Friday, December 21, 2018

2018 Running Year in Review

Well, 2018 did not go nearly as well as I had hoped, especially after a decent 2017.

In 2017, despite stomach issues for the last 5 hours, I was able to PR with 148 miles at the 24 Hour World Championships in Belfast.  A few months later, I ran a smart race at Javelina, finishing in the top 10 and missing 18 hours by just a couple of minutes. Six weeks later, I ran an almost perfect pace at Desert Solstice to win it with another PR of over 150 miles.  Then, I finished the year (literally on the last day) with a bit of a disappointing run at Snowdrop, but given that it was only 3 weeks after DS and I still won $500, it did not sting too much.

Then came 2018.  Things looked pretty good at first.  I ran Coldwater in January and started out with 3 ½ perfectly paced laps, on track for a 17:30 trail PR.  Unfortunately, with only 30 miles to go, nature called and I didn’t watch where I stepped off the trail. After 15 minutes of pulling hair-thin cactus needles out of my shoe, my momentum was gone.  I still finished 2nd, with a decent time of 18:51, but it was the first of the “missed it by that much” races that would plague my year.

Two weeks later, I had a good day at the Super Half (½ marathon) in Colorado Springs, despite an unexpected change in the weather that resulted in frozen arms and useless hand stumps.  A few weeks after that, I headed to Nashville for the Run 4 Water 24 hour race. I started off too fast given my weight and fitness level and with the bout of torrential rain in the middle of the night, I called it quits at 100 miles.

After almost two months of no races, I ran the Rattler Trail 50K in Colorado Springs on a cold day with a thin layer of slippery snow on the ground.  My time was not spectacular, but I felt like I paced myself perfectly, running the second of the two loops 9 minutes faster than the first.

I went into the 24 Hours of Palmer Lake with a little bit of momentum, only a week later.  Unfortunately, some early snow, sloppy mud, and inexplicable sleepiness overnight limited my outing to 103 miles, though I did enjoy talking to Pete Kostelnik who casually set a new course record.

A week later came the Cheyenne Mountain 50K.  Despite what I thought was a reasonable pace on the first loop, I fell apart in the second and slowed down by 26 minutes.  Not the moral booster that I wanted heading out to D3 a couple of weeks later. Despite decent weather and what I considered a smart starting pace, I just didn’t have it in me and finished a distant 2nd with only 116 miles.

A week after the D3 disappointment, I lined up at the start of the Colfax Marathon, the race that started my running “career” back in 2009.  A week after running 116, and with 35 miles of training in between, I had no real expectations. I started out smart, let the 3:15 pacer fade into the distance and listened to my body.  I caught back up to that pacer in the final mile and finished in a bit under 3:15. Not exciting for many of my fellow competitors, but given the circumstances, I was pretty happy.

Two weeks after Colfax, I ran a decent 50 miler at North Fork and only missed my goal by about 14 minutes.  Another two weeks flew by and I was up in Leadville for my first attempt at their marathon, which tops out at Mosquito Pass at over 13,000’.  My climbing was pitifully slow. I felt great on the downhills and made up quite a bit of time and positions, even finishing off with sub-7 and sub-6 minute miles wasn’t enough to help my 5:05 overall time.  The only reason I had entered the race was to try to earn a spot to the Leadville 100. I never thought a 26th place finish in my age group would do it, but so few runners stuck around long enough that I got the copper coin!

One week later, literally at the last minute, I got bumped up from the waitlist for the San Juan Solstice, another race that I had never run before.  Another smart start, but when I hit the first major downhill, where I should have flown by so many runners, I just didn’t have the legs. By the second big climb, I was feeling strong again and slowly reeling others in.  I then had a great time on the rolling terrain above treeline and having an absolute blast. That didn’t last long. The last 15 miles of the race, many of which were downhill, were agonizingly slow. My right hip was hurting, the soles of my feet felt raw, and I was walking downhills that I should have been flying sub-7 minute miles on.  San Juan was a huge downer for me. I feel like the race is perfectly suited for my strengths and yet I struggled to barely finish in the top ⅓.

I picked myself up by the bootstraps, spent even more time at high altitude, and two weeks later I was back in Leadville for the Silver Rush.  Another smart start, letting everyone pass in the first 10 uphill miles. I had speed on the downhills and felt great with the altitude. I still didn’t have the climbing strength that I wanted, but nowhere near as bad as at the Leadville Marathon.  Taking chances, as I usually do, with no shirt, and no gear, I got caught in a pretty serious downpour/hailstorm over the last 6 miles but kept plodding through the flooded course. With about a mile to go, I lost steam as I got to within a couple of hundred feet of the finish line, as the course frustratingly wound around.  I should have finished 2nd or 3rd in my age group, but settled for 4th, as I had no steam (or willpower) at the end. It was a decent time and I even won another copper coin, which I could have used for 2019, but I turned it down as I had recently registered for a 6 day race for the following year.

A few weeks after the SIlver Rush, I entered the Pikes Peak Ultra - a 50 miler right in my own backyard.  Another smart start and some decent pacing, but I lost steam again from about mile 30 to 40. I finished pretty strong, but with a much slower time than I had hoped.

Three weeks later, I headed to Leadville for the 3rd time this summer, for the Leadville 100.  I did not make it too widely known, but one of my big goals for the year was to break Michael Wardian’s record for the combined Leadville 100 and Pikes Peak Marathon.  I had done even more altitude training but was not feeling overly optimistic given my lackluster results.

I really focused on running smart, and I succeeded for quite a while.  Despite the course having been lengthened by about 1.5 miles, I was ahead of my 2016 PR all the way.  Even coming back over Hope Pass without a pacer, I was making good time. I got back to Outward Bound still feeling well and picked up an unexpected pacer.  As we chatted, he soon informed me that he had paced Wardian the previous year when he set the record - what a small world it truly is. I kept running well to Powerline, and climbed decently, though not as strong as in 2016.  My decent was also not as fast. Then, from Mayqueen to the finish, I just didn’t have any climbing power. I lost all the time I had gained earlier, and then some. 20:18 is a very good time and I was still a minute ahead of Wardian’s pace, but I was disappointed in not being able to keep up my pace to the end.

