Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The (Running) Year in Review

2015 totals:
+/- 3,300 miles
18 ultras, including 13 hundred milers
6 podium finishes, including 3 wins
137.75 mile distance PR

I started 2015 with some lofty goals.  In addition to a few race specific time goals (most of which I failed to meet), I somehow came up with the idea of running 12 100 mile races in 12 months.  It started innocently enough, by just perusing the list of 100 mile races on  The crazy dream became more feasible once I got accepted as an ambassador for Ultra Adventures.  They would be putting on 7 of my 12 goal races, though as it turned out, they cancelled the last 100 miler due to low registration.
The Grand Circle Trail Series
Number one was the Coldwater Rumble in Phoenix.  This was going to be a big start, mentally, as well as physically.  Running a 102 mile race in January, only a couple of weeks after the holidays would be tough enough, but I had started 2014 with my first ever DNF at the 52 mile distance at Coldwater.  I really had something to prove!  Though not quite the perfect execution, I did have a decent race, helped along on the last two laps by my friend and pacer, Rick Valentine.  With no placement goal, I found myself in 3rd place by the second half of the race, and through an inexplicable drop, managed to finish 2nd.  Not a bad way to start off the year, and a big thumb in the nose of the DNF demons.

With very little speed training, and only 2 weeks after Coldwater, I was talked into joining the Flatirons Running Cross Country Team for the 8K National Championships.  Having never run a real cross country race, I figured “what the hey..”, ran pretty consistent laps, and managed to beat my goal by a few seconds.

Two weeks after that came the first UA race, Antelope Canyon.  I was not well prepared for the endless SAND in the first 40 miles and should have paced myself better, but still managed to finish 3rd overall, while enjoying some of the most spectacular scenery in the country.

With a mere 3 weeks of rest, though riding high off my early successes, I headed to Monument Valley for my 3rd 100 and the second UA race.  I was better mentally prepared for the sand and the uninterrupted scenery distracted me from the effort.  Less than a quarter of the way into the race, I somehow found myself already in second place and tracking the leader’s footprints in the soft sand.  Though I fell apart somewhat in the last 20 miles after having lost the course for a bit, I managed to hold on for my first ever 100 mile win.  My 3rd 100 and I had already stood on all the podium steps!

With a luxurious 4 weeks of rest and riding high on my early successes, I headed to UA’s Zion race with my head in the clouds.  Unfortunately, that’s where it stayed for the duration of the race.  I got cocky and made every stupid mistake that I should have known not to make.  I struggled mentally and physically after the first 40 miles and was only slapped back to reality when after complaining to a friend, he replied “hey, we’re only halfway through and you’re 10 miles ahead of me”.  That’s stuck in my mind ever since then and I’m way more conscious of my attitude.  But, as if to add a final insult to my injury, I sprinted the final 2 miles to break the 23 hour mark, only to discover that my GPS and the race clock were off by just enough to give me an official time of 23:00:04.

I tried to shake it off and after 2 weeks of rest, hit the trails at Cheyenne Mountain for a 50K in my own back yard.  I was only a couple of minutes off after the first lap and attributed it to my awesome pacing job, with the full expectation that I would fly through the second lap.  Unfortunately, my body had different plans and I wound up finishing more than 45 minutes behind last year’s time.

Two lousy races in a row.  What happened to my awesome start?  Was I a washed up, has been, yesterday’s news ultra runner already?  Did age catch up to me overnight?  Lots of ridiculous things go through ones mind (at least my mind) when things aren’t going well.  I might have just quit there and then, but I had other races already paid for.

A mere 7 days later, I found myself at the start line of the Collegiate Peaks 50 miler with my head full of these doubts.  By the time I sprinted the last few miles to the finish line, I had beaten my goal time and missed even splitting the course by a mere 2 minutes.  I was back in the game!

With 2 weeks of rest and the mixed emotions of my erratic performances, I headed to the north rim of the Grand Canyon for another UA race and 100 number 5.  One typically expects mild weather in Arizona, in May, but we started out the race in 6” of fresh snow and temperatures well below freezing.  Running a relatively smart race, I found myself in 4th place at the halfway mark - just where I wanted to be.  After quickly making up time on the leaders over the next 20 miles, I had increasingly delusional dreams of standing on the podium, or perhaps even a 2nd place spot.  Unfortunately, my body and mind could not not keep it up and the leaders didn’t slow down as I had planned for them to do.  Though I remained in 4th to the finish, I did manage to run almost exactly to the pace that I had planned out - small victory.

