out of their cars or off the bus), or maybe it is the unplanned race - where the date and location somehow align with one's plans and obligations.

I recently experienced the later, where I was able to pass through Salt Lake City for a combination of work and personal matters over the weekend of the 2013 Salt Flats 100. I was giddy with the excitement of running 100 miles, being in the west desert, and seeing old friends. While my training over the last several months has been modest, I felt optimistic that I could have a strong run in that I finally seem to have a handle on the nasty piriformis that has been plaguing me the last 9 months.

It felt like a family reunion checking-in and receiving encouraging words from RD Vince Romney and his wife Chriss, seeing numerous running acquaintances, and having photographer Michael Lebowitz share some of his recently published work with me.

Synchronized Running - "Bryon, lift your left foot higher would you?" M. Lebowitz
From the beginning Bryon Powell and I took the lead. While the pace was a bit brisk for the first 10 miles across the Salt Flats, I didn't care in that it was fun to be out front, It felt good to be moving quickly, and I was enjoying Byron's company. We chatted about Meghan's Marathon des Sables win, his preparations for Western States, and my work. Time passed quickly and effortlessly as I allowed Bryon to displace some of my anxiety as to when Scott Dickey would go flying past me at a pace I would not be able to keep.

During the first climb at about mile 23 it was a "Houston, we have a problem" moment. I was struggling. I was climbing slowly and expending more energy that usual. Reality hit, living at sea level and having the only vertical in my life being the stairs to my office on the third floor wasn't cutting it. I laughed to myself as I repeated in my head over and over, "vert matters." Then I laughed at the irony of my office being moved to the first floor next month and my daily vertical training being reduced even more. "So screwed," I thought to myself.

Crater Island - M. Lebowitz
Bryon and I were ahead of the aid station at mile 31 which created some concern given the next 20 miles were desolate, exposed, and the day was warming. Fortunately Adrienne was there and was able to fill our bottles and replace our gels. We were then off on my favorite part of the course. I love the climbs and descents on Crater Island. It feels otherworldly to me. While I'm not a geologist I can just tell the rock is old. I treasure the vistas in all directions with no visible human presence. I cherish the loneliness I feel on this section. I went to that other place and was running well.

Bryon slowly pulled away. He had indicated that he intended to drop at 50 miles so I was able to let him go without stressing about when and where I might reel him back. It felt good to be alone. Many people find the mud flats, or the "moonscape" as I call it from mile 40-50 the hardest section of the course. I quite enjoy it since there is nothing else quite like it. For some reason this year it was unusually slow. The crust seemed softer and deeper than past years and I struggled to stay under a 10-minute mile, yet I was working as if I was running 8-minute miles. The soft alkaline soil just sucked the energy out of every foot strike. While I still felt good, I knew I was exerting energy that I should be saving for later. I tried to forget that I was able to run at an 8:30 pace through the "moonscape" last year.

Where's the gas? - M. Lebowitz
My hope was to head out of the 50 mile AS and start opening it up over the next 11 miles which are flat. As I pushed on the throttle, I found that there was nothing there. While I felt reasonably good - nothing hurt and my head was in a good place - I just didn't have any gas. I plodded along running 9-minute miles thinking how weird is this, “I feel just fine but I just can't move.” I decided not to fight it and just lumber along believing that a second wind would be coming shortly.

At 62 miles as I started the eastward climb over Silver Island I still had no gas. I struggled on the gradual climb, continually looking back to see when Joachim Kempf from Germany would be reeling me in. I couldn't see him and secretly hoped that the heat, the moonscape, and the likelihood that he hadn't been able to attach a tractor beam onto me had him feeling no better than I felt.

The aid station volunteers at the Salt Flats 100 were amazing - many of them addressing me by my name. The effort of looking at an entrant list and knowing the names of the runners based their numbers is pretty remarkable. The welcome that I received at the mile 67 AS lifted my spirits.

The westward climb over Silver Island was no better than the previous climb. Where was my energy? How could I find some gas? What would get me moving at a faster pace? I was hopeful that once I connected with my pacer Peter Lindgren somewhere near mile 75 that I would pull it together. My spirits lifted as I saw Peter running towards me!

It was great to see Peter. He did a quick assessment and knew that calories might be the answer. In went the calories - a couple of gels and a Coke, but still no gas. Even though we weren't moving quickly, I was enjoying listening to him update me on life in SLC. At about mile 78 a figure was running towards us, I was pleased to see that it was Dennis Ahern running out to meet me from the mile 81 AS. It was good to catch-up with Dennis.

Mile 81 AS was a special treat, a hug from Emily Berriochoa, a hello and a big smile from Mike Place, flat Coke and a ripe banana waiting just for me. My spirits were lifted. Maybe this would be the turning point. I changed shirts and put on my lights, and headed out with Peter on the 7-mile climb to the summit of our final crossing of Silver Island. I felt better for several miles, then again the energy wasn't there. I asked Peter to just talk so that I could listen and have his words pull me along.

