Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bighorn 100 Race Report--These Will Never Get Shorter, Sorry.

Grindstone 2012—the last time a hundred mile race that I attempted went well. I suffered to a finish at Cruel Jewel in 2013 aided only by the generous cut-off there, and at Western States last year I hobbled along for 70 miles to what—while still a decent time—was not what I had either hoped or was trained up for.  So, while Bighorn this year was not without hiccups—it is a hundred miles after all—it is what I’d call a very well executed run and, individually, my best executed in a long time. After feeling stagnant and a bit without direction for the past year with my running I feel like I’m back finally.

Something felt right about this weekend—start to finish; an intangible feeling of just being at ease and comfortable.  A leisurely drive up to Sheridan, Wyoming on Thursday led into a lazy evening with friends—over thirty of us were sharing two houses for the weekend—and I woke up Friday morning later than I would have on any other Friday after a solid nine hours of sleep. 

The only real issue for the entire weekend reared its head early into running on Thursday.  The hundred at Bighorn starts at 11 a.m., opening with a long climb up a canyon into the oppressive mid-June heat.  This year was hot, the opposite of all weather beta I’d been warned of for Bighorn (mainly to be prepared for true cold at night)—someone told me Saturday that the temperature broke 100 in the canyons and, confusingly for the Rockies, there was humidity along with the heat. Trotting up the first climb that rose nearly 3400 feet at what, in the dense heat, was a frustratingly runnable climb that I was not running, I actually had trouble breathing, feeling similar to asthma though I have never suffered from asthma. I assumed, foolishly, that the heat would mellow as we made the ridgeline well above 7000 feet. It did not.  The heat followed us through the day onto the north side of the broad Bighorn mountain range.

I ran for a couple hours through this section with my bro Ryan Lassen, and we joked about seeing someone sitting on the edge of the trail, cooked and nauseas, at only mile 15. In true karmic timing, for almost two hours starting at mile 18, I puked. I puked up basically anything and everything; even swigs of water came up within minutes.  Thankfully, even though I was concerned, my only ‘DNF’ thoughts came in the form of “well if I pee blood I’m calling it.” The seething fears of inability never crept in. Thankfully after crawling barely six flat miles in that whole time I managed to force down a Zantac, and in about thirty more minutes I felt famished.  I cruised down the steep, technical descent to the Footbridge aid station at mile 30 running on fumes but confused as to why all the people I saw on the descent were walking down it. At footbridge, well over my split projections, my good friend Rush, there hanging out until his runner made it back from the turnaround, quickly put me back together with a pile of potatoes and watermelon—I was likely much easier to handle than our friend Tim who, running his first hundred miler here, immediately upon entering the aid station passed out and puked on himself like a scene from Pulp Fiction.

Three RMR—Tim, John Knotts, and Neeraj—left that aid as I was wrapping up my dinner of sorts and still had a few minutes of prep before I would follow. This was actually a nice progression for me as I enjoy chasing people—it is great motivation—and I was coming around from my heat-induced nausea, ready to do some real running into the long eighteen mile climb up to the turnaround at Jaws.  I worked up that climb methodically, not pushing but maintaining a solid cadence and effort, stuffing my face as I went. I managed to catch back up to several RMR at the aid station prior Jaws whom I had not expected to see until much later in the race—this provided a nice boost for the frustratingly slow last few flatter miles into the turnaround at mile 48.

At the turnaround, Keely and Elena got to work cementing themselves into possibly the best crew I’ve had. Elena made several trips to the food table, fulfilling my various whimsical requests while Keely got to work cleaning my feet and replacing my shoes and socks, refusing to actually let me do it myself so I could focus on eating and getting out the door. Planning for actually appropriate Bighorn weather, I donned a long-sleeve shirt and glove, packed my fantastic Nike Terra Kiger jacket into my pack, and headed out into the night with Keely in-tow.  I lost the gloves in the first mile and slid my sleeves up not long after, wishing I was running sans-pack so I could go shirtless as the temperature felt warmer in the long, dark downhill than it did in the previous dusk-lit climb.