Bryce was going to be interesting.  It was my first 100 just a year ago and I had high expectations, despite the fact that I spent 2 weeks at sea level, got off the plane and headed straight for Utah.  Despite feeling pretty decent early on, by mile 25 I was fading noticeably.  As it turned out, I was fighting some kind of a flu-like bug, evidenced by the lethargy, headaches, and slight fever.  The long hailstorm didn’t help any, as I was stuck out there with nothing but a thin shirt.  In the end, I survived the hypothermic conditions, and trudged on.  Overnight, I felt more sleepy than ever before and was surprised to make it to the next aid station without falling flat on my sleeping face.  After an hour’s nap, I got up and pushed on to the finish, beating that punk, Travis, despite my condition ;-)

The North Fork 50 miler was 3 weeks later and I had a decent performance, though I missed breaking the 9 hour mark by mere seconds.

Two weeks after that, it was off to another UA race at Capitol Reef, this time taking the whole family along on a mini-vacation.  My camera died as soon as I turned it on, and my new Garmin Fenix 2 was a worthless weight around my wrist as it couldn’t pick up satellites on top of a freaking mesa.  This is truly an awesome race course that quickly transitions from the typical Utah desert and sandstone, through aspens, and on up to the top of a granite mesa dotted with lakes at 11,000’.  It was one of my very favorite races of the year - not as much non-stop scenery as Monument Valley, but much more diversity and seclusion.  I ran a great race through about mile 70 and then kind of fell apart.  The last 30 miles seemed to take forever, but somehow I managed to hold on for 2nd place overall.

The last UA race was Tushars - 93 kilometers through some of the most mountainous terrain that Utah has to offer.  It really felt like I was in the Colorado peaks the whole time, or singing "The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music" in the Alps. I was supposed to run the 100 mile version of this race, but luckily, there were not enough entrants.  Running a second loop of this rugged course would have been beyond brutal.  As it was, I did pretty well, but ran out of water on the last big climb and slowed down more than I would have liked.  It was also my 4th and final trouncing of Travis for the year.  This time, I literally caught him with his pants down (taking a potty break off the side of the mountain).

Three weeks later, it was time for the big one - Leadville.  With Mitch and Bret as pacers, and Bret’s wife as a crew, I had awesome support.  I ran really well the entire race, except I just didn’t have any strength on the climbs.  Unfortunately, there are a couple of climbs on this race and that cost me some time.  Unlike last year, I maintained my pace pretty much through the end and had no stomach issues.  I even gave Bob Sweeney a run for his money on the last segment, though he bested me by about 10 minutes in the end.  And for the second year in a row, the local stoners had their impromptu aid station set up at the top of Powerline - AWESOME!

September was a crazy month!  I ran the Lakewood Trail series, which consisted of 4 4-7 miles races on Wednesday nights.  At the last minute, I decided to try a 24 hour race - the American Heroes Run.  I didn’t have a great day, but I managed to log over 100 miles, win, and set another course record.  Two days later, I paced the 3:45 group at the ADT marathon in Colorado Springs.  And less than two weeks after that, I ran Run Rabbit Run, finishing 3rd overall (in the Tortoise division).  I had a decent race, but slowed after about 80 miles.  Then I kicked it into high gear, running sub-7 minute miles at the end to try to break the 25 hour mark, which according to my Garmin, I did, but according to the official clock, I was at 25 on the dot.

With one week of rest after RRR, I stupidly decided to take advantage of the free entry I was offered for the Bear Chase 100K (for winning the previous year).  With the hot temperatures and minimal rest, I ran perfectly for the first 3 laps, then totally fell apart on the 4th, mainly due to dehydration.  Since I was feeling like crap, and missing out on time with my family, I cut it short and bailed at 50 miles, though I was finally starting to recover.