After a tiring drive down to Manitou, interrupted by a 45 minute nap, I stood at the startline of the Pikes Peak Marathon.  I still felt that I had a great shot at the record, but that feeling slowly dissipated as I struggled from the start and watched so many runners pass on by.

I finally made the top and was still half a minute ahead of Wardian, but I knew he had a great decent, and I just didn’t have the legs.  I totally gave up and was tempted to abandon the race altogether. Most of the return was a struggle to even jog when I should have been flying.  I had hit rock bottom, again. It was only over the last few miles that I felt like myself again and ran like I should have all along. Too little, too late.  Though I was only the third person ever to run the double, I had failed in my attempt for the record. Worse yet, was the knowledge that I would have been physically able to do it.  I know I will never run a 2:30 marathon, but this, this I could and should have done. That stung.

I had an awesome experience pacing the 4 hour group at the ADT Marathon 2 weeks later.  This is one of my favorite things each year. Though I always end with a single runner, I love being able to share my experience with the group early on.

Three more weeks and I was off to Cleveland for the 24 Hour National Championships.  With Olivier running, I knew my only shot at a win was if he failed. Not only did he not fail, but he reset the age group record with an awesome 161.5 miles.  I, on the other hand, went in still suffering from the flu that my daughter graciously shared with me. Despite a slow start and decent weather, I struggled and called it quits after 103 miles.  Though this was one of the few occasions that I could blame someone else for my failure (my daughter), it hit me pretty hard. It wasn;t just a physical failure, I was failing mentally, more and more.  I just couldn’t get excited and motivated like I used to.

I hoped Javelina would turn things around for me.  It’s such a great party atmosphere and I had real hopes of besting my 2017 PR.  Another smart start, but by the end of the second lap, I was slowing down. The 3rd lap was painfully slow, as it had been 2 years earlier.  I was so mentally done. By the time I finished the 3rd lap, and my race, I rushed to my phone and sent out a message requesting to withdraw from the 6 Days in the Dome Redux the following year.  I knew there was no way I could motivate myself to wake up and run day after day, when I couldn’t even push myself through 100 miles.

I finished off the year with Desert Solstice, the race that put an exclamation point to the end of my great 2017 season.  I knew this year would be different as I barely did any running in the past couple of months. I still hoped to run a slow, but respectable 100 miles and enjoy the show as so many others went for records.  The first 50 miles felt pretty good with my measured pace, but I couldn’t even keep that up for the next 50. I kept slowing down and struggled to hit the 100 mile mark. What a way to end the year.

I still managed to run over 3,000 miles, though I was on track to hit 4,000.  I ran 25 races, including 14 ultras (half of them 100 milers). And despite my disappointments, I had a 2nd place finish at Coldwater and was only the 3rd person to run the Leadville/Pikes Peak double. But it’s not really about the results.  It’s about feeling like I gave it my best and ran a smart race, for the entire race. I just haven’t felt that this past year and it simply isn’t fun anymore. I’m just burnt out. I want to spend more time with my family and I also want to refocus on my other passion - woodworking (Adrian's Woods).

I’ve been suffering from a lack of motivation/willpower pretty much all year.  I put on lots of miles early one but never had a single whole race that I really felt good about.  Until this fall, I had gone 22 months without more than a week off of running - not since the end of 2016 when I “retired”.  Given all the flack that I got after that, I am not retiring now. Just taking an extended hiatus from trying to be “competitive”.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Leadville 100 / Pikes Peak Marathon Double 2018

One of my big goals for 2018 was to break the record for the combined Leadville 100 and Pikes Peak Marathon.  Sounds like a challenging combo, until you realize that they’re both run on the same weekend, with only hours in between the finish at Leadville and the start of the Marathon, and a 122 mile drive in between.  Even so, it was something on my mind ever since I had read Marshall Ulrich’s Running on Empty years earlier.  He ran this crazy double two years in a row (1992 & 1993) and I felt that I could follow in his footsteps.  Despite my lack of experience, I felt that his best time of 30:15 was within my grasp.

In 2016, I finally had a great race at Leadville, breaking 20 hours and finishing in the top 10.  I felt that I was ready, but I didn’t get into the lottery for 2017, and being in Belfast for the 24 Hour World Championships, I missed my chance to earn a spot via the Silver Rush 50.  I settled for crewing and pacing a friend through the last 50 miles, which was a different, but totally awesome experience.  Early in the following week I came across an article about Michael Wardian having completed the feat, and setting a new mark of 26:20 - 20:18 at Leadville and 6:02 at Pikes Peak.  My best Leadville was 26 minutes faster than Wardian and my best Pikes Peak Marathon was 66 minutes faster.  The bar was now raised significantly, but I still felt that I had a shot at this new record, if I could put together a perfect weekend.  How hard could it be?

I had been putting in lots of miles in the first half of 2018, but in the 10 weeks before Leadville, I hadn’t been able to top the 100 mark a single time.  I even had a couple of sub 50 mile weeks, and I certainly wasn’t making up for the distance with any kind of speed.  My weight finally dropped below 160, but not by much.  The only thing I sort of had going for me was that I did spend a decent amount of time at altitude to minimize its impact on race day(s).  But even those evening climbs up Mnt. Bierstadt weren’t nearly as fast as they had been a couple of years earlier.  The bottom line was that I wasn’t feeling like I was in my prime going in.

I just didn’t know what to expect but I was glad to finally get started once the shotgun went off.

I started pretty close to the front - not because I wanted to, but because I entered the corrall from the front and didn’t have time to move back much.  Wearing a hat and loose-fitting long-sleeve, I was unrecognizable to most for the first few miles.  I tried to take advantage of my downhill abilities without pushing too hard, hoping I could bank some easy time before the climbs.

