Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Javelina Jundred 2017

Having only had one “decent” race all year (the 24 Hour Worlds), I really needed a motivational boost from the Javelina. I seriously considered running a safe and easy race, just to have fun and immerse myself in the festivities. But ultimately, I knew I was too stupid and competitive to not push. I also knew that if I pushed and “failed” (like I did last year), it would be devastating for my morale.

The initial forecasts, 15 days before the race, looked quite promising with highs only in the low 80’s. Unfortunately, by the time race day came along, the forecast was for 91 - better than last year’s 100+, but nowhere near ideal for a heat hating runner like me.

As usual, I started without a light, and it turned out just fine. I didn’t want to bother with it for the 20 minutes of darkness. Mooching off of others’ headlights worked well enough.

Just a bit past the Coyote AS, I got passed by Katrin while I was taking a quick pee break off the side of the trail. I soon caught up to her and we had a nice time chatting over the next few miles. The surrounding runners found it amusing that I had a self-imposed 22 hour cutoff due to a 7AM flight.

With the rolling terrain, I know I annoyed everyone around me as I would fly by them on the little dips, then walk up the rises as they passed me by. I get dirty looks for this early on in almost every ultra, but I know it’s the smart thing to do. Everyone works too hard on the uphills (especially early on when they’re full of energy), and they don’t take enough advantage of the downhill gravity boost.

I reached Jackass in 78th place, downed my first can of club soda of the day, stuffed a bag of Doritos in my shorts, and headed onto my favorite part of the course. This section from Jackass to Rattlesnake is mostly downhill and I took full advantage of it, rolling easily along and gaining another 14 places without too hard of an effort. For the last 5 miles of the loop, I started running and chatting with Woody, who was also from Colorado.

Despite my best intentions, I ran the first loop 4 minutes faster than last year. I promised myself to slow down on the 2nd loop, but Woody and I pushed the climb back up to Jackass a bit too much, despite the rising temperatures. By the time I hit the downhill going into Coyote, I knew I wasn’t moving as fast as I should. I also caught up with Andrew Snope and was surprised to see him wearing shoes, as he typically runs barefoot or in sandals.

Coming back into Jeadquarters, I wasn’t flying, but nowhere near the death march from last year, and I still managed to “bank” another 5 minutes. As anyone who knows me, “banking time” drives me crazy as it does not work and I usually scold even strangers for doing it. I was at least smart enough to know that I would pay the piper, and sure enough I did on the 3rd loop. It was my slowest at 3:49, basically losing back all the “banked” time.

At the start of loop 4, I made the mistake of keeping both hand-held bottles, not quite sure of how fast I would run and how much water I would need between aid stations. Given that I use a hand-held flashlight, dropping the extra bottle would have made things a bit easier. Nevertheless, I managed to pick up the pace a bit and only lost an additional 5 minutes on loop 4.

Not having a watch (I ran strictly by feel, which is definitely the best for me), I didn’t quite know how I was doing except when I crossed the start/finish. I knew 17 hours was long lost, but figured breaking my PR of 19 hours was still doable. When I crossed the line for the second to last time in 14:35, I really felt like I had a shot at 18 hours.

I tried not to force it climbing up from Coyote, balancing my desire to not loose time with my need to keep enough in the legs to fly down the final hills. As it turned out, I misjudged by just a bit. I was pretty much running blind (not literally, but just not knowing the time) until I hit Rattlesnake for the last time. I took a quick gulp of Coke and asked the volunteers for the time. “11:30” was not the answer I wanted. I was hoping to be closer to 11:20. I was pretty sure then that I wouldn’t break 18, but I couldn’t quit just yet. Maybe she was rounding up. Maybe her watch was off. No matter what, I was going to put it all out there and finish strong.

I ran pretty hard those last miles, quite pleased with my strength and speed after almost 100 miles. When I came through Jeadquarters, I was in an all out sprint, crossing the line in 18:02:24. So incredibly close. I was a little disappointed, but overall I was pretty pleased with my performance, and when I was told that I came in 10th overall, that lessened the pain even more.

I came into this race a good 5 pounds overweight, temperatures of +/-90 degrees are well above my optimum, and I went out way too fast. Despite all of that, I managed everything quite well and had a very good performance. It was definitely a good morale booster and as usual, I had an awesome time enjoying what is basically a 100 mile running party. I even finished early enough to catch a full 2 hours of sleep before my flight.