The month of October consisted of too much food, very little running, and lots of rest.  This resulted in adding a few pounds and losing some fitness.  So, come Halloween, I went into the Javelina Jundred with low expectations.  At the start line, my Garmin 310 decided to take the day off, so I was running blind, though at least with the multi-loop course, it wasn’t such a big deal.  I surprised myself by running the first 3 loops really well.  Unfortunately I slowed down a bit more than planned over the next 3, but I had a strong finish on the final half-loop and managed to take 40 minutes off of last year’s time and break the 19 hour mark.

In November, I had the privilege of being featured in an article in the Colorado Springs Independent - thank you to Tim Bergsten.

Javelina was my 11th hundred of the year, and I was thinking that I would run Across the Years as my final and 12th, but…  I came across this Ultra Centric 24 Hour race outside of Dallas.  It was 3 weeks after Javelina, which was a perfect amount of time to recover and the the weekend before Thanksgiving meant that I might get my weight back under control before the feasting.  An additional perk was that the 1st place prize was a ¼ ounce of gold, which would have been worth over $400 earlier this year.  So off I went, driving non-stop across the deserted wasteland (aka Texas), only to show up the evening before the race to find that the park was closed and there was not a single person around.  After some cursing, panicking, more cursing, and some sleuthing, I discovered that the race had been moved a few miles away because the park had suffered flood damage earlier in the year.  This is one of the only races that I didn't sign up for in advance, so I never got an update email.  The course was changed from a 2 mile out and back to a .51 mile loop, with about 10-12’ of elevation gain per lap.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but when you multiply it hundreds of times, it adds up.  Having never run more than a marathon on pavement, I fared pretty well, until the blisters started forming, and then some tibial tendinitis, and after the 100 mile mark, some severe Achilles tendinitis.  I pushed through the pain and won, with a total of 137.75 miles.  This got me a gold coin, and a chance to run in the Desert Solstice Track Invitational, which requires 137 miles as a minimum qualifier.

I have never beaten my body up so bad as I did at the Ultra Centric race.  After all the previous 100 milers, I could hit the elliptical the next day and start jogging within a few days.  This time, I had big, fat kankles, and could barely hobble down stairs for days after.  I focused all of my efforts on rehabilitating my Achilles (see my story here), and 1 week before the Solstice, I stupidly registered, after only 2 test runs of 5 and 8 miles.

The Desert Solstice Invitational is like no other race I have ever taken part of.  There were only 22 runners, so Aravaipa focused on the needs of each individual.  They arranged for a ride from the airport, and would have provided a host family for me to stay with, had I not had family in the area.  They also provided me with pretty much everything I needed during the race, as far as fuel and hydration.

Despite all of the miles I have raced, and the few lucky successes I have had, being among 21 elite athletes was a bit intimidating, though every single one of them turned out to be incredibly nice, down to earth, and generously supportive.  Everyone got a good laugh when I told them that I had never run a single lap on a track before.  Unfortunately, the beating I took at Ultra Centric, along with the subsequent recovery period left me a bit below my best, and I pulled the plug at 100 mile in 17:25.  That was a bit disappointing, but the HUGE success was that my Achilles issues were behind me.  The overall experience was amazing.  Mark Richtman broke the 60-69 50K WORLD RECORD (and other world and national records on the way).  Zach broke his own national 100 mile record by over 6 minutes.  Bob Hearn broke the 50-59 national 24 hour record.  And Pete Kostelnik won with 163+ miles.  By the way, on his way to this amazing achievement, Pete had an encouraging “way to go, Adrian” or “looking strong, Adrian” every single time he passed me (and he passed me many, many times).

All in all, it was a pretty awesome year and I was extremely fortunate to be able to run so many miles and so many incredible races. A huge thank you to Ultra Adventures for helping to make it possible!

Achilles Tendinitis

4 weeks from painfully hobbling down steps to running a 17:25 hundred miler - my battle with Achilles Tendinitis

DISCLAIMER - this is the story of what worked for ME.  It may not work for you.  It may not work for anyone else.  I’m not recommending this course of action to anyone.  I’m merely describing what (miraculously) worked for me.

I’d been having a pretty decent year - 11 hundred milers in 10 months, with no injuries or physical issues.  Being the greedy SOB that I am, I decided that number 12 was going to be the Ultra Centric 24 Hour Race, just outside of Dallas, the weekend before Thanksgiving - flat, near sea level, low competition, and the prize was a quarter ounce of gold!