As usual, there were many runners around me that should have been going out much slower.  I know this sounds arrogant, but that’s the last thing I intend.  There were runners alongside that were running their first 100 miler.  Normally, I keep quiet, but this time as we chatted, I very politely suggested to a few of them that we were on a 19 hour pace and they might want to consider saving some of their strength for later on in the race.  No one took my advice seriously.  Some even passed me, as I tend to go slow up even the small climbs around Turquoise Lake.  Some finished close to 30 hours, some not at all.  One of the exceptions was Roger, an American living in Brazil.  Though this was his first 100, I wasn’t too worried about his abilities as he had previously run up to 80 miles and was clearly in good shape and a fast runner.  He beat me to Winfield, then slowed down a bit but still finished in an awesome debut of 21:23.

As we passed the Sugar Loafin’ campground, I tossed my hat and recognized a passing runner’s form - Christy Burns, a fellow Belmar Running Club member who had previously finished 3rd.  We chatted for a bit before she passed on by.  As we got to Turquoise Lake, I tossed my shirt as I was starting to warm up and didn’t want to get too sweaty.  Part way around, I got caught by Steve and Gina Slaby, two of the US’s best 24 hour runners who I had first met during the Capitol Reef 100, 3 years earlier.  We chatted for a bit as we traded positions back and forth.  I also got to watch Brooks puking his guts out by the side of the trail.  He’s from the Springs and his Leadville PR is within a couple of minutes of mine.  I met him because of his father, Parks, who now in his mid 70’s, is still running strong.  For the first few years, though almost 30 years my senior, he was actually kicking my butt.  He really inspired me and showed that age can be irrelevant.

It felt like I had started out noticeably faster than previous years, so I was a little surprised to learn at  May Queen that I was only a minute ahead of my PR pace.  I was only slightly disappointed, taking comfort in the fact that I was not going out too fast.  Looking back on it now and over analyzing things as I do, the fact that I thought I was going faster than I was should have been a signal that I was working just a little too hard.  Unfortunately, these kinds of small signals are way too subtle to pick up on during a race.

It was hard to stay within my comfort level of mostly walking as the Slaby’s ran up the backside of Powerline.  I was surprised to catch up to them just over the top and learned that Gina was having stomach issues, apparently due to the altitude.  She was no longer smiling, yet despite struggling through these issues all day long, she pushed ever on and wound up finishing 3rd.  I wish I had that kind of perseverance.

As usual, I had a blast flying down Powerline and then caught back up to Christy on the pavement before we headed into Outward Bound.  Even without a crew, the aid station volunteers are so amazing at Leadville that I was able to get my drop bag, restock the depleted snacks in my shorts, guzzle a can of Coke, and head off within about 30 seconds.  I called out for the time as I ran out.  I had gained another 4 minutes on my PR pace and was now 5 minutes ahead.

This next section to Half Pipe is where I slowed a bit in 2016 so I figured I should gain some more this time around.  I wasn’t quite as fast as I thought, even with a slight tailwind, but still managed to gain another 3 minutes in less than 6 miles.  I ran parts of this section with Christy and Roger (from Brazil).  It’s always nice to chat with old friends and make new ones.  Before getting into Treeline, Christy  asked for a salt cap, which I had plenty of.  Despite her great pace, she was apparently dealing with some muscle cramps and nausea and would eventually drop at Winfield.

From Half Pipe to Twin Lakes, I mainly ran alone.  This was also the section where the forecasted rain finally hit.  It was never too heavy, just steady for about an hour.  The temperature didn’t drop and there was no wind, so I was still comfortable without a shirt.  It may seem silly, but I find it much more comfortable for the rain to wash down by bare skin than to be covered by a wet, heavy shirt.  The only downside to getting caught in the rain is that all the accumulated salt from earlier sweating gets washed down into my eyes.  The first 5-10 minutes is painful and somewhat dangerous as my eyesight is diminished.

Just before getting to the Mount Elbert water station, there was a large, nasty puddle that took up more than the trail width.  I tried to step on some logs and boards, but they sank in the deep water and my shoes got soaked.  On the return, I would notice that there was a hidden bypass.

Even though there would only be about 15-20 minutes to the next aid station, my bottle was empty so I stopped to fill.  I’m pleased with myself for keeping well hydrated throughout the entire race this time.

I ran down the final steep little hill into the Twin Lakes aid station, gaining another 5 minutes.  Again, with the help of awesome volunteers, I was in and out in well under a minute, after having downed a Coke, club soda, and restocked my snacks.  Though the rain had stopped, due to the forecast and still cloudy skies, I opted to tie a long-sleeve shirt around my waist and stuffed a small jacket into the back of my shorts.  I usually just take my chances, but this time I played it safe.

The trail through the grassy meadows had a few inches of standing water from the morning’s rain but for the first time since 2014, the section leading up to the main creek crossing was dry.  In previous years, we had to maneuver through knee deep muddy water.  The creek was also quite low, never getting up past mid-calves, where previously it had been close to crotch deep.

I didn’t feel super powerful climbing up to Hope Pass, but I plodded on, passing quickly through the lama supplied aid station.  With the sky mostly clear, I tired of the shirt around my waist and dropped it off at the aid station, figuring that if the weather turned or as it got later and cooler, some underprepared runner might make use of it.  Though I didn’t know it at the time, I moved well enough through this section, hitting the top of the pass two minutes faster than last time.  At the top, I was now 15 minutes ahead of my PR time.  Down the other side I went, enjoying the runnable upper portion, then I managed well through the steeper sections that are more breaking than running.  I hopped out of the way for Rob Krar and the next couple of runners, who weren’t all that close behind him.  I finally hit the right hand turn and wondered if any runners would mistakenly fly by it.  This next section that parallels the road always seems to take forever and now it was about ¾ mile longer.  More and more runners were coming up but I stopped counting after 10.  After what felt like a lifetime, I made the final left turn towards Winfield, down the final descent, across the creek and into the aid station.