Keely and I—though looking back I am disappointed in the actual splits for the initial lengthy downhill—made nice work of our time together all the way to Dry Fork (Mile 83).  Most of the time I left headphones off and just enjoyed the conversation with one of my best friends, cruising along and picking off people and ticking off miles as we went. I ate well at the Footbridge aid station in preparation for the initial steep, then gradual uphill trend of the next 16 miles.  This aid station seemed littered with dejected athletes seeking out whatever magic might keep them moving forward. Bad Juju. We ate and bolted up the steep climb toward the next aid station—2000 feet in 3.5 miles; which, while standard on a usual daily run, is truly a cold bitch at mile 66.  This is where the headphones came back. My ipod was on point for the majority of its choices through Bighorn and gave me a solid mix of Dead Kennedys, Blink-182, and Kap Slap to power up the climb without any thought to how hard I was likely working. I knew the entire race leading up to this point that, no matter how I felt at this point, this climb would be hard. So, since I felt good, I decided to overwork and get it done with as quickly as possible. 

Out of the aid station following that climb, We trotted along again, elated at how smoothly that had gone and reveling in the early morning dawn rising up from the long canyon as we traced our way toward Dry Fork.  Only two hiccups arose through the entire section with Keely—one after another.  At the next to last true aid station before Dry Fork, I accepted some soup that ended up being entirely too saturated and came right back up not even five minutes after leaving the aid station.  Then, we somehow blew right past the (fantastic) spring that counted as the next aid station. No big matter, just a little added incentive to move faster (or, as is the case in a 100 miler, less slow).

Dry Fork was the last true stop of the race for me.  Changing into some fresh Nike Lunaracers I was truly smelling the barn. [Editors note: ‘barn’ initially read ‘bar’ as a typo. Take your pick.] I left everything behind here aside from a single Simple Hydration bottle filled with rocket fuel (slightly diluted Mountain Dew—my fuel for the remainder of the race). Elena and I charged out at a steady clip, keenly aware of the meager 3:03 remaining for 18 miles to slip under 24 hours.  I have to say: road flats feel fan-fucking-tastic during the tail end of a 100, particularly on forgiving dirt roads. The final descent of this went slower than I had hoped, feeling much, much, much steeper on the return descent than as the opening climb a day prior. I had no quad issues, but I just felt very uncomfortable at my fatigue level attempting to lean into the descent…at all.

Elena and I hit the road with 35 minutes left to run the five final road miles and finish under 24 hours and I decided I wanted it—a laughable thought in hindsight; we surged down the road as hard as I could muster (which, looking back, was only about 7:30/mile).  Fairly quickly, Elena decided she didn’t feel like running that pace (I’m not counting this as having dropped her) and I was running alone. I passed Silke and her entourage en-route to a killer first female finish with about 3.5 miles to go, and met Keely coming to meet me from the finish with about 2.5 miles to go. Meeting her forced me to accept that sub-24 hours was unreasonable and I settled into a lazy walk toward the finish line, only jogging from time to time as the last person I had passed on the road came close to catching back up to me.  We trotted across the finish line with 24:11 on the clock—only 18 minutes from my 100-mile PR and performed on a much harder course.

Looking back, I am so pleased with finally being able to execute a race well, regardless of where the times fell in comparison to my initial time goals. I am publishing this report so late as I wanted time to muse on the race and let my true feelings regarding my run simmer over the subsequent weeks. This race gave my some excitement to finally get back to work and find my racing legs again.  There are a couple races in the fall that have piqued my interest.