I actually had a pretty good race, logging 137.75 miles.  The problem was that the course was a .51 mile asphalt loop, with a sharp turn on a small downhill, and the direction never reversed.  Having never run more than a marathon on asphalt, my body took a beating.  I had some nasty blisters on my feet, a bit of tibial tendinitis on the left leg, significantly swollen ankles (kankles), and an extremely painful case of Achilles tendinitis on the right leg.  For the last 20 or so miles of the race, I could feel the fibers of my Achilles tendon grating against each other.  For the next couple of days, I was struggling to hobble sideway down stairs.  The pain dissipated slowly, but didn’t go away for a full 2 weeks.

After each one of my previous 100 milers this year, I was able to hit the elliptical the very next day, and start jogging within 2 to 3 days.  This course of action was simply not going to work in this case.

Here’s what I did:
Week 1
No running, or working out at the gym
Minimal walking around the house and at work
Ice on the Achilles for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, 2 to 3 times per day, for the first 3 days
Electro Muscular Stimulation (EMS) unit with pads on various areas of the calves or using the foot pads - used them for 15 minutes at a time, 2 to 5 times per day
Massaged the calf for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, 2 to 3 times per day, by hand and with the massage stick
Massaged the Achilles for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, 2 to 3 times per day, by hand and with a thick spoon to apply more force, both linearly & across the fibers

Week 2
Continued the EMS and massaging
Applied KT tape, though I taped up differently than the recommendations (see picture), replaced tape every 2 to 3 days
Elliptical, in 30 minute increments, 1 to 1.5 hours per day
Rowing machine, in 15 minute increments, 30-45 minutes per day - the non-impact flexing of the ankle, Achilles, and calf muscle, reduced the pain
Skate skied for 2.5 hours on Sunday - first day with no pain

Week 3
Continued the EMS, massaging, KT tape, elliptical, and rowing
Ran an easy 5 miles Thursday night
Ran an easy 8.5 miles Friday

Week 4
Continued the EMS, massaging, KT tape, elliptical, and rowing
Ran an easy 7-8.5 miles Monday, Tuesday & Thursday
Rested completely on Friday
Ran 100 miles in 17.5 hours on a track on Saturday - used KT tape, felt NO PAIN during, or after the run

In conclusion, my performance was not what I would have liked, BUT I was thrilled to have the Achilles issues completely behind me in only 4 weeks.  All of the things I did probably helped to some extent, though I believe the deep (and painful) self massage with the spoon probably helped the most.

Hope this information is interesting and perhaps helpful, but don’t blame me if it doesn’t work for you.  Every single body reacts differently.

Desert Solstice Invitational

Everyone thought I was kidding at first, when I mentioned that I had never run a single lap on a track before. Then the smiles dissipated from their faces and they looked at me with that "why is this schmuck even here" expression, as they realized I wasn’t kidding.

photo by Israel Archuletta

I can't begin to tell you how amazing it was to share the track with 21 elite athletes. I was more than a little intimidated, though every single one of them was so incredibly supportive and encouraging. This sport doesn't seem to produce any of the inflated egos that you find elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I did not have one of my best performances. You just can't be perfect for 17 ultras in a year - not if you're truly pushing your boundaries. I had done pretty well at the Ultra Centric 24 hour race, only 4 weeks earlier, so I had some high expectations.  Though I had paid for that performance with swollen kankles and an extremely irritated Achilles' tendon - price paid for 270+ laps, all in the same direction, on asphalt. Afterwards, I had a week of no activity, one of moderate workouts at the gym, one of semi-decent workouts, and a few "test" runs of no more than 8 miles. So, though I had high hopes, I was also extremely worried that I would have to drop out after a couple of hours, limping with a re-injured Achilles. Less than two weeks of no pain, and no high mileage runs, is not the best way to build confidence.

The great news is that the Achilles held up perfectly! That really would have been the worst possible outcome. Unfortunately, with the diminished activity in the previous weeks, required for the healing, I was not up to my A game (I'm sure all the holiday treats didn't help either).

In addition to the the Achilles worries, even after 16 hundreds in the past 1 1/2 years, I was more than a little nervous and intimidated. Desert Solstice is a qualification based invitational, and I had just barely met the minimum qualifications. There were some pretty impressive athletes in the field. And I wasn't even aware of the records attempts.