I again made quick work of getting in and out, leaving with a fresh supply of snacks and a second water bottle.  The climb back up is long enough and typically hot enough to warrant two bottles.  This was the first time I would run the return without a pacer.  I was wishing I had someone to carry my bottles for me and hoped it would not slow me down too much.  I was pretty pleased to hear that it was 9:23 on the race clock.  That put me 7 minutes ahead of my PR pace, despite running an extra ¾ of a mile, which added 8 minutes to this segment.  I still felt good and I had every expectation that I could improve upon my return time.  Ultimately, I wanted to run an even split.

The return started out pretty well.  I was running the rolling terrain at a good speed and quickly caught up to a few runners.  One of the young runners and his wife/girlfriend pacer chatted with me for a bit.  They then asked “mind if we ask how old you are?”

“49” I answered.

“Holy crap!” they responded in unison.  I laughed out loud at their incredulity.  I laughed to myself as I passed them.  Unfortunately, they caught back up to me by the time I reached the top, but that didn’t last long.  Once over, my long, quick legs took over and no one had a chance to keep up.  The climb, being ¾ mile longer than 2016 took an extra 8 minutes, same as the descent.

Once back at the aid station, I quickly refilled my main bottle, dumped the empty temporary bottle, and continued on down the trail.  A volunteer recognized me and offered back the shirt that I had left on the ascent, but I declined.  The descent back into Twin Lakes is one of my favorite sections.  It is perfectly runnable and with my downhilling skills, I can recover from the previous climb while still moving quickly enough to catch more runners.  I even managed to better my time for this section by 5 minutes.

Back through the Twin Lakes aid station, this year I opted to not change shoes, or even socks.  I wish I had at least gone with a change of socks as my wet feet and loose shoes would eventually lead to annoying blisters on the bottoms of both feet.

The climb out of Twin Lakes is definitely not my favorite.  This year it was even worse because the ball of my right foot started to hurt and only got worse.  It felt like the bones were bruised and every time I bent the foot to step uphill, the pain got worse.  I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t let that pain hold me back and I soldiered on.  Surprisingly, the descents, where the pounding was worse, caused no pain.  I was glad of that, but worried about the additional climb back up Powerline.

I quickly topped off my bottle at Mount Elbert and continued on, avoiding the big puddle this time.  I was running reasonably well on the downhills, though losing more power on the climbs.  I made my way back towards Half Pipe, keeping an eye on the setting sun and trying to remember how it compared to 2016.  I made some rough mental calculations and figured I was still in good position to finish under 20 hours.  I had managed to run this section in the same time as 2016.

I ran through the Treeline crew area with lots of cheers all around then made my way back onto the paved road.  The morning’s tailwind was still blowing but now it was an unwelcomed headwind.  I had the same situation 2 years earlier, but then I relied on my pacer to draft off of.  This time, I was at it alone, with no other runners close enough to work with.  I eventually made my way back to the Outward Bound aid station thinking, based on the sun, that I was behind my PR pace.  It turned out I was 4 minutes ahead after running another section dead even with 2016.

Given a time reading from a volunteer, I knew I had 4 hours and 55 minutes to break 20.  Last time, it took 4:44 for these last miles.  I didn’t think that I could do better on the climb up Powerline, but I figured I might on the last section around Turquoise.

As I sat on a chair for half a minute to go through my drop bag and grab a shirt, lights, snacks, etc., a guy came up and asked if I had a pacer.  Answering “no”, he then asked if I wanted him to join me.  I gladly accepted and we were soon off.

Josh and I started talking and he mentioned that he was going to Manitou Springs the next day to help his friend photograph and film the Pikes Peak Marathon.  I then told him of my intentions to do the same, but to be running the Marathon.  He burst out in laughter as he realized that I was chasing Michael Wardian’s record and then told me that he had paced Wardian for the full 50 miles last year when he set the record.  What a small world ultra running is, and what an incredible coincidence this was.

Josh was a huge help.  Not just in carrying an extra bottle and supplies for me.  Without his companionship, I would have been quite lonely those last hours.  He did his best to spur me on, without being too pushy.

After leaving the asphalt road again, we headed over to the base of Powerline.  I wasn’t as strong as in 2016, but was still moving well enough.  We didn’t catch any other runners on the climb, which was a bit disappointing, but at least we weren’t passed either.  I clearly remembered last time having to turn on lights just before the top, so I was using that as a time gauge.  We were pretty close to the top again before turning them on, so I figured that the timing was similar.  And as usual, nearing the top, we could hear first the horn, then the overall jubilations of the unofficial aid station run by local partyers.  They keep outdoing themselves every year and this time the glow sticks lining the trail stretched out for a good distance before the party.  Josh and I took advantage of some quick snacks and gulps of Coke.  We then headed off into the darkness and down the other side.

My descent was good, but not as good as I know it could be.  I just wasn’t taking quite enough advantage of the downhill as I normally would.  We eventually made our way off the road, ont to the rocky single-track, and back onto the paved road to May Queen.

I knew that I had lost some time and now had 2:22 for this last section in order to break 20 hours.  This was just short of what it took last time, but given that I was better hydrated and remembering that I didn’t have a totally strong finish then, I felt there was still a shot.

That shot slowly slipped away as I was unable to run up the gentlest inclines and was losing some of my downhill speed as well.  It’s always a mental struggle, as well as physical, to get around Turquoise and this year was no easier.  When we finally made it down mini-Powerline and onto the gravel road, I kept turning back, fearing to see the oncoming lights of a runner.  Miraculously, this never happened, but I certainly wasn’t speeding along.  Though I ran most of the Boulevard, it was at a pretty slow pace.

A final time check when we reached the pavement cemented my 20+ hour finish.  I pushed a bit on the downhill and finally crossed the line in 20:17:59.  Not nearly where I wanted/needed to be, though still 58 seconds ahead of Wardian’s time.

After a few minutes to recompose myself in the warming tent, we headed down the block, in the rain, towards my car.  I gave Josh a ride back to Outward Bound where he was parked and headed off to a friend’s house to get a quick shower.  Unfortunately, when I got there, the front door that was supposed to be unlocked, was not.  I gave up and got back in the car for the long drive to Manitou.