I’ll be back next year to chase after the 18 hour mark, and who knows, if the weather dogs smile upon me, maybe even shoot for the 17.

Desert Solstice 2017

Going into this race, my main goal was to run smart. Of course, I was also hoping I could put in a magical performance and hit 155 miles.

The worst part of Desert Solstice was that it actually went so smoothly. I know that sounds crazy, but if there really isn’t anything obvious to fix, how do I improve my performance. I can’t really point my finger at anything that got in my way. Sure, the weather could have been 10 degrees cooler and cloudy, and I could have been 5 pounds lighter, etc. But in the end, how much of a difference could those little changes have made? I hope that I have even better performances in my future, but what will it take to get there?

Early Fall feels like the peak of my running calendar. Before that, it’s too early to get the miles and the fitness up to where it needs to be. Afterwards, daylight shortens, motivation is difficult to maintain, and all the holidays make a healthy weight nearly impossible. Well, this year I did much better than usual. I kept up the mileage, but I was only partially successful in eating smart - actually I was pretty unsuccessful. The only thing that kept me from being recruited as a fat bellied santa claus was that the consistent mileage burned off some of the caloric intake.

I was probably about 5 pounds over my “ideal” race weight going into Desert Solstice. Then again, I’ve only hit this magic weight a couple of times in my life, usually in late summer, and never for more than a week or so. Anyway, I tried to focus on the positives. Though I made some mistakes, I had a decent performance at Javelina and that gave me a much needed morale boost. Javelina and Belfast were the only two halfway decent races I had all year.

As usual, the lineup at Desert Solstice was intimidating. My first appearance here in 2015 was was quite humbling. I got to watch Pete Kostelnick sprint 163+ miles as I struggled to complete 100, while recovering from a nasty case of Achilles tendonitis. Going into that race, I viewed it as 19 elite runners, plus Adrian. I was far from cocky this year, but at least I felt like I belonged there as much as many others. Sure, I couldn't keep up with the likes of Zach or Camille for even 1 lap, but I felt like I should be able to hold my own with most 24 hour runners.

Anyone that knows me knows that pacing is my biggest obsession when it comes to running. As much as that may be, there have been only a handful of races that I can look back upon and feel proud of my pacing performance. It is so incredibly tough to execute the right pacing strategy on an ultra. You always feel so damn good in the beginning, and then there are all of these “slower”, less experienced runners just flying by. How are you supposed to resist? It’s tough. It’s tough on a trail ultra where you only catch a single glimpse of these runners (until you pass them later). It is exponentially harder on a looped race, especially a 400m track, where you’re being lapped mercilessly.

The first third of the race was all about self control. The next 8 hours were about the sobering realization that I couldn’t really run much faster even if I wanted to. Quite honestly, it wasn’t until the second half of the race, when I started to very, very slowly reel back some of the endless laps that the front runners had gained on me that I finally started to feel good about things. I was far from celebrating, since victory was not assured until the very end, but at least I felt good about executing a smart race plan.

Isaiah Janzen had gotten off to a great start, and even when small kinks in his armour started to show through, he had built up so much of a cushion that it was difficult to imagine him losing the lead. Jeremy Hughes, from Canada was also putting in a really solid performance with no signs of slowing down. And then there was this Teage O’Conner guy running barefoot. He had great form and a super steady pace. And here I was, way down in the pack watching all these guys (and gals) putting up these incredible performances. Even after 70 ultras, It was hard to maintain my cool and not just call it quits.

Well, maturity is one of the few benefits of old age, and though I rarely exhibit it, I quietly and patiently plodded along, hoping that things would change. As I’m always telling my daughters “You can’t control what anyone else does. All you can do is put up the best possible performance that is inside of you. If that’s good enough for a win, great. If it’s not, you should be no less proud.” Let’s be honest, winning is pretty darn nice, but I truly rate my performances on how well I feel that I did, not whether everyone did worse than me.