Simple Hydration Bottles
Ultimate Direction Jurek Pack
RMR Pearl Izumi Singlet (hey Patagucci, make some green singlets please)
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts (tried and true, never going back)
Random socks
2 different pairs of La Sportiva Bushidos (due to mud) and Nike Lunaracers
Gas Station American Flag Cap

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Quick Red Hot 55k Run-down

A top-10 list of some takeaways from Saturday.
  1. Slickrock is frustrating.
  2. 7:20 pace is the warm-up.
  3. Slickrock is basically an oven.
  4. Japanese runners love KT tape on their knees.
  5. Ibuprofen is an essential nutrient.
  6. Every ultra should have Mountain Dew.
  7. Steep climbs are difficult after 20+ flat, fast miles.
  8. Sand gets everywhere.
  9. 75 degrees feels oppressive in February; no matter what.
  10. I want a shirt that says 'red meat athlete #runonbeef'
Saturday was fun, though I was distinctly unprepared for what the slickrock gave me.  Not much happened really; once I got to the slickrock at mile 20-21, my body just wouldn't really do what I wanted it to do. Likely this was a combination of low calories and my hips being locked into their stride from those first 20-21 cruiser miles.  Running on the slickrock felt akin to performing plyometrics. For twelve miles. 

I'm much more stoked about what the RMR ladies pulled off and what my Hokie friends did back in Virginia at Holiday Lake. They had four guys under four hours. Unreal.  The weekend as a whole makes me want to get my ass in gear. I see lots of circles on an oval in my future. 17 weeks until Bighorn. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

That Good Good: Healthy Fats Pasta Sauce

I haven't posted anything food-related in quite some time. This was just too delicious (and simple) to not share though.  I had a weird, rather specific craving for pasta and avocado and spicy food for lunch so out this idea came. Cream-based sauces with a bit of spice are about my favorite on pasta, so here you go! I made this with what I had laying around, it would easily be tweaked, so please share any suggestions! (That means you Kristen)


  • One ripe hass avocado
  • ~1/2 can of coconut milk (mine was the bottom half, so mostly solid & meatier)
  • ~1/4 stick of butter (adjust to preferred creaminess)
  • Healthy dose of curry powder (I went with Ghost Curry from Savory in Boulder)
Add half your butter to a sauce pan and melt over low-medium heat. Square the avocado and add to the sauce pan. Mash vigorously (I need a better word there). Add the coconut milk and curry powder and blend well, leaving small chunks of the avocado for texture. Simmer for 7-8 minutes.  Add and mix the last half of the butter right before serving to enhance the creaminess without risking it browning. 

I'm currently eating this with a delicious organic rotini from Costco, and it tastes similar to mac n cheese, but I actually like it more.

Quick and dirty blog post, cheers.

With Uptown Funk blowing up, I thought I'd post a classic.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hellgate 2014: Drive

I decided a year ago, nearly to the day, that regardless of circumstance I would run Hellgate in 2014.  It is a very special race--this gets said quite a bit in the weeks surround the event but that may just be the best way to describe Hellgate simply.  I skipped last year in order to crew Rudy and end my year a little earlier than normal after my focus on the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile in November.  Watching the race unfold that night and day, driving along the parkway with good friends, I decided I would come back this year, and possibly every year from then on. Hellgate simply has some special atmosphere about it that is nothing short of intoxicating.

The course is the brainchild of Dr. David Horton, and in trying to describe it to some friends (of varying levels of attachment to the sport and even just mountains) I came to the following few conclusions:
  • Years after he could not create the exact Mountain Masochist course he wished (The gnarly Appalachian Trail section from the James River to the Tye River, he discovered the subtly brutal Glenwood Horse Trail
  • The entire event is designed to be as difficult as possible. It starts at midnight. The climbs are road; the descents are tight, rocky trail barely visible through the thick of leaves strewn across it. You hit the highest, coldest, windiest section of the course (Camping Gap through Headforemost Mountain) at 2-5 a.m., the coldest part of the night.
  • The course becomes extremely runnable after Bearwallow Gap, but is so mentally jarring (see "Forever Section") that it takes whatever will you can muster after so many hours of forward travel to do so.
That describes the thing pretty thoroughly.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A lofty tome--Western States 100