Between the rain, subsequent fog, and my fatigue, I was not even driving at the speed limit most of the time.  I made slower progress than usual and by the time I got to Wilkerson Pass, I was no longer able to keep my eyes open.  I pulled over in the little rest area, crawled into the back of my Subaru and fell fast asleep.  I woke up 45 minutes later, surprisingly refreshed and drove down the rest of the way.

I parked as close to the start of the Marathon as I could and crawled into the back again for a bit more rest.  Unfortunately, as tired as I was, I just couldn’t fall back asleep.  I eventually got out, picked up my bib , and started getting ready for the race.

Normally, I take my chances during a race and go light.  This time, due to the weather forecast, repeated warnings from race staff, and knowing I’d be moving somewhat slower, I decided to be cautious.  I took a fanny pack with a rain jacket, gloves, snacks, and I wore a shirt.  As it turned out, I took the shirt off within the first mile and never used any of the other crap I lugged with me.

I was pleasantly surprised that my legs felt pretty OK.  There was no real stiffness or soreness.  Things were looking promising.  My best PPM was 4:46 and my worst was 5:25, back when I wasn’t as good of a runner.  Surely a sub 6 hour PPM would be practically in the bag.  How hard could it be?

Such arrogance rarely pays off.

I started the morning near the very back of the second wave, 2 minutes behind the first wave.  I instantly found myself being passed by every surrounding second wave runner as my breathing labored to keep me moving.  Another minute later and I was being engulfed by the third wave of runners.  My legs were not putting out much power and I was struggling even before we got off the asphalt.  I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that most runners go out way too fast.  Surely I would be seeing all of them on the upper slopes as they faltered and I surged.

Unfortunately, things didn’t improve.  I kept getting passed as the trail swept back and forth across the mountain side.  By the time we got to the No Name aid station, the passing slowed quite a bit, but I wasn’t making up much time.  I was running decently on the flats and downhills, but there are not enough of those on the ascent to really make a difference.

My breathing seemed to settle down even as we climbed above treeline, but my legs still had no power.  The summit was far off and I was still moving so slow.  I had chosen to run without a watch again, but I couldn’t help but hear snippets from surrounding runners.  It soon became clear to me that I wasn’t going to break 4 hours for the ascent.  I had figured that I needed 3:45 to give myself a good cushion.  That was now disappearing.

As we got to the final mile, I resigned myself that I not only had lost the cushion, but any realistic chance to break the record.  The wind totally left my sails.  I was defeated and this knowledge only served to slow me further.  As I topped out, the race clock read 4:19.  I had started 2+ minutes back, so I was actually still 28 seconds ahead of Wardian’s time, having lost only 30 seconds to him on the ascent.  Josh, my pacer from the previous night, was there to cheer me on.  He tried to convince me that I could still do it.  Unfortunately, I knew the truth.  I would have needed a sub 1:47 descent.  My previous record was 1:49 and I just didn’t have it in my legs.

I could have gotten down in a bit over 2 hours, but I totally gave up at this point.  I was tempted to bail at the top and hitch a ride down, but I didn’t.  Instead, I trudged downhill at an agonizingly slow pace.  It was a pitiful combination of jogging and walking.  My legs could have done more, but I just couldn’t will my body to run.  It was a real low point that lasted for miles.

After finally getting past Barr Camp, I started to jog a bit more, but I still walked up any little climbs.  What kept me moving was the knowledge that my wife and daughters were waiting for me down in Manitou.  I felt awful knowing that I was wasting their day with my pitiful descent.  That finally motivated me to run a little more.

As I got down among the top of the switchbacks, I heard some nearby runners talking about needing to break 7 hours in order to make the cut-off and get the finisher’s jacket.  Somehow, that struck a chord.  I was not going to finish off this pitiful weekend by missing the cut-off and not even getting a jacket.  A fire was rekindled and I took off, with much needed gravity assistance.  I ran those last 3 miles at a sub 7 minute pace, finishing in 6:53:17, more than 50 minutes off Wardian’s record.

Coming through the finish chute, my daughter Amy jumped out of the crowd and ran with me, hand-in-hand.  I was then interviewed for a nice article in PikesPeakSports.

As it turned out, there was no 7 hour cut-off, but the mis-information probably cut a good 10 minutes off my finish.

It was certainly not the race weekend I had dreamt about all year.  I had such high aspirations, but each dream vanished as the miles slowly passed by.  I was pretty disappointed with my performance, but as I got the chance to look at my detailed splits, I was able to better appreciate my effort.  Up until the return at Outward Bound, I ran 1.5 miles longer than in 2016 and was still 4 minutes ahead of that time.  With the exception of the segment between Hope Pass and Winfield, which had been lengthened, I ran every section faster until returning to Twin Lakes.  Then I ran from there to Outward Bound at the same pace.  Though I obviously fell apart from Outward Bound to the finish, I really had an awesome race until that point.  Even through those last 20+ miles, I still managed to move up 4 places and not be passed by a single runner.  Additionally, my legs were feeling pretty good the next morning.  They just didn’t have any power.  Where I really “failed” was mentally.  When I gave up, I totally gave up.  But as bad as I did at Pikes Peak, I still finished in the top 38% of the field, though it sure felt like I was vying for a DFL at the time.

I didn't break Wardian’s record, but I was close on his tail until the very end, and I became only the 3rd person ever to complete this crazy double.  I know now that I am capable of beating that record.  It will take a nearly perfect weekend, but it is realistic.  2019 has already been devoted to my first 6-day effort, but another attempt in 2020 is a real possibility!

Lessons learned:
A pacer going up Hope Pass would have been really nice to carry the water bottles
More sugar and caffeine (i.e. Coke) in the latter miles of Leadville
More sugar without caffeine (i.e. Ginger Ale) after Leadville
A shower after Leadville may have woken me up enough to make the full drive and get a little more sleep before Pikes Peak
More sugar and caffeine (i.e. Coke) going up Pikes Peak
Altitude training was good
Definitely need more leg strength training

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Coldwater Rumble 100 - 2018

I have a bit of a mixed history with Coldwater. In 2014, the 52 miler was my first ever DNF. I came back for revenge in 2015 and wound up with my first ever podium spot on a 100 miler, finishing 2nd. This time, I was testing my body to see if it had recovered from the 24 hour PR effort at Desert Solstice 6 weeks prior. Clearly, 3 weeks was inadequate, as I had proven at the Snowdrop 55. My lunchtime runs the previous couple of weeks had me feeling heavy, sluggish and stiff. Despite the great weather forecast, my expectations were low.