I really did run my own race. I didn’t race against anyone until the last third of the race, as I was trying to catch Isaiah and Jeremy. As I did start to finally narrow the gap to these guys, I have to admit that I played a little game with them, as much for my mental benefit as for their detriment (I’m so evil). Anytime I would be close to lapping one of them, I would ease up just a little, collect myself, then put in a little extra speed as I went by. I hoped this would do one of two things; first, it might convince them of my physical superiority and they would just choose to surrender rather than continuing their futile attempts, or secondly, they might attempt to match my pace and in their weakened state destroy any chances they might have had to recover. Can you just picture me twirling my waxed mustache and petting my cat as you read this? And here you thought that ultrarunning was such a collegial, feel-good sport.

Even after so many ultras, I still experiment and make modifications. This time, I cut the toes off my shoes ala Joe Fejes. This seemed to work quite well. I ended up with a single, large and unsightly blister, but it did not affect my performance. The sock on my right foot merely rubbed and snagged the top of a toenail. Secondly, over the last 8 hours, I took almost all of my calories from Coke. The few cookies and chips I had were merely to keep my empty stomach from gnawing on itself. Though I had to make 2 pit stops in the last third of the race, I never had stomach issues.

Though my 155 goal disappeared pretty early on, I thought I had an outside chance of beating Jon Olsen’s 153 from Belfast. As that one slipped away, I was still on track to go over 151 and regain my 4th place position that Greg Armstrong had taken over just a week before. Unfortunately, that one slipped away also. I was running such a tight game that with a whole 90 minutes left on the clock I realized that 151 wasn’t going to happen. I was even worried about breaking 150. I have to say that I probably pushed my body harder than I ever have before. Not just the legs, but my entire body. My guts. My bladder, etc.

I really must thank John and Senovia for their awesome crewing. I had never met these two before, but through a mutual friend, they agreed to help me out and they did an amazing job. They even put up with my mood/focus over the last few hours when the smiles wore out. And, as usual, Aravaipa did an amazing job in putting on this great race.

I missed some of my goals, but I’m quite proud of my performance. Winning is great, but running such a well executed, steadily paced race is what really makes me happy.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Leadville 2016

5 weeks before Leadville, I hit the turnaround of the Silver Rush making plans for my non-Leadville summer.

I didn't get in the lottery back in January, and after a short period of pissed off disappointment, I decided I would forgo one of my favorite races (Ultra Adventures Capitol Reef) in order to run the Silver Rush, so I could earn a ticket to the Leadville 100.

After a pretty good training season, I was expecting a PR and an easy ride to Leadville. As I started out with, by the time I hit the halfway mark, I knew my dreams were gone. Though only a few minutes behind my target time, I had worked way too hard and knew I could not keep it up for the return. All the way back, I kept mentally rearranging my racing and training schedule for the rest of the summer. There were plenty of positives - no more altitude training, total focus on the North Coast 24, etc.

I started to feel a bit better after the last aid station and pushed to the finish, but only so that I could at least break the 9 hour mark. I sprinted across the line with my worst time in 4 visits to the Silver Rush and was completely shocked when the gal handed me my finisher's medal, coffee mug, 3rd place age group award, and the coveted copper token to the Leadville 100!!
Apparently, many others had poor performances out there and my time was good enough.

All of a sudden, I was re-rearranging my racing and training plans.

5 weeks later, I jogged up to the start line of my 3rd consecutive Leadville 100, and for the first time, I wasn't even nervous. I felt comfortable and relaxed, knowing I had the experience and had earned my right to be there - not the least bit cocky, but I just felt comfortable. I wasn't even wearing my gps this time, opting to go strictly by feel.

I started way closer to the front than previous years and fell into a pretty good groove from the start. By the time I got to Turquoise Lake, only a few miles in, I hit the first snag. The flashlight that was supposed to last 2.5 hours was already dying!  With 1.5+hours till sunrise, I tried not to panic.

Then, part way around the lake, I missed a turn, going off course about a hundred yards, and I couldn't even blame it on the failing light. I got back on track, letting out a few choice words. Luckily, I made a conscious decision to keep a positive attitude. If the finish came down to a hundred yards, I could be mad again. Otherwise, I still had 95 miles to make things go right.