Near the summit I believed I saw lights behind us. It was the inevitable. Joachim had finally reeled me in and having seen our lights would be going for the kill. I dug deep and tried to move faster. We picked up the pace, but I could tell I was running on fumes and that this plane was likely going to crash in the English Channel having burned every last ounce of fuel before reaching the coast of England.

At the 90 mile AS I knew I needed fuel. I drank a can of Coke while trying to remain steady on my feet. I had trouble keeping my balance. "Wow" I thought to myself, "I have never been this spent. "And, "it's weird how I don't even hurt." It was good to say a quick hello to speedsters Robert. Mueller and Amie Blackham.

I was quickly on my way believing Joachim was less than a mile behind me. On the descent back to the lake bed Peter and I chatted about what might a model for evaluating the quality of a pacer look like. While engaged in the present conversation with Peter, my mind reflected on what a talented pacer Peter is. Peter knew not to say trite words like "your doing great," since we both knew that was not true. He also knew not to play with my head about the need to push harder to hold onto my lead. He knew that motivation needed to come from me. He also knew that there was no point in encouraging me to go faster and utilize the tricks good pacers know to coax a little more speed out of their runner. He just knew that what I needed was his presence. That simply being there was what I needed most for this race. I felt honored to have both a good friend, and someone with such a honed talent for pacing with me on these final miles.

Paislee, Vince's daughter put a smile on my face when she welcomed me to the final AS at mile 90 with "we've been waiting for you and we have a flat Coke waiting because we know that is what you like." Wow, it doesn't get any better than this.

Resting at the Finish - M. Lebowitz
The lights that I had seen earlier were imaginary. Nobody was behind me and I just needed to finish for the win. I plodded onward knowing the last 5 miles were going to take me more than an hour. I tried not to think about how slow I was moving and rather focused on the beauty of the evening, the full moon, the still and crisp desert air, the company. I could see what I believed to be the finish lights off in the distance. But I knew from last year that the distance was deceptive and that I just needed to keep running and try to avoid the discouragement of the lights never seeming to get any closer. Once we had the finish clearly in sight and could see figures moving in the dark, Peter finally did some ass chewing and told me to pick it up so we could go under 18. Perfect timing and just what I needed as we were able to cross the finish in 17:59:30.

While it wasn't a good day in terms of my time, I celebrated that it had been a great day with friends, that I was again healthy, and I could run without pain and feeling broken. And, that any disappointment in my day had been offset by the sheer joy of being out in the desert with these friends doing what we all enjoy so much - running.

BoSho 2013 Report and All Time Stats

Belated as it is, 2+ weeks post race, I thought I would put down a few thoughts about the 2013 edition of the BoSho or The Bonneville Shoreline Marathon if you prefer.

The BoSho has become a rite of passage to spring for me and a good assessment of overall fitness before the running season kicks into gear. This year marked the 14th edition and saw more trail enthusiasts than any prior edition.

I'll be posting more statistics in the following week over at: Wasalpstriders.

Like many others I spend a great deal of time on these trails through the winter and having the opportunity to spend a few hours with friends on the same trails brings a smile to my face every year. Perhaps the biggest smile of the day came when John and Carol Maack crossed the line together. Great to see you back John!

As the title says this will be a report as well as a look into the all-time stats of this run that started in 2000. My love of the BoSho came back in 2006 (the overall slowest race to date) when a late winter storm brought two feet of snow the Thursday before. Of course it was a mess on race day but I had so much fun I couldn't resist coming back for more.

The 2013 edition of the BoSho snuck up on me a little bit this year with my late start to the running season and a one week earlier start. Given the circumstances I adjusted my expectations and decided to dial the pace back a bit from the previous two years. The new goal would be to stay under 4hrs 30mins and not injure myself in the process. Easier said than done, as I stayed with the lead group from the start through the first 5 miles or so, fully aware that I was running too fast for the pace I had committed to.

Slowly I succumbed to my current fitness level and let Ben, Collin, Drew, Robert and Kevin go. The rest of the day I tried in vain to keep a steady pace but unless I was climbing I didn't feel like I was moving very efficiently, obviously feeling the effects of ski touring all winter and not running. Every once and a while I would get passed by someone doing a much better job at pacing themselves and occasionally I would catch an early starter, always giving and receiving encouragement which kept it fun throughout the day. Eventually I  crossed the line 4:25 and other than some tight hamstrings reached my goal for the day.

Overall I was pleased and of course had a great time hanging out at the finish catching up with everyone. But there was one thing that got me thinking and that was the fact I had taken 9th place. There is no denying it, this run is getting fast. In year's past a time under 4.5 hours would guarantee you a spot in the top 5. This year breaking the 4.5 barrier had Mick Jurynec and Bryce Astill finishing in 11th, still a very respectable time but just outside the top 10. So I decided to dig into the data a bit and look at the progression of what has become the most competitive bandit run along the Wasatch front.

Over the next week or so I'll highlight a particular statistic dealing with the BoSho over at the Wasalpstriders blog, including participation, who has the most finishes, the top 20 fastest times (both male and female) and the progression of faster times over the years.