Miles 0 to 29.7 (Robinson Flat)--The Decline

The day started as everyone tells me hundreds should--frustratingly mellow. I spend the first mile searching for someone I knew (of) to settle in with for the first four mile climb.  I was hoping for a lead woman, figuring they know well what they're doing here.  Initially I foolishly picked Emily Harrison, a mistake that immediately remedied itself as she sauntered up ahead weaving her way through the crowd. At this same time I noticed Stephanie Howe vanish somewhere behind me. With no other women nearby, I heard the bellowing of Andy Jones-Wilkins a bit up the hill and ran up to meet him. I followed him and Scott Wolfe up toward the pass and the three of us, along with a varying group of 8-15 others, made our way all the way to Duncan Canyon (mile 23.8), the first crew point.  I felt fine through here, albeit sleepier than I would have expected. I still hadn't woken up, but I did not want to start taking caffeine for at least fourteen more miles so I could keep it better balanced late in the race. I saw Rudy/Wyatt/Darren, dropped my bottle and picked up my pack. I headed out and regained my general forward momentum, but didn't really feel right.  I felt a refined combination of sluggishness and forced restraint--I did feel as if I was holding back but at the same time that I couldn't really speed up any if I had wanted.  Then, not even two minutes from Robinson Flat, my right hamstring cramped, bringing me swiftly to a halt.  Fuck. I took two salt tabs before even getting into the aid station, where I was 4 lbs down before the heat of the day.  I topped off my pack, downed some light soda (7UP I believe) and was on my way.

Miles 29.7 to 55.7 (Michigan Bluff)--Ebb and Flow

I left the aid station in dichotomous spirits.  I wanted to pick things up and try to make some ground before my hamstring got any worse.  I wanted to take it easy in hopes of the hamstring turning around.  I chose the latter.  The miles into Dusty Corners (Mile 38) were unfocused but uneventful. I meandered through the woods, moving well but still with forced restraint.  Another salt tab here kept the cramps at bay, but I had freaked myself out enough by the cramp and weight loss at Robinson Flat that I drank nearly 70 oz during these eight miles and ended up behind on calories, regardless of the soda I pounded at both aid stations. I shifted the equilibrium enough that I was nearing the end of my  day's gel use already.  At Dusty Corners I took time to fill my pack with ice and water (in that order), reapply bodyglide, and douse myself with cold sponge water.

As an aside, I also had my biggest frustrations out of this aid station. A crotchety old man in a volunteer shirt (who was not actually doing anything productive) yelled at my crew to move while they were helping me with my pack well within crew limits and immediately before the sign designating those limits, which we showed him.  Then he growled something at me about sunscreen after I was already 30 feet out of the aid station.  The whole thing left a bad taste in everyone's mouths.

I left Dusty Corners with a plan of simply surviving the Canyons. The heat never presented its notorious self, but I did not rebound until mile 50, well out of the supposedly hot sections.  I grunted along, fighting the downhills rather than working them as I had planned.  My quads weren't blown, but my energy was low enough that I didn't have it in me to to get real turnover going.  MY body finally gave up on gels about five minutes up the climb to Devil's Thumb--stellar timing to not get any food in my system. I fumbled my way up that hellacious climb (I actually don't think it would be that bad with any energy).  I sat in that aid station for a minute to put down four cups of ginger ale, again fill my pack with ice and water, apply sunscreen, fill a bag with potatoes and pretzels, and again douse myself with water.  Half a mile later, knowing the real heat to be done and recently watering some trees, I finally took two ibuprofen. In retrospect I should have kept with my standard schedule regardless of any heat worries; 48 miles is longest I had run without ibuprofen in maybe two years, and I never take very much. At about this same time, I met up with another youngster, James Bonnett at a poorly marked intersection and ran a mile or two with him until my ibu kicked in.  Then I had the best stretch all day. I finally RAN a descent--not just trotting but an actually higher cadence downhill gait.  Feeling so rejuvenated, I stayed the El Dorado aid station only long enough to get more salt tabs, pretzel/potato goodness, and another dousing. I worked my way up the climb to Michigan Bluff, the first time all day at which I had energy enough to work up a climb rather than simply survive.  I did have a number more hamstring cramps and a couple calf cramps through this section, but a salt tab after each instance seemed to keep them from getting worse.  From working my way up the climb to Michigan Bluff, I developed a light strain in my big toes from excess work on toe-off. John Vonhoff was working this aid station, so I could not turn down the suggestion of having him work on my feet.  He filed and taped some calluses, and the PT working with him re-taped my inflamed left anterior tib. New socks and shoes on and having spent the better part of ten minutes chowing down while getting pampered, I left here hungry.