The field was pretty small but UltraSignup added to my anxiety by ranking me at 12th out of the 62 participants, with a predicted finish time of 22:38:44. The only time they get it close to right is for the Javelina, but these low expectations fueled my competitive nature.

I wasn't just feeling heavy, all the holiday goodies added some unwelcomed pounds to my frame. I tried to put this out of my mind and hoped the less than 6,000' of climbing would not slow me down too much. I had one great thing going for me, the forecast. Unlike most other times, it kept improving as the day drew near. A high of 59 and mostly cloudy skies - who could ask for better? It was definitely the best 100 miler weather I have ever experienced.

The eastern sky was just beginning to lighten when they set us off. I got some strange looks when I tossed my shirt away just before the start. Standing around was a bit cool, but with temps already in the mid 50's and expected to increase slightly, I figured I'd chance it. Smart move, as I was soon plenty warm on the initial rollers.

As usual, I walked up the hills and ran the downhills right from the beginning, much to the annoyance of my fellow runners who wanted to sprint up everything while they were still fresh. Everyone was pretty quiet but after we settled in past the first aid station, I tried to strike up some conversations. I met a couple of guys who had never completed a 100, yet they were ahead of me for the first 10+ miles, while I was on a 17:30 pace. I tried to casually suggest that they may want to ease up a bit before it was too late, but I haven't found too many runners open to unsolicited advice. Just because this was my 30th 100 since 2014 didn't necessarily mean I knew anything.

I had been expecting Courtney Dauwalter to come zipping by after the first few miles. Even though she started 30 minutes later, I figured she'd be flying through the 52 mile sprint. As it was, I didn't see her until about mile 11. She was smiling and chatting as if she were on a casual jaunt. I actually kept pace with her for about a mile, just to chat. It was fun, until it wasn't. My body soon got past the pleasantness of the encounter and reminded me that I'm no Courtney. I let her go and slowed quite a bit for a few minutes in an attempt to reset my body for the remaining 88 miles.

Running without a watch again, I had no idea how I was doing, other than that I just didn't feel quite 100%. Close, but not quite. The legs felt just the slightest bit tight. The right ankle reminded me a bit of how it felt at Snowdrop. I try to be really in tune with my body, but sometimes it's hard to read if something is really wrong or just feeling insignificant twinges.

With all the other distance runners now fully mixed in, by the time I finished the first loop, I couldn't tell where I was in the 100 mile pack and tried not to worry much about it. When I finally crossed the start/finish, the clock read 3:25 for the first lap. I had hoped for somewhere between 3:30-4:00 and was quite pleased since I didn't feel like I had worked hard, other than the mile with Courtney. Back out for loop 2 and by the second half, I was more relaxed and my whole body just felt better. What shocked me was that by mile 36, the front runners were already coming the other way - 8 mile lead already! I tried not to panic. Back to the start/finish. 3:30 for the second lap. I simply couldn't ask for more, so I tried my best to ignore my seemingly hopeless placement.

Lap 3 felt great. I was totally in the zone, not working hard, having fun with the volunteers at each aid station. 3:32 this time. How could it get any better? Courtney and her husband Kevin helped me transition quickly. I grabbed my lights and headed off again. I had counted the oncoming runners and figured I was in 5th, 2 miles behind a guy that was being paced by my friend Rick Valentine, who had paced me on this course 3 years earlier.

The cool weather had brought on a bit of wind, which in the desert, translates to dust. Similar to forest fire smoke, dust makes for particularly colorful sunsets and this one didn't disappoint. The red was so brilliant, I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the trail.

Darkness settled in and I finally flipped on my flashlight. I kept moving well and feeling good. Just a bit after the remote aid station at Pederson, I passed Rick and his runner. This is where things took a turn for the worst. I took just one step off the trail to take a leak, while the runners I had just passed went by. Quickly finishing my business, I started off again. With the first step, it was instantly obvious that something was horribly wrong. There were many sharp points of pain on the bottom of my right foot. My flashlight soon revealed that my right foot was now sporting a full grown beard - the cactus that I had apparently stepped on. My race was over!

Those unfamiliar with teddy bear cacti would wonder why the alarming prognosis. Dozens of hair-thin spines had penetrated the sole of my shoe and poked all the way into the bottom of my foot. I quickly contemplated calling out for help. What could anyone else do? What runner would be willing to screw up their race to help an idiot who stepped on a cactus? I had to fix this on my own.

I bent down and tried to pull of my shoe only to be instantly welcomed by my calf spasming in the convulsions of a cramp. Muscles are not very supple after 71 miles. I had to pry my shoe off with the other foot, and find a small, cactus free rock to rest my stockinged foot on. The shoe looked bad. The dozens of spines were so thin and fragile that they kept breaking off in my fingers when I tried to pull them out. Additionally, they were each lined with microscopic barbs which simply did not want to let go of my shoe. Miraculously, none of them ended up embedded in my fingers. I had to pull one at a time and then break the rest off with a small stone. Next, I felt inside the shoe for all the tiny spines that had gone all the way through. There was simply no way I could get a hold of them. I had to completely undo the laces so I could flail the shoe open wide, then, using another small rock with an edge, scraped the spines away. I was extremely doubtful that this would work, but other than hopping back 2 miles to the aid station on one foot, I didn't have many other options. My shoes were old, thin soled, with inserts that had been pounded to paper thinness. There was no protection for my feet. Even though I could no longer feel any pokies with my fingers, I knew that the slightest shift in a single one of the broken spines that were left permanently embedded in the sole would be felt immediately.