The race staff was great from the onset. I knew Jamil from many previous Aravaipa races, along with running alongside each other for a few hours at Tushars this past summer.  Hayley Pollack, who handled all of the pre-race correspondence and arrangements was also super accommodating. After emailing her a detailed list of all of the unique items that I normally go through during an ultra, she informed me that the only thing I needed to supply was my energy drink, Shaklee Performance, as you simply cannot buy that in stores. Everything else was provided for me - club soda, bags of Doritos, Justin's hazelnut butter, etc., in addition to the ramen, Coke, and ginger snaps that would be in the aid station area. They even arranged for a local runner, Lisa, to pick me up at the airport and drop me off at my parents' house.  They would have also arranged for a host family for me to stay with, but I was obliged to stay with my own family.

I was one of the few competitions that didn't have their own crew, but that was a non-issue. The adjacent crews were very generous in offering to fill bottles and get me anything I needed. I also realized part way into the race that with all the personal crews, the aid station workers did not have much to do. I would run by and bark out orders like a military general "ramen, lots of broth, not too hot!", or "full cup of Coke, fully fizzed, and three salt capsules!" 400 meters later, someone would be standing out there, handing me exactly what I requested. Who needs a crew?

photo by Israel Archuletta

The race started off well enough. Temperatures were in the 40's, with mostly cloudy skies.  We lined up and took off promptly at 8:00 AM. I typically like to start around the middle of the pack, but then again, that's at a normal race where there are a handful of super fast runners, a bunch of mid-packers, and a whole lot of slower runners. On this day, I found myself at the very back, literally 22nd out of 22 runners, before we even got to the first turn. I tried to enjoy the solitude though I knew people were wondering how the hell this slowpoke made it to an elite level event like this. Quite frankly, that question crossed my mind as well. As I looked around I figured, surely, not everyone here will be running over 140 miles, as I expected to. My first lap was actually a few seconds fast, the second one pretty much right on, as I settled into a pace. I was just starting to get used to everything, heading into the 3rd lap (still well at the rear of the pack), when Swish!  This guys came flying right by me. Before the lap was done, I got lapped yet again, by another guy. Soon enough, there was a constant, intermittent flow of runners passing by with the usual "good job", "nice work", though I'm sure they were thinking "get out of our way, you slug", "go walk at the mall with the senior citizens".
In reality, everyone was extremely nice, polite, and supportive.  The two fastest guys didn't really say much, but that was excusable. I didn't realize it early on, but they were gunning for records. Mark Richtman wound up breaking a number of national and world records, on his way to the 60+ age group world record for the 50K. That's right, I was there, in person, and on the same track as a world record was being set! How awesome is that? And for those non-runners out there who are imagining some old geezer tooling around with a walker for endless hours, think again. I would have had a hard time keeping up with this guy for two laps, if that was all I was running. For 50K, not a chance. I hit my 50K mark about 1 1/2 hours later. Sure, I could have sped up if I was only running a 50K. Then I would have only been 1 hour behind him.

The second speedster out there was Zach Bitter, though I had no idea who he was at the time. For those that don't know, he held the US national record for the 100 mile at 11:47. That's right, 100 miles in less than 12 hours. I say "held" because he now "holds" a new US national record, at 11:41. To see this guy flying by me repeatedly, for 100 miles, and then see him collapse on the track after breaking his own record was just so powerful. Our society is used to watching athletic achievements performed by multi-millionaires, on a big screen, from the comfort of our plush couches. Seeing this, in the very next lane over, is just so real. I heard his labored breathing for hours, felt the wind as he passed me repeatedly, saw the salt caking on his back as he shrunk into the distance. This is what sports are supposed to be about. This is the way to experience it.

As Zach was being helped off the track, I was logging my 70th mile. It would ultimately take me almost 50% longer than him to hit that 100 mile mark.

photo by Israel Archuletta

By the end, I had finished off my 13th 100 miler of the year,  only about 17 minutes slower than my previous 100 mile record, set just a month earlier.  I had also finished with the fastest lap on a 400 meter track that I had ever run, 402+ laps after having run my very first one. The biggest success by far was being able to run an entire 100 miles without any Achilles issues whatsoever, merely 4 weeks after it hurt so bad that I could barely hobble.