Miles 55.7 to 79.8
Heading to Foresthill was uneventful. I was rejuvenated and felt like making some progress; I at least feel as if I ran well here; meeting Wyatt (Earp) at Bath Road 60 miles in. At Foresthill, the staff weighed my yet again, which had held steady for the fourth straight weight check.  This aid station was, however, overwhelmingly busy even though there were only a couple other runners around me.  The sheer number of staff members far overpowered and hindered their abilities, and not letting my crew go with me to the food tables (what?) severely limited what we could do here.  After pitter-pattering around for a minute, Darren snuck in, grabbed food for me and they all kicked us out.  I truly stretched my legs out on the next couple miles of road and buffed trail.  However, somewhere around Cal 1 (I honestly do not remember if it came before or after the aid), I hopped aboard the barf train, which I would ride for quite some time.  Usually I look forward to puking--puking means a fresh start, and usually it means being able to wolf down copious amounts of food and liquid and run hard for a little while. That didn't happen.  This puke meant the end of coherence. I dove head first into a several mile decline into full zombie mode. The immediate effects came as very tender quads and radiant pain from my tweaked ankle. At Cal 2 I just took what Earp gave me, sat for a minute to force down what I could, and then we stumbled our way to the river.  People talk about Michigan Bluff or Foresthill being a time-suck, but I'd wager that the river-Green Gate strip tops it with its three aid stations in under two miles. I stopped at each of them. Weight check held us up on the near side, then so did drying off on the far side as the water felt rather cold late at night.  At Green Gate I succumbed to a ten minute nap, giving a final attempt at turning my race around.  I couldn't even fall asleep.

Miles 79.8 to 100.2
At Greengate, after my poor nap attempt, Darren stepped up during his first ever 100 mile crew/pace gig.  He took off my wet shoes/socks, wiped off my feet with his T-shirt, and then gave me his socks. That is going above and beyond. After some light snacking, off we went into the abyss. This is where I just shut down and did everything I could to put one foot in front of the other.  As we left the aid station, I put my headphones in and shut out everything aside from Darren's feet; feet that I would follow unconditionally for the next fourteen miles.  Occasionally I would have to stop hunched over and heave either from my ankle or from my stomach.  Darren and I actually made really good work the first six or seven miles out from Green Gate, passing a number of people and running most of the section. I was not by any means coherent though--I may as well have been black out drunk frankly. Apparently Hal Koerner was working Brown's Bar (mile 90) and helped me at the aid station for a couple minutes.  I had and still have no recollection of this whatsoever.  These last few aid stations following Green Gate went as follows: Hunch over table, groan in pain, stare at food, grunt at aid station workers, pick up pretzels and soda, stumble out to looks of real concern on everyone's faces.

At Highway 49 I switched Darren for Rudy, fresh off his hundred debut eight days prior. I nearly broke down when, as I tried to sit in a chair to take weight off my ankle while I ate, Rudy forced me out of there.  Given how close I ended up being to 24-hours, I am glad he did.  I have a distinct feeling the aid station crew did not want me to leave.  We stumbled along, working very hard to go very slow, and after half a life time ended up at no hands bridge. I finally started smelling the barn here and even jogged a little of the climb up to Robie Point.  I was so elated to hit Robie Point that I started shutting down a little early.  Hitting the pavement rippled emotions through my body as well as new waves of pain from my ankle. I groaned and grunted and hobbled my way through Auburn; Rudy, Wyatt, and Darren in tow mirroring just how slowly I was moving at this point. Aside from a few steps here and there, I did not truly run until I hit the track, at which point I ran every step to the finish line.

After finishing I really did shut down.  I felt, and apparently looked, like I was going through withdrawals after my swift collapse onto a cot in the med tent.  However, a 90 minute nap later and I didn't feel nearly as awful. I needed help to walk all morning, unable to put pressure on my ankle, but I ate three breakfasts and slept whenever I pleased.  That morning was nice.