After quite a few minutes of shoe surgery, I slipped it back on and took some tentative steps as I realized that I had been standing shirtless and motionless in the 50 degree night. I needed to move before the shivering started. I didn't feel any pokes on the bottom of my foot. I kept going. Nothing. I tried to put it all behind me and get back into the groove that I had been enjoying, but the spell was broken and try as I might, I just never got it back. Surprisingly, I didn't experience any more problems with the foot, but slowed down, in addition to all the time I had lost standing still.

I finally re-passed Rick and his runner at the Coldwater aid and made my way to the start/finish for the second to last time. Somehow, my tired brain calculated a whopping 4:25 for this lap, though in reality I only slowed down to a 3:55. Had I realized that I hadn't slowed that much, I may have maintained a better mental state. Unfortunately, I kind of gave up at that point, figuring that I had somehow given up an entire hour on the pace I was previously holding. The only bright side was that I met my pacer, Aaron, and he informed me that I had just taken over 2nd place! Still not sure how it happened, as I was expecting to be in 4th, but I didn't argue.

I had never met Aaron before. We were introduced on FB by a mutual friend the previous week, when I had put out a request for a pacer. He turned out to be a genuinely nice guy and made that final lap so much more bearable, even blasting some Metalica for me on the final miles.

Until the cactus incident, I was running a perfectly paced race, on track for a 17:30 finish. I was now unsure of what I could do, but I certainly didn't want to give up the 2nd place position. Aaron encouraged me to push on and kept me from despairing in the dark night. As we approached the middle of the final loop, it became apparent that I still had a shot at breaking 19 hours. Though far from the 17:30 I had dared to dream of just a few hours earlier, this would still mean a 2nd fastest 100 miler. Along with 2nd place overall, I could definitely hold my head high.

I pushed enough to ensure the sub 19 finish, but I had no motivation for much more, nor did I want to hurt my body further, just to shave a few additional minutes off my time.

We finally rolled through in 18:50:47. 2nd place overall, and 2nd place in the combined Javelina/Coldwater Sonoran Desert Series.

This was not a perfect race, at least not as a whole. The first 71 miles were pretty darn perfect. I'm not sure if I could have held on for the final 29, even without the cactus incident, but 71 perfect miles is pretty darn good. And it gives me hope that I could pull that off for an entire race at some point.

I can say that 6 weeks was enough time to recover and now I can focus on Run4Water, 5 weeks away. I can also thumb my nose at UltraSignup, as I beat their predicted time by close to 3 hours and finished 2nd instead of 12th!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Snowdrop 55 - 2017


My plan was to hold off on running a 48 hour race until I felt like I had a handle on the 24 hour, but Kevin Kline enticed me to commit to Snowdrop back in November. Luckily (and not so luckily) I managed to run a nearly perfect 24 race at the Desert Solstice. The not so good part was that I beat my body up worse than ever before and only had 3 weeks to recover before Snowdrop. I knew I wasn't 100 percent going in, but I really thought I was close enough to give Joe Fejes and Bob Hearn a run for their money.

Since this race took place over New Years weekend, we made a family trip out of it and visited friends in southern Texas. This meant a full week of no running/rest. Unfortunately I didn't sleep quite as well as I could have during the week.

Brenda, the girls, and I got to Missouri City Thursday evening. After dropping the family off at the hotel, Bob and I headed across town to a presentation on the mental aspects of sports. The next day, I had a blast with the family at the Houston aquarium. Then we had just enough time to drop off race supplies and walk the course before heading back to the hotel for the “elite meet ‘n greet”. Joe, Bob, dr. Lovy and I got to answer questions thrown at us by Kevin and the audience. They made a really big deal out of us three “elites”. My girls thought I was quite the celebrity and I have to say I rather enjoyed being treated like such royalty.

The next morning, we let the girls sleep in while Brenda drove me to the race start. The sky was barely starting to lighten when the mayor cut the tape and jumped out of the way just in time for the runners to take off.

I surprisingly started out near the front and ahead of Joe and Bob, though Joe soon caught up and started to build a real lead. Rumor had it that he and Bob were going to be vying for the 48 hour age group record but it was clear Joe wanted that 100 mile award. He built up a lead of at least 6 laps when he finally started to slow down, giving me the opportunity to catch up. By the time 100 miles got close, Joe fell behind, but Bob was steadily gaining on me. I did manage to hold on, but only by a couple of laps.

The reality was that my body started showing signs of failing pretty early on. Only a couple of hours in, the inside of my right ankle started to bother me, enough that I was genuinely worried about real damage. I eventually headed into the medical tent where they made things feel better, but not good enough. What I really needed was a change of direction, but that wasn’t going to come for some time. To give my ankle a bit of a change in the meantime, I decided to switch shoes. That definitely helped, but I was constantly worried about long-term damage to the connective tissue. Eventually, the pain diminished and now, a week later, it seems to be just fine.

The ankle was only one of the many issues that surfaced. Certain portions of my quads started to ache, much earlier than should have been the case. My abdominal muscles tightened up, despite the relatively moderate effort. And worst of all, the soles of my feet started to feel sore. Since I was well hydrated, I took the gamble with some aleeve, but that only helped partially. By the second day, I couldn’t go more than 5 or 6 laps without having to sit to take the weight off the feet. Running felt good for short periods, but then I would suddenly feel exhausted and even walking was a struggle.

Additionally, I was sleepy. Way more sleepy than I should have been the first night. I almost never have issues missing a single night of sleep. This time, it was tough. Not long after I hit the 100 mile mark, I decided to go down for a “nap”. The 90 minute nap turned into 4 hours and I had to really push myself to get up.

In the end, I logged 151 miles and called it quits right before midnight - New Year’s. I enjoyed the warmth of the food tent and celebrated with a few glasses of champagne, along with a can of hard cider. Then off I went to take another 4 hour nap.