I tagged along with other runners to take advantage of their lights, marveling that I stayed upright on the dark trail, and finally made it into May Queen. Taking just seconds to unload my useless flashlight and refill my bottle, I headed out through the cheering crowd asking for the time. Joe Agnew (Kelly's wife) saw me, yelled out that it was 6:01, and sent me off with some encouraging words.
Only 12.5 miles in, but I was on my most optimistic pace. How long would this last? I had calculated 21 hours as a tough, yet achievable goal. That would be an hour better than last year, so a pretty good improvement if I could do it.  But, as usual, I had also planned out a super fast pace, mostly so I could be prepared if I ran certain sections really fast. I certainly wasn't planning on starting out that way. 

I felt good going up the backside of Powerline and even better flying down the front. Then, after a short section of asphalt, I rolled into Outward Bound, now 5 minutes ahead - so fast that Brenda and the girls weren't even there yet, as I was still moving faster than my fastest pace estimate

After a jaunt through the grass field, we were back out onto another stretch of pavement. It was at this point that I started to feel the morning's efforts. Fortunately, I was smart enough to ease things back a bit before it was too late.  I don't know where this bout of patience and maturity came from, but I'm sure it saved my race. 

It seemed to take forever to get to Half Pipe, and though I didn't know it at the time, I lost back that 5 minutes. I kept running smart, taking it easy on the up hills and rolling comfortably along on the downhills.  This is a deceptively difficult section - the field is stretched out so you can be alone at times, yet it's still early enough for many runners to be pushing too fast and pull you along. It's also one of the more "boring" sections of the course as there are no significant natural features and no spectators around

At Twin Lakes, I was met by Mike Robberts (who would pace me from Winfield),  Brenda, and the girls. I moved through pretty quickly and found out that I was pretty much right on my 20 hour pacing estimate.

I headed up towards Hope Pass and definitely felt stronger than the previous year, though I wasn't passing many runners. It turns out the reason was that I was so much further up the field than previous years, there were just fewer runners to pass.

The volunteers at the Hopeless aid station were awesome (as usual) and I didn't even have to slow my pace. They ran up to get my bottle, filled it and handed it back as I passed through. I was also greeted by Ethan Matyas, who was not racing but had come up with his son to hang out and cheer on the runners. 

Up Hope Pass I went and down the other side. It was quite a bit down that I finally came across the leader, Max King, who was on a record setting pace. By the time I hit the right turn that parallels the road, I had only crossed paths with 3 leaders - way fewer than previous years. Gradually, more runners came up the trail, and I stopped counting. Just after making the last turn down towards the road, I came across Tim Olsen, surprised that he was less than 2 miles ahead of me.

At the road, I saw David Silva, but of course, he had his camera off. Heading into the aid station, Mike greeted me and helped me transition through efficiently. I called out for the time and had to get a couple of responses before I could narrow it down to the minute (every minute was important). 9:30 into the race! 40+ minutes faster than previous years and still feeling pretty good. I knew that it was a long shot, but returning a full hour slower would still give me a chance at the 20 hour mark.

Mike and I headed back along the rolling trail where I was still crushing the downhill portions. Then to the left turn and up towards Hope. The day was getting hotter and I was feeling it, but was still pushing up at a reasonable pace. We passed a couple of runners on the way up and saw many friends coming down. It felt great to hit the pass, feel the cool breeze (the timers hanging out on top were wearing heavy down parkas), and see Twin Lakes far below.

Mike helped me get through Hopeless quickly and we continued to fly down the mountain, while still giving my legs a chance to recover from the climb. Back at Twin, I took a couple of minutes to re-hydrate with two cans of club soda and change to dry socks and brand new, out of the box shoes. Tania was there with some words of encouragement but soon we were back onto the course, not really knowing how I was doing on time.

On the way to Half Pipe, we see-sawed with a few sets of runners/pacers - I would pass on the downhills, they would catch up on the climbs, but slowly, I would pull away. As we got to within a couple of miles of the aid station, some guy and his pacer came whipping by, on a downhill, no less. Tuned out it was Mike Aish. Somehow, he fell way behind yet had rebounded strongly. Soon thereafter, we passed Tim Olsen, who was slowly walking on a relatively flat section. I hate to see anyone suffer, but I have to admit that it gave me a shot of adrenaline.

I had done some rough calculations as to the time I needed to still have a shot at 20, and when we got into the aid station, I was almost disappointed that I was still on. I was feeling a bit tired after 70 miles and  looked forward to slowing up a bit but with the magical 20 still a possibility, I just couldn't let the opportunity slide without an all out effort.