What worked:
-Simple Bottle dedicated for pouring water over my head
-Hot Weather Drymax Socks--not a single blister into Michigan Bluff (where i then switched socks)
-Pack--I filled it with ice and then water, and this kept me cool inside and out.
-Salt Pills--I rarely need them in races, and as such I didn't even think about taking any until it was too late.  I had planned to start them as I headed into the canyons; I should have been taking them all day.

What didn't work:
-Crew set-up at aid stations--My crew was world class, but they were hindered far too much from doing their jobs.
-Starting slow*
-Not wearing sunglasses--I never like them while running, but the dust had me wishing for eye protection.
-Shoe order--I should have worn my trail shoes for the high country and then switched into my cushioned road shoes for the second half.

*Western States is a deceptively straightforward and easy course (for mountain races).  Thinking about this going in, I intentionally restrained myself from the start rather than simply running.  Next time, I won't let the ease of the course trick me and I'll just go.


I think my biggest take-away from Western States is to have faith that I can go the distance in one piece.  Having only completed three now, I still get overwhelmed, however subconsciously, by the distance and that in itself holds me way back from performing how I know I can at the distance and also actually hurts me.  I am now a week out from possibly running Hardrock; and if I do get in, I plan to just go.

I realized in some post-writing speculation that this may come off as a negative review.  On the contrary, I simply had a bad day on a gorgeous course.  Even the volunteers were phenomenal overall, with only the few hiccups mentioned above.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Some Last Ruminations

I finally had the moment this morning when everything became real.  Trying to set up crew directions with four tabs open for various bits of information regarding the logistics of crewing in the high country at Western States, I had the near electric feeling of excitement pulse through my body that the day is finally here. twelve days it is.  I have had that feeling a few times over the past month now; when I get into a distinct rhythm of hard work late into workouts.  Excitement that physically manifests itself outward until I cannot help but smile and work just a little harder.

Yesterday wrapped up my final real training week leading up to the Western States hundred on June 28th.  I have been working with the venerable States veteran Andy Jones-Wilkins whom I met last year after his move to Virginia.  This is the first time I have had a coach--or gotten any real coaching advice--since high school cross country and track several years ago.  Admittedly, he is also likely the only person I know who coaches whom I feel trusting enough to have as a coach for Western States.

He has trained me rather differently than I would have done on my own--the most notable shift being not only the number of workouts down (36 since we started in January) but the inclusion of a weekly post-long run tempo.  That is not something I would likely have done on my own; I have followed the standard back-to-back(-to-back) long run approach in my past hundred mile build-ups, but the workouts have left me feeling strong and improved my closing speed in my spring tune-ups and I know they will do the same in California in a couple weeks.  I can get the legs turning over easier thinking that I have run hard under much more uncomfortable conditions (like hammering out 8 miles the day after Promise Land and again three weeks later after a 40 mile long run).

I have been in Colorado for nearly a full month now, and that has also had an immensely positive effect on my training, an effect especially shown in my running up Pikes Peak in 3:18 (including pit stops) on Saturday morning.  A pretty uninspiring time--I have always been a bad uphill runner--but I was able to run uphill comfortably the entire way; only taking occasional short hiking breaks instead of long stretches.  Being here has balanced out my training as well.  The past five weeks have all been above fifteen hours, with the past four weeks above sixteen.  Of those five weeks, only the first has been below ~16,000 feet of gain on the week; which while somewhat low by the standards of hundred mile training needs to take into account the low-gain days inherent to doing road tempo runs and track workouts.  The past two weeks in Colorado have both been above comfortably 20,000 feet.

I have spent my time in Colorado in the great company of Rudy and Darren, both of whom are on top of their game and ready to WIN their races this weekend--Rudy at Bighorn 100 and Darren at San Juan Solstice 50.  They are both extremely focused, well-trained, and healthy right now; a combination that has had them unabashedly kicking my ass up mountains day in and day out for several weeks now and forcing me to find a few extra gears.  Spending the last couple weeks camping has gotten us all poised to strike.  The days have been filled with nothing but running and resting. We have already read a small library's worth of books this summer in between naps. I will definitely be channeling some energy from crewing and pacing Rudy this weekend when I grunt my way through the canyons a week later.

The more I study Western States, the better I feel about the race and that it will most definitely play to my strengths.  The only true unknown for me is the heat.  I have not run an ultra above the upper 80's with high humidity that happen at Iron Mountain.  However, I will have nearly three weeks of heat training done, most of which has consisted of sauna sessions.  I have another week or so of sauna training and I am already up to 45 minutes without intense distress.  The rest of the course variables, well outlined in Joe Uhan's recent iRunFar article, play to my strengths.  The way of the game is start easy and then begin working after halfway.  That's how I always run races, and in a hundred miler there is actually real estate at the end to keep hunting for a long time.  I see myself sitting comfortably in the top 50 heading into the canyons, and then picking people off for as long as I can.

Even the canyons hold a nice advantage for my style.  As I said earlier, I am an admittedly terrible uphill runner. As such, I know how to hike--I have to in order to not completely fall of pace.  The climbs out of the canyons are just my style and what I got extremely used to running in Blacksburg the past several years: under 2 miles and steep. Walls.  We have them all over our little training grounds in the New River Valley.

Virginia Tech Ultrarunning has finally made the pilgrimage out west, and we are here to tear it up.


In case anyone is curious, and since I already have things set; here is what I'll be using for gear, etc. at Western States

Shoes: Nike Lunaracer 3 (with Salomon Sense Pro's on hand just in case)
Socks: 2 pairs of Drymax warm weather
Shorts: Patagonia Strider Pro 5" Shorts
Shirt: ultraVT Patagonia Air Flow Tank jersey
Hydration: 2 Simple Hydration bottles tucked in my shorts and sometimes a Mountain Hardwear race vest with bladder with one of the simple bottles in the front pocket.
Food: I have a lot of salted caramel, salted watermelon, and various Roctane Gu's on hand, as well as grape Roctane drink (which is delicious).  Aside from that, I plan to enjoy the Western States buffet!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Firsts and Lasts: Promise Land 50k

I've said it before and I'll say it again--I am a closer.  I'm content to not race a 50k again for a while as I really need to figure out how to start hard enough to remain competitive at the distance. I find it amusing now, several years into running ultras that I consider 50k's too fast--or really, any ultra distance too fast.

Doing our usual pre-race discussions in the week leading up to Promise Land this year, Rudy and I decided to go out hard and try to keep with the lead.  Rudy can do that--he's on fire right now and generally faster than me anyway.  I have yet to figure out how to do an uphill start hard.  In recent memory, I have only started two races hard--StumpJump and Holiday Lake--both of which have very flat starts.  I kept up with them for the first 12 minutes or so of the climb, with Jake Reed well out of sight, before I had to pull back and start my hike-run.  That's that.  I wouldn't see them the rest of the day.

When I hit the long grassy road that overlaps the Hellgate course, my race plans changed abruptly.  Puke #1, out of nowhere.  Weird, I don't feel bad.  Not long before aid station two 9 miles in I had puke #2.  Switch to coke in my bottle, hoping that settles things.  Grunt my way up to the parkway not feeling bad but not eating.

My plan had been to switch gears into racing when I hit the Blue Ridge Parkway ~11 miles in, taking advantage of the extremely long downhill to come.  When I did hit the parkway in-race, I had not had any real calories--just the cup of coke in my bottle--since mile 5.  I decided then I would just stick with my original plan and hope to out-run my eventual bonk. I hit the gentle downhill across the parkway solidly under 7-minute mile pace, cruised past a couple guys and into the aid. I am extremely glad we had crew here this year so I could grab new gels that might work.  Steve filled my bottle with more watered-down coke and I bolted down the hill.  The technical descent from Sunset Fields is extremely fun, but also so full of loose rock that I was slightly worried about my choice of shoe--Nike Lunaracers that I plan to wear at Western States.  I wanted to try them out on real technical trail in a race setting, and they did just fine. I passed a guy on this stretch complaining about his feet and mine felt great! I love hopping on the rocks, and my stomach was empty enough that it didn't feel upset. I ran this stretch well and finally got Ginger ale into my bottle and belly at Cornelius Creek.  Two guys left the aid station just before me, and I was still trying to just outrun my bonk, so I took off down the gravel road with a nice 13:10 2-mile stretch before popping back onto singletrack.  Finally on the brief climb away from the road, my hunger won out of the upset stomach and I scarfed down two Passion Fruit Gu Roctane gels--they went down smooth and I yo-yo'd with a guy here briefly before he pulled away on an extended climb. I would pass him up the ever-brutal Apple Orchard Falls climb.

More coke in the bottle at the mile 25 aid station and I was off to the only boring part of the course, rolling service road to connect back with Cornelius Creek at mile 29. I actually enjoy this section; it's fun to cruise on.  However, my stomach decided to give me some more surprises and I lost about 5 minutes to pit-stops between these two aid stations alone.

I saw Jordan Chang just before Cornelius Creek 2, prior to aforementioned climb, who was surviving the Boston-Promise Land double that is much hard than Boston 2 Big Sur, only 5 days after his massive PR up in Massachusetts.  The aid station was mayhem with all the people still coming down the mountain hitting it the first time and taking their time at the table.  A cup of Mountain Dew rocket fuel in my bottle and another straight down the hatch and I took off trying to keep making up time.  I ran the Apple Orchard Falls climb a full minute faster than the year before in a not-fast, but respectable 45 minutes.  I was surprised it was faster than the year before as I made a point to run every step last year and actually hiked some this year.

I also actually stopped to fill my bottle and dip my hat in a stream on the way up this year.  I felt elated hitting the top in decent time, and did not even stop. I walked through the aid station to down a cup of mountain dew, but that was all knowing I can run the last 5 downhill miles in ~30 minutes. Or so I thought. I ran hard across the field and up the last tiny climb. I tried for one last nip of gel to ensure I had ample energy to hammer all the way down to the finish, and ended up losing a couple minutes giving it back to the trail on top of the little bop out of that field.  Oh well, time to get at it.

I leaned forward and let momentum get me into a fast rhythm through the singletrack section of the descent as I tried to shake off puke #4.  One of my goals for the race was to run a sub-5 mile on the final gravel road descent.  At least I met that goal. I hit that final 2.5 mile road like a bat out of hell with the first mile on it at 4:47 and the full final 5k of the race being 16:24.  Is it still a 5k PR if it's downhill?

I passed another two people on this final road descent to end up 8th overall. I believe I was 20th or so at the Blue Ridge Parkway 10 miles into the race.  No one passed me from then on either.

Patagonia Air Flow Tank--our new team jersey and the first shirt I don't mind wearing for a full ultra when the weather is actually warm.
Patagonia Strider Pro shorts--Love how many pockets these have so I can keep everything in separate pockets and not have to dig around looking for anything particular.
Nike Lunaracers--if I could find a way to get these cheap I'd probably run in them almost exclusively. Best ultra-racing shoe I've found.
Simple Hydration Bottle--it just works!


Overall, I really can't complain. I know I was in shape to run 4:50 or so, but I'm actually pretty happy to run a 11 minute PR off so little calories. I got out for a tempo run the next day even.  I feel like I processed the run like a fast long run rather than a race, which is much better for the next two months leading up to Western States.

On the team front, Rudy crushed another one. Watch out for him at Bighorn in June. Same with Darren; that kid finally discovered the magic of gels during races--he'll be poised to crush San Juan Solstice once he gets a few long days at altitude.  Our girls team is really coming along as well; which makes me super happy. I was worried there wouldn't be more than one or two of them.

I really cannot say enough about how special the team is to me.  I hope it continues to grow.  We will be working this summer on ways to make that happen without the founding parties around.  I hope I can check back in 5-10 years and see a flourishing community of ultrarunners at Virginia Tech, even more so than we have now.

Western States is just under 8 weeks away now.  I'm planning to just keep rolling since I ended up not racing Promise Land.  Time to get into the big boy mileage.  Western States is very much my course. It is downhill and a back-half course. I hope to be picking people off for about 40 miles ;)