Honestly, the only thing that got me out of my warm sleeping bag on that icy morning was that I felt obligated to cheer Bob on as he broke the 48 hour American age group record. He had 210 miles in by midnight so I was expecting great things. I was a little annoyed to find out that he was already back at the hotel. His legs were apparently so bad that he needed help getting out of bed the next morning and a wheelchair to get through the airport. I guess that partially excuses him for not continuing to run for my entertainment.

Form a purely running perspective, Snowdrop was a big flop, though I wasn’t upset with myself as I did nothing wrong, other than not allowing enough time to recover. In that respect, it was a good learning experience. I honestly felt bad about not running well enough or long enough. On the bright side, since I wasn’t running on the 3rd day, I really got to know a number of the participants and cheer many on as they pushed themselves to amazing accomplishments. Joe and Kelley Fejes won the overall titles, but it was all of the personal accomplishments that I got to witness that really touched me. Teenagers running 50-100 miles, so many people pushing themselves to walk/run 100+ miles. That is what I love about this sport. Being side by side, not just with world class runners, but more importantly, with everyday people who push themselves to unimaginable accomplishments. You can watch arrogant millionaire athletes on your TV screens or as ants running around way down on the field from the nose-bleed bleachers. I’m inspired by the participants who push themselves for the love of the sport and a great cause, without the money, fame, or recognition.

Being a fundraising event and a running event can be quite difficult to balance, but Snowdrop excelled at both. This was truly my favorite of all the events that I have participated in. I got to meet incredible people and hear heartbreaking, as well as inspirational stories. I am humbled and honored to have been a part of it. I don’t think anyone walked (or limped) away without being touched. Even my daughters had a great time and met some memorable role models, young and old. If you’re looking for motivation, inspiration, camaraderie, this is the event.

Monday, January 8, 2018

2017 Running Year in Review

Well, most of 2017 was not that great as far as running goes. I ended 2016 with a DNF at Javelina, then had some achilles issues, and I was so burnt out on running that I backed out of Desert Solstice and announced on FaceBook that I was retiring from racing (something that I still get hassled about).

At that point, I was still first alternate for the National 24 Hour Team and that gave me just enough motivation to keep trying. So after a really low mileage November, I started logging some miles again, setting my sights on the Riverbank 24 Hour race at the end of February.

That race was pretty ugly. By about 75 miles in, I knew I was done, but hung in to complete 100. This certainly did not help my mental state, but given my stubbornness, I decided to register for the Run4Water 24 Hour race 5 weeks later. The results here were the same. I flopped big time and just hung in to complete another 100 miler.

I had now been dropped down to 3rd alternate and my morale was rock bottom. My initial reaction when I got the official news was “hell no, I’m not traveling to Belfast as an alternate”. I was looking to my wife for a bit of sane confirmation, but her reaction was “well, could we make it into a nice vacation?” Not what I was expecting. After a bit of discussion and confirming friends to take care of our daughters, we pulled the plug and decided to go.

This was one of the best decisions I made all year. The race experience was pretty awesome. I went in with no real expectations but I managed to squeeze out a 148 mile PR despite having stomach issues for the last 5 hours. Running alongside the greatest ultra runners in the world felt great, and though I knew I would never have a chance of winning, I realized that I belonged there just as much as any other runners. And, if I ever put together a perfect race, I could place at a pretty respectable level in the field. I wound up finishing 31st male and 4th US male. The rest of the time was an incredible trip around Ireland with my wife.

Coming back from Belfast, I was re-energized. I did not get into the Leadville lottery, so I paced my friend Katrin and had a blast experiencing the race from a different perspective. I didn’t have any major races planned until the North Coast 24 Hour National Championships. I probably went in a little too cocky, fell apart due to the heat and only hung in at the end so I could claim some prize money to pay for the trip.

My morale was taking a beating again so I decided rather last minute to go down to Arizona and have some fun at the Javelina Jundred, which was the start of my troubles the previous year. I really wanted to just take it easy, have a fun race, and enjoy the party atmosphere. But, as usual, my competitiveness took over. I started out a bit too fast, but unlike the previous year, I was able to keep things in control and only lost a little time on the 3rd loop. I came back pretty strong and finished in just over 18 hours, beating my previous best by almost a full hour. The 10th place finish was also a nice reward. This was just the boost I needed.

1 ½ months later, I headed back to Phoenix for the Desert Solstice. The field was intimidating and my UltraSIgnup ranking was way near the bottom, but I felt like I should be able to hang with the top runners for 24 hours. The weather initially looked perfect (60’s and cloudy) but wound up degrading to mid 70’s and cloudless. I felt fine during the heat of the day, but given how others suffered, I may have been slowed a bit also.

I started way in the back of the pack and very, very slowly made my way up. Though I suffered a bit of a low point after 50 miles, I kept a pretty consistent pace and hit 100 miles in 6th place. With a couple of runners dropping at 100 and a couple more soon after, I found myself in 3rd and slowly eating back laps from the leaders. I kept calm and didn’t take over the lead until about 21 ½ hours in. I had hopes of 155, then 153, then 151, but managed to eek out 150.275 miles. A new PR, and a win at a highly respectable race. More importantly, I was able to complete all 24 hours without any significant issues - blisters, stomach, hydration, etc.

Well, to end the year (and begin 2018), I signed up for the Snowdrop 55 hour race. I kinda promised myself I wouldn’t attempt a 48 hour until I felt like I had a handle on the 24 hour. I signed up for this one in November, knowing that I had one more chance (Desert Solstice) to figure out the 24 hour. Luckily I did.

I went into Snowdrop with only 3 weeks to recover from the 24 hour PR at Desert Solstice. I like to think I’m pretty good at recovery, but this just wasn’t enough after the harshest abuse my body has ever been subjected to. I miraculously stayed ahead of Joe Fejes and Bob Hearn and won the prize for hitting the 100 mile mark first, but I only squeezed out a total of 151 miles before I called it. Nevertheless, Snowdrop was one of my all time favorite events, ever. The runners and organizers were just awesome.

Though I only had 3 good races all year, 2017 had some pretty special highlights, including a total of 3,840 miles and 17 races (8 ultras). I’m hoping to build upon the mileage and experience to make 2018 even better.