Into Outward Bound we came, with the sun still hanging over the mountains. Brenda and the girls were there for a quick emotional boost. I also swapped pacers. Mike had done an awesome job getting me this far and now it would be Anthony's turn.

I downed a can of Coke, big cup of ramen, put on a shirt, and off we went. My time into OB was borderline for making 20 but I pushed on, though I didn't want to overdo it just yet. I still had memories of my first year when I totally fell apart at the base of Powerline.

This year was as different as night and day. Literally. This was the first time I hit the base of the climb in daylight. Boy what a difference that makes - both physically and psychologically.

For an added boost, part way up the climb we came across a runner puking off the side of the trail. As we passed by and shared some encouraging words, Anthony whispered "I think that was Mike Aish".

Again, I don't relish anyone suffering, but it felt good to know that the only person to have passed me after mile 30 was now back behind me. Mike did make a push for a bit, but to no avail.

We finally broke down and pulled out our lights right before the summit. Just as we were hearing the commotion from my favorite aid station of all time. The stoners were out! It seems like they outdo themselves each year. These guys saved my life and my race the first year and I remind them of that each time. They are just awesome and provide such a needed energy boost this late in the race.
After some shots of Coke, Anthony and I flew down the back side towards May Queen. He seemed pleased with my downhill speed at this mileage, which made me feel pretty good. Pulling into May Queen, we quickly refueled and moved out. We had just over 2.5 hours till the 20 mark. This was doable, but it would be close and it certainly would not be easy.

Part way around Turquoise, I stopped to take a leak and in the light of the flashlight was shocked to see that I was pretty dehydrated. With almost 2 hours to go, much could still go wrong. I forced myself to drink more, fearing the kind of total collapse that I've experienced with severe dehydration.
We passed a couple of runners, but the trail around the lake just seems to be interminable at the end of a tough day. By the time we were wrapping around the east end of the lake, I probably hit my lowest point of the race, but thankfully Anthony did a great job of keeping me motivated. We finally hit mini-Powerline and did another quick time check. It was still within reach, but not having exact mileage and with the Boulevard uphill still to come, nothing was certain.

As we got closer to town, the previously unthinkable goal of 20 hours was right there in front of me, waiting to be grasped. My mind and body were fully exhausted as we crested the final hill and came into view of the finish line. And there ahead of me was the red "taillight" of another runner.  I pushed with everything I had left, but just didn't have enough distance to fully close the gap. 

19:51:47!!!!  I broke 20 and finished in 10th place overall. The two elements of my most optimistic secret dreams.

And as it turns out, that runner that finished less than a minute ahead of me was none other than Max King, who was on a record setting pace for the first 60+ miles.

As I was recovering in the medical tent after the race, I told everyone around how I was going to retire from Leadville. I had achieved almost impossible goals. There was no way I could outdo this performance. I needed to go out on top, like Michael Phelps, except without all the gold medals, or millions in endorsements, or superhuman physique...  Okay, pretty much nothing like Michael Phelps, but still, on top. It only took til sunrise for me to start rethinking that decision. Surely, if I trained just a little harder, I could shave a few more minutes off, and if the weather was even better, maybe a few more minutes. My family may have something to say about it, but at this point, Leadville number 4 is calling to me. 

After the race, I felt pretty good except for the plumbing. I was having to run to take a leak every 5-10 minutes and I thought I might have some internal bleeding (ultra runners freely talk about this kind of crap (pun intended)). Luckily, this all went away within the next 24 hours. By the time I woke up from a 3 hour nap, my legs were feeling pretty good too. They were a bit on the sore/stiff side, but not too bad at all.

All the training and experience paid off, in addition to a good load of luck. But another big reason for the success was that I constantly made minor changes to my pace and effort to keep pushing hard while not red-lining. I never really ran with anyone in the first half of the race, allowing me to keep my own pace the whole time. On the return, both pacers, Mike and Anthony allowed me to dictate the effort until the very end. With all my experience, there is nobody else who knows what my body should or shouldn't be doing at any particular time. Also, my 52 minute positive split is a clear indication of great pacing. While I'm still chasing the elusive negative split on a hundred miler, this came pretty